Redrawing rules of marriage

Beth Cooper300St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column for The Herald.



The secret to a long, happy and fulfilling marriage is a little bit on the side. That is what a new book claims. It is called a “playfair” and you will find the term on Google with a click.

I do not know where they come up with this stuff. Magazine editors and university researchers are bored or scrambling for new topics – the ones that make us sit up, spill our tea and buy something just to feel in the know?

Until just recently, I assumed that you were either married or single and faithful or unfaithful. The world had rules which we broke or did not and really, monogamy versus polygamy was just a tired re-run on reality television.

But not so, according to the Telegraph newspaper, which gave ample column space to sociologist, Catherine Hakim’s claim that the recipe for happiness was to get married and then have a lusty affair – or two, or three; just as long as you did it.

Her book, The New Rules: Internet dating, Playfairs and Erotic Power is a powerful argument against me ignoring any tempting thoughts about “hands-off” men to whom I am not married, engaged or at least legally entitled to.

The time has come, apparently, to redraw the rules of marriage for the 21st century. Just as the Pill opened up premarital sex in the Sixties, the internet is opening up a whole new culture of affairs among married people.

I cannot rage against Ms Hakim’s theory because I have not read the book. And I am afraid of being typecast conservative if I turn my nose up at what she says, because she backs it up with all sorts of references and pretty powerful source material. Did you know, for example, that evidence points to longer marriages in countries with more permissive attitudes towards couples doing what they want, with whom they want?

I also did not know that the magical space between 5pm – 7pm was known, in France, as le cinq a sept – the time when men are known to see their mistresses.

Not in this house, chum. The magical space is between 8pm – 10pm, when the kids are asleep, deadlines done, my polyester Pep gown on and a coffee in hand. Admittedly, in a movie, this is about the time that any husband would thrill to the idea of a playfair; even I battle with the concept of romance in a polyester gown.

Unlike the dozens of readers, who rushed to attack the playfair concept, citing ruined feelings, confused children, broken budgets and the drudgery involved in packing illicit weekend bags between school lunches and hockey matches, I think Hakim has a point.

Hanging out with the same person day in and day out can – and does – become a bit same-old, same-old. Heavens, you are sharing a toilet and there is only so much bathroom eroticism a couple can take.
But what she does not take into account is that we are not all utter idiots. Most women and men with reasonable minds are acutely aware that biology does not hot-wire you to find only one person attractive for the long haul. If we did, we would be lying.

What sociologists could be doing, instead of trying to overhaul a pretty practical system of cave ownership, intimacy on tap, security and procreation, is to find the magical space within an existing partnership – the bit that ran dry while we were too busy making babies and money.

I vote for the invention of the “stayfair” – the one that still involves illicit weekend bags packed between school lunches, but starring two tired old lovers who will come home to the same house, kids and shared bills.

There is really nothing better than your own bed, after all.

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