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Relationships • Affairs

The Pains of Affairs

We may think the problems are only too obvious but it is worth an attempt to look ahead at a few of them all the same – not that they can (or even should) ever constitute a decisive argument against what we are planning:

Everyone is in tears

We begin with the hope that we can make ourselves happy, delight the lover and leave the long-term partner in pleasant ignorance. But, as the story unfolds, the lover grows furious at our inability to commit, the partner is crushed by our betrayal – and we are in anxious, agonised tears at the chaos we have unleashed. There may be some children crying in the background as well – and if we are properly unlucky, moralistic neighbours or newspapers decrying our beastliness as well. We cannot be blamed for our aspirations for contentment; but we can be roundly condemned for imagining that we could turn any of them into a sustainable reality.

We are denied a belief in our innocence

It had seemed, at first, as if we had managed to escape the gravitational pull of our psychological weaknesses. We were no longer going to have to feel anxious, unconfident or ashamed. But soon enough, we have been reintroduced to our shadow sides – with an added disadvantage: we can no longer furiously blame the partner for preventing us from acceding to our better selves.

Blame is general

For a time, we had the satisfaction of knowing that the problem lay firmly with the partner: they were the ones holding us back, stifling our sex lives, hampering our ability to express ourselves professionally, dampening our mood and ruining our chances. But the affair has revealed a more awkward truth: that many of the greatest problems that hound us are endemic to us, or even to existence. We can see that we had previously experienced the pains of life in the company of our partner, but not because of our partner.

©Flickr/Camilla Bandeira

The lover is human

We had to believe, in order to justify this adventure, that our lover did not partake of the ordinary mortal condition. We had to trust that they had not been touched by the stubborn errors and follies of regular humankind; that they would be free of the catalogue of sins we had noted over so many years in our partner’s behaviour. But as the unfair unfolded, we have been inducted into a basic and sobering realisation: that the sins were not limited to our unfortunate spouse, that the apparent angel could also at points grow tetchy, unreasonable, censorious, sharp-tongued and uninterested. We feel ready to accept a bitter truth: that love involves a process of exaggerating the difference between one person and another.

The dashed dreams of infidelity

So long as an affair remained only an abstract possibility, it could also be a source of comfort at moments of particular tension. We could, we told ourselves, if it were all to get too much, always have an affair. We knew it would not be easy, but it was an escape – and at points even a threat. By turning a fantasy into a relationship, we have one daydream less to play with.


This, naturally, is the greatest horror. In our bid for happiness, we have made others suffer. We have brought pain in our wake. We have engulfed those we love in sorrow. In more believing times, we could have fallen on our knees before a statue of a deity and begged for forgiveness. Now we must ask more haltingly for forgiveness from real people around us who are hurt and furious. There is no more transcendent cleansing available. We look in vain at the vast evening sky for deliverance. We thought ourselves kind and reasonable – but we have learnt that we were demented fools all along. We whisper idle sorries into our tear-stained pillows.

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