DO YOU WANT TO BE THE GLUE IN SOMEONE ELSE' MARRIAGE?
By Dr Moni Storz
One hot night over the Christmas period, so hot that all my energy seemed to be sapped for doing anything except turning the television on, I chanced upon Heart of the Matter, a BBC programme featuring Sarah Miles (who starred in Ryan's Daughter) as one of the panellists on the topic of infidelity. I thought : how quaint the term is. No one uses the term these days, at least not amongst my circle of friends. I guess the more common term is unfaithfulness rather than infidelity.
However, whatever the terminology, it refers to having sexual intercourse outside marriage. An affair or a series of affairs would illustrate infidelity or unfaithfulness. Adultery in other words. A rose by any name .....as the saying goes. So it got me thinking about the Chinese. In the years that I was growing up in Asia, married men having secondary wives, (anyone who has seen the movie : Raise the Red Lantern would have grasped the reality of traditional Chinese marriages amongst the rich ), mistresses, concubines, girl friends, etc. were so common that until I came to Australia, I did not realise that there was such a thing as male faithfulness. Female unfaithfulness didn't come into my thinking then as it was literally unthinkable. (Rather like Queen Victoria who could not possibly think of women engaging in homosexuality.) I really thought then that Aussie men would make the most faithful husbands. Perhaps that was why I married one.
The programme set me thinking long and hard because of a few things that Sarah Miles said. She reported that she was the glue that held her lover's marriage together when she was his mistress. Glue? She kept his marriage together. How odd, I thought, if not right down contradictory.
Then harking back to my Chinese upbringing, little memory triggers started to spark off. I recall now that Chinese men would take secondary wives. At least two of my classmates were in households where they had several mothers: mother number one, mother number two, mother number three and mother number 4. As well as grandmothers, number one, number two and so on. Infidelity? It is difficult to conceive of unfaithfulness within such a cultural context. The secondary wives did provide a glue to keep the first wife's marriage in tact. Chinese husbands rarely needed to discard their previous wives. They just kept having as many as their wallets allowed. In some cases, these husbands love their first wives dearly. Unfaithfulness? In the heart-mind or in the body? So if the husband still loves his first wife, respects her and accords her first preference in decision making, etc, sleeps with her, (as well as the others), is he being unfaithful? To which wife? So obviously I deduced as a conclusion on that hot summer night that there must be more to this marital exercise than meet the eye.
This is the profound conclusion I came to after several weeks of pondering on infidelity in the west and in Chinese traditional practice. It is to do with love. While a rose by any name may smell the same, let me assure all of you that love does not . Love has many faces and places. In a monotheistic, one god religion and therefore one man one wife marriage or monogamy, love is finite in quantity and quality. A husband and wife can only have a finite amount of a particular type of love, in this case, erotic sexual love, for one and another and no one else.
The concept of unfaithfulness or infidelity offends everyone including God. Definite ground for divorce. However, the traditional Chinese/Taoist concept of love is infinitely non quantitative. If Mei for example, loves Wang, her husband, her love for another man, does not necessarily diminish her love for her husband. In fact, her love for her husband could be increased and her marriage enhanced through her love for another man. Her love for the two of them is not mutually exclusive. But does she make love to both of them? Simply loving in the heart-mind does not constitute unfaithfulness surely. Or does it? Is there such a thing as mental unfaithfulness distinct from physical unfaithfulness.
Recently I had lunch with a Chinese woman poet who was married for over twenty years and she told me that she had fallen in love many times after she got married. And ? I prompted. She told me that falling in love is fine but one need not do anything about it. Perhaps that is why she writes so much poetry. Re-channelling forbidden passions into art is certainly safer and cheaper than taking it to the divorce court. Food for thought indeed. I guess that was what Sarah Miles' lover had in mine when he told her that she was the glue that kept his marriage together. By loving her presumably as his mistress, he could also keep on loving his wife. Of course, the cynics amongst you will have another opinion.