I don’t want to sound too cynical but love? It isn’t perfect. Relationships? They are hard. This has always been the case. Even in more traditional times a lot of marriages survived because of privately or implicitly acknowledged unfaithfulness. This will always be true. It is a fact of life. Yet this profile at 1843 is a shameful apologia for lying to and betraying your partner.
Esther Perel, a Belgian-born psychotherapist, presumes to lecture Americans on why infidelity is acceptable. She insists that more permissive attitudes will strengthen and not damage relationships yet contrasts America, where it is extremely taboo, with Europe, where she claims it is taken less seriously. The US has lower divorce rates than, among others, France, Spain and Belgium.
Perel does not just think that infidelity can be forgiven (which, I should add, might be true in some relationships). She approaches excusing it. “Betrayal comes in many forms,” she says. “You can be the person who has steadfastly refused your partner for decades, but then he cheats on you and you’re the victim? The victim of the marriage is not always the victim of the affair.” If your marriage is so toxic that it takes you to this point you should have an honest divorce, not a deceitful fling.
The most bizarre moment in the profile is when Perel mentions her parents, who both survived the Holocaust. “If they had done what they had been told they wouldn’t have been alive,” she says. “What’s right isn’t always what people tell you, and the rules are sometimes corrupt and cruel.” I’m not sure about her motivation in saying this but in the context of the profile it sounds like she is comparing Hitler’s anti-Jewish oppression with our taboo against cheating. That is both obscene and hilarious, as well as being a clear example of the ludicrous self-congratulatory smugness with which modern intellectuals deconstruct culture.
Perel appears to think that cheating should be seen as an inevitable expression of human frailty. “A great relationship”, she says, “is an imperfect one.” Yes, of course, and different relationships might have all kinds of compromises that sustain them. But lying to the person that you love, about such intimate and important experiences, is disgraceful. The profile features “Seth and his girlfriend”, who both cheated on each other but, with Perel’s help, learned to accept a “monogamish” relationship. When they discuss this with their friends, Seth says, “It’s almost like we’re heroes, like we’re inspirations to people.” No, you’re not a hero, Seth. You’re a very normal person who is fortunate not to have broken someone’s heart.