Unshakable loyalty to a central partner does not preclude passionate responses to other people. If it seems that way, it is only because of the puritanism, the pious emotional parsimony, of our American era.Well, that's awfully pretty prose, but something tells me Nehring has not actually played this tricky game. "Colored glass in the light," "glinting shards" -- try juggling with real emotions. Nehring's thought it through, intellectually, but on her own limited terms. She posits a "magnanimous partner" and "an 18-karat commitment." And the attraction to another is conveniently placed at the "passing fancy" level. If everything stays neat and manageable like that, maybe you can keep your marriage and still not "truncate" your "sensibility" and "humanity." It is a "delicate proposition," indeed, but passionate, sexual love is not going to behave itself in real life the way it does in your nice little reverie.
Diane Shader Smith's book provides, ironically, a perfect example of this. Her introduction is an alarmist confession of her attraction to a man other than her husband. She recounts in detail her nervousness around him, her supposedly dangerous fascination with his charm. She criminalizes her feelings. And so, one might add (albeit more understandably, since she has led the way), does her husband. In a different culture her attraction would be viewed by her readers, herself, and her husband as perfectly natural and even commendable. What sort of a creature would you be if, having once found a human being who stirs your heart (and whom you marry, if you follow Rabbi Boteach's example, by age twenty-one), you were never stirred again?
The key is to incorporate chemistry into our marital lives, not to snuff it out. We are erotic and emotional animals, and when we react most fully to people, we react to them erotically and emotionally. We react this way to teachers and to students; to pop stars and to politicians; to interns, novelists, and waiters; to our elders and our juniors. It is a part of what allows us to relate to human beings across the social, political, and cultural spectrums. To demonize this responsiveness is to truncate our sensibility, our humanity. Better to share our passing fancies with our mates, to turn them like colored glass in the light, lest they become blades in our pockets. For this we need magnanimous partners. And we need an 18-karat commitment to those partners, who over the years will inevitably seem less perfect than those glinting shards of novelty in the corner of our sight.
"To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god," said Jorge Luis Borges. To love truly is to stay in love after the fall. It is to love more gratefully, more potently, because our god has come down to earth: the spirit has been made flesh and now walks—and slips, and flounders, and slouches—among us.
It's a delicate proposition—counterintuitive, presumptuous, heady, unreasonable. And yet therein lies its nobility and, perhaps, its necessity.
So you long to fulfill yourself through sexual attraction to others and, in doing so, add complex dimension to your marriage in a way that humanity-squelching, emotionally parsimonious Americans dare not? I look forward to reading your well-written essay about how that worked out.
UPDATE: A commenter makes me realize that I've linked to an article that requires a subscription. Magazines should realize that bloggers need to be able to link to them. Why should I read The Atlantic if I can't link to an article for my readers? Ah! The Atlantic has gone way downhill in the last couple years anyway. Way too much one-sided politics. I was going to let my subscription run out anyway, but I was thinking, looking at this new issue, that the back third of the book is worthwhile. But it's a lot less worth my while if I'm not thinking this might be bloggable.