not just friends

The Australian Magazine April 5, 2003

My life doesn’t understand me

Just when I needed a lube job of the spirit, Dr. Shirley Glass, “the godmother of infidelity research”, came to me. Her latest finding – that straying wives are now more likely to pursue affairs for the high-octane sex, while husbands are increasingly booking in for illicit emotional servicing – got me revved in no time. And I’m not the only one. Since its recent release, Glass’ controversial new book, NOT “Just Friends”, has been blowing gaskets on three continents. So, whaddaya say? Ready to lift the bonnet on the research and really get our hands dirty?

Yeah, so am I. But the thing of it is:

I just can’t. What? Oh, this is so awful. You see, I want to so much. Really. But there’s the family to think of. There’s my children. They’re wonderful, of course – but the truth is, they don’t understand me.

If they had any idea how much I’d rather get into the infidelity research than pack for our annual family incarceration, er, holiday at Rottnest Island. well, it would destroy them. They’d go berserk (again). They’d put me on a short lead and tie me to the washing line (again). Oh, it’s so hard to live a lie!

And yet, maybe it’s true what they say. Maybe one woman’s infidelity really is another woman’s multi-tasking. I can’t be the only person who’s ever packed for a family vacation and thought obsessively about having an affair at the same time. I’ll give it a go!

Rottnest Island is a holiday oasis and former prison – coincidence? I think not off the coast of Western Australia. Rottnest is renowned for its rugged limestone landscapes and substandard accommodation. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to tell which is which. Rottnest is also home to a number of unique native species, including the quokka and the feral school leaver. The thing that all sand-gropers love about Rottnest is pretty much the same thing we hate about George Bush’s cerebral cortex: ie, there ain’t nothin’ there.

This is wonderful if you are a child, a seagull, or a man. It is less so for those of us who are none of these things – and much less besides. Being in charge of troop deployment to Rottnest for a family of three school-aged children is to holiday fun what a Pap smear is to a dirty weekend. You don’t “pack” for Rottnest; you migrate there. (Maybe that’s why I feel like throwing the family overboard for days afterward.) For those of us who need our creature comforts – and I’m talking a toaster and light globes – this can be a special challenge.

Does packing for Rottnest get better with practice? In my experience, it’s a bit like sex within marriage. It doesn’t exactly get better, but at least it goes faster. And speaking of bad sex and marriage (not that the task at hand does not completely rivet me – there’s nothing I love better than spearfishing for socks and underwear under my kids’ beds), do you think this explains why we’re facing what Dr. Glass calls “the new crisis of infidelity”, in which men’s platonic friendships and workmate relationships are turning into emotional affairs? No, me neither. But I had to make the transition somehow.

Glass’s theory is that the greater economic clout and general assertiveness enjoyed by women today have led to significant changes in the politics of marital intimacy – and as someone who has lost the by-election repeatedly, who am I to argue? These days, a woman would have to be a mad cow indeed to lie back and think of England. Wives are instead much more forthright about procuring “amazing sex” (not to be confused with the Protestant hymn of the same name), whether in marriage or – as is increasingly common – outside of it.

Husbands, by contrast, are meant to be sick of all that. What floats their boat today is the exchange of emotional fluids. This, Glass shows, creates its own sticky mess, making guys vulnerable to “emotional affairs” – particularly when work-centred lifestyles mean there is not enough time for real intimacy in the marriage (and even good ol’ fake intimacy fails to satisfy).

Well, fair enough, I suppose. And yet I can’t help thinking that we are all getting just a tiny bit extravagant in our expectations (she says, dismantling the eight-year-old’s laptop and packing it carefully beside the inflatable DVD burner). I mean, really. Looking for a long-term relationship for both amazing sex and stupendous friendship is a bit like, I don’t know, going on a family holiday for a rest. In relationships, as at Rottnest, there is virtue in roughing it – and the sooner we all accept that, the better.

Now, where the hell did I put the IV trolley and the cocktail shaker?

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