After the breakdown of her 23-year relationship, Karin Jones turned to Tinder and OKCupid for no-strings-attached comfort.
The people who responded to her profiles where married men and so those were the men Karin slept with.
She’s documented her experiences in ‘The truth about midlife infidelity’ published in The Times and it makes for a meaty read, with a lot to say about gender stereotypes, unmet needs, relationship models and expectations.
But the most interesting part for me is what it suggests affairs might say about honesty and vulnerability.
What if an affair or just the urge to have an affair, she writes, could be the beginning of a necessary conversation about sex and intimacy?
Now, bear with me. I know the mainstream is used to running with the ‘repulsive cheaters and their victim partners’ storyline, but this hardly ever penetrates to the core of the issue.
And the core is always this: Affairs are the avoidance of a difficult conversation.
I mean this for both emotional and sexual affairs, although I now believe these two are one and same or the one in search of the other.
Sure, there are many stories you can attach to why you’re having or want to have an affair – not enough sex, no sex, feeling trapped, boredom, anger, no appreciation or connection, lack of desire, revenge, you’re not actually monogamous…
Underneath all of this? Avoiding scary change by avoiding the challenging, honest conversation with yourself and your partner about these feelings.
The conversation about not feeling desired or fulfilled, validated or seen; about feeling trapped and dissatisfied. The conversations about how the relationship needs to change, expand or deepen. Or end.
These are conversations that require courage, EQ, empathy and love to navigate. And, admittedly, not everyone is versed in these.
But what if, when dissatisfaction occurs or the need to expand sexually or emotionally comes up, you do a radical thing: You get honest about it.
With kindness, with empathy, without arrogance or manipulation, without defensiveness or expectation…
Because those feelings of dissatisfaction are signs screaming for attention that something needs to shift, to change.
And yet when they come up, the usual response is to deny, avoid, run away from. It just makes no sense.
When your car won’t start you take it to a mechanic. When you break your arm you go to the doctor.
But when the symptoms of a breaking relationship start appearing – sexual distance, looking elsewhere, emotional shut down, bickering – people pretend it’ll all magically sort itself out.
It’s a kind of madness. And it can only be curbed with honest conversation – for both people in the relationship.
Because here’s the real kicker about affairs: Both parties are responsible for creating a relationship culture of denial and avoidance, just as both are responsible for one of gentle honesty and intimacy.
Both parties are responsible for creating a bubble of unmet needs or an experience of expansion and fulfilment.
It takes two to tango and all that.
Yup. However dubiously Karin arrived at her insights, it’s a necessary spotlight on the plot holes in the mainstream storyline about affairs.
If any relationship today is going to manage long-term status, I’d suggest taking some of her life lessons on board.