I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of challenging and enlightening short memoirs for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it was so raw and honest. The diversity of the stories is impressive and covers almost every permutation and combination of infidelity you could think of. While the stories are rarely illicit, and not always particularly well written, I found the wisdom and insight they provide into the human experience of infidelity/adultery invaluable.
Naked was published in 2008, a collaborative effort between Kylie Ladd and Leigh Langtree. Ladd was inspired following a week where three of different women confided to her about their various experiences of infidelity. Ladd wanted to explore the phenomena, teamed up with Langtree and advertised widely, calling for people to submit short pieces on their personal experiences of infidelity, be it from the perspective of ‘the cheater, the cheated-on, the cheated-with’.
This collection was of particular interest to me because my next book, Being Jade, focuses on exactly this issue. In my experience the topic of infidelity/adultery elicits knee-jerk and highly emotive reactions. Cheaters are seen as the worst kind of people and if the cheater happens to be female, she’s no better than the 3-day scum at the bottom of your coffee cup. The gender division seems to be based on some unspoken assumption that men cheat because they are less able to control their libidinous urges, whereas women are supposed to be the ‘moral gate-keepers’, able to suppress their sexuality in favour of preserving more ‘decent’ values.
Statistics reveal, however, that men are only marginally more likely to cheat than women, which begs the question, who are they cheating with? Is a single woman having an affair with a partnered man considered to be ‘cheating’? In my books, yes. Anything that involves the secrecy of a love triangle, no matter what role the participants play, fits the definition of infidelity/adultery. What do you think?
Perhaps the diversity of experience in this book might make you think again. ‘Tattered and Torn’ and ‘All Forlorn’ describe an un-consummated cerebral affair conducted over 12,000 miles and the internet. ‘Two Crazy Geminis’ tells of four lives and two marriages ripped apart by a compelling lesbian affair. The towering power of forgiveness captured in ‘The Silent Partner’, the cold reality of ‘Trust Fund’, the smug comfort of ‘2IC’, all describe infidelity/adultery as an experience that can touch anyone – ANYONE – at any time – and its impact is completely unpredictable.
What it also highlights is a commonality of experience. People talk about a sense of being ‘found’ by their fellow transgressor, of not actively looking for love in the wrong places but finding it anyway, of being compelled by their feelings for the ‘other’, and of being constantly surprised by their partners or their own capacity for selfishness and betrayal.
‘...propelled by what felt like the palm of the universe pushing us on...’ – The Mountain Wallaby Inside
In the throes of an affair people are consistently careless about their partners feelings, lifted as they are by the incandescence of desire. Guilt appears, as does regret for some of the damage caused, but it doesn’t always stay.
‘In the end I lost everything: my best friend, my business, my home, my friends, my husband’s trust. Would I change anything about the three years Cameron and I had together? Not in a heartbeat.’ – Two Crazy Geminis
‘You cannot reason with a drunk and women in love.’ – Taking it Lying Down
But what was most compelling about these stories was the pearls of wisdom many contained. There is bitterness, rage, jealousy, regret aplenty, but not without insight into monogamy, sexuality, the imaginary lines we draw around relationships to preserve what is ultimately our own dignity, not that of others.
The idea of trust as a fundamental to a healthy relationship is challenged by one woman who gains a whole other level of understanding about what it means to be in a monogamous relationship:
‘What we discovered was that we are both incredibly destructive, dangerous people; we are emotional assassins. So now, instead of trust, we respect one another. He can destroy my life in one fell swoop, and I can destroy his. I do not trust him not to do this. Instead, I have a deep and abiding respect for that power and I treat him with that respect as he does me. ...we never forget for a minute that one false move on either part and the other’s gun will change targets.’ – Trust Fund.
It sounds mercenary, but the irony is the people in this relationship became more trustworthy by taking this approach with each other. They freed each other to be their best selves and therefore fit to be trusted.
Another woman discovers that martyring herself to her marriage because ‘that’s what wives do’ is the ultimate betrayal, far greater than the dumb-dog-have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too betrayal of her husband.
‘For years I denied myself the freedom I yearned for, the opportunity to have a career or an affair of my own. I martyred myself to the marriage. But modern society does not value the sacrifice of a martyr, especially a domestic one. Above all, our society values self-fulfilment, individualism, the meeting of one’s own needs at any cost....You could almost say that it was me doing the deceiving; me being unfaithful – to myself.’ – That Phone Call.
But, without exception, the story of infidelity/adultery is one of growth and self discovery. None of us are as ‘nice’ or ‘evolved’ as we like to think ourselves. It is a constant struggle for all of us to rise above our base emotions and strive to be loving, forgiving, compassionate and honest. This truth is salient in these stories – as you read them you can taste it and it’s no better captured than by the woman who wrote ‘Happily Ever After’:
‘Take what happens in your life and learn and grow from it...that is why I have no regrets, no matter what the future holds.’
I highly recommend this book for anyone in or contemplating a long-term, monogamous relationship. It will open your eyes.
Editors: Kylie Ladd & Leigh Langtree
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Length: 260 pages
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 #AWW2014