How Much of Our Fidelity Is Acting?

Maybe it’s just an illusion of gossip-heavy mass media, but it sure seems that celebrity couples rarely stay true to one another till death do them part.  The latest “news” of celebrity infidelity involves acting couple Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, who have just found themselves in a couple gossipy magazines after the apparently not so snow white Stewart allegedly cheated on her boyfriend with married director Rupert Sanders in a “marathon makeout session.”  (Who writes these things?)

I would think that a life spent under the limelight pretending to be someone that you’re not takes its toll on any relationships you enter into.  As they say among the Dothraki, it is known.  On the flip side, I’m curious to know whether the love and fidelity of everyone involves some amount of acting.  Faithful love has to be worked at, no matter who you are, but how much of this “working” is really acting, pretending, wearing the mask of the stranger?

In most cases, answering this may not be possible.  I can imagine the sort of character who consciously goes through the motions of love and commitment, disliking or fearing the consequences of calling off the relationship, preferring fake love to real heartbreak or breakup; but I’d wager this sort isn’t the norm.  I’ve been happily married for over eight years, and we’ve faced the sort of hardships that can tear a couple apart.  I’m as happy being with my wife when we’re working together on the dishes as when we’re out for a night on the town.  I see no insincerity on my part, but then I haven’t paused to contemplate the possibility that my love is something otherwise than what I think it is.  I’ve seen no reason to do so, but then, given the special elusiveness of self-knowledge, I cannot say with absolute certainty that I’m not acting to some degree.  I believe that I’m not.  As best as I can tell my love is genuine.  All signs point to it being the real thing.  Nonetheless, the possibility is there, at least conceivably.

I like to think that my commitments are me being me, freely chosen with my full consent.  This is a comforting thought, but I cannot shake the discomforting realization that I may not be I, that my decisions may be, in part if not fully, the result of acting. Does acting have to be done consciously to be acting?   And what of the chemical and physical processes in my brain over which I have no control?  Forget being an actor; I may be a doll.  Free will may be a fiction.  The signs suggest otherwise, but then the signs always have to be interpreted.

(Image, which makes it look as though someone is about to snatch Stewart away: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images) 

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. Glyph says:

    Why does it have to be one or the other? Real love *should and must* include some ‘faking it til you make it’.

    There will be times when you don’t/can’t love the other, through their actions, or yours, or circumstances out of either’s control; but to keep your commitment through those troubled times, you strive to *act* in ways that *show* you love them; and in doing so, you *do* love them, by not letting some temporary feeling (or lack thereof) or condition break that bond.

    Disclaimer – together a fairly long time (12 + years) but married only a short time (2 years) so maybe I don’t know what I am talking about.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      I’m not sure it has to be one way or the other. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. One’s love can be both genuine and acted. Perhaps not at the same time and in the same way, but still.

  2. Jaybird says:

    I live in a fairly conservative city, surrounded by fairly conservative people for whom infidelity on the part of other folks is still fairly scandalous.

    This pretty much allows me to receive regular messages about what is and what is not socially appropriate and see, on occasion, someone else get punished in one way or another for straying. On top of that, I tend to stay away from situations where strange women would have reason/opportunity to walk up to me and say something to the effect of “could you motorboat these for me?”

    From what I understand about Hollywood is that infidelity is one of those things that pretty much everybody does to the point where it’s expected *AND* there are far, far too many opportunities for strange (but gorgeous or powerful or really, really rich) people to walk up and ask for a motorboat.

    I am pleased to live with the amount of temptation I have. It’s simple.

    • Glyph says:

      (scribbling furiously) “strange women…motorboats…”

      (looks up at Jaybird expectantly) Tell me more?

      • Jaybird says:

        There are some of those “fifty” books in the supermarket that cover this stuff in greater detail with much better prose than I’m capable of providing.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      Good point about temptation.

      • Glyph says:

        This may sound ridiculous, but I have often fallen back on my inherent laziness to avoid/minimize temptation.

        When the idea of forbidden fruit starts to look *too* good, it can be helpful to focus on the mundane logistics of it all, and give them weight.

        “But I have to get up *so* early tomorrow. Maybe I will just head on home”.

        “What a hassle it would be to try to manage all those furtive texts.”

        And so on.

        Also, my wife and I have had from the beginning of our relationship a policy of 100% honesty with one another. This extends to being honest (though some consideration is given to the appropriate timing for disclosure) about those we find attractive, and those transient crushes that happen to everyone.

        We find that talking about these things in an open and honest way prevents them from really growing into the kind of obsession that things kept long secret often have a way of doing (both for the secret-keeper, and the secret-finder-outer).

        Not that neither of us never gets jealous (a *little* bit of jealousy is a good thing IMO), but these disclosures become the source of running jokes/teasing between us, and serve to strengthen our bond, rather than weaken it.

        • Burt Likko says:

          When the idea of forbidden fruit starts to look *too* good, it can be helpful to focus on the mundane logistics of it all, and give them weight. … Also, my wife and I have had from the beginning of our relationship a policy of 100% honesty with one another. This extends to being honest (though some consideration is given to the appropriate timing for disclosure) about those we find attractive, and those transient crushes that happen to everyone.

          This makes me think that other life choices can help buttress fidelity:
          1. Choose friends and co-workers who are not very good-looking. Not foolproof, but at least there’s less temptation to stray with them. Strangers can be found attractive, but strangers are difficult to approach, which is why affairs tend to happen more frequently with people the cheater already knows.
          2. Similarly, choose friends whose economic means are stretched enough that no one will have sufficient extra money to date, buy gifts for lovers, etc., without the other spouse noticing the dip in finances. Another check against temptation.

          • Glyph says:

            The biggest thing is keep busy busy busy. The biggest check of all (well, despite love and commitment and respect for someone’s feelings, of course) is just making sure you have very little free time in which to get up to no good.

            I really wonder that when I see these things happen…furtive communication, secret rendezvous, etc. etc.

            The money is one thing, but who the heck has the *time*?!

  3. Burt Likko says:

    A lesson passed on to me from my colleagues who ply their profession in the family law bar: people only get divorced for two reasons: sex (one person having more of it than the other) and money (not enough of it).

    You can add the usual verbiage about generalizations and exceptions, but bear in mind that the people who see more divorces than anyone else put a lot of faith in that generalization. Even spousal abuse, I’m told, tends to only be a contributing cause and not the precipitate reason for the ultimate breakup. That makes a perverted sort of sense to me — a spouse who is abused seems likely to have a psychological issue that makes her (or him) willing to put up with it. It’s when the abuser strays or runs out of money that the abuse becomes intolerable.

    So if my colleagues are right and infidelity and economics are the reasons people divorce, what does that say about the love that once was there — was it acting or was it real? My impression is that both are betrayals, as crass as it may be to imply into the marriage vows a promise to support the other spouse in a particular lifestyle. A betrayal is perceived by the betrayed spouse as a disclaimer of love on the part of the other, and the dissolution of the marriage which follows is a reaction to that disclaimer. To me, that suggests that the love was real before it was betrayed.

    • Maribou says:

      Burt, I was really interested by your comment in general, but kind of perplexed by your (or your colleagues’?) framing of abusive situations.

      There is some pretty strong work out there proposing that a spouse who is abused often has very strong economic reasons not to leave (cf. Farmer and Tiefenthaler, 2008 – that link is toll-access, but you get an idea from the abstract, I think), and that a strong predictor of breakups in abusive situations is the abused spouse’s level of assurance that they will afterwards find themselves in a tenable financial situation, rather than struggling desperately – which may be pretty much what you just said, but I think it’s rather a different way of looking at it.

      Whether or not abused spouses are in a psychological place closer to “willing to put up with it” or closer to “terrified of what even worse things might happen to them or their kids if they try to leave and fail to do so successfully” is rather more disputed in the literature, from what I remember – as is whether that terror is a rational or irrational assessment of risk. However, some of my childhood experiences, and the stories of those with similar (usually much worse) experiences I’ve talked to since then, suggest that the latter is more common as the former. My experiences also suggest that the instinct to hide the abuse out of fear becomes overwhelming, and thus tends to warp what abused families let show in front of counselors of both the psychological and legal types.

      Stepping away from the stories I actually know, and into the hypothetical, might it not be equally plausible that rather than infidelity being a last straw, it could sometimes be the case that the abused partner feels that there is less risk in leaving, since the abuser is less focused on the relationship? (That sounds facile, but I really think there’s something to it – one of the terrifying things about abusive family situations is how single-minded the abuser can become.)

      Sorry to go off on such a long and argumentative tangent, fussing at a few throwaway lines in your otherwise keen comment, but it’s a personal issue for me; I feel like if we understood those situations better, it *would* be easier for people to get out of them.