There is a word (or maybe concept is a better way to put it) that comes up so often that you just know it’s one of those shifty ones that gets used a lot more often than it gets understood. Like truth , freedom or love. and other shifty words (that everyone is so certain about in their gut, but just can’t pin down in their head, ) it’s the cause of countless disagreements and debates between spouses, lovers, and even friends. I’m talking about the whole idea of fidelity and what that word even means in conflicts between intimate partners. How many such fights over unfaithfulness in the history of the world, do you suppose ?
The arguments are all completely specious, of course, which means they are meant to seem logical and sincere when delivered with the proper dramatic inflection… but are in fact complete rubbish, deliberately lacking any actual relevance to the main point. In other words, no matter how good it sounds , its still bullshit.
Some husband tells an aggrieved wife that he wasn’t actually being unfaithful to her when he screwed his secretary because the woman didn’t really mean anything to him. It was just drunken sex. He still loves his wife, etc. Or maybe it’s the wife under suspicion. Perhaps she has a flirtation under construction with the new pool boy, so she tells the jealous husband that there is nothing going on because she has never so much as kissed the young man, and never would.
You and I know that both of those spouses are skirting the real issue, don’t we? Their arguments are specious, and clearly intended to avoid the dangerous problem that is there and that both of them know is there.
So what is it? What is fidelity , really, with none of that specious mincing of terms thrown in to cloud the issue? What are the facts?
Well, the main fact is that the complex relationship between men and women consists of several aspects, or parts, that are inseparably linked in a mutually reinforcing way, such that changing any one of them forces the others to change… in the same direction. The three aspects involve romance, physicality and loyalty … and yes, of course, there is tremendously more to it than three short words. I’ll expand on them a few paragraphs further on, but first let’s move into this exploration one little step at a time.
Fidelity, faithfulness, in a relationship, is not just one thing. It is a bundle of closely related things , and these related components involve romantic emotion, physical desire, and all sorts of loyalties .
This does not stop guilty parties from evasively drawing attention to only one of the aspects in order to distract attention from the other two. It’s is a tactic as old as lying itself. Concentrating on the part that makes you look more innocent while side-stepping parts that make you look a lot less innocent is a natural tactic, I suppose, but it seldom works . The victim won’t buy the lie because they are the one on the receiving end. They feel the damage. It’s a waste of breath to persuade them that they don’t feel it..
I know that you understand that. Everyone does. Even naive little children understand it, instinctively.
In the previous example of arguing spouses , the wife knows her husband’s dalliance consisted of a lot more than mere biological coupling between robots, and the husband knows that his wife’s flirtation with the pool boy has an underlying desire (at least) for physical demonstration that bodes poorly for their marriage.
That men are biologically inclined to focus on the physical aspect, and women on the emotional, is completely irrelevant… because those are merely different aspects of the same thing.
Unfortunately, our English language does not have an unambiguous word for that single thing… and I hesitate to try to coin such an all-inclusive word for it now. Besides, it’s unnecessary.
It is enough just to know that the romantic relationships built between men and women consist of these three mutually reciprocal aspects of human relationship. They are like pressure, volume and heat, in that you can’t have one without the other two, and to raise or lower any one or more of them causes the others to rise or fall, proportionately and together.
These three factors are:
Romantic feelings of attraction ; wanting the emotional feedback that can only be achieved through interaction with a romantic partner. This emotion can be extremely intense and gratifying… but because it is entirely inside your head ( and bloodstream) it is fairly easy to hide it completely from others such as a spouse, especially if you know they are watching for it.
Commonality of identity with another person ; The binding of two individuals into the unit that is typically understood to be a couple. Along with this bonding comes the sense (and demonstration) of loyalty, and assigning much greater importance to the interests and welfare of the other person… as well as to one’s own association with that person. To see them, be with them, carry out even the most ordinary activities with them, become important needs in one’s own life. One’s internal perception of this need to be together, although very powerful, is extremely subtle unless that need is thwarted. If blocked from associating with one’s bonded partner an individual will move heaven and earth to overcome the obstacle. No one and no thing will stop them from trying until they succeed.
The ultimate achievement of this sort of fidelity is the complete merging of two individuals in their own minds, such that they feel as though they are one and the same being, with each of the individuals being merely one-half of a single entity. It is a blissful state, much praised in literature, and the basis of the feeling that one is not complete unless they are with a particular individual. Marriage is an attempt to institutionalize this aspiration of human nature, but has of course met with only limited success… because true commonality does not consist of a promise to be faithful… but as the reward for actually being faithful.
The actions that are necessary to satisfying this impulse for togetherness are impossible to hide when one is being observed, because to be with them requires actually going to them (or them to you) in the real, physical, world. Typically, and because such actions are so visible to an observer , when one has cheating on their mind this need can only be fulfilled with clandestine activity, secret plans and trickery… getting to where one needs to be, without ones intentions being recognized by a watchful (ex)partner.
Physical intimacy ; usually starts before there is any literal person-to-person touching . Such preliminaries often consist of subtleties like body language, sufficiently prolonged eye contact, standing inside their ‘personal space’, or wearing that “certain look” that Tom Jones sang about. The determining factor is simply that it is all about physical intimacy, not about the other two things.
(SIDE NOTE: Fantasies about physical intimacy also belong under this heading. Even though real touching may still be just imaginary, it’s still about touching and being touched. )
When actual physical contact starts it can begin as tentatively as brushing against them lightly, or a social hug that lasts a bit too long, and escalate from there to kissing, petting, and ultimately (and inevitably, unless it is prevented ) to good ol’ sexual intercourse.
Physical intimacy has it’s own intense pleasure as reward, but don’t underrate the effect that intimacy also has on romantic emotion and bondedness. It makes them go up too, in tandem, and of course the pleasurable rewards that they provide are proportionately elevated as well.
The ultimate rewards attainable from any one of the aspects (romantic emotion, commonality of identity, and physical intimacy) can only be obtained by achieving the ultimates in the other two. The three spiral up , or down , together. They reinforce each other. Kissing enhances romantic attraction, and just being with the one you want causes that sense of “we are together as one” to go way up, which in turn ignites the desire to touch and be touched . To reach the maximum in one requires reaching the maximum in all. When Mother Nature evolves a dependable system for the creation and rearing of babies, she does not deal in half-measures.
It is time to put a name to this!
Since the three parts of fidelity can be identified as Romantic emotional attraction, Commonality of identity and bonding, and loyalty, plus Intimate physical contact and sex, lets call them R, and C and I , or just RCI for short.
And since the active pursuit and development of these three aspects (R and C and I) is the only way to experience their rewards, we have to recognize that perseverance to all three pursuits is the only way to get that job done. Tasks don’t do themselves, they must be done . Fidelity ( as in steadfast devotion to a task ) that’s what gets it done. That includes both the job of getting things going in the first place as well as the actions that escalate them to higher levels of development and reward as things progress. Dedicated effort to the R and C and I is essential. No action means no result and no pay off.
So, we have coined a new term after all: RCI fidelity.
Men focus on the Intimate physical part of it, and women on the Romantic. So they do, and so I say, “So what?” It’s still just different aspects of RCI fidelity.
The only fidelity that has any meaning in the relationship between men and women is RCI fidelity, and that means the interplay of all three aspects at once, considered as a cumulative wholeness.
Nothing specious or evasive about that.
The sooner both sides agree to that simple truth then the sooner they can both stop evading the real situation and start making progress, maybe even resolve some of their problems.
It is also transparently obvious that these human pursuits ( romantic interest, commonality, and intimate physicality) cannot be successfully divided between multiple partners. To be fully loyal to a person requires decreasing one’s loyalty to other persons.
The same thing goes for romantic attraction. To focus yourself on the desire for romantic response from someone (and thereby reap the emotional reward) absolutely requires decreasing the attention one previously had on someone else. That’s what focus is, the concentration of mental capacity. Try doing that with two targets at once and all that you’ll accomplish is diluting your attention on both.
Besides, you can see that the dynamics of how this plays out in the real world actually causes the R and C and I to go down with the person one is leaving behind.
In order to make R & C & I go up with one’s new romantic prospect it is necessary that the the attention previously given to another must go down. As the new relationship builds, the old one … by that same process…. is dismantled. Piece by piece. Very simple. Brutal, certain, and simple.
By the same token, one can NOT find one’s old partner to be more romantically interesting than the new prospect… else one would never switch.
One can not become more loyal to the person they are betraying ( that’s absurd) but only and unavoidably less. Less loyal, less bonded, less identified with them, less of an idealized true couple. One is becoming more loyal, more bonded and more identified with the new terminal… and it is both logically and physically impossible to become more loyal to two opposing contestants at the same time. One chooses who to ally and who to betray, and that’s that.
The desire for physical intimacy must decrease with one’s old partner, by the very action of fueling the flame of desire for the new to greater heights. Otherwise the old relationship would rekindle and the new one fizzle out (which probably happens from time to time.. . but it is still , and nevertheless, purely a matter of the reciprocally reinforced rise and fall of R and C and I.
It should be obvious by now that the levels of romantic interest, commonality of loyalty, and desire for physical intimacy are not limited to the positive ranges. The downside does not stop at some sort of neutrality or ‘zero’. It goes way south of that. The impulse for togetherness can all too easily become an urgent need to flee (or throw the bum out ! ), even harm them physically (or get the new boyfriend to do it for you.) Desire can turn to revulsion , loyalty to outright enmity, and romantic interest to utter repugnance and loathing. It’s all just a natural result of the feedback loops described earlier. Some loves simply dwindle until love is gone, but some turn out very badly. Injury, insanity and even death by violence are not uncommon, and that should come as no surprise. These are some of the most basic human instincts at work. The needs and impulses that determine the survival of the world’s dominant species are at stake. They are very powerful.
Fidelity, infidelity and love, loyalty and betrayal, gentle caress and vengeful blow, warm feelings, hot desire and cold contempt; wanting to be together, needing to flee, cheating, admiration, respect and rejection ; sexual/physical/emotional devotion or its flip side: sexual/ physical/ emotional abandonment; love and devotion, fear and loathing. So on and so on and so on. They’re all just part, parcel and consequence of the same damned thing. RCI fidelity. The sweet expectations that draw men and women to seek each others company, the glue that binds them together, and the disdain that can drive them apart. All just aspects of one complex fact of nature.
And just because these interactions control much of the interchange between the sexes does not at all mean that their effects and consequences are limited solely to that arena. Of course they’re not. They spill over into every part of non-sexual, non-romantic life, with far reaching and profound consequences. Not just broken hearts result, but broken people.
That’s just is the way it is and has been and will be … or at least so long as we are players in the crying game. Maybe what I’ve written here can help a little. I hope so.