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Above reproach: why do we never question fidelity?

I’ve been in Italy for the past ten days or so, on an end of summer break. Which, you know, it was great and I had all the food and all the art related visits to galleries and the Venice Art Biennial and walking through Milano (did I ever mention how awful I feel every time I visit Milano which I used to do regularly for work related reasons? It’s the only city I’ve ever been where I feel truly inadequate no matter what I am wearing or how well put together I am; the degree of style and beauty in regular people is pretty much unseen, at least for me, anywhere else in the world). But I digress because my summer break was not the subject of this post, although I did spend quite some time thinking about the topic during my vacation because it was inspired by Roman empire ruins and, of all people, Silvio Berlusconi.

Now, I speak Italian, which means that I get to talk to folks while I am out and about. And Berlusconi gets mentioned regularly. A lot. Sometimes in a snarky tone, making fun of his politics. Sometimes very negatively but also, to my surprise, he often gets mentioned in a positive light by quite some people. I would dare say that he might not be loved by the majority, at least not now that his mandate is eroded, but there is still a sizable number of people who seem to like him and who, I’d venture, would vote for him again. In spite of all the scandals and in spite of his sexual misconduct, which is extensively documented.

It was precisely his sexual misconduct what got me thinking about the subject of this post. Because it was misconduct (probably still is, I doubt a guy like him would suddenly stop acting out just because he is under more scrutiny than usual; if anything, his behavior seems driven by a sense of impunity, entitlement and unchecked power more so than by what italians, bound to their profoundly Catholic heritage, like to call “carnal desires”). Berlusconi, in many people’s minds, embodies the attributes of the Latin patriarch, the man who has unrestricted access, to put it bluntly, to pussy. Also, the man who acts as if he is not bound to common notions of fidelity, faithfulness or monogamy. A guy who built his image as a relentless womanizer that runs a country under dubious rules, with a public perception of rampant corruption and alliances with characters that have currently fallen from grace.

And, since we are on the subject of monogamy and fidelity, I need to point to the obvious American counterpart: Bill Clinton. For much, much less, Clinton was roasted by the public. International media portrayed the Clinton scandal with a very heavy investment in his lack of fidelity towards his wife. In many people’s minds, this absence of marital fidelity seemed to symbolize his lack of allegiance to his country. And I suspect that was because, unlike Berlusconi, Clinton’s marriage was very much in the public eye.

But why do we care so much about fidelity? Why are we so heavily invested in it? Ours, other people’s, our partner’s, friends, family members? Why is fidelity never contested as the de facto relationship standard? And notice I didn’t say monogamy, but fidelity. Because even open partnerships, polyamory and almost all alternative modes of relationships are still heavily reliant on the idea of fidelity, to the point of usually being referred to as “ethical relationships” and consequently setting moral rules which need to be followed. Why is it that we hardly ever question this notion, who benefits from it and where it comes from? Why is it that the mere thought of being cheated on can trigger anxiety and self doubt? Why do we even call it “cheating” and in spite of all the strides we have made towards equality, so much of our Western ideas of interpersonal relationship are based on a Roman, and patriarchal to boot, concept of allegiance?

Because yes, fidelity was a cornerstone of Roman Law and women could be legally killed if they were found to be adulterous. Fidelity and fealty were also fundamental during feudal times, when people had to swear loyalty to their king or lord. Fidelity is also an uncontested mandate in all Abrahamic religions. And in spite of this glaring patriarchal root, fidelity and the idea that we owe all of ourselves to another person remains unchallenged. That if we were to deviate from monogamy, this alternative way of relating, be it polyamory, open relationships or any variants, should be done following the dictates of fidelity and involve full disclosure and permission from a third party (one’s partner). And I do not think I need to delve into who, traditionally, always had to have permission to do anything in a relationship.

Fidelity, it seems, is above criticism.

Needless to say, I understand the need to establish paternity and inheritance rights and how much these are bound by fidelity but still, we have questioned almost every aspect of the foundations of traditional family ties, but we seem to take the idea of fidelity for granted. We shun “cheaters”, tabloid media empires are run on gossip and speculation about celebrities’ fidelity (or better said, lack thereof). Even people like Mo’Nique, who dared suggest she didn’t mind if her husband slept with other people was aggressively criticized, not necessarily for having an open marriage but because she seemed to attach no importance to her husband’s faithfulness. If you are a woman who was cheated on, you are supposed to hurt, you are expected to grieve, even strangers will pity you, you will be automatically placed in the position of a victim and don’t you dare suggest that you do not care because then there will be insinuations that something might be very wrong with you. Men, of course, generally get more leeway when revelations of their escapades hit the news, but still, they never navigate extra marital affairs totally unscathed.

Special contempt and vile are reserved for “The Other Woman”, though (and very, very rarely, for “The Other Man”). In most people’s minds, the mistress is deserving of nothing but contempt. Slut shaming abounds because she has dared betray an institution she had no investment in. Women should always be the guardians of other people’s marriage, whether they believe in marriage themselves or not. Media will portray these women as nothing but harlots who somewhat bear the burden of other people’s vows. The mistress is always played as the ultimate, immoral threat against women in monogamous relationships.

In view of the double standards that apply for cis, hetero men and women who are found to be cheaters, I have to wonder, can cheating, for a woman, ever be an act of liberating, or dare I say it, empowering rebellion? Could it be the last frontier of pushing against rules that we have inherited from the patriarchal foundations of our Western societies? Could cheating ever be an act of resistance against the possession of women’s bodies and minds? Is fidelity the last remaining and long lasting tool of heteronormative hegemony? Is the uncontested notion of fidelity the ultimate form of sexual control? As it is bound to happen, I do not have answers to these (and many more) questions. However, being the rebel with so many causes that I am, I do believe that no social construct is above criticism or at least profound examination and fidelity should be no exception, especially considering how much it is toted as the only acceptable way of relating to one another.


  1. Becca Stareyes wrote:

    One aspect with monogamy being the norm in America means that it seems like even a poly or open relationship needs to have the discussion to make sure all partners are clear on what they expect out of the relationship. Even if they aren’t asking for sexual or emotional fidelity*, there’s enough cultural pressure on it that you want to be sure your partner doesn’t expect it of you.

    I wonder if the only way one can change this is to make other relationships as normal as monogamy in our society.

    * And here I note that some folks will separate these; I’m not sure the traditional ideas of fidelity do, besides gender-essentialist things about how men want sex and women want love.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink
  2. Alexis wrote:

    Interesting post!

    ‘Fidelity’ is not a concept i usually make use of in the context of my relationships, as it feels more appropriate to closed relationships; and none of my relationships are closed. i would say, however, that i am committed to all three of my partners, and that i try to behave in ways that shows respect for them and their feelings. Would that fall under/within the rubric of the concept of ‘fidelity’ you’re referring to?

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  3. Alexis,

    Yes and no. I’ll explain better: fidelity is tied to this idea that we owe “explanations” of our behaviors, that full disclosure is a necessity, for instance, if you were to incorporate another person to your relationship(s). And sure, I understand that (fun fact: I AM in a monogamous relationship and fun fact number 2: I do not cheat). However, why this need that all parties involved be in agreement or provide permission? I am not trolling you (you know me well enough by now to know I am serious in my questioning). Where does this idea come from, that somewhat our feelings are tied to the control we exercise over another person’s sexuality and body? (i.e. jealousy, giving permission to be involved with someone else, etc.). If we are to spend x hours per day/week with someone, shouldn’t that be enough as long as we are mindfully present in that moment? If we are not with someone for a given amount of hours, why are we supposed to account for what happened during that time, especially in activities concerning our bodies? Why if we go out with a friend, let’s say for dinner, we do not need to, generally speaking, have permission, but the moment any insinuation of sexual activity is involved, suddenly it is off limits? And all of these ideas are tied to faithfulness, which is sort of alarming because we cannot even agree on what exactly constitutes cheating (for some people, it’s as simple as desiring another person, for others, it involves *some* form of physical contact, for yet another group, a one night stand would be a minor offense while a full fledged long term affair would be proper cheating, etc.).

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  4. margosita wrote:

    Don’t we expect a level of fidelity in non-romantic relationships as well? I’m thinking of being a child and (especially) being a teenager and how jealously and closely I guarded my friendships. If my closest friends were excluding me or showing preference towards hanging out with someone else over me, that hurt. I was broken hearted when my teenage best friend moved on to college and became closer to her new boyfriend than she was to me, and it didn’t have anything to do with sexuality.

    So I definitely get what you’re asking, but I think part of fidelity really is human nature. However it has been played with and enforced and prized within cultures (American, Italian, Roman or otherwise) I think it has deep roots that go beyond the social construct, and beyond sexual relationships, too.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  5. Alexis wrote:

    i think i understand a bit better now, but, hm ….

    In dealing with my own feelings of jealousy[1], my approach has been rooted in my belief that i do not have the right to claim ownership over another person’s body, time and energy[2]. i /don’t/ feel that my partners have to provide an accounting for the time they spend away from me, wherever it is and whoever they’re with. i mean, sure, i often like to hear about what’s been happening – particularly if there’s been hanky-panky, which i can enjoy hearing about! – but i don’t feel they overall have an /obligation/ to provide me with that information. And to me that’s something distinct from general time management issues, in that i feel there should be no underlying expectation of one partner being at another partner’s “beck and call”, and should instead be negotiated and agreed upon in the same way one might schedule any other time commitment (e.g. work).

    Having said all that, one area in which i feel it’s reasonable to make enquiries about my partner’s bodies is that of communicable diseases. i’m fluid-bonded with two of my partners; so if one of them has unprotected sex with someone else, that’s potentially exposing me to various STIs. So i do expect my partners to let me know about anything which might affect the grounds on which i’d consented to being fluid-bonded.

    So would you regard any of the above as involving issues of fidelity?

    [1] i distinguish jealousy from envy, where ‘jealousy’ is “You have what’s mine, give it back!”, whereas ‘envy’ is “You have something i wish i could have.”

    [2] Although i do have an ‘owner/property’ kink dynamic with one of my partners; but that is something that’s been negotiated and agreed upon, not expected.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  6. @Alexis, the question remains, do one’s chances of being exposed to an STI decrease if we agree to our partner(s) involvement with someone else? I mean, we can say no, which automatically reduces the chance to zero, but in the case of agreeing, what difference does knowing or not knowing make?

    As to what I regard as issues of fidelity, as I said before, anything that is presented as a de facto expectation of relationship agreements, where one party needs to agree to the activities of another, to me, an issue of fidelity. I suppose I am looking at it from the perspective of individuals, by default, expected to give up part of their autonomy in order to be in relationship(s).

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  7. Emily wrote:

    I think in my own relationships I look at fidelity as an extension of honesty and keeping one’s word. I’m more monogamous than not, but in contrast to my younger years when I was monogamous by default, nowadays I have given a lot of thought to what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not and selecting monogamy consciously–and I’m sure there are others like me. In our own way, we have questioned fidelity. I quite honestly can’t envision a scenario in which my partner making out with someone else would ever bother me, but the more it escalates beyond kissing the more likely it is that I’ll be upset by it. So when I enter into a relationship, we talk about what makes us comfortable and what makes us upset, and we establish ground rules to keep us both happy. Fidelity to those rules is just honoring a promise to strive to keep each other happy, in whatever form we negotiated at the outset or subsequently renegotiated.

    As for the “why” it’s so pervasive even amongst people who have given it consideration and questioning, the answer for me is that it ensures your needs get met. I believe for most people the root of jealousy is not about sexual possessiveness exactly–because we also see people who become jealous of their partner’s work, or his favorite sport, or her best friend, all of which are not sexual relationships–but about fear that one’s own needs won’t be met. I’m comfortable with pretty much anything my partner chooses to do in the hours ze is away from me, right up until the point where those activities are having a direct negative impact on my own needs being met. That’s why I’m pretty unilaterally OK with my partner kissing someone else: I know that kissing someone else doesn’t mean he won’t have enough time, love, or kisses left for me. That’s also why I become increasingly less OK as it escalates: because I think we do have a finite amount of time, effort, and energy to devote to other people and an escalating relationship with a third party (whether sexual or simply intimate) that doesn’t also involve me begins to threaten my partner’s supply of time, effort, and energy. I want my partner to come home to me just about every night and keep me warm and cuddly in bed, and wake up with me in the morning. I’m sure ze’ll still do that after kissing someone else. I’m less sure ze’ll still do that if ze starts banging someone else and maybe starts wanting to spend the night in that person’s bed. Is it selfish to want the majority of my partner’s nighttime cuddles to be with me? Absolutely. But that’s why we negotiated the terms at the outset of the relationship. It was an honest assessment of what both of us want from the relationship in order to feel fulfilled, and we both agreed to the terms with eyes wide open.

    I’d also add that honesty is paramount to strict fidelity in my relationships. I’m much less concerned with perfect adherence to our ground rules than I am with honest communication. It’s not so much that my partner owes me an explanation for their activities in general. It’s that we made specific and voluntary promises to each other about what we would and would not do in our relationship, and if one of us slips up and doesn’t admit it, that’s dishonesty. If trust is the foundation of an intimate relationship, then how can a relationship work if it’s riddled with dishonesty?

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  8. Rebecca wrote:

    “I’d also add that honesty is paramount to strict fidelity in my relationships. I’m much less concerned with perfect adherence to our ground rules than I am with honest communication.”

    Nailed it.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  9. shinobi42 wrote:

    I think fidelity, as I think I’m understanding it being used here, is a key function of a relationship, not some social standard that we are tied too. Alexis said above: “However, why this need that all parties involved be in agreement or provide permission?”

    It’s not that you NEED all parties to be involved or to provide permission. You certainly COULD in theory go off and do whatever you liked. But part of being in a relationship, the fundamental part, of any kind of relationship is respecting the wants and needs of the other person(s). This is true of friendship and romantic relationships.

    If my friend tells me a secret, and I run off and tell someone else, I am not being faithful to her, to our friendship to our bond. I am disregarding her feelings in favor of my own desire to tell a secret.

    It’s not that fidelity is a cage that makes us ask permission to do the things we want to do. We ask permission to do the things we want to do because we love the other person, and care about their feelings and reactions. Are their feelings always going to be rational? No. Am I always going to like it? No.

    To not have any level of fidelity in a relationship, is to almost not have a relationship. If two people in a relationship do whatever they like with no regard for the feelings or wants of the other person, how is that a relationship? Isn’t it more like two people who know each other but don’t really care about the other person’s feelings? (And it could be that neither one really cares, and that is totally fine, but just by knowing and acknowledging that I think they are showing fidelity to each other.)

    So I guess I think a different question to ask, would be why do we react so strongly to the actions of people we have relationships with? Even when those actions have nothing to do with us?

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  10. Raemon wrote:

    I don’t have much personal experience here, but I’ve read some poly-oriented blog posts about how, in the absence of sexual fidelity being a major concern, they develop other rituals that they are only allowed to share with each other. For example, only using a particular made up word with your primary, or committing to seeing particular movies with a particular partner.

    There’s a lot of social norms that don’t make any objective sense, but there IS value in having SOME kind of of non-objectively-useful ritual that binds people together. This applies to shared dress codes for larger peer groups (ranging from the military to anarchists), and to exclusive rituals with people you are particularly close with, whether sexual or otherwise.

    Relevant article that explains in better detail:

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink
  11. mamram wrote:

    “Women should always be the guardians of other people’s marriage, whether they believe in marriage themselves or not.”

    This is something that I wonder about a lot. Clearly the current social expectation, which basically makes single women MORE responsible for preserving other people’s marriages than the are the men who are actually in those relationships, is completely sexist. But on the other hand, I am not entirely comfortable with the view that since a marriage is a private contract, that it should have zero ethical implications for someone who might be knowingly involved in violating the terms of that marriage. It strikes me as somewhat Randian. At the very least, a person who sleeps with a married person (knowing that their spouse would have a problem with it) is knowingly causing another person to be emotionally hurt, which I don’t think we can say is just a-okay. I don’t know what the reasonable balance would be here, but I feel like it must be somewhere before complete permissiveness.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  12. 300baud wrote:

    I’m not quite following the analysis here. If fidelity is essentially patriarchal, then why are people like Clinton beaten with the fidelity stick?

    I’d agree that the historical root of fidelity is in what powerful men want. But isn’t that because it’s what a lot of people want, men and women? And couldn’t the modern fondness for it be people adopting a formally patriarchal structure because it works for them as well?

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  13. Copcher wrote:

    This is something I think about a lot. I hear people talk all the time about cheating as if it’s the worst possible thing a person could do to their romantic partner, but they seem to see problems like possessiveness, emotional manipulation, incompatibility as things that should be talked about and worked through. I agree with Margosita that people (especially children and teenagers) behave in a similar way with non-romantic relationships, but I also think that being hurt because your friend (or partner) excludes you is very different from being hurt that your friend (or partner) did something with someone else that you want them to do only with you, which is what I see cheating to be. It sucks to feel like the people who are important to you don’t feel the same way about you. At the same time, expecting someone to only share certain experiences with you strikes me as possessive and controlling, but somehow it’s socially accepted to have that expectation in romantic relationships.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  14. @Copcher, it IS supposed to be possessive and controlling and I guess what irks me is that women are expected to over play the part, even if they do not feel particularly aggravated over their partners seeing someone else. Notice how media portrays women whose spouses cheated on them: they have to look like they are grieving (sometimes for years, look at how Jennifer Aniston is still presented even after so long), they have to appear like the cheating is the worst thing that has happened to them, etc. And sure, I do not discount that it feels that way for *some* people (and legitimately so) but I find it hard to believe that we never get to hear someone saying “I don’t care”.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  15. Anne wrote:

    Clearly the puzzle here is quite what is meant by fidelity in a possibly-poly context. Maybe it would help to list examples of non-fidelity?

    The obvious: “cheating” in a standard monogamous relationship. Being the “other woman” in that setting (a rather different relationship from the official one, really). “Cheating”, i.e. breaking the ground rules, in a poly relationship.

    The more subtle: there’s no real notion of fidelity in a one-night stand. There isn’t necessarily any even after a few dates – after all, if someone just took you to dinner a couple of times, what kind of fidelity do they expect? (Some people may expect some, but it’s also fairly normal, especially in this dating-site age, not to expect fidelity even after several dates – whether or not those dates involved sex.)

    The ambiguous: relationships with a known, looming, end. A summer fling, a brief liaison on a cruise, even a recurring string of trysts at conferences. How much fidelity do people expect from this sort of thing?

    Looking at this list, I’m inclined to think that fidelity, suitably defined, is what makes a relationship. (Annoyingly, the very generic word “relationship”, which ought to mean anything from “brother” to “wife” to “hairdresser”, has come to be the word we use for romantic relationships.) It’s perhaps an expectation of loyalty, that there is something that the people involved will try to hold on to.

    Is it a revolutionary idea to do without fidelity? Well, it kind of is – or maybe, was. After all, women doing one-night stands, sex parties, casual flings, et cetera is indeed a big deal, and a liberation – but we’re kind of there already.

    Another way to address the role/status/nature of fidelity, though, would be to look at how cheating is handled – is it a relationship-breaker, as the media tells us? Or is it simply a stupid slip, a failing among many? I have the impression that this latter is a European way of seeing it, and it is a different view of the importance of fidelity.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  16. Vivian wrote:

    As a preface, I am a strong believer in a monogomous marriage. I have one, I like it, it works for me. This is not to say that other relationships are not a) just as valid and b) work just as well for other people.

    Now as far as monogomy goes, it is not at all a product of “patriarchy.” In fact, historically, men have been encouraged and expected to be non-monogomous. It is only the women who were expected to stick with one sexual partner, that being their husband. Up until relatively recently in Western society, it was assumed that a married man who could afford to do so would have a mistress, and that an unmarried man might occasionally dally with prostitutes.

    Modern day monogomy, i.e., by both partners in the relationship is a choice made by two adults, generally when they get married. The promises made upon marriage may vary from person to person, but whatever those promises are, they are expected to be kept. If you promise to be monogamous, you should keep your word. Or at the very least, not lie about it. Which, coming back to Clinton, is the real reason that I and many others had a problem with his behavior. He didn’t just lie to his wife, he lied to all of the people he was representing. He denied the affair under oath.

    So no, I don’t think that “cheating” in a relationship is an act of liberation, unless you were forced to marry and promise to be faithful against your will. A promise made under duress certainly doesn’t count, but if you made the promise, you should at the very least let your partner know that you have changed your mind before you break it.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  17. @Vivian, you think that a system that always allowed (or even encouraged) men to cheat is not the by product of patriarchy?! Where men had prerogatives and permissions to behave in a certain way while women were punished by death for straying from it? That is pretty much the very definition of Patriarchy (which incidentally, it is, due to the Greco-Roman empires being the basis of our modern day social structures and legal systems, including the mandate of monogamy for women and the permission for men to not abide by it).

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  18. octopod wrote:

    I think some of the fear of non-monogamy in a lot of people comes from the fear of being left. If you think that your partner spending time with someone else means they’re likely to leave you for that person, and you’d prefer not to lose the relationship, then the fear makes some sense.

    As someone above said, this applies to friendship too.

    My partner (primary partner?) knows I enjoy the life I have built with him, and he believes me when I tell him I want to stay with him. But if he were more insecure about that, or if our relationship had trouble, I could see him getting antsy when I go to see someone else.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  19. Vivian wrote:

    @Flavia I’m saying that monogamy, where both partners are faithful, is not the product of patriarchy. Because patriarchy did, as you correctly state, encourage men to sleep around. That’s why I’m attempting to distinguish monogamy in the modern sense of the word, where we really do expect people (including men) to remain faithful to their marriage vows.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  20. Saito wrote:

    One major aspect of fidelity is promise-keeping – it doesn’t matter what the promise is, a broken promise hurts. I don’t think that can really be contested. As long as promises are important to people, commitments are important to people, then keeping the promise of fidelity will be.

    Moving on, why is the promise *of fidelity* so key? Well, partially I think it’s something deep within us, something really primeval and basic. Who hasn’t felt that particular sense of bile and nausea that accompanies the suspicion or the confirmation of a cheating partner? Even just thinking about it was enough to make me physically unwell at age 14-15 – as powerful as society is, I don’t believe it can create that kind of reaction on its own.

    Then there’s the issue of STIs – in this day and age, one of the benefits of a monogamous relationship is that, as long as you are both aware of/have the same infection status, you can disregard some barrier methods like condoms in favor of other methods like Hormonal birth control or a vasectomy or whatever(obviously this is for het couples). If the other partner is running around, you lose that ability to be confident in their infection status.

    Finally, there is the fact that a certain amount of the attraction of marriage comes from the idea of committing something – and sacrificing something – for another person. It’s like someone dedicating their lives to the clergy or the life of a monk, or lifelong service in some other pursuit.

    You are freely giving privileged access to your body and soul (hopefully) to one other person, and they reciprocate. Sometimes, you want something so much that you *don’t want anyone else to have it* – and I don’t see why that’s a bad thing! Is sharing always best? In the case of attention, for instance, most people turn out to be really bad at multitasking. Cheating is pretty much relationship multitasking, and the deception is time consuming and bad for both parties.

    In the final analysis, if polyamory, swinging, or whatever work for other people, there’s no problem with that. But lying is just bad, flat-out, and if you can’t agree on that as a moral principle…*shrug* Seems like you’re on pretty thin ice.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  21. Jane wrote:

    This is an awesome conversation to have. My context is that I don’t (at this point in my life) engage in romantic/sexual relationships, but I do have a number of very meaningful friendships. I have often wondered why the “rules” for my friendships seem to be so different than what the standard “rules” for a romantic relationship (and, if anything, the sort of possessiveness that often seems to accompany notions of strict fidelity tends to be really harmful in a friendship.)

    The other thing I wonder about is how cheating is given such importance — I wouldn’t say it’s framed as the most profound sin of committed relationships, but it is pretty weird that cheating is often given the same moral weight as emotional or verbal abuse, for example in discourses about when one partner should leave another. (Maybe someone already said this — I didn’t see it — but I do think that cheating can be a form of abuse, when it’s done by a person with more power in the relationship — for instance, if a husband cheats on his wife who for economic reasons can’t leave him and then refuses to have protected sex. That’s probably pretty obvious to everyone here, I guess.)

    That being said, I want to second Emily: “. . . I look at fidelity as an extension of honesty and keeping one’s word.” I think that standard is one that could be pretty consistent across most human relationships.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  22. Mailee wrote:

    I don’t normally feel qualified to really engage in these conversations, and it’s entirely possible that I don’t understand these concepts well enough, but this is a critique I’ve never seen before and I’d like to jump in a bit since I’ve only ever experienced monogamous relationships and have cheated multiple times in many of them. Let me start by saying that I’m not looking to justify my actions, but I would like to understand them a bit better in terms outside of my own emotionality.

    In a lot of ways I think that meaningful* expressions of affection involve a sort of sacrifice; it’s an easy way to translate our feelings into something tangible that others can understand. We do things for people we love because they’re worth that kind of effort. We show them that we love them through the things we’re willing to do for them, and through the things we’re willing to give up for them. A big sacrifice is that of complete sexual and emotional freedom. Willingly giving up freedom, of any kind is a pretty grand gesture. Whether that necessarily means that revoking that gesture means that you no longer feel that way for your partner(s), I don’t know…

    I think the idea of “cheating” always involves a betrayal of trust and consent. In my mind, all healthy relationships have certain agreements made between the people involved, and it’s impossible by definition to cheat if the agreement includes access to other people, emotionally and/or sexually, whether or not they are “shared” with the other partner(s).

    Now this is coming from someone who is more of an armchair feminist theorist; I haven’t taken courses or read any major works in full. I just would like to see where this conversation goes, particularly because I don’t know if I’m capable of understanding relationships outside of the concept of fidelity as it’s defined in this essay.

    *“meaningful” in terms of current social mores

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  23. Saito wrote:

    Another quick word on consent – I remember way back in the mists of time, I was shown a Health class video (i.e. sex ed) which stated that “when you have sex with a person, you have sex with every person they’ve had sex with.”

    Not really true, TBH, but from a public health/epidemiology perspective, it kind of is. So, when you consent to have sex with a person, you are consenting to have sex with them, with a certain degree of knowledge about their sexual history and infection status.

    When someone cheats, they basically open you up to a whole new level of exposure without your consent – an unaware husband or wife doesn’t know that his/her spouse is exposing themself, and is in a very meaningful way having their consent violated.

    I wouldn’t call it sexual assault, but cheating and then giving your partner herpes or HPV or syphilis or AIDS is definitely a danger, and a real moral problem.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  24. liz wrote:

    I’m surprised at the triteness of this assertion. So much literature equates adultery with liberating rebellion. (on a high school level, Kate Chopin, right?)

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink
  25. James wrote:

    As for why honesty and disclosure matter in relationships, I think it’s about vulnerability in all its myriad aspects, one of which Saito has raised already.

    The deeper the relationship, the more vulnerable its partners become to one another.

    By witholding information from a partner knowingly or suspecting that they might find it relevant in determining their own level of disclosure, emotional engagement or even participation in the relationship, you are attempting to gain or maintain a place in that person’s life that their defence mechanisms could well have deflected you from had they known the full story. It’s deceitful.

    And of course the demonstrated willingness to disregard the particular idiosyncrasies – whatever they may be – of one’s partner’s defence mechanisms is itself likely to trip every alarm in the system once discovered, much as discovering a thief in the bank vault.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  26. Tablesaw wrote:

    This is a really great discussion, coming at a time that I’m thinking about my own open/polyamorous relationships.

    I think Anne is onto something when it comes to looking at how fidelity comes into play for different types of relationships. I think fidelity becomes an issue when some concept of permanence enters a relationship (even a non-romantic one like the kind Margosita talked about). It becomes an agreement of “I promise not to leave, and because I do so, you promise not to do these things that would hurt me and make me want to leave.”

    My instinct when I first read the OP was to protect fidelity, but after thinking through all the comments, I’m not so sure anymore. Because while that sounds like an equitable agreement, it isn’t a necessarily revolutionary one, and it does tend to encode other power dynamics. Because there are far more pressures to leave and stay than just fidelity, and so fidelity can become a lever for abuse and oppression in a relationship (I think, again, even non-romantic ones).

    But is it necessarily revolutionary to do without fidelity in that way, to have relationships governed entirely by experienced moment-to-moment trust? I’m not sure, because for many people, a desire for permanence is, if not “natural,” then involuntary, with certain people, or after a certain amount of time. And in that case being in a relationship subject to constant renegotiation, can be its own stressor, with one person holding back.

    In either case, I think cheating would be an act of rebellion in an unequal relationship. Because when the typically “all-or-nothing” bargain of fidelity becomes oppressive, and negotiation is either disallowed or compromised by inequity, then there’s a need for other options. “Cheating” is one, and I think that kind of attitude explains other kinds of “cheating” like “emotional affairs” or friendships.

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  27. Alexis wrote:

    @ Flavia:

    Hm, i think you’re assuming (or implying) the existence of something in what i wrote that i didn’t intend.

    Although there are many poly arrangements in which partners have the right of veto, mine is not one of them. i have /no/ right of veto in terms of who my partners form sexual and/or romantic relationships with. i can express my concerns – perhaps very strong concerns – about certain individuals, but that’s the extent of my power. When i was referring to STI risks, i was trying to say: If one of my partners chooses to have unprotected sex with someone, i want to know that they’ve done so, so that /i/ in turn can make an assessment of the ways in which i can continue to sexually interact with them. It’s post-facto.

    Having said that, yes, my partners and i have negotiated agreements as to our safe(r) sex practices. Does that limit our individual autonomy? Sure. But calling it an issue of ‘fidelity’ merely because it’s in the context of romantic relationships wouldn’t make sense to me; i would call it an issue of ‘consideration’, no different from holding a door open for someone walking just behind me rather than letting it slam in their face. Although i guess one could talk in terms of “fidelity to the relationship agreements that have been negotiated”. But i don’t think that’s the sort of ‘fidelity’ to which you’re referring.

    (Sorry if my responses are dense; i suspect i’m coming from a quite different place to you, and so i’m having to work hard to ‘get’ your perspective.)

    Monday, September 19, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Permalink
  28. Linden wrote:

    Believe you me, constant negotiation can also be a lever for abuse and oppression in a relationship. The pressure to “perform,” to capture and recapture the interest of the other person in the face of competition, the demand to explain and justify your basic needs again and again … been there, done that, will never do it again.

    Rebellion = passive-aggressive undermining of the relationship, not a mature response to unmet needs.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 12:25 am | Permalink
  29. Tariq wrote:

    I’m having difficulty understanding this post, to be honest. Mostly because of my contempt of Silvio Berlusconi, which kind of put me in a tailspin while I sorted out my contempt for Berlusconi, and the argument made in this post.

    After sorting that out, though, I’m still a little confused, because… I’m not exactly sure what these terms mean, in these contexts: exclusivity, fidelity and honesty.

    I’m formally (and religiously, actually) married, and it works for me. But if you were to ask me if exclusivity should be questioned, I’d say, yes. There’s a whole complex of really problematic and oppressive stuff in the idea of exclusivity that needs to be picked apart and deconstructed, exactly for the reasons that the post outlined.

    But honesty, on the other hand… well, you know what? I kind of want people I care about to be honest to me, and finding out that they weren’t does hurt. Similar to that is the expectation that the promises I keep to friends and lovers, and vice versa should be honored. This also implies that if you want to make a promise to someone the promise needs to be explicitly made, and understood by both parties — but once it’s made, well, it’s made, and breaking it does (and should) hurt.

    In a sense, I’m kind of unwilling to question the expectation of honesty between people I love and care about, because… well, if I haven’t got trust and honesty, what looks like what I’ve got left is a barren wasteland of Prisoner’s Dillemma-esque relationships. I don’t really want that, and I don’t want to care for, love and be around people who are like that.

    The problem is… well, I don’t know where fidelity falls. Is it honesty in relationships? Is it exclusivity? Is it both? Is it neither? Because while I’m happy to question exclusivity and the one-sided patriarchal double-standards that underlie those principles, I… don’t really want to question the expectation that I should trust and be honest to, and expect honesty from, people I love and care about.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink
  30. Anne wrote:

    Just to be clear, I am polyamorous by inclination but I don’t do cheating, or cheaters.

    If you’ll permit a bit of self-reference here, I think it’s instructive to note that almost everyone here feels the need to clarify that “infidelity is bad and I don’t do it, but…” There’s obviously an important social value at stake here. I think it’s probably trust: betrayal, on a sexual or emotional level, is a big deal.

    That’s why I think it’s important to look at relationships/encounters/whatever you want to call them where trust is not an issue. It is these that I was arguing are liberating.

    Perhaps another example would help: “friends with benefits”. It’s not a relationship I have personal experience with, but in some sense it’s exactly a sexual relationship without any expectation of fidelity.

    It seems to me that to make “friends with benefits” work, one has to be sure not to form too many expectations. In fact it’s tricky not to, because it’s easy for people to confuse sexual intimacy with emotional intimacy with commitment. But this kind of relationship does work for some people.

    What kind of social implications do non-faithful relationships have? Well, one is that people can have sex without needing to have a life that can accommodate a long-term partner. This was traditionally available – and necessary – to men. For example sailors in the Age of Sail would generally have their sex lives broken up into brief shore leaves in different ports all over the world; they would mostly have sex with prostitutes. I can’t say this is a positive example, but from a social point of view, how do you satisfy the sexual needs of someone with no fixed address and no predictable schedule? One option is to travel with one’s partner. In the case of the Age of Sail, situational homosexuality was common. But there were also not-exactly-romantic pair-bonds between a sailor and his “tie-mate” – the man who would oil and tie his long ponytail. But the system had to somehow accommodate those sailors whose sexual needs involved women, and non-faithful relationships did that.

    What role do they have today? Well, the much-maligned “hook-up culture” is largely about non-faithful relationships. Young people exploring their sexuality with a string of different sexual partners fills a role in self-discovery. Or, for another example, swingers are normally in stable, faithful sexual relationships with their partners, but to satisfy their desire for sexual variety they have relationships with others, often other couples. These outside relationships often do not involve any notion of fidelity.

    In short: I think some relationships have an expectation of fidelity, and that in those contexts it’s very bad news to violate that expectation. But I also think there’s a social role for relationships with no expectation of fidelity. I think this has traditionally been an option for men, but is now becoming more available to women as well. In the process I think the culture around non-faithful relationships is becoming less poisonous.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 2:45 am | Permalink
  31. Citizen Taqueau wrote:

    My contempt for Berlusconi, Clinton, Weiner, Spitzer, Sheen, etc. has nothing to do with fidelity or monogamy, it has to do with their entitlement to lower-status/subordinate(d) female bodies as objects for their amusement.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 3:27 am | Permalink
  32. Kaz wrote:

    This is a very interesting discussion!

    A thought: I find it interesting that so many people are making comparisons with nonromantic relationships (as in, “but there’s fidelity in nonromantic relationships too!” or the friends with benefits comparison) because something a community I belong to has had a lot of conversations about is the immense power differential between romantic and platonic relationships, in terms of what partners get to expect from each other. Which is to say: although jealousy may exist in friendships, I do not see it being socially supported (I also find it interesting that those people who have brought this up have specified this being something teenagers do). If someone is feeling jealous of the time their friend is spending with other people, that’s generally seen as something they ought to get over, and the idea of that person marching up to their friend and demanding they spend less time with other people is… not socially supported, in my experience. However, with romantic relationships this approach to jealousy is not just supported but made compulsory, and the partner who goes “wtf, who the hell do you think you are telling me what I’m allowed to do” is generally viewed as in the wrong. And that’s not even getting into stuff like how it is expected that romantic partners will be consulted, even asked for permission when it comes to major life decisions like getting a new job or moving, when a friend having anywhere near that degree of input and power is Really not typical. And all this seems to be tied into the concept of fidelity quite strongly – that someone has the right to demand their partner not engage in certain activities and so on – so I think going “but fidelity exists in nonromantic relationships too!” is seriously oversimplifying the issue to the point of inaccuracy.

    Women should always be the guardians of other people’s marriage, whether they believe in marriage themselves or not. Media will portray these women as nothing but harlots who somewhat bear the burden of other people’s vows.

    This is actually something I have never understood – why we blame the person cheated with as well as the person who cheated. It just doesn’t make sense to me – one of the people is not involved in the relationship, has not made any promises or vows to anyone, and yet they’re told they ought to make sure these aren’t broken even when one of the people involved isn’t bothering? It really doesn’t make sense to me.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  33. Linden wrote:

    This is actually something I have never understood – why we blame the person cheated with as well as the person who cheated. It just doesn’t make sense to me – one of the people is not involved in the relationship, has not made any promises or vows to anyone, and yet they’re told they ought to make sure these aren’t broken even when one of the people involved isn’t bothering?

    The person cheating bears nearly all the blame, but the person who partners the cheater isn’t behaving in a completely upright manner, either. Their actions directly cause pain to another person, or people, if there are children involved. Some people can disassociate themselves from the downstream pollution, as it were, and still enjoy themselves, but that doesn’t make it right.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  34. AMM wrote:

    For some reason, all of the comments seem somehow pretty USA-centric. There’s something very _American_ about the idea that relationships are something you _create_ and maintain and which can be wiped away if you fail to, or if you don’t want them.

    When I recall my years living in Europe, my impression is that, at least traditionally, many or most of your relationships were there whether you wanted them or not. There was (and is?) a rather strict line between people you had been connected to all your life and strangers. You could move to a town, but if your parents and grandparents weren’t born there (not to mention you), you remained an outsider. Your friends and your spouse were people who were tied to you by bonds that were generations old.

    Because of this, people had to learn to live and deal with awful things in relationships where we in the USA would simply walk away. I think the people in Italy don’t exactly approve of Belusconi’s carrying ons, but they can’t just reject people because they do stuff they think are awful. People in families over there do awful things to one another, just like here, but family is still family.

    Actually, it reminds me of my relationship with my ex-wife. We have kids, so it’s not like we can pretend that the other has vanished from the face of the earth. We have to deal with one another on a regular basis. To the extent that we behave decently towards one another, it’s not “love” or “fidelity”; it’s pure self-interest. It doesn’t matter whether I forgive her for what she did (and does), I still have to take her telephone calls and use a civil tone.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  35. Kaz wrote:


    First off, I actually *am* European, so it’s kind of funny being accused of US-centrism and ignoring European experiences by a USAmerican!

    I also have to say I don’t really recognise my culture in what you’ve said. Although it may be because you’re thinking of somewhere else; Europe is a big and not very homogeneous place. Finland is not the Ukraine is not Cyprus is not Austria is not Portugal is not Ireland and so on and so forth. There are undoubtedly some commonalities, but given that I’m reluctant to use my experiences to say too much about other areas of Germany, even, I’m pretty skeptical of generalisations about “Europeans”.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink
  36. Alexis wrote:

    @ Amm:

    To add to Kaz’s comment: i’m Australian (born in Australia, lived in Australia all my life); and one of my partners is a Kiwi. 🙂

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  37. Crys T wrote:

    What Kaz said. As a Spaniard, I don’t think I really have that much in common culturally with, say, a Dane. Yes, yes, there are always some small threads of commonality, but there are also massive differences.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  38. MK wrote:

    “That if we were to deviate from monogamy, this alternative way of relating, be it polyamory, open relationships or any variants, should be done following the dictates of fidelity and involve full disclosure and permission from a third party (one’s partner). And I do not think I need to delve into who, traditionally, always had to have permission to do anything in a relationship.”
    Yes, traditionally, in heterosexual relationships, women have needed “permission.” In polyamorous relationships, however, there is a departure from this; partners are aware of outside relationships, there is mutual permission.

    “Even people like Mo’Nique, who dared suggest she didn’t mind if her husband slept with other people was aggressively criticized, not necessarily for having an open marriage but because she seemed to attach no importance to her husband’s faithfulness.”
    I think it WAS for having an open marriage, and I think people who criticized her were conflating monogamy with fidelity.

    “In view of the double standards that apply for cis, hetero men and women who are found to be cheaters, I have to wonder, can cheating, for a woman, ever be an act of liberating, or dare I say it, empowering rebellion?”
    I don’t know how it could, unless, as Vivian said “you were forced to marry and promise to be faithful against your will.” Why is it liberating or empowering to lie to your partner?

    “Could it be the last frontier of pushing against rules that we have inherited from the patriarchal foundations of our Western societies?”
    Can you explain why cheating is “the last frontier”? I’m really confused.

    “Could cheating ever be an act of resistance against the possession of women’s bodies and minds?”
    Again, if the relationship was forced. But if you entered into it willingly, promising fidelity, how is cheating an act of resistance?

    “Is fidelity the last remaining and long lasting tool of heteronormative hegemony?”
    Are you implying that all other tools of the heteronormtive hegemony have been dealt with?

    “Is the uncontested notion of fidelity the ultimate form of sexual control?”
    “Ultimate”? More than forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, rape culture? Really?

    You asked Alexis “do one’s chances of being exposed to an STI decrease if we agree to our partner(s) involvement with someone else? I mean, we can say no, which automatically reduces the chance to zero, but in the case of agreeing, what difference does knowing or not knowing make?”
    Knowing makes a tremendous difference. I am extremely careful with regard to sexual protection and testing. I trust my partners to be as well. They keep me regularly informed. When my girlfriend’s husband’s girlfriend was exposed to an STI, all sexual activity between all involved parties that could possibly result of transmission of said STI stopped until enough time had passed for her to get tested, and the tests come back negative. When you know about risks, you can take precautions. That makes a big difference.

    This entry frustrated me. If you are going to talk about fidelity in relationships, how can you not talk about lying and trust, neither of which you mention once? Cheating is lying and we care if our partner lies because it is a betrayal. If they have permission, it isn’t cheating.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  39. A Viss wrote:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned this already, so I have to throw it out here:

    Laura Kipnis wrote a hilarious and insightful book of polemical essays on this topic called Against Love. She uses everyone from St. Augustine to Weber to Hochschild to examine adultery as a critique of current (American) concepts of marriage and the now popular “if it’s not working, work harder” attitude toward relationships. She spends a lot of time examining the 90s as a decade of political sex scandals and portrayals of Bill Clinton too.

    I was awash in a sea of Ethical Slut-esque poly primers and DH Lawrence novels before Kipnis provided me with a solid theoretical foundation for my nonmonogamous practices.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  40. Kristie wrote:

    @ Kaz

    I think you bring up an excellent point–that the jealousy that is not supported in non-romantic relationships seems to be the basis of romantic ones. In all other types of love, we are polyamorous. We love multiple parents, children, siblings, relatives, friends, pets, without a problem. It is only in romantic partnership that all that’s out the window, and there is no cognitive dissonance where there ought to be because we’re so used to it now. It’s totally weird, to me.

    If the common paradigm is fidelity=exclusive ownership of the time, body, mind, soul, and emotions of another person, I’ve got a problem with that. But as others have said, there are a lot of meanings of faithfulness, i.e., relating to one another in good faith. It’s basic consideration, which I think is essential in all human relationships, especially those that are considered important relationships, but personally, I want to operate in good faith with all people, whether it’s my husband or the girl taking my order at Subway. What constitutes fidelity under the ownership model certainly has a lot of room for argument, as the OP says, but relating to others in good faith does not seem to have quite as much wiggle room, as I understand and practice it. (I am a widowed poly person, and currently a practicing monogamous person, but still poly at heart and in terms of how I think about relationships.) Do I need my partner’s permission to do anything, from spending money to sleeping with someone else? Of course not. Anyone can do whatever they wish at any time; and they can deal with the consequences of those choices, for better and worse.

    However, I’d prefer to have my partner’s understanding and support and blessing if I can. That’s my choice. Because I respect and love my partner, I choose to relate to him in good faith. That’s what we agreed to do when we got married. That’s what we agreed to do when we opened up our marriage. If one doesn’t wish to share their life with someone to that extent, and does not want to disclose what (or whom) they’re doing when they’re apart, that’s certainly an option, but it is in sharing and disclosure that we build intimacy. Everyone is entitled to personal privacy, but I think when every aspect of your life is private, even from the people closest to you, then you don’t really have a partnership; you have an arrangement. Which is fine if that’s what you want.

    I think if we intend to relate to people in good faith, we have to be ourselves honestly, and if we have changed, or our relationship expectations have changed, they have the right to know that up front so that they can decide if they want to continue the relationship under the new expectations. I have every right in the world to decide I want to have an open relationship. And my partner has every right in the world to decide whether or not he wishes to be in an open relationship, too. If we can agree, great. If we can’t, then we may have to go our separate ways, but that doesn’t mean his desire to be in a closed relationship is invalid. For me to decide unilaterally that it’s opening when he has no idea? That’s not resistance, or rebellion; that’s just being an asshole. If you truly feel your choices are appropriate, and your opinion entirely valid in regards to your own life, you have to allow that other people’s are about their lives, too, and respect their right to make decisions based on all available information. To me, the cheating is in the lying.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 12:13 am | Permalink
  41. Crys T wrote:

    Also gotta agree w/ MK, especially these bits:

    “‘Is fidelity the last remaining and long lasting tool of heteronormative hegemony?’
    Are you implying that all other tools of the heteronormtive hegemony have been dealt with?”

    And “If they have permission, it isn’t cheating.”

    I think if you are in a really coercive environment and have been forced (either literally or by social pressure) into a relationship you do not want, then yeah, maybe cheating might have some sort of liberatory value. However, if you are in a situation where you do have options, I find it hard to see how it could.

    And if you are actually in an open relationship, what possible value could there be in lying to your partner/s?

    Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  42. Dom wrote:

    This is an interesting take on the topic. I’ve had various types of relationships where 1) I didn’t care, or ask, if my partner slept with other women; 2) I didn’t believe it was a problem for me to do this; 3) I was completely uninterested in other partners because I was deeply infatuated, and felt wounded at the thought of the object of my affections wanting anyone else, though I did not “blame” him for my feelings – I just felt miserable; and 4) my partner and I agreed I could sleep with other guys as long as it wasn’t someone he knew (and as it happened, he seemed to know every guy in town:) ugh).

    I have also been on the receiving end of interest from married or otherwise hooked-up guys, and it enraged me no end. One guy even invited me to dinner, had his wife cook for me, then came on to me by email. It reminded me of how my Dad would invite guys over, have my mother make dinner, and clearly act infatuated the whole evening, in front of all of us. It was a devastating humiliation for my mother. So I guess that’s where my anger comes from and why I feel like kicking the Berlusconis of the world in the cojones.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  43. xenu01 wrote:

    Interesting that a couple of commenters have brought up the STI angle. I wonder if the primacy of monogamy and fidelity in the US has something to do with the obsession with cleanliness (and by extension, dirtiness)? Clean = “fresh smelling” = untainted by FEEEEELings = “not overly PC” = brand new computers all the time!! = clean-shaven plastic aesthetic (wear a bra! don’t be fat! shave your legs! don’t show your nipples!) = Monogamy & Fidelity?

    Or maybe I’m looking too deeply into all of this.

    Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  44. Jamie wrote:

    Love the allusion in the title — very appropriate!

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  45. Maria wrote:

    I think Tariq’s got a point.


    Fidelity is just being faithful to a partner. So you might not give a shit about your partner sleeping with other people (being nonmonogamous), but you don’t want to be lied to or treated differently because of this. Hence, the insistence on truthfulness. ‘Being unfaithful’ in this context is entirely to do with honesty between two or more people, and nothing to do with ‘asking permission’ for your nonmonogamous practises. I find it vaguely insulting that you are conflating the idea of ‘cheating’ as defined by gossip magazines (physical, nonmonogamous, withholding information of nonmonogamy to a partner who assumes monogamy with you) with the idea of resistance against patriarchal relationships. Which loads of people in all kinds of relationships are doing, with the idea of fidelity in mind (ie. honesty), rather than being ‘unfaithful’ (ie. pretending to be in a sexually monogamous relationship, and deceiving one person about how many people you are sexually involved with). I don’t see deception of another person, regardless of situation or gender, as a valid basis for sexual revolution or rewriting previously patriarchal bonds. Honesty is a moral value seperate from monogamy. In the media, in culture, in patriarchy, yes, the two are conflated, but there’s no reason for us to do the same in our relationships.

    Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink