on escaping yourself: why adultery and "finding yourself" by traveling don't work

around 23 minutes in alain de botton’s latest on being interview, he and krista have this little exchange:

MS. TIPPETT: I want to read your — this definition of “marriage” that you’ve written in a few places. I think it’s wonderful. And just talk about this. “Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.”

MR. DE BOTTON: Well, yes. It’s challenging. [laughs] And it’s certainly contrary to the romantic view. But again, this kind of realism or acceptance of complexity, I think, is ultimately the friend of love. I’m not — look, its also worth adding — I don’t believe that everybody should stay in exactly the relationship that they’re in, and that any relationship is worth sticking with, and that in a way the fault is always the fault of the lovers if it’s not — both lovers if it’s not happy. There are legitimate reasons to leave a relationship.

But if, when you’re really being honest, if you ask yourself, “Why am I in pain?” and you can’t necessarily attribute all the sorrows that you’re feeling to your lover, if you recognize that some of those things are perhaps endemic to existence, or endemic to all human beings, or something within yourself, then what you’re doing is encountering the pain of life with another person but not necessarily because of another person.

MS. TIPPETT: And because we have that power, in fact — and for example, you are, in fact, arguing — as you said before, some marriages are meant to end. And there’s certainly reasons for marriages to end or to end marriages. But you also point out this very contradictory fact that the thing that’s ultimately wrong with adultery as an easy out to what’s going on in the marriage is that it is based on the same idealism that certain ideas of marriages are based on that go wrong.

MR. DE BOTTON: That’s right. In a way that you’re just redirecting your hope elsewhere and…

MS. TIPPETT: Imagining that this is the perfect one, right? This is the one person with whom you won’t ever be lonely again, who will understand you completely.

MR. DE BOTTON: That’s right. And so it’s — on and on the cycles of hurt continue.

so brilliant and so true. i have always told my friends who get cheated on that the problem is never them; it’s always the person who cheated who has the issue. and yet, while i did truly believe that (i wasn’t just saying it to sooth the pain), somehow i never connected that to what it actually meant for the cheater. and de botton has given me words to see that the problem(s) is(are) insufficient ability to handle the situation. either insufficient knowledge of self to identify the cheating urges before acting on those urges, insufficient ability to communicate with a partner about what’s going on, or insufficient courage to end the relationship before cheating (there are probably more reasons than that, but i’ll keep it there for now). whatever the cause, the issue really is in the cheater, not the one cheated on.

this matches beautifully with a conversation i had with maureen the other day. we were talking about how we’re both increasingly (and she earlier than me) convinced that the only place to push for change is inside yourself. i think the way she phrased it was “the landscape for change is internal.”

this also lines up with something i wrote about (i think) a few months ago on travel. it’s the same point as the adultery thing though. people who try to travel to escape themselves or to “find” themselves will never succeed. i’m pretty sure that thought also germinated from listening or reading de botton. and the reason, as he so elegantly put it before is that “wherever you go, there you are.” you were yourself all along. the best that can come from traveling to find yourself is to recognize your patterns because they show up differently in a different context. but they’re still there and you’re still you.

change yourself; change the world. i think that’s all there is.

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12:23 20:00