* – I mostly just threw in that last bit for the hysterical Google search terms that will show up in my stats. Maybe.
I have no idea who Lisa Taddeo is, first of all. The fact that I’m even blogging about her just shows you how derivative the Internet is. A friend sends a link of this Jezebel piece that’s skewering Taddeo’s Esquire piece - and I am right in that place where my stamina is too low for work and too high for just gazing out the window and muttering curses about the un-spring-like weather, so I read both. And while there’s plenty to make fun of in Taddeo’s piece (she writes sentences like “…her blond tresses cascading murderously across the tile like southern blood” – which is… No. Seriously, no. Though it might have worked without that last part about the blood, i.e., it might have worked if the editor were paying attention), there’s some to think about as well, because buried amongst Taddeo’s lulzy metaphors is kind of an important point:
Why is marriage still so important – particularly in urban, cosmopolitan America? Because a whole lot of people have fun destroying it as a concept. In fact, they have so much fun destroying it, that once it’s destroyed, they reanimate its corpse so they can quickly go to town on it again. And people who solve their own insecurity issues by challenging monogamous norms are doing it in such a way as to prop the entire institution up.
I don’t know if Taddeo is self-aware enough in her piece to understand that this is what she is effectively doing. She talks about sleeping with other people’s husbands and fiances because it places her “crudely, smilingly, on the side of the winners” – i.e., makes her feel powerful. She takes particular glee in zeroing in on the weaknesses of other people’s relationships – “every time I meet a married woman, I think about the things she does that likely annoy her husband” – because it places her in an advantageous position. It’s like engaging in long range combat from a comfortable hideout vs. going in for messy melee attacks, if I can be permitted my own lulzy metaphor for a second. It’s very, very easy to ridicule other people’s relationships, because it’s not as if you’re in them, taking damage.
Finally, Taddeo sets herself up as the hot chick who triumphs over the pathetic wives of the men she bangs – because she’s hotter and more profound and reads David Foster Wallace out loud by gleaming pools of water – which is important, because you have to examine how she gets her validation in this instance. A woman a guy risks his marriage for has to be hot by default – but only if marriage itself remains important, both as a general concept and to the guy in question. If you couldn’t give a crap about your wife finding out that you’re boning some other woman on the side – then you might as well just bone anyone! And Lisa Taddeo isn’t just anyone, dammit.
The entire premise of Taddeo’s article, the Truth about Why We Cheat, the sort of thing that Ordinary People probably Cannot Handle, has to do with a kind of languorous tug-o-war about different values we place on different things. Remove the conflict from it, and it ceases to be that interesting.
Having been the Other Woman who once upon a time wrote tedious essays about the drama and the hotness of it (I may still inflict some of them on the world if I ever write a memoir. But will make sure to get a better editor. My evil knows some bounds), I do wish that Taddeo has taken the time to self-examine a bit more, instead of merely going for a catchy turn of phrase. She talks about the death of her parents having possibly affected her, but doesn’t seem interested in the how and why. Mostly she just revels in secret knowledge (i.e., I know I’m sleeping with your husband, bitch, and you don’t! Mwahaha!) and the fact that she is, at the very least, not the woman who’s in the kitchen alone, waiting for her husband to come back from God-knows-where, and imagining all sorts of unpleasant scenarios. It’s like being an assassin or a sorceress or something awesome like that.
If you’re afraid of losing the people you love – or loving anyone to begin with – you’re probably not going to want a relationship which is as simple and as scary as involving two people making some kind of commitment to one another, particularly if said commitment is public. If you’re afraid of growing older, grayer, saggier and increasingly sexually irrelevant – then you might, as Taddeo does, argue for “Wild Moments” in which you are the glamorous temptress, rather than a dowdy, trusting, familiar companion. If you already know, in your heart, that happiness ends – then it might as well end for everyone. You want to be the wrecking ball tearing through the house whose foundation is already rotted through. Wrecking balls don’t have feelings.
And in a nation where the media now presents images of people so flawless that they might as well be cyborgs, where mortality is rejected and acting your age, past a certain point, is seen as giving up – being a mistress or even the accidental “crumpet on the side” is probably a helluva lot more comforting than being in the thick of things. And because marriage is sacred, everyone, people all over the world, knows that you can’t just say, “I’m bored” or “I need a break” or “Something is seriously wrong here.” Well, not most of the time, anyway. Most people’s choices come down to suffering in silence or cheating on the sly.
Because I’ve been in Taddeo’s position, I can honestly say that nobody knowingly gets into such an arrangement, where you’re someone else’s secret, unless you have something to prove. I think a lot of pathologically nice people who seek approval actually crave this position from time to time – you can be the bad guy, without a whole lot of effort on your part. Knowing this, I’m actually pretty sympathetic to where Taddeo is coming from – or would be, if Taddeo took herself just a little less seriously in this piece. Once again, I get that her parents died – and I don’t know how much digging within herself a person in her position can handle. Maybe going before a national audience and laying out this stuff under the guise of “I’m going to tell you sheltered people the truth about infidelity” wasn’t such a good idea. Or maybe Taddeo just really couldn’t give a crap, dunno.
If you’re the neurotic writer sort – cheating is like living inside a novel! A bad one, maybe, but still. If you’re an Other Woman, for example, you might even run into the Man and his Official Woman in public – and then gleefully flirt with other men right then and there, only to raise your eyebrows imperiously when he confronts you about it later. “Darling,” you’ll say, imagining yourself to be Joan Crawford. “Don’t be so tediously hypocritical.” The plot will practically write itself! As someone who has lived through all that – and then ended up marrying one fine day, and having a baby on yet another fine day, I can safely say that yes, it’s the latter position that makes you more vulnerable. You have a lot more to lose. And you don’t have nearly as much time to write – let alone to condition your hair and stuff (Taddeo is all about the hair) – with a baby around.
But you make your choices in life – and you roll with them, for better or for worse. You take responsibility. You don’t blame everything on a Tom Waits song on the jukebox (for real?). Though there is comfort in knowing that someone with a reasonably crazy past has an easier time staying in and playing “Skyrim” with a baby sleeping and dreaming at their breast – or so I’ve discovered about myself, anyway. I’ve discovered I’m capable of more love than I thought I could handle – which. is. awesome.
And if you are going to go to that level of the game, incidentally, you ought not cancel the crazy completely. I almost feel like that’s the real mistake so many couples make, and what Taddeo may essentially be writing about. I just wish she wasn’t so damn smug about it. If you’re writing about manhattans that “taste like the future,” you can’t afford to be smug.