In the midst of my trial run for a cake-bake-off (baking anthropologist resurrected in the spirit of competition), I've been contemplating what I said earlier. I don't mean to suggest that Elizabeth Edwards ought not to forgive her husband, nor do I think women should simply drop their husbands because they cheat. It's precisely the fallacy that "good people" are able to resist sexual desire that I would like to challenge. What annoys me is the expectation for his wife to be a saintly wife. In this story, (from which I quoted in the earlier post), he says, "She was mad. She was angry. I think furious is a way to describe it. It was painful for her." Again, ultimately, Elizabeth Edwards is the stalwart, long-suffering, ailing wife. It's a bit too penny dreadful for me.
Laura Kipnis's book, Against Love: A Polemic, does a decent job exploring infidelity and love. I do think, however, that Kipnis ends up replicating the very problem with the way we think about and over-romanticize love by simply claiming that extra-relationship (not really just about extra-marital) affairs provide a different outlet or challenge the idea of monogamy. She interprets affairs as a delicious alternative to the monotony of committed relationships, which I think is true, but the illicit relationship ultimately doesn't have its own shape. It exists as a thrill, and it's that disruption of the quotidian that Kipnis thinks is valuable. Clearly, there are lots of ways to get thrills, and I'm not sure what's unique about the affair (for Kipnis), though she is trying to use adultery as a way of conducting larger cultural criticism (which I appreciate enormously).
She argues that monogamy is a form of perpetuating the liberal state and institutional. In contrast, she sees adultery as "small-scale social sabotage," though she also acknowledges that adultery requires the institution of marriage (or monogamy, for those of us who are disinterested in marriage) in order to exist and undermine it. She doesn't actually suggest that we need a new way of thinking about relationships and monogamy more generally, which I would suggest is an important direction to take the debate. I'm much more interested in re-imagination of institutions than trying to do something blatantly "different," which I think is often just a way of replicating by thumbing one's nose at the form. (The danger of setting oneself up into a dependent relationship on the original against which to construct the new form seems much less interesting than simply creating the form that fits instead of some kind of oppositional dynamic.) I'm not actually arguing for non-monogamy or non-relationships, but rather suggesting (as I suggested a month or two ago in talking about relationships more generally, friendships and love/sex relationships) that we need to re-examine how we expect certain kinds of fulfillment from love partners.