An Open Letter to Elloa Atkinson on Why Her Cheating Heart May Not Be Such a Bad Thing
by Liam Scheff
Writer and speaker Elloa Atkinson wrote an article, published on the Huffington Post, in which she admitted her attraction to a man she met while dog-walking – a man not her husband. She convinced herself that her attraction was both unreal, non-existent and finally, a sub-conscious attempt to “sabotage happiness” as “generations of women in her family” had done. She then chose the confessional route (placing her husband as her priest) instead of allowing the affection to bloom in any way – even at a low level of flirtation.
I didn’t see any “sabotage” in her attraction to a man who was not her husband, anymore than I would have seen in her attraction to the stranger whose company she came to enjoy before she eventually married him. There are other options than self-flagellation and public confession as a response to her exciting perturbance – as I relay to her in this open letter.
I read your article on the Huffington Post site; I surely related. Oh, the need and quest for ultimate transparency and honesty! I’ve been there, I think I’d be there still if I hadn’t decided to be even more honest and transparent.
You wrote (and I’m condensing a bit):
“Recently, I met K while walking the dog. We just clicked. The conversation flowed easily, we shared doggy jokes and I walked home a little taller, a little bit excited….Then, one day, we spent two hours together….We just stayed. Talked, joked, hung out….I “coincidentally” walked the dog at the time he walked his — 6 p.m.. I felt disappointed each time I didn’t see him…His name even came to mind while my husband and I were having sex. I mentally ejected him from my thoughts — I wasn’t even attracted to him, and I had never fantasized about anyone else while being intimate with [my husband]. The cumulative impact of these behaviors — these secrets — on my sense of integrity was indubitable. I felt guilty and ashamed of myself.”
Summary notes: “Clicked,” but “Not attracted,” but “thinking about during sex?” Hoping to see, disappointed when you didn’t. “Guilty and ashamed.”
There was a recurring note playing in my head in response to your journey – the attraction, the anxiety, the desire to enjoy the company of more than one person – and it was this:
So what? Give the guy a kiss, already! Have a cuddle! Satisfy the very normal desire for a little bit of variety. Be honest about THAT – about the normalcy of your experience, your process; and suffer no more guilt, shame or programmed nonsense about fearing a hug or two.
I don’t mean to be a scold, but rather, to offer a remedy. I know this struggle well. I haven’t always had this point of view – though I always had the impulse for “new person” affection. I tried to be “good,” and to “honor” the restrictiveness, the guilt-and-jealousy-guarded code of mutual genital ownership that we’re told is the same thing as love and intimacy.
Boy, was I wrong. But it took me a long time and a lot of trial by error to know it. Here’s what I discovered: we’re all this way – multi-affectionate – and it is, ready?
The biologists and anthropologists agree, by the way: we’re irrepressible kissers and cuddlers. And I’ve finally come out of my particular closet: I’m not monogamous. That doesn’t mean I have sex easily or often; in fact, I’m a bit conservative where intercourse is concerned. But it means I don’t restrict affection or call shared affection “cheating.”
In your essay you explain how easy it would be to end up in “deep waters” because of an attraction (that you seemed determined to rationalize away as not being so). You used the word “cheat” to describe the outcome of engaging in – what? A kiss? An admission that someone appealed to you?
But you’ll have to ask yourself – and the culture at large – why we feel obliged to consider marriage a “game” that can be “cheated?” Why is it a zero-sum match, where one “error” obliterates the entire reason for the relationship?
Indeed, none of these concepts is rooted in our biological or tribal inheritance. Or, allow me to offer this perspective: you could have ended up in enjoyably shallow waters with your new friend, and it wouldn’t have been “cheating” to do so. It would have been entirely healthy and quite human.
You love your husband – that is clear. But we human beings are a 240,000 year old foraging, nomadic, occasionally-hunting species. We’re not used to this notional “monogamy,” we’re not built for it. We are a tribal species.
Our primary affiliation is with the tribe; our greatest support comes from our non-centralized, non-nuclear, multi-hubbed tribal inter-connectivity. Certainly we have primary partner or partners. But we clearly only survive in layered complexity, with a great deal of overlap of affection, bits of romance, kindness, warmth, some sexuality, and a lot of reassuring touch – and the occasional snog (kiss) or two.
Which is what your ancient genome is telling you.
The biologists will tell you that you will, in fact, feel more attracted to your partner and be more sexual after a new kiss from a second interest because of increased testosterone levels responding to a flirtation – all from the informal, extracurricular light cuddle from time to time. Each of your zooming happy chemicals, plus a jolt of testosterone, will send you into each other’s arms and legs with a a renewed zeal.
Yes, flirting, and a little outside-the-primary-relationship cuddling is good for your sex life.
Sounds… positively thrilling, after a little anxiety dissipates. And you don’t have to be a ‘total slut,’ either. It can all be kept above the waist and in good taste. And it can feel great, too, to be freed from the dragon of debilitating jealousy – to be able to express that loving affection with a few special friends. You can define your terms, draw lines around your boundaries, and be even more in love for the added freedom that you’ve just allowed each other.
If you want some footnotes, well, I’m working on my book on the topic now, or I’d send it to you for your perusal. In the meantime, try these:
The short version of this is: you’re perfectly normal. If your body wants a kiss or a hug or two, then you should probably have one. (Would you torture yourself the same way for wanting some chocolate?) Just find the right vendor of non-obligatory loving hugs and kisses, establish what your rules will be, and go forward.
I doubt there is any inherited “fear of happiness” driving you to a kiss or cuddle. I think the opposite is true. Your desire for happiness is what’s motivating you.
What if your instincts weren’t trying to hurt you, after all?
ps – lovely name! Never heard it before.
Elloa Atkinson is a writer and speaker on personal transformation: http://www.elloaatkinson.com/
Her Huffington Post article: i-love-my-husband-but-heres-why-i-want-to-cheat
Liam Scheff, the author of this piece, can be found at: liamscheff.com