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Fidelity Is a Fairytale

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With her latest book, The New Rules: Internet Dating, Playfairs and Erotic Power, Catherine Hakim joins a growing posse of high profile monogamy-bashers. It's the latest big-splash book this year defending infidelity. All from authors who are happily married.

Alain de Botton sang the praises of adultery in How to Think More About Sex and Christopher Ryan co-wrote Sex at Dawn with his wife, in which they both challenged the myth that monogamy is innate in humans.

As I wrote on the Guaridan this week, they don't argue from cynical, embittered experience, haranguing from the cesspit of heartbreak, but with factual objectivity.

Catherine Hakim, with whom I've had the pleasure of personally sharing research and relationship anecdotes, uses endless sociological studies to demonstrate the benefits for cultures which are sympathetic to adultery and enlightening interviews of people using marital affair websites, which she claims are changing the landscape of marriage. Just last week the adult dating site maritalaffair.co.uk revealed that its active female members have doubled in the last three months.

The other pro-adultery writers are equally academic. Ryan and his wife flood their pages with colourful evolutionary theories highlighting how everything from penis sizes to porn preferences prove that monogamy just doesn't isn't the way we were meant to be.

In research for my next book, I too am questioning our obsession in finding and sticking with one exclusive life-long partner. As much as we love to feast on the Hollywood-inspired fairytale that there is a soul-mate out there who can make our dreams come true and still make us quiver between the sheets every night, my research - I'm afraid - finds more evidence of boredom, bickering and monosyllabic TV dinners than passion, princes and someone who massages your feet every night.

I'd rather not rain on the fairytale parade if I'm honest. Like the writers above, I too am in a monogamous relationship. Not because I've tied my hands behind my back to stop myself logging onto maritalaffair.co.uk but because it seems incomprehensible to want to be with anyone else. I don't see the point in monogamy unless it's from the heart, not from a pact. But then, I'm biased. It's a new relationship and I've still got the butterflies.

As much as I would like the champagne hazes and dewey-eyed gazes of a fresh lover to last forever, the occupational hazard of researching relationships is that I'm startlingly aware that romantic lustiness and long-term familiarity don't marry up well. Passion fades to friendship. Elation and mutual fascination gives way to conversations about who's taking the bins out. It's scientifically proven.

Anthropologists have studied brain scans of couples in love. The ones in the early throes of romantic love virtually dribble dopamine. Their brains, according to Dr Helen Fisher, behave exactly like someone on crack cocaine. They are obsessed and infatuated. Thankfully - for the sanity of society - couples who've been together for a bit calm down. Their brains bathe in oxytocin, they feel attached and secure and want to pack each other's lunch boxes but alas, they're unlikely to still want to snog in the back of a taxi.

It's ironic when people moralise about the demise of 'old fashioned family values' or 'traditional marriage'. The true 'traditional' approach to marital commitment had nothing to do with either ever-lasting love or fidelity. People only started to marry for love in the late 18C. Romance and fervour has ubiquitously been preserved for extramarital parties. From the beginning of civilisation to the Middle Ages marriage was a strategy to form business partnerships, expand family networks, craft political ties, strengthen a labour force or pass on wealth.

In aristocratic societies of the 12th century, adultery was considered a higher form of love. The countess of Champagne once said "true love could not exist among people you were married to." In the 16th century, the essayist Montaigne wrote that any man in love with his wife was "a man so dull no one else could love him". Many of the songs and stories told of the lower classes of the early middle ages derided marital love. It was dull and it was plain weird.

Throughout history and across cultures societies have provided systems for extramarital lovers. In Imperial China, noblemen housed harems of courtesans. In the Ottoman Empire there were seraglios of beautiful courtesans. In the East, any man of means had at least one concubine as well as a wife. In Japan married men entertained themselves with Geisha. In Europe, the Royal courts even granted powers and titles to monarchs' mistresses and any resulting children.

The modern world continues to make provisions. The French have the Cinq à sept - the two-hour window between work and home which allows lovers to rendez vous without the slightest raised eyebrow. In Japan, they have so-called 'love hotels' designed for discretion. They dispatch the keys in a vending machine and provide curtains in the car park to protect anonymity.

We all desperately want to believe in a fairytale ideal of relationships. We only have to see the vitriol stirred up at the mere suggestion that Katherine Jenkins was involved with David Beckham to get a taste of how defensive we are of it.

Now, more than at any other time, we need to adopt a more flexible approach to coupledom. Yet as the world allows for increasingly autonomous lifestyles, we tighten the reins on our spouses. We give our partners curfews, DIY lists and we arrange their diaries. We expect them to be our exclusive lover, best friend, co-parent, holiday companion and to fix the car. The job description doesn't fit with modern mores.

Does this mean a life of serial flings will make us happier? I currently prefer the depth of connection with one person but the former has its advantages too. What we do need is an adjustment to our rigid, moralised relationship settings and an admittance that as much as we don't like it, affairs won't go away.

This blog posting first appeared on The Guardian's Comment is Free.