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|Foreign Affairs - Page 5|
For centuries, writers, poets, and philosophers from all over the world have grappled with our attainable and unattainable longings, the inherent fragilities of love, and the limitations of marriage. In Marcel Proust's short story "The End of Jealousy," the love-obsessed HonorŽ anticipates the inevitable time when he'll no longer love or be loved in the same way by Franoise, the object of his passion. While seeking magical assurance about the security of their mutual feelings, he's painfully aware that, one day, their love will have lost its intensity. In their immortal classics Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, Leo Tolstoy and Gustave Flaubert created tragic characters who struggle with the contradictions of their desires, sacrificing secure marriages in the pursuit of freedom and romantic love.
The yearnings that can drive a person into an affair are rooted in a range of human desires and needs, and may differ according to gender—to find the passion no longer available in a relationship that's gone flat, seek some connection missing from one's marriage, revive parts of the self that have become dormant, or to love two people at the same time. The yearnings may be driven by a sense of power and entitlement: "I'm a man, therefore I can." As Simone de Beauvoir pointed out decades ago, women's infidelities can be an expression of their yearning for independence and self-direction in contexts where they feel coerced and subjugated, as is still the case in many parts of the world. An affair can be an attempt to prove that one still has the capacity to seduce, an antidote to boredom, or an act of revenge. In the face of tragedy, illness, or loss, it can provide a shot of adrenaline that helps recapture one's lost vitality.
In Can Love Last? Stephen Mitchell incisively addresses the strains between our human need for commitment and the unruly nature of our yearnings. In our unions, we endlessly strive to create the safety, permanence, and predictability that we had, or wish we'd had, in our childhoods, he says. However, it's this intense pursuit of ultrasafe relationships that can lead to a loss of spontaneity and freedom, which may kill desire. The more constrained our view of marriage and family life, he concludes, the greater will be our yearning to find freedom and excitement elsewhere.
The Management of Affairs