According to Dr. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, there is an ancient human tendency to partner and re-partner, which she calls the “four year itch.” A long time ago, it was assumed that if a child lived to see age four, he or she would survive. The biological parents were then free to move on to new sexual adventures, and the child would be passed on to the group, at which time the “it takes a village” mentality would kick in.
This dates back millions of years to a time when men and women were equal on many different levels —economically, socially and sexually. Some gathered, some hunted, but there’s one thing they all did, rather frequently, too —they had sex. They had to! How else could the human race survive and thrive? The only way to secure the future was to have lots and lots of sex, with lots and lots of different partners.
And, boy did they ever! We’re all here, so the system must have worked.
While all this hanky-panky was going on, according to Dr. Fisher, different hormones kicked in with each new sexual experience to increase the pleasure, creating a feeling of passion and euphoria, causing everyone to want more. Clearly, the human body was designed to be this highly efficient hunting, gathering, sexual, and procreating machine.
So, why am I telling you this?
To try to make some sense out of why people have affairs. Why so many men and women risk everything —families, jobs, lives —for a night or two (or more) of passion and fun. At a recent lecture, Dr. Fisher proclaimed that we have affairs because we are biologically hard-wired to have them and we simply can’t help ourselves. Anthropologically and biologically speaking, men need to spread the sperm and women need to procreate.
But, Dr. Fisher also believes in free will. We may be programmed to do this, but it does not mean we have to. That’s the crux of it. Isn’t it better to focus our energy, love, and bodies on the partner with whom we chose to make a home and a family?
Esther Perel, author of “Mating in Captivity” and the expert I consulted for my chapter on sex in “The Best of Everything After 50″ (and who was on the panel with Dr. Fisher) explained the psychology behind it all. Very often, men and women have affairs because they have lost something or someone in the previous year or two. Perhaps someone close to them died, or left home, or they lost a job. Even more profound, Esther has found that women especially can feel as though they’ve lost a part of themselves, and by having an affair, they can reclaim it. For both men and women, it can be neatly tied up in a big bow and called “midlife crisis.” Interestingly enough, people usually don’t have affairs because they no longer love their partners.
So, we’re presented with a mixed bag of biological and psychological tendencies to cheat. None of us, according to both experts, are immune.
What to do?
I spent a great deal of time with Esther when researching and writing my chapter on sex and it comes down to this: unless you’re in a relationship that is detrimental to your physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological well being, the recommendation is to fight against these tendencies with every ounce of will power you have.
We’re over 50. Maybe we’re bored with our partners, or annoyed by those same qualities and characteristics that we found so charming twenty years ago. Or possibly sex has slowed down because we’re all a combination of tired, over-worked, and too busy. There are zillions of reasons one could give as to why sex is often placed on the back burner and why you might want to succumb to the urges that are inherent in all of us by having a fling with someone new.
But, consider this: Why not make that “someone new” the partner you already have?
How? Excellent question.
But, I’m saving the answer for next week’s blog. Until then, take a quick look at this video which shows Dr. Fisher explaining her theories on love, sex and cheating at a TED conference. Enjoy!
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