After the initial parabola of passion, affairs can be a descent into hell. A roller-coaster ride that skewers our heart. Scalds us with guilt and grief in the after-shock of transcendent bliss. In virtually every marriage code in virtually every society, adultery is unequivocally prohibited. In ancient Babylonia, punishment was death by drowning. And incredibly, in many places today, the perpetrators of this dastardly crime against the laws of man are flogged – 100 stripes, or stoned to death. For millions more, the punishment is divorce, financial ruin, loss of their children, ostracism from their families, or worst of all, the solemn burial of their authentic feelings, and their true selves deep within a life of quiet desperation. Increasingly in these financially austere times estranged couples rattle about in the empty shell of their marriage because of the mortgage repayments. Some stick it out for the sake of the children, the elderly parents, blocking their ears to the silent scream of indifference which brutalises the soul. The tender memory of the lover’s embrace bruises the skin for years to come, long after the albatross of the affair has been killed and thrown into the ocean depths.
Adultery comes from Latin – which means “ to pollute, or corrupt.” What is polluted? Trust? Ownership?
“Morality is a human creation. The Universe does not judge,” says Gary Zukav.
The psychological view sounds more like a laboratory study of Planet of the Apes. Therapists, like little boys, pull the legs off butterflies, break things into smaller and smaller pieces so that they can see how they work. Marriage counsellors urge couples to “work harder” at their relationships; they come up with strategies, hormones, and formulae to fit the broken pieces together again. In her book Adultery, Louise DeSalvo comments, “ perhaps adultery makes evolutionary sense: perhaps it is a pesky way our species guarantees its survival.” David Barash, in The Myth of Monogamy proposes, “ When it comes to human beings, there’s absolutely no question about monogamy being natural. It’s not. The male’s goal is to make sure his genes live on and therefore he sets out to fertilize as many females as possible. Women, on the other hand, spend nine months pregnant and then have to care for their children. So it’s in the interest of the woman to find one man who will stay with her, or at least help her take care of her offspring, and some might argue that the man is preferably wealthy or powerful. Females, by nature, are choosier and less opportunistic.”
If only it were that simple. So often, in Love, the dots don’t join. Like the waxing and the waning of the moon, the human heart has phases of light when we turn to face the full magnificence of the sun; times of darkness, as we enfold the mystery of our passion close to our breast. There’s no book of rules, no etiquette to guide us through the perilous seas of Love. Do we throw everything away if Love comes knocking at the door, splintering our hearts, battering down the walls of the life we have built so carefully? Do we risk all for passion, adventure, the unknown, when the rugged terrain of a long relationship has been charted, co-habited. Do we stay, knowing there will always be more soul work, more growth work, as we grind away the sharp edges? Do we fall from the trapeze if there are no waiting hands to catch us? Do we encounter the paradox of forbidden Love, swooning as our hearts sweeten with joy while our minds crucify us between the thieves of Shame and Sorrow? If we’re the one that leaves, our parting of ways will involve a dismemberment of the life we knew. An annihilation of our old self. There will be dark nights when we wake with fear gnawing through our belly.
“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”, says Clarissa Pinkola Estes. At some time or another, we will come to the crossroads of choice, and the awakening of consciousness. So do we hone what we have into what our heart longs for? Do we differentiate, individuate, heal our childhood hunger … if we can’t be with the one we love, do we love the one we’re with? Or do we risk it all to leap like a salmon over the rocks, tumble over waterfalls following our instincts as a new impetus of growth calls us up to swim as if our life depends on it. And it does.
“There is some kiss we want with our whole lives,” said Rumi. Some of us may search for that kiss through our adolescence, our experimental twenties, and often turbulent thirties. We stuff the anger, the longing deep down. Numb our longing with the busy-ness of life. Is this as good as it gets, we ask ourselves, filling the hole in our heart with longer hours at the computer, the gym, the office, or another glass of wine when we get home.
It may take the catalyst of an affair to expose the cracks in the chalice of our marriage. It may take the sweet kiss of just one person to awaken us from our slumber. And one day, we take the risk…
Re-birthing our souls is never as simple as leaving the husk of a desiccated relationship, changing jobs, walking the Camino, or falling in love with someone new. It is an arduous task, which requires endurance… and courage. Unless we’re willing to look honestly at ourselves, merely switching partners will bring the same issues we tried to escape from with our previous partner, often leaving us marooned, stripped of our innocence. But if we are conscious, and serious about the tugging at our hearts, there are rich lessons in each new relationship, as we retrieve the long-buried parts of ourselves — our passion, our sensuality, our joy — our deceitful, destructive Shadow.
When, at last, we come to trust our own instincts, hear and respect our own voices, feel valuable enough to touch that fertile, erotic, vulnerable part of our self, buried beneath the sediments of cultural conditioning and wipe the sleep from our own eyes, we dare to risk bursting into blossom.
Our choices in love are sacred. Authentic love feels like a reunion, recognition, and if our ways must part, the love we once shared remains, all-ways.
Painting by Frida Kahlo
You and your sweet smile
You and all your tantalizing ways
You and your honey lips
You and all the sweet things that they say
You and your wild wild ways
One day you just up and walked away