17 May 2005, Comments (0)

Infidelity, that’s entertainment

Author: Helen

This is going to be a bit out of character. I don’t usually stray into the kind of territory TSSH portrays so deliciously– the life and loves of the would-be famous and celebrity idiots. And while TSSH treats this story with an uncharacteristically misty-eyed niceness, I’m going to be snarky. Very snarky. So if you want nice, read no further.

This story is partly about cricket groupie and uber-skank Christine Padfield and her relationship with David Hookes, the cricketer who was accidentally killed outside the Beaconsfield hotel in January 2004.

You could hear the sound of vomit hitting buckets all over the land as ABC’s Australian Story presented Ms Padfield through a vaseline lens, her cheer squad admiring her “dignity” as she complained about not being allowed into ICU while the family was discussing whether or not to turn off life support. For heaven’s sake, what about bimbos’ rights? Eh? Isn’t Dad’s young girlfriend part of the family these days? It highlighted some of the primary qualities you need to date older married men: (1) blonde and cute, (2) completely clueless about boundaries, ethics and behaviour.

Anyway, enough of poor Padfield (“Cricket Pads”?) because I think she paid a bit of her karmic debt after witnessing such a horrific accident up close, and also because her desperate bid for recognition backfired badly when a few of David Hookes’ OTHER girlfriends came out on the Australian Story guestbook. Mwahahah. OK. Enough! These people have had more oxygen than they deserve already.

Later the same night, another episode of Desperate Housewives went to air: not so much romanticisation of infidelity there, but more trivialisation. Infidelity’s the all-purpose entertainment staple at the moment, if you’ve noticed, and it’s all too easy to dismiss it as not all that big a deal. I mean, who minds what consenting adults do in private? I probably used to think that way, if I thought about it at all.

Thought, past tense. Yes, I do have a point in all this.

The point is that it would be a real step forward if the true nature of infidelity and its effects on betrayed partners was better known. Unfortunately, it is usually portrayed either as (1) not all that big a deal (desperate housewives) or (2) hugely romantic and necessary, where the marriage-that-is dead-in-all-but-name ™ must give way to the beautiful-younger-soul-mate ™ (Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Cricket Pads.) Both flavours are irresistible to the 20- or 30-something adultescent.

Along with this package comes the double sting: Something must be wrong with the spouse or partner. He/she must have just been too boring, or too unlovable, or too ugly, or too something. Predictably, the AS guestbook comments started in on his wife. Padfield’s cheer squad pointed to the fact that Hookes’s marriage was starting to break down at the time of his death. Well, he’d been cheating on his wife for two years! (never mind the eight or ten years with the …um,others!) Perhaps any relationship would be under strain.

The reality of infidelity is actually very different to the spin.

Relationships go through stages. We all know about the first stage. It’s the starry-eyed “new relationship energy” where you just root each other stupid and the faults or irritations of each partner are routinely downplayed.

Fast forward to a few years into marriage, after the kids have come, and you have reached a couple more stages. Now reality has set in. There is a household to run with mortgage or rent. There are car repairs, renovations, relations. Children take up an extraordinary amount of time and energy. Perhaps one of them is having difficulties at school or has health issues. If you want a night out, you need a babysitter… and there’s always the exhaustion of parenthood. There are health worries and career disappointments and pressures. There are body changes that go with ageing. With luck or intelligence or whatever, there is the realisation that keeping the relationship strong involves a bit of work. But this isn’t hyped much in the media. It’s the “romantic” affairs that get hyped. And it’s easy to think that it’s a much more fun way out than working on the relationship, which seems a depressing concept until you experience the alternative.

What the media/entertainment industry doesn’t usually show us is that the betrayed person in an affair triangle experiences a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome. This may seem excessive, but it has been documented many times. The betrayed partner will experience a state of hyperarousal for some months. They will have persistent, intrusive thoughts similar to the flashbacks of PTSD (often, of course, of things they haven’t seen, but imagine. Of course, their imagination is often worse than the reality.) They will find it hard to keep food down, experience nausea, chest pains and vomiting, and losing a lot of weight is common as well as hair loss and other symptoms. They experience sleep disturbances and nightmares. They will have problems with concentration and memory. They will go through stages similar to the Kubler-Ross stages of grieving, which is what they are really doing, for the death of the relationship they thought they had. They experience a catastrophic loss of self-esteem and trust in others.

Here’s a few articles for anyone who might have a need for them.

http://www.shirleyglass.com/reflect_infidelity.htm
http://www.christineprosser.com/articles/infidelity.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/health/march99/infid033099.htm
http://www.aamft.org/families/Consumer_Updates/Infidelity.asp
http://www.mentalhelp.net/psyhelp/chap10/chap10l.htm

Recovery time is approximately two years, just as a vague estimate.

It is a very, very big deal.

Unfortunately, the betrayed partner is nearly always demonised by the unfaithful one (and of course by the affair partner) while the affair is going on. He’s a poor unfortunate trapped in a loveless marriage whose wife doesn’t understand him; the affair partner is convinced that she’ll never, never become such a worthless termagant, but will be eternally loving and understanding. (Switch genders for the reverse situation.)

While only a minority of cheaters end up marrying or living with the affair partner, these relationships usually fail anyway. Of course, the reason is that they move from fun, play and secrecy onto the next stage– shock, horror–reality! Mortgage, children, car repairs, arguments and the same old emotional baggage not worked on. Had Hookesy lived, that pattern would have played out again and again.

But the reality of affairs and the trauma of recovering from them are just not touched on in film and TV. As for print media, there’s an occasional drop in the bucket to contend against the ongoing airbrushing and romantic treatment of infidelity. So every neurotic or predatory young gel can imagine she’s frigging Anna Karenina.

Comments (0)

  • Zoe says:

    What a fantastic post. Thanks.

  • david Tiley says:

    What Zoe said. We haven’t come close to articulating in a realistic way the requirements to maintain a long term relationship in our society.

    Somewhere up on the blogosphere are the stats for brits who are still “in love” romantically after the first kid arrives. Its very very few. All that lovin goes to the sprog.

  • Helen says:

    The “child centred” marriage is a big risk factor, yes.
    Although I forget where I got that from. Another huge risk factor is conflict avoidance, strangely enough. I think that would surprise a lot of people.
    Thanks Zoe and David. Somehow I expected a lot of flak for this one. . .

  • boynton says:

    Heven’t watched a second of DH, but I suspect that treatment of betrayal is almost more insidious? Normalising the traumatic.

    Sad that there is very little TV drama these days, that could (in theory) offer a more honest spin on the fallout. Just reality circuses and sit-coms and american dross. That particular Australian Story was one of the ones that suffered from the essential subjectivity, although sometimes that can be its best feature.

    and Anna K as a role model? Not the best of karmic fates for that groovy heroine?

  • boynton says:

    btw- I kept getting “questionable content” knockback until I removed the URL.
    Before that I stripped all the punctuation thinking that might be the dodgy thing.
    Hence the lack of a closing wink to the Anna K line.

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