I’ve been reading a very interesting book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel, about infidelity, fidelity, relationships, and our constructs of love and monogamy. I’ve found it incredibly thought provoking.
While I have no experience with affairs, I am married, and we’ve been together for a long time. This book has given me a new lens to think through my own relationship and be thankful about how atypical we are, especially for a pair of high school sweethearts.
One thing that really resonates with me about the book is how multifaceted, complicated, and downright messy it all is. There are so many layers to any relationship, but a marriage (or any other long-term committed relationship pattern) has even more clinging to it that may not even be visible to those involved. For many, there are a heap of assumptions that go along with marriage. Assumptions about roles, rules, and commitments, many of which have never been explicitly stated by either side. And worse yet, these might not match between partners.
That’s one place that I feel quite lucky. My husband and I have talked about these things. We know what we expect of each other and the relationship. We know what the boundaries are and what the commitments are. This has allowed us to weather a lot of things that had the potential to pull us apart or damage our relationship.
Outside my own relationship and life experience, I think this book has given me a lot of things to think about as a writer as well. There are often romantic plots or subplots in my writing. This has given me more facets of the relationships to plan, think through, and develop as an author. Yes, affairs are a topic that I could delve into through fiction, but I find myself thinking more about the last section of the book. In “Part IV: Ever After” Perel has a chapter titled “Monogamy and Its Discontents: Rethinking Marriage.” This chapter talks about ways that some pairs (or triads, quads, or more) are rethinking what commitment and monogamy mean for them through relationships with different boundaries.
I find the idea of a committed relationship that goes beyond the couple fascinating. The emotional interplay and the wealth of possibilities within it, is something I’d like to explore intellectually. And for the record, this doesn’t have to be about sex either. That’s something Perel addresses early on in the book. It’s about intimacy. Intimacy can be physical, yes, but it can also be emotional. It’s the emotional interplay within a committed relationship that I find most interesting as a writer, regardless of the count of individuals in that relationship.
Reading a book like this leaves me with a lot of food for thought, and that inevitably translates into fodder for my fiction writing. I find nonfiction to be just as important and inspiring as fiction. In fact, almost everything I read will somehow find its way into my writing, directly or indirectly. Whether it’s an idea about a character, a way of thinking, a strange twist, or just a particularly inspiring description of a scene, I’m always learning from what I’m reading.
Have you found inspiration in an unexpected book? I’d love to hear about where others find their ideas while they’re reading.