Adultery is our best-loved sport

Offer women a decent, monogamous bloke, the perfect Mr Right, and they turn away in distaste

SOME WOMEN can, at times, act in the most contrary fashion. Offer them a decent, upstanding, monogamous bloke, the perfect Mr Right, and they turn away in distaste. It's Mr Wrong, the bastard, whom they long for every time. Or, at least, until they begin to understand that love and humiliation don't automatically go hand in hand.

Love rats - Mick Jagger, Alan Clark et al - and infidelity have become the salt in our daily diet.

We watch it in our soaps; demand at least a confession a day from the telly or the newspapers; anticipate it regularly from our royals and lap it up in colour across pages of Hello!. Adultery is Britain's best-loved national sport. So what will we make of the news that scientists have now discovered a genetic basis for monogamy?

Tom Insel and Larry Young, neuroscientists working in Atlanta, Georgia, have transferred a gene from monogamous male prairie voles into aggressive, promiscuous mice and produced the perfect mate - faithful, attentive, too damn good to be true. Modestly, the scientists point out that in human beings, behaviour may be governed as much by contemporary values and conditioning as it is by biology.

Still, many a woman may decide that if the choice lies between dancing alone round her handbag drunkenly singing, "I Shall Survive" for yet another Saturday, or her resident Lothario swallowing a couple of genes a day, her money is on the genes.

At last, you might say, the scientists have come up with the happy ending to the crisis in matrimony we are told so much about: no more affairs; commitment rules OK. Or does it? This vision of what guarantees wedded bliss fails to acknowledge the contradictory make-up of human beings (not least in that those addicted to love rats follow the principle that if somebody else wants him, he must be worth having), and the complexity of our modern relationships. Or, to put it another way, monogamy is the least of our problems.

According to research (and who knows how truthful individuals are when questioned about their bit on the side?), 80-90 per cent of us disprove of adultery, at the same time that a proportion indulge in it. Infidelity is largely a posh person's activity. One in eight men in social classes one and two has had a recent extramarital affair, but only one in 40 in social classes four and five. The reason isn't honour but opportunity - or rather, the lack of it. Upper-class men travel more, goes the theory, so they have greater chances of having a liaison.

Women, too, of course, are unfaithful. Again, they are twice as likely to be unfaithful as women in general if they work away from home. Men are more likely to petition for divorce on the grounds of their wives' adultery - 37 per cent of men, compared to only 22 per cent of women. But adultery is cited as cause for divorce in only 24 per cent of marriage breakdowns. And here we come to the crunch.

Married or cohabiting, fidelity matters, but what is proving even trickier for long-term relationships is the business of negotiating daily life - who does what, who says what, in the myriad battlefields of work, money, children and sex. This is further complicated because in the early stages, according to Professor Alfons Vansteenwegen, "Love is a disease of the eyes", so we see the object of our affections as we would wish him or her to be, not as they are. Words are avoided. Then, as writers such as Deborah Tannen and John Gray have made fortunes from pointing out, once we men and women do open our mouths, we discover that we speak a different language despite using similar words.

In spite of it all, what many of us are still seeking, according to academics such as Dr Christopher Clulow, is the "companionate relationship", inside or outside marriage. One in which, ideally, issues are settled by negotiation and compromise on the basis of equality - a feat that requires each partner to be aware and have sympathy for the world in which the other lives. (In short, the breadwinner doesn't tell the house-husband, when home from work, "God knows what you've been doing all day...".)

Given that handling a relationship is fast resembling another form of rocket science, we begin to see why some errant partners nip off for the (initial) simplicity of a quick leg-over. In practice, the three main reasons for infidelity are a fear of commitment, the lure of forbidden fruit and a break for freedom. (I would have thought an insatiable appetite for having one's ego boosted might come fourth.) All of which, of course, will no longer be appropriate once the monogamy gene is administered as to babies at birth.

So, no more Casanovas - boring or what?

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference