Most of us grow up with the idea that we’re going to meet our soulmates, get married, have 2,2 children and grow old with our partners, all behind the safety of a white picket fence.

BERND FISCHER

Most of us grow up with the idea that we’re going to meet our soulmates, get married, have 2,2 children and grow old with our partners, all behind the safety of a white picket fence. In this fantasy world, our partners love us unconditionally and only have eyes for us. Everything is perfect and we satisfy each other’s emotional and physical needs. Or so we hope.

But according to recent reports, more and more unconventional practices are finding their way into today’s relationships as a means of saving a dying relationship, or simply to make the relationship more exciting.

A controversial new book by British sociologist Catherine Hakim called The New Rules: Internet Dating, Playfairs and Erotic Power has become a popular topic of discussion due to its radical approach to relationships and infidelity. In this book, Hakim discusses the idea of “playfairs”, defined by The Telegraph as “a 21st century affair in which would-be adulterers meet, via specialist dating websites, to enjoy the excitement of an illicit relationship without any domestic fallout.” Instead of this affair destroying a marriage, Hakim argues that it can improve it.

Hakim maintains that the anonymity of the internet is making these dalliances more appealing, since individuals can meet others outside their own social circle, thus avoiding disaster. “Total discretion is the absolute rule, the other party should never find out,” Hakim says. “Here the impact of the affair can potentially be almost entirely positive.” Of course, for this to work one has to completely disregard the values of trust, commitment and loyalty. No big deal, right?

According to numerous international studies and research, there is a general consensus that the most common cause of affairs is a sexless marriage. Hakim’s research coincides with these findings and suggests that low-sex marriages are very common, with men being two to three times more likely than women to want more sex than they are currently getting.

For this reason, dating websites are pulling in 13 times more men than women. Despite this, women are engaging in extra-marital affairs as well. Their reasons, however, apart from a sexless marriage, include busy or inexperienced husbands, a longing for excitement and a lack of emotional intimacy.

“I have always been baffled by the sour and rigid English view of affairs,” says Hakim who believes that English-speaking countries should adopt the French idea, where extra-marital affairs are regarded as “adventures” and are only minor transgressions that are justifiable and surely not something to end a marriage over.

Psychiatrist Hemant Mittal told Daily News and Analysis that he supports Hakim’s case, though he also notes that this unconventional view is not only an English-speaking phenomenon. He argues that in the Mumbai culture, there are people who feel that physical intimacy is not the cornerstone of a relationship as it only “[caters] for the body’s appetite”, whereas emotional intimacy is regarded as far more important. “For such people a short fling works wonders without creating any trouble in the marriage because they aren’t emotionally involved with the people they have a fling with,” says Mittal.

Similarly, The Telegraph reports that married couples in Scandinavian countries such as Finland openly discuss their “parallel relationships” which occur between work colleagues or on holidays. It is estimated that almost half of married Finnish men and one third of married Finnish women have been in this kind of relationship, yet still regard marriage as a sacred institution.

As expected, there are many who oppose this take on relationships, reasoning that it is a selfish act that can cause long-term suffering and destroy families. “I personally believe that if you’re in a relationship with someone, you commit to them 100%,” says Teeghan-Jade Bisset Gander, a second-year student at UP studying English and criminology. “If you’re seeking something your relationship lacks, then you shouldn’t be in the relationship.”

Society as we know it today won’t remain the same forever and the same goes for traditionally accepted ideas about relationships, which are always subject to change. What are your thoughts about these unconventional practices? Are they worth a try or just wishful thinking? Tweet your opinions to @Bernd_Fischer or @perdebynews.

Illustration: René Lombaard

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