While infidelity has always existed, if in varying degrees of discretion, pre-marital infidelity is a recent phenomenon…
When people ask me whether marital infidelity is a recent phenomenon, I am hard pressed to give them a clear answer. On the one hand, I know that I don't have any hard data, for, this is not the sort of information the Census Board collects (although sometimes I wish they could). However, I do know that when I started practising over 25 years ago, people were infidel even then. The most unlikely of people, really. People who, if you passed them on the street, would give you absolutely no indication of the passion that lurked in their hearts and minds. Your average, conservative, middle class men and, hold your breath, women, were breaking their marital vows with the same alacrity that their children and perhaps, grandchildren, are doing today. However, the one key difference is that people used to be much more discreet in those days and many have gone through lifetimes without their dalliances being discovered.
Today, people engage in infidelity much more brazenly and affairs are more in-your-face than ever before. Technology has contributed its bit, for, people can and do conduct extra-marital engagements through mobile phones, the Internet and so forth. However, the same technology that abets such relationships also exposes them more readily, for, the commonest method of discovery of affairs is a poorly-timed amorous text message or an undeleted chat transcript (it's very hard conducting an affair if you're not tech savvy). It's because affairs are being detected much more easily nowadays, there exists the possibly fallacious impression that more people are having affairs today than ever before.
Given that marital infidelity is as old as the hills, one shouldn't be surprised at the increased incidence of a relatively recent phenomenon in urban India — premarital infidelity, oxymoronic as the term may sound. I'm not referring to teenage or young adults who are two-timing their girlfriends or boyfriends. This, of course, does exist, and has been around for a very long time and can be seen, if you will, as part of the process of mate selection. At this stage, a commitment has not really been made to spend the rest of their lives together. I refer to couples who are either engaged to be married or who have announced to the world that they intend to be married, whether their match has been arranged by their families or they have chosen their partner themselves. Sometimes wedding dates have been announced, venues booked, wedding cards printed and non-refundable travel plans of overseas relatives made, when suddenly one of the protagonists finds out that the other has been up to a bit of extra-pre-marital ‘no good', and not necessarily with an old flame. Oftentimes, the flame is brand new.
This casts a new light on the bride-or-groom-to be. Family, friends and enemies come to know all the gory details at lightning speed, and everybody realises a hard decision has to be made immediately. I have found that the majority of parents in such situations are keen to go ahead with the wedding and invest a lot of time and energy in family meetings, counselling sessions, ‘panchayat' discussions and so on, with the idea of persuading the errant one to give up the paramour and settle down to marital bliss. More often than not, the weddings do take place and even go off smoothly. Sadly, the same cannot be always said for the marriage.
Surviving infidelity even after years of marriage is hard enough, but dealing with it even before it has begun can be even more traumatic. Of course if the said infidelity was more of ‘sowing one's wild oats' sort of thing, then recovery is relatively easier. Sometimes, this sort of thing happens as part of pre-marital jitters, and this too can be survived. But what is hardest to survive is when the one committing pre-marital infidelity feels genuinely in love with the paramour, which happens more often than you'd care to imagine. In this situation, if the person is forced or ‘persuaded' to see the wedding through, the risk of marital infidelity increases exponentially.
The way I see it, if the young man or woman believes that what is felt for the paramour is genuine love, one should be very chary of pressing on with the wedding. Yes, a broken engagement is emotionally harrowing, socially humiliating and inordinately expensive for all concerned. But this is still less difficult to deal with than the trauma of a broken marriage, if and when it does happen. Hoping that nothing goes wrong in the future is not always the best basis to start off a marriage with. And deriving solace from other such marriages that seem to have worked is also not a good idea, for, one is not really aware of the nuances of that situation. A minimum requirement for a workable marriage is that both partners come into it with a cleanish slate. Whatever relationships they have had before they met and agreed to marry each other is of no consequence. But after committing to marry each other, an ongoing relationship with someone else does muddy the slate a fair bit. And that's rarely a good way to begin.
The writer is the author of The Fifty-50 Marriage: Return to Intimacy and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.