Forget the oysters - there is no aphrodisiac to equal boredom

What men flatter themselves is their endless capacity for giving is nothing but a cycle of tedium and regret

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"Men are incapable of not wanting other women" - not my words, Rod Liddle's. We have maintained a dignified silence on the Rod Liddle love-rat storm so far, partly to allow those "other women" to have their say uncontradicted, partly because we are moral claustrophobics and do not like the scrum that forms around a scandal. It's on the assumption that the whole affair has now passed from the nation's consciousness, therefore, that we gingerly approach it.

"Men are incapable of not wanting other women" - not my words, Rod Liddle's. We have maintained a dignified silence on the Rod Liddle love-rat storm so far, partly to allow those "other women" to have their say uncontradicted, partly because we are moral claustrophobics and do not like the scrum that forms around a scandal. It's on the assumption that the whole affair has now passed from the nation's consciousness, therefore, that we gingerly approach it.

Not the parties to the sorry business, about whom we have nothing to say. I myself think that if Rod Liddle has reason to grovel to the nation, it is for having once been an editor of the Today programme and for hiring Andrew Gilligan, but that's just me.

Others think it doesn't matter what your politics are so long as you are faithful to your wife. I happen to believe that good judgement is as essential to your ideology as it is to your conduct as a husband. Indeed I will go further and assert that a person of unsound beliefs won't make anyone a decent spouse. (Was Mrs Stalin happy? Was Mrs Mussolini?)

But enough of personalities. Our subject is not Mr Liddle but his application of a general truth to an individual weakness - his assertion that men are incapable of not wanting blah blah.

We have, of course, all said it. But there is a time for such a word. Somewhere after the onset of puberty it dawns on men - boys I should rather say - that their desires are so gargantuan and unlocatable that they can be satisfied only by possessing all the women they have ever met or seen or heard of, all the girls they know at school, all their friends' mothers, whoever happens at that unlucky hour to be walking down the street, whoever appears in a newspaper or on television, not just every woman living but every woman who has ever lived and ever will live. Little by little it dawns upon the growing boy that there is not time enough, even supposing the whole universe of women (past, present and still to come) were willing, for him to make significant inroads into this ambition. By the age of 17 he accepts that just his postal district will be too much for him, by 20 he is reduced to his year at university, and by 25 he's down to the occasional encounter in a supermarket and his wife's best friend.

Thus does realism turn at last into a sort of maturity, and fatigue will do the rest.

Any man prepared to recall this period of his life with honesty will accept that it was fear and wonderment that fuelled it, not some grand Darwinian necessity. We like to think that exuberant nature impels us to scatter our seed far and wide for the good of the planet, but in truth we are prodigal with it only because we don't know what else to do. Woman is a fearful unknown, sex vexes us, so we spray. Cats do something similar when they're frightened.

What happens next is boredom. Forget oysters, Spanish fly, or jam from the toes of the Galapagos turtle, there is no aphrodisiac that can hold a candle (and forget candle wax melted in tulip nectar and virgin's urine) to boredom. Bored, a man's thoughts turn once more to sex. Lock a man away in a darkened room without a book or occupation and it will not be long before he remembers with affection how he passed his hours as a schoolboy. Onan had nothing better to do with himself, otherwise he would not have lent his name to this most idle of all activities.

And as it is with his parts, so it is, for the bored and idle man, with a woman's. Only let an agreeable one be to hand and he will play with hers as zealously as with his own. When he subsequently apologises to his wife and says it was nothing, he is almost telling the truth. What he should go on to say is that it was nothing but boredom. But a man must think hard before he mentions boredom to his wife.

After boredom, and sometimes as a consequence of it, depression. Too much sex is itself, of course, depressing. But so is too little. And nothing raises the spirits of a depressed man like the attentions of a woman for whom he is a surprise. In her he sees himself afresh. In her he is new valued, new validated, new born. If it lasts, he is a happy man. But if it fades or grows too fervid he is at risk of falling once again into boredom or depression. Thus the spiral which men flatter themselves is their endless capacity for sexual giving, but is in fact nothing but a cycle of despondency, tedium and regret.

Only in one area I can think of does men's actual rapacity match the fantasy, and that is when their devotion to one woman in particular is so immoderate that it spills over into surplus and indiscriminate devotion to others. Same-mindedness we might call this - not when you are of the same-mind as other women, but when you are of the same mind about them, as though in loving the individual you are duty bound to love the species. A strange phenomenon this - appetite increasing by what it feeds on - and the cause of most marital ills, since it is a rare wife who will accept that she is to blame for her husband's infidelity, having caused him to love her with such profligacy and abandon that he must love all her friends.

Boredom, Depression, Same-Mindedness, these are our true motive forces, the BDSM of our sexual nature. No prettier, I accept, than Rod Liddle's version of unquenchable desire, just less delusional. But all are subject equally to time's attrition. At last, seeing the end in the beginning, a man grows too old to act on any of them. Only then is he worth knowing.

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