All this adultery is rather sad and unsettling

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The Independent Online

Once, when I was a books editor, a couple of adulterers visited my office. There was nothing essentially unusual about this - publishing was a daisy-chain of infidelity in those days - but these two would-be authors mildly surprised me by proposing to write a book on the subject, a jaunty, semi-serious guide for marital cheaters.

Once, when I was a books editor, a couple of adulterers visited my office. There was nothing essentially unusual about this - publishing was a daisy-chain of infidelity in those days - but these two would-be authors mildly surprised me by proposing to write a book on the subject, a jaunty, semi-serious guide for marital cheaters.

Naturally, I gave them short shrift. There was something intensely irritating about the way they gigglingly outlined their idea in an ill-disguised state of erotic smugness. I was damned if I was going to sponsor their seedy affair with a publishing advance, provide them with yet more excuses to meet for vigorous research sessions in Travel Lodges across the country. Infidelity, my chilly, censorious manner implied, was a private problem, not a business opportunity.

It was probably untrue then and is certainly untrue today. Capitalism loves social change and personal disruption, and, to judge by recent press reports, a rapidly growing black economy attends the needs of both the cheaters and the cheated. Those seeking an alibi, for example, can find a website that offers fake invitations to corporate events, bogus receptionists to take those awkward check-up calls, even a bill-paying service as a way round telltale receipts and credit-card bills.

Further assistance for the efficient adulterer is to be found in a new generation of introduction agencies catering specifically for those seeking extra-marital affairs. According to David Miller, described in one newspaper as an "adultery guru", his particular agency appeals to "nice quality people, the kind you would see at a middle-class Knightsbridge dinner-party". It offers a two-tier service: £75 gets you into his newsletter for the restlessly married; while £600 buys you personal advice from the guru and a copy of his book, The Joy of Adultery.

Meanwhile, the other side is fighting back. The Japanese have invented a gel which turns an item of clothing blue if it has been discarded for more than 15 minutes. An agency called Check-a-Mate offers to entrap suspect husbands by the simple method of getting an attractive woman to come on to him and taping his response. Something, confusingly called Infidelity Discretion Cream, causes the skin to blister when in contact with water.

In other words, it's war out there. Infidelity is no longer a matter of private guilt; it is a campaign, conducted on both sides with cool, value-free pragmatism. Everyone is at it, the thinking seems to be, so each of us has a responsibility to get the best professional back-up. The adultery guru claims to offer "an essential service". As for the betrayed, they, according to one man-luring Check-a-Mate operative, are rarely looking for grounds for divorce. "They use the information to have power over their husbands," she told an Independent on Sunday journalist. "They use it to make his life a misery."

Each to his own, I suppose. Maybe we are at the dawn of a great new age of liberation and one day David Miller will be regarded as a hero, a Marie Stopes for the misunderstood adulterer. Yet this new social acceptance of infidelity seems a bit sad and unsettling. In a recent essay, the American novelist Jane Smiley - a great writer and, one imagines, one of Miller's "nice, quality people" - spoke up boldly for sexual libertarianism. "To forswear fidelity is to open yourself up to other ideas, other thoughts, about what love is, what happiness is, and what commitment is," she wrote.

Smiley herself had been through a couple of marriages and had three children. These days she sometimes sits down to dinner with her boyfriend, his other girlfriend and her other boyfriend. Maybe that is the way we are all heading but, for some reason I am not entirely able to understand, I rather hope not.

terblacker@aol.com

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