The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
– David Foster Wallace
I was thinking the other day and came to the disheartening conclusion that I am able to truly comprehend people who stay with their partners even if they are obviously cheating on them. Of course, I made one specific differentiation: the cheating must be limited to, and only to, sexual activity.
David said that true freedom and love means sacrifice: unsexy, unromantic, crude sacrifice, done over and over and in many ways. Perhaps this is true in a sense that doesn’t allow us to make a different choice. Maybe being with someone you love means submitting to them, to their will, to their imperfections, submitting your vulnerability, becoming hurt. In order to stay together, you have no other choice than to endure this.
You see, I love my partner in many ways, and what I most love from him is his unique mind and the way he reacts to things in this world. I believe, right now, that he is the best companion for me and I do not wish, nor do I think I will ever wish, to be apart from him. I want to be a part of his life until death do one of us part.
Now, would I throw this away over an infidelity? Or many infidelities, or even sustained relationships with other women? It seems quite disproportionate. Of course, to live through this we would need to be open and honest about it. So what if we were? What if he said to me he wants to have sex with other women because they are very attractive to him? Is there anything else to be said about desire?
I often think of this scene and of the million different ways I’d react. One of them involves a lot of screaming, obviously. In another one I would erase myself permanently from his life and send him his things over the mail.
But I find it hard to lie to myself. What does being unfaithful mean, anyway? Is it a breach in trust? So what if he wants to sleep with someone else? Does it mean he loves me less? Exclusiveness, I suspect, has something to do with it. We want to be the everything to our meaningful people.
It really sounds terribly sad to admit to it, but I think I would stay. It is sad to admit that the happiest you can be, is not that happy. I’m not sure there is another way of living, anyway.