Two magazines arrived at our home this week, both introducing the question of what constitutes infidelity. We know about sexual affairs and affairs of the heart ... do we now have to include e-affairs? What are the limits? What boundaries need to be drawn.
I have friends, lots of friends, in these confusing places. Please note that I am not judging my friends, just reporting what I see. I have friends who have started sexual affairs by reconnecting with old flames online. I have friends who are currently deriving all their emotional satisfaction from online conversations with (also married) persons of the opposite sex. I have friends who are reconnecting with old flames and who are defensive of their actions as being innocent and energizing, and who feel it is a violation of their personal freedom to be expected by a spouse not to continue on with the renewed and renewing friendship. These and other online experiences are not rare, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Because I know the people involved I can tell you they are not bad people but real people in complex situations. What are the lines? What are the ethics of social media? I too, have talked with old friends online. I too, have had conversations online that I felt went too far too fast.
Today I was reading a book on monastic life and I think I have a nugget to offer to the discussion. Interesting that this little paragraph triggered the discussion on sexting.
The discussion is about enduring one's cell... a small personal living space, containing and representing the limited life of a monastic vowed person. The cell is a teacher, forcing a brother to confront himself - his temptations, his fantasies, his longings.
"You have to promise yourself to yourself and to your actual environment, as if you were settling a proposal of marriage. You have to 'espouse' reality rather than unreality, the actual limits of where and who you are rather than the world of magic in which anything can happen if I want it to. The fantasy world is one in which I am not promised/espoused, to my body, and my history - with all that this entails about my family, my work, my literal physical surroundings, the people I must live with, the language I must speak and so on. [Staying in your cell] is, I supposed, a rather startling intensification of the command to love yourself in the right way."
Then, about the temptations of Christ as symbolic of His temptations to escape reality ... "Satan wants Jesus to join him in the world where cause and effect don't matter, the world of magic; Jesus refuses, determined to stay in the desert with its hunger and boredom, to stay in the human world with its conflict and risk. He refuses to compel and manipulate people into faith because it can only be the act of a person, and persons do not live in the magic world."
Could it be that there is real wisdom for us here in the monastic tradition? Could it be that the issue is not about boundaries, how far can we legitimately go? That the issue is about fidelity to ourselves? That when we enter into a fantasy world, one that we can claim does not connect with our real life and is therefore without judgment, we are losing our very selves. Can we imagine espousing ourselves to reality? Yes, it is the way of unmet hungers and maybe boredom, but it is also the way of being a person.