Infidelity is always in the news the way fidelity never is. Look at Charles and Diana in the latest season of The Crown. The actors playing them, Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin, have not only got his ears and her upward arch glance right, they also sleep with who they want, which is not always each other, in the TV series.
Of all the reasons a nuptial knot comes undone, adultery is what everyone comes sniffing for. The fact that the extra-curricular amour may have entered after the marriage itself went belly up is never as entertaining as the backdoor entry of this man or that woman into the marital bed. A mother-in-law is sometimes the only Other Woman a marriage sees and a father-in-law the only Other Man, but that’s too clichéd, so give us the boyfriend and girlfriend, please. The optics of gossip demand illicit sex.
Dominic West, who starred in the TV series The Affair, was seen canoodling – an exclusive media term for intrusive shots of secret couples like Jeff Bezos-Lauren Sanchez or Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders – with Rebecca actor Lily James. Instantly, close-ups of West’s wife filled the tabloids. She was advised to stay in the marriage, she was advised to get out of the marriage. The logic for both being the same: all men are love rats. Mrs West, whose name everyone now uses with great familiarity, Catherine FitzGerald, can’t even walk her dogs without scrutiny anymore.
When Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky went through their ordeal, Hillary was watched with great attention. In the UK, scientist Neil Ferguson had to resign from his job because he met his married lover during the lockdown. Married lover!
Holy matrimony can never excite us as a crumbling marriage. Joe Biden’s quote about his wife, whom he met after his first wife died, in his biography Promises to Keep – 'She gave me back my life. She made me start to think my family might be whole again' – is cute of course, but we would rather watch Melania swat Trump’s hand like a pesky fly.
Marital partners can appear like foes or friends, depending on a particular moment in life or by the end of a good decade or so. At some point the man-woman equation must transcend the sexual angle into the boringly platonic. At the heart of any healthy relationship is plain camaraderie.
It is all about support, loyalty, friendship, sharing laughs and having a cry together. Unlike Alicia and Will in The Good Wife, it is Diane Lockhart’s sincerity to the same Will that locks the series into place.
Charles and Diana had their moments. Despite the public nature of their rows, even The Crown cannot hide their underlying connect. Like anyone else, they too were trying to survive emotional roller-coasters any way they could.
It need not always be about being faithful or being unfaithful; straying can feel like a blunder or brilliant bravery in retrospect. Fidelity to and infidelity with the wrong person are the real destructions.Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.