America: As Slutty As Ever

A friend of mine lamented that marriages were breaking apart everywhere because we were “addicted to the orgasm.”  What happened to the days of old, when men were staunch against the ever-impending threat of The Affair, and couples stayed together until death do they part? Where did our honor go?

Well, it never really left.  We’ve always been slutty.  We just haven’t aired that sluttiness in public.

See, in lusting after the “good old days,” you’re also forgetting the days when men were expected to get some on the side, and be discreet.  In Victorian England, land of the staunchest, stiffest-upper-lips of all time, prostitute use ran rampant.  Men were forever nipping off to fuck other women, often for money; you just didn’t bring that shit home.  (Except in the form of copious venereal diseases, of course.)  And there were multiple affairs among the nobility throughout history, which wives often endured, because men quote-unquote needed that sort of thing, and they looked the other way while their husbands plundered their way among younger, more attractive women.

(This is not to say the lower- and middle-classes weren’t also having affairs, but alas – just as People Magazine doesn’t chronicle the affairs of Edna and Herbert Menna, landlords of a nice tenancy in Queens, the history books don’t go into nearly as much detail on the lives of peasants.)

So people were fucking.  Why didn’t we know?  Well, for one reason, divorce back then was considered an absolute sin.  You were castigated if you separated, particularly if you were a woman, but even the men were viewed with a sort of pitable sadness that they couldn’t keep their woman in line.  These days, if someone is cheating you’re free to pack it up, but back in those days?  That was a huge move.  So you had tons of couples who had loveless lives, basically separate, keeping their own affairs, but never divorcing – thus giving the illusion of “’til death do we part.”

(What they didn’t mention is how eagerly many of those couples were looking forward to departing each other.)

And then there’s the issue of public decency.  You didn’t air your personal lives back then; it was considered a great stigma for the press to blow that shit wide open.  Did FDR have an affair?  You bet your ass he did.  Kennedy?  Don’t make me laugh.  Eisenhower?  He actually asked for permission to divorce his wife, but was denied.  By his general.  Hell, even Thomas Jefferson had a few redheaded kids running amuck – though I guess you’d expect that of TJ, that rebel of the Founding Fathers.

The point is that affairs happened all the time, but the press didn’t think it was of interest, or thought it was tawdry, or both.  So they didn’t cover it.  J. Edgar Hoover had files on hundreds of extramarital affairs, but did he go to the press?  No he did not.  Because societal pressures kept all that under the carpet.  It’s not that it didn’t happen, it’s that when it did happen, you didn’t know about it.

If General Petraeus had been caught with this affair in the 1930s, he would have just found some mysterious excuse to step down.  It would be deeply embarrassing, to those in the immediate circle.  Questions would be asked.  But would “GENERAL DICK-DEEP IN BIOGRAPHER” make national headlines for days at a time?  No.  And so you’d think “Gee, people were so much better in those days.”

So are people breaking more oaths these days?  My pal has a point in that marriage is no longer thought of as a lifelong commitment – but then again, given that marriage is no longer pretty much required for women to be functional, I’ll take that tradeoff.  And I agree with him on the larger point, in that I do think that America has pretty much fallen away from the ideal of commitment to anything – Kennedy’s line of “Ask not what your country can do for you” seems quaint, as after Carter and Ford’s attempts to say, “Hey, could you guys do with less gas so we can get out of the Middle East?” got them voted out of office roundly.  No, what we want is abundance, and I see both Democrats and Republicans milking that voter-cow.

But was there a golden age of fidelity?  No.  People have always fucked around.  People will always fuck around.  They may find different ways to do it, and different ways to cover it up, and different ways to react to it.  But those orgasms?  We’re hard-wired to be addicted.  And that’s never gone away.

 

2 Comments

  1. Felicity
    Nov 27, 2012

    I very much second your ‘didn’t talk about it’ point. When people say divorce is a modern epidemic, et cetera, I like to tell them:

    1. 1910s – My mother’s maternal grandparents married young and repented right quickly. By the time my grandma was three or four, she had a stepfather — and a stepsister, from Stepdad’s first marriage. (Also, he didn’t have legal custody of his daughter, so they moved a lot.)

    2. 1920ish – My mother’s paternal grandfather ran off and left his wife and two children. They eventually divorced long-distance, despite both being Catholic, and I believe he remarried. (She didn’t. She committed suicide some years later, of which the Church was much more actively disapproving.)

    3. 1919 – My father’s maternal grandfather came back from WWI to discover his wife had had two more kids since he’d been in Europe. He got a divorce, and my great-grandmother was his second wife.

    4. My father’s paternal grandparents were the only one-and-done couple in the lot, and here I grant that the Good Old Days might have fewer divorces than we do nowadays: Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that in the modern era, a Baptist minister’s daughter would stay married to a shiftless professional gambler who dragged her family all over the country — and of course, in the modern era, she might not be a totally dependent invalid, not allowed to even know what was wrong with her (weak heart.) Personally, I’d rather she’d had the choice.

    Maybe working-class folks like my forebears got more divorces than toney people with more social capital to lose. Maybe Western folks (like most of those forebears) lived a less formal life and were more into fresh starts and clean breaks. Maybe if the same couples had lived a hundred years before, they wouldn’t have gotten divorced! (Why bother, when you could just run off and pretend you’re single?) But I find the idea that married people wanting to break up is a huge cultural shift laughable. If anything, the huge cultural shift is women being more able to leave, divorce, and support themselves. And that isn’t always about orgasms!

  2. Chuikov
    Nov 28, 2012

    I must admit, your writing style has this gung-ho John Wayne mannerism about it. A comedy of words! Magnificent!

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