American Schadenfreude

by Liam Scheff

Americans love to watch people suffer humiliating break-ups. At least, the circulation of People, US, and the National Enquirer would make us think so. They reflect tales of ‘cheating’ on a daily basis for our ‘schadenfreude‘ – our happiness at the expense of the pain of others. But why do we ‘get off’ on watching a ‘monogamy-illegal’ threesome dissolve?

I think it’s because we’re so repressed in our own desires to be free of life-long, rather fraudulent ‘monogamy’ that we take the public humiliation of others as a ‘gestalt‘ or a catharsis of our own pent-up needs, fear and programmed ‘shame’ at wanting – desperately wanting and needing – some variety of sexual partners as adults.

It would surprise most of us to know that the current version of ‘marriage,’ suffused with notions of ‘romance,’ ‘love’ and ‘fidelity’ – is only a couple hundred years old. Marriage was always a tool to bind people to the land, the land to the king, and the taxes to the royal coffer.

Maybe we’d be happier if we stopped pretending that anybody was going to be married to anyone forever and ever – and we accepted that romance is a passing thing, and spent more time enjoying it while it lasted, instead of strangling it in place or trying to nail it to a cross with false promises and public humiliation.

Romance is not marriage. Marriage is for stabilizing child-bearing couples. Romance is for delighting our senses and awakening our spirits. Sometimes they go together, often they don’t. And that wasn’t a problem for humans for most of 250,000 years.

So, why is it for us?


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