Your cheatin heart…

I usually kill all pop-ups that manage to find their manacing way through my virus software. But this one got me. I guess it appealed to the Raymond Chandler reader in me.

“Is your wife cheating?”

“Do you suspect an affair?”

“Contact our e-detectives now!”

Well gee. How about that? An e-detective for e-affairs.

What they offer, among other things, is a service to snoop on the e-mail and internet traffic of your spouse to check just where they have been going, who they’ve been talking to, what they were saying.

Every tick on the keyboard is a giveaway, every email and url, evidence that presumably can be cut ‘n’ pasted and used in the ensuing divorce proceedings.

So it goes.

It’s certainly not as alluring or charismatic a service as Phillip Marlowe could have offered, but I guess it’s effective.

And it certainly seems to be a service that is in demand. A quick trawl of the internet throws up a plethora of such e-agencies, so I can only assume that this means that there is a sufficient enough number of folks out there, merrily enjoying their e-passions. Passions which presumably in some cases, turn from the virtual to the real.

Or this is what I was thinking at first, until I went on a little private invesitgation of my own – into the world of marital and family therapy.

Here’s what the Marriage and Family Health Centre has to say about it:

Anonymity on the Internet leads to emotional and sexual engagements beyond what people do in face-to-face encounters-even with their spouses. We find women are as likely to engage in cyber-affairs as men, including many who in daily life had never had an emotional or sexual extramarital liaison. Internet affairs are facilitated by ease of convenience, self-deception about where “stepping over the line” occurs, rampant opportunities for self-presentation and getting “validation” from others, and desire to escape the confines of boring, lonely, or hostile marriages.

Lots of people like hot sex-and they’re often in a relationship where sex is tepid at best and often mechanical. Poorly differentiated people have difficulty maintaining vibrant sex in an ongoing relationship, because sexual novelty requires proposing things that are an emotional “stretch.” Many people are so afraid of rejection, or are so inexperienced at initiating novel sexual experiences, that they prefer to express their sexuality in the obscurity of the Net. For those too embarrassed to talk to their partner about sex-or introduce sexual behaviors they’d like to do-Internet affairs are particularly attractive.

People who are dependent on their partner’s validation and acceptance “go underground” and keep their secret erotic side hidden from their mate. But while the prospect of sex and intimacy without anxiety, vulnerability, or risk of rejection or embarrassment appeals to many, Internet affairs rarely develop into satisfying long-term emotionally committed relationships.

Internet affairs are the epitome of self-presentation (i.e., presenting yourself the way you want to be seen) and the antithesis of intimacy (self-confrontation and self-disclosure in the presence of a partner (see Schnarch, 1991). Elsewhere we have written that “…a cyber-relationship may approximate a real relationship-but then so does sex with an inflatable doll. Neither one is likely to help people develop substantial capacity for an intimate relationship when they are subtly capitalizing on ways either one differs from the real thing”

Fantasy. Anonymity. Self-presentation. Self-deception. Some of the reasons why the internet is perceived as the perfect place to conduct “illicit” adventures.

I suppose so.

I wonder though. I mean, surely this has always been going on anyway. At a psychological level I mean.

So okay, the internet allows us to express our fantasies with other internet users. To interact with them, anonymously, in what we could describe as an “e-affair”.

But if this is somehow “problematic” or at the very least, something requiring therapy and investigation then is that merely because it is more visible? Do we attempt to “treat” this “problem” simply because we can ?

After all, how many people do you imagine have been conducting affairs in their imaginations for centuries?

Quite a fair number, I’d hazzard.

There we have lain, across the generations, privately imagining a lover that isn’t there. The touch we feel for real some evenings, transformed into some other, more heightened sensation in our minds as we dream of this fantasy figure.

So it has always been.

Only in the past, these other lives were internal. They were our own. They were outwith the reach of investigation or “pathology” they were ours and ours alone. To be disclosed or discussed only when we ourselves felt able or willing to do so.

What was private could remain ours for as long as we wished it to be.

The realm of the internal was untouchable.

Until now.

Now we have it in our means to transfer those internal fantasies into the external, virtual world, and at that point our internal lives are up for grabs it seems.

Open for investigation, probing, comment, judgement, analysis, ridicule.

Strangely, all of this reminds me of Oskar Kokoschka and his Alma Mahler doll.

Oskar had been involved in a passionate affair with Alma and when the relationship ended, such was his grief and devastation, that he decided to have a life-sized doll made of his lover.

Questioned as to why he wanted to entertain such a fetish he simply explained: “I wanted a life sized doll of Alma!”

He wanted a focus for the passion he still had within him I suppose, but with Alma gone, and with no physical being to centre on, he devised the next best alternative available at the time – a doll.

And it worked! He painted this doll avidly – this faux muse. Rumour has it (which he strenuously denied) that he even took to taking “her” with him to the opera, where she sat, with her “lover” propped up in her box and enjoying the specatcle.

And then, his passion spent, Kokoschka disposed of her.

“…after I had drawn it and painted it over and over again, I decided to do away with it. It had managed to cure me completely of my Passion. So I gave a big champagne Party with chamber music, during which I exhibited the doll in all its beautiful clothes for the last time. When dawn broke – I was quite drunk, as was everyone else – I beheaded it out in the garden and broke a bottle-of red wine over its head.”

His love had been expressed, his fetish “cured”.

The fantasy in other words, had helped him express unfinished feelings, feelings that he presumably would have had to repress, were it not for the outlet of the doll.

In otherwords, a case could be made that his “fetish” was actually quite healthy, if eccentric.

Perhaps Oskar holds up an alternative for us?

A way of showing us that the public and open expression of passion, no matter how unhealthy it appears on the surface, is a beneficial thing?

Is not something to be “criminalised” or condemned via investigations or therapy but to be tolerated as healthy?

If we all have these passions in us, these private, internal fantasies which we could not externalise in the past (unless we were courageous Austrian artists that is) but which we can now indulge in via the internet, then should we be treating this as “pathological”, “immoral”, “criminal”? Or should we rather celebrate the revealing of these once hidden passions as an opening for self- expression that allows us to reveal as much of our inner selves as we see fit?

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