Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Byte on the Side

Richard has been happily married for several years. Unfortunately he has reached a stage in his relationship wherein he is "bored" because of the lack of passion. He hardly sleeps with his wife and doesn't seem to find her sexual anymore. But he does love his wife and thinks the world of her and knows that she makes a wonderful mother for his children. He doesn't intend to leave her or hurt her by falling into an affair to satisfy his other "needs". He also realizes that his wife will not agree to an open relationship.

At this point, Richard comes to know of a company that provides a virtual-reality experience of having a passionate time with a simulated agent. It's akin to cyber-sex except that there is no real person on the other side of the internet. This is a virtual environment wherein Richard's mind will be stimulated into thinking he is sleeping with another woman, but in effect there is no third person involved. Should Richard succumb to this?

To be honest, this chapter made me feel low -- I don't know why. Maybe it's because of all the numerous movies and stories and real life incidents I have witnessed. This was one such a case where you can either think with your head or think with your heart. My gut response to this question was to say it's OK for Richard to go ahead and try this new experience, and I don't know if it came through my head or heart...

Monogamy is a concept that is formed out of the premise that human relationships are far too complex to be trifled with. This is what I think. As much intelligence as we are proud to have acquired, we have as much of emotions. We can theorize that a man can have several partners and yet love them equally. Hell, with just one woman, a man has to deal with the possessiveness between his wife, his mother, his sister, sometimes sister-in-law... lol :). Practically speaking, polygamy is very hard to exist, with all partners feeling equally secure and happy in the relationship.

That being said, infidelity is viewed as betrayal. While a man can argue that passion and love can be separated, and that he can have his wife for love and affection, and mistress for others, somewhere in the line of this argument I find the mistress being exploited. Maybe the mistress would claim that she is well aware of what she's in for and she is ok with it, but still after millions of years of evolution, one thing still hasn't changed - it is the need for a female to want off-springs and look for a suitable mate, and for a male to want to procreate as much as possible. Given modern times and our evolved minds, this might not be a primary goal anymore, but it's hard to refute that these instincts are really dead... after all, it's man's caveman-instinct that makes him fantasize for more women, bores him of one woman, and makes him venture down this road, in the first place... So it's natural for the wife to get threatened by introducing another woman into the picture. Infidelity therefore is a break of promise to nurture, love and provide exclusively for the mate and offsprings.

I can think of two ways to fix this problem - 1. Let Richard indulge in this virtual experience, and he ends up being happy and hurts none. Well... this seems more like a band-aid on the wound. Probably Richard having stopped sharing his intimacies with his wife is an initial symptom of problems in their relationship. If this is not directly addressed, would there be more symptoms that would crop up soon, resulting in deeper problems? Although there is no third person involved, Richard's wife might still be upset because he has stopped sharing these experiences with her.

If so, then a long term solution is - 2. Talk and discuss about this with his wife and see how this can be remedied. Honesty is good, it might hurt the wife, but it's a good sign that Richard is trying to work it out with her. Whether a solution can be reached, and how happy both Richard and his wife are at the end of it all, is uncertain. It might make Richard more frustrated, the wife more insecure and could probably result in more problems.

I pick 1... he is not cheating on her or breaking his promise, he is going through a virtual experience to satisfy his curiosity and temptation. My guess is he will tire out of it at some point, or may get old enough to stop it (whichever comes first). Most often, this just a phase, some form of a mid-life crisis, and hopefully this experience will give Richard the much needed anti-boredom tonic and his relationship will be fine.

If I were still 16 years old (sigh) and was still wide-eyed and bambi-like, I would have picked 2. Both lines of reasoning cannot guarantee a solution. They are both crafted in such a way so as to not hurt the wife and that is the focus. If Richard really loves his wife and wants to make the relationship work , then he should address the problems that surface due to pursuing course 1., or try to compromise, if the outcomes from course 2 don't really meet to his satisfaction.

This question makes us ponder on our expectations from a relationship. How exclusive and 1-1 should a relationship be? Are there different boundaries for infidelity?


SUMI said...

I vote for option 2 actually. If he's not able to tell his wife he chose to take the action in step 1, that definitely is an indication of some kind of guilt, and a betrayal, in a sense - not a good sign...

Neeraja said...

Thanks for your comment, Sumi. In a way, I think him choosing to take the option in step 1 is primarily to avoid his wife knowing the truth. I do see it as an indication of guilt, but not betrayal. Guilt - because he can no longer share with his wife what he used to share.

But I don't see it as violating trust. A person might go out to a restaurant to eat because he is bored, or form new friends to share some interests that his wife doesn't/no longer shares with him, goes to friends to talk about problems that his wife is not good at discussing etc. I see this equated to a similar situation. Besides intimacy is not merely sleeping with another person... there is no sharing of intimacy with a virtual agent.

There are little secrets every couple keeps away from each other. In the strict sense of morality, it's wrong... but it's serves the purpose of avoiding unnecessary hurt.

So there are two parts to this - how exclusively should the couple share everything, and I digress now to wonder if it's not acceptable to keep anything from each other.

SUMI said...

well my argument was that, doing something *knowing* that the other person would be terribly hurt if they knew about it is not something that I'm comfortable with...

Aside from this, to draw some tangents, there are many related things like, the question of morality with respect to say, watching p*rn*. I guess each one's expectations and level of tolerance to these things is different. The more natural it seems, like say m*st*rb*tion, the more the number of people who'd be OK with it, is my guess... But again, hiding something from someone close, knowing that they would be upset by the knowledge of this fact does seem like a betrayal of sorts.

Now, what about if a spouse dreamt about their ex? Should they be all honest and go tell their spouse this? In that case it doesn't seem like a big betrayal to me, since it is not conscious and voluntary. If it was just a random, dream it's fine. Is it's symptomatic of problems in the current marriage, they need to try and solve the problem.

Neeraja said...

Yeah, I see your point. The ideal thing to do is to always be honest and open and talk out problems to try and resolve them. And maybe choosing this virtual experience might be a solution that the couple mutually agrees to.

But I guess in my view I don't see Richard's situation as a big enough problem. He claims he does love his wife. And according to the snippet they are happy in all other aspects. All that is missing is he doesn't find her all that sexually attractive or stimulating anymore. This sort of attraction/lack of it has hardly anything to do with real intimacy - or so is my view. Rather than disturb his otherwise peaceful marriage, this resort to use a virtual experience seems like an easy quick fix... and since no real person is involved, and neither is there any emotional connection or intimacy in it's true sense, all this experience provides is an imagination that takes place inside Richard's head with a nameless, non-existent person. I don't see this as being much different than a fleeting thought about an ex or fantasizing about a celebrity for example. In this aspect it's even 1 step below p*rn, since there is no real person involved. Therefore in my view I don't see it as betrayal, or at least in a stronger sense, especially because I don't see it as a symptom of intimacy issues. But that's probably just my level of tolerance. And I may have assumed a few things about Richard's wife :)

If he knew his wife well enough to know that him following approach 1 would be totally devastating to her, then him following through with it is not considerate of him, and hence not moral....and is violating trust to some extent. But I draw the line a little more liberally :)