It’s not worth it.
So Chuck Klosterman tells us the second chapter/day into his road trip epic Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story. I introduced you to Klosterman yesterday. Today, I thought it might worthwhile to show you how insightful his perspective can be.
After assuring us that this advice doesn’t come from the idea that cheating is somehow “morally wrong,” Klosterman gives us the real reason you shouldn’t cheat on someone:
You won’t enjoy it.
A surprising admission for sure, but since Klosterman speaks from experience, I think it’s worth letting him elaborate:
No matter which person you’re with, you’ll always be thinking of the other one. You will never be in the romantic present tense; your mind will solely exist in the past and the future.
Let’s say you sleep with your mistress Friday and your wife on Saturday: To an epicurean, this is the dream lifestyle. This is sexual utopia.
But it never works out that way.
When you’re having sex with your mistress on Friday, you will find yourself thinking about your wife. You will be thinking about how this act would destroy her, and how humiliated she would feel if she knew the truth.
But then on Saturday, when you’re back in the arms of your trusting wife, your mind will immediately drift toward decadence. At the height of your physical passion, you will think back to how exciting things were 24 hours ago, when you were with a strange new body.
Except that it wasn’t exciting to be with someone else; it’s only exciting in your memory (at the time, it just made you wracked with guilt). So now you’re having sex with someone who loves you, but your mind isn’t even in the same room.
And suddenly it’s Sunday; you have now had sex with two people on two consecutive nights, and you didn’t appreciate either episode. Algebraically, a + b = c and a + c = b. The only thing infidelity does is remind you of the people you’re not having sex with, which is something you can just as easily think about when you’re completely alone (p. 26-27).
Klosterman tells us this in the midst of courting two women, neither of whom is actually his girlfriend, let alone wife. In a book that styles itself as a road trip exploring the places famous rock stars died, it is really about the death of several of Klosterman’s relationships. His recognition of the futility of juggling multiple women is the opening epiphany of this particular work.
In a later published collection of essays, Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas, Chuck explores this same topic looking at the root of the problem. I can’t really relate his hypothetical question that generates the discussion if I want to keep this post PG-13 (it may have already moved beyond that anyway, but still). The gist is that in an essay titled “Monogamy” from a 2005 issue of Esquire magazine, Klosterman asks, “Where does cheating begin?” His answer is again telling:
It’s not about physical contact or emotional intimacy; it begins the moment anyone decides that it is unreasonable to be sexually committed to one person. Once a man or woman comes to that conclusion, it doesn’t matter what they do (or don’t do).
If they are a reasonable person – and if they truly think remaining monomagous is inherently unreasonable – you have to assume the only reason they’re not sleeping with other people is because (a) they can’t find anyone else to sleep with, or (b) they’re afraid they’ll get caught. And there are – without question – the two main hurdles that stop people from being unfaithful…
When people cheat, it has almost nothing to do with who they’re with or who they potentially want; it just has to do with whether they view their fidelity as a realistic way to exist. And people are amazingly flexible about this. It is easy to be ethical when you’re single, but much harder when you’re not (p. 291-292).
Far from being the “virtuous pagan” with his insights, Klosterman goes on to explain that this is part of why as a “weird looking dude,” who wants to date exclusively beautiful women, he almost always pursues women already in relationships (he’s only competing against one other guy and convincing said woman that staying with him was unreasonable).
But I think he’s exactly right about the nature and source of cheating.
And more than that, I think he just showed how sin like adultery is inherently unreasonable. Notice how the initial quotation demonstrates from an insider’s perspective that it is unreasonable to expect to enjoy having two different simultaneous sexual relationships. But, cheating begins with the thought that having only one sexual relationship isn’t enjoyable. Without talking about the “deceitfulness of sin,” Klosterman does a pretty good job of showing you exactly what it looks like. It starts when you begin thinking the only reasonable way to find sexual fulfillment is actually unreasonable.
Proverbs warns against the root and fruit of adultery. Klosterman does pretty much the same thing here. While his work wouldn’t particularly fit the “wisdom literature” category, he does a fine job of offering his own version of wise counsel to his readers that he doesn’t actually follow. Kind of like that Solomon guy…