The conversation about infidelity we didn't know we needed

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On a sunburnt Greek island recently, sipping Aperol spritzes and eating fried cheese, the topic of infidelity came up with my closest friends. “Why do people cheat?” someone asked. “Instead of instantly judging people, couldn’t we learn something from it?” Things got unusually tense, fast. Our varying definitions of fidelity and the possibility of monogamy clashed, and there was an entirely unfamiliar acrimony in the group – even with the sun setting amber behind us over a cliff of white, blue-tipped villas. I’ve been thinking about it since – our incapacity, our paralysis, when that one topic came up.

“Infidelity is a major taboo. It is one of few almost universal taboos we have left,” says the renowned New-York-based, Belgian-born psychotherapist Esther Perel, when I tell her about this strange fissure in a group of adoring adult friends who can usually talk about anything and everything. “Even the act of speaking about infidelity can feel transgressive. It is forbidden; it is still shrouded in such secrecy and shame – even though it is ubiquitous, even though it has existed since the invention of marriage, even though it has historically been a basic privilege for men and a death sentence for women. Infidelity – or the traditional word for it, “adultery” – is our last remaining major taboo.”

It is with serious courage, then, that Perel chose to write an entire, diligently researched, deeply personal book on the subject of infidelity. In The State Of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, she gives us permission to ask questions about cheating that we are usually too frightened to utter aloud. Why do happy people cheat, for instance, and why are we so secretive about the feeling of jealousy? Is it better to tell someone when you’ve cheated? Do we owe them truth or do they deserve a relationship that stays intact? Can a family survive infidelity? Should we stop getting married altogether?

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