Apr 072009

(asked by anonymous (I wonder why) from Dublin)

I met a Frenchman when he was here for one week in Dublin, Ireland learning English. We went on date to dinner and kissed afterwards. I slept with him that night and he went home. We texted regularly and he came back to see me for 2 weeks a month later. He is divorced with two children, ex-French navy. We still text and email each other and he has asked me to meet in Marseilles and different cities abroad where his work takes him, but never to visit his home. My question is, given the attitude French people have towards extra-marital affairs, is this the behavior of a married Frenchman or do they need to get to know a girl better before they “take her home” so to speak…

So my brief answer is “yes, he’s so totally married and doesn’t even have the guts and honesty to tell you (now, if you expect honesty from a cheating man, maybe you knocked at the wrong door).”
The other option is that he’s into you just for the sex and nothing else.

I guess this is all there’s to tell about this story.

Now, if I bothered to respond to this question despite the fact that it is anonymous and is totally personal, it is that because one part of it made me go “oh, oh, stupid stereotype here, it’s your job to clear this up Frenchman!” (I don’t think I ever called myself “Frenchman” in this blog before, but the comment of the other idiot the other day was so funny, I feel like I have to now… now that I think about it, I think this comment was not here, but on another blog I was commenting… oh well, it’s not like we care, is it?)
So, the part in question is: “given the attitude French people have towards extra-marital affairs”
I wonder what she alludes to here… Yeah, right, unfortunately I totally know what she alludes to… It’s that it’s common and normal to cheat on your wife when you’re French…
This is stereotype is not the most talked about, but may be one of the most common one about Frenchmen… Even my boss (who’s American and who’s lived in France more than 20 years and who know more than some French people about France) has been guilty of mentioning it a couple of times…

So, where does the truth lie?

In many places…

First, a little bit of history.
Back in the days, when you were part of the aristocracy, you rarely (we can even safely say: never) married to your loved one, but to the one that your parents had decided it was best you marry for the interest of the family’s assets and such.
So, of course, when you don’t marry for love, your propensity to have affairs is quite big and it’s safe to say that most nobles and aristocrats had affairs on a regular basis. It doesn’t mean they constantly fucked around (well, some did), but very often, it meant that you had your spouse and your loved one on the side not too far and very often you spent more time with them than with your spouse… History is full of examples with kings and such and not only in France (and not only in the past: Charles, Camilla, Diana, anyone?)

Then, the Revolution happened, and the bourgeoisie took the reins of society (I simplify a bit, this is not a history lesson right now). First their goal was to differentiate themselves from the previous dominant class… But quite quickly, dominant classes do what dominant classes do, and most of the time, those habits don’t come from the fact you’re a noble or a bourgeois or anything else, it comes from what place you have in society.
And the bourgeoisie started to have important assets (money, titles, reputations and such) and they married accordingly and not for love, just like their predecessors did. And it was as common as a practice among bourgeois as it used to be among the aristocracy to have lovers and mistresses and such. Still, it was a bit less socially acceptable to do it in the open, so the thing became a bit more hush hush, despite the fact that it was still common practice.

What about nowadays?
Nowadays, the dominant class marries for love (at least I hope they do, even if you’ll never see a bourgeois marry somebody from the ghetto… but it’s more a question of homogamy here) and I guess cheating is now a sign of power and of being part of the dominant class.
All of those things are what gave us, Frenchmen, this despicable reputation. So, it’s not totally unjustified, but it’s definitely not a generalization to do either.

Now, it would be a lie to say that only the dominant class does it, one can find cheaters in any social environment, but I don’t think it’s that different in the rest of the Western world. Cheaters are everywhere, they’re shameful and dishonest people, I don’t think I can say much more about them without being rude.

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  9 Responses to “Is he married?”

  1. French history summary aside — however correct it seems — as an American woman, my experience is that “men are men,” no matter what country… And I think that very generally speaking here, men do enjoy to dabble, perhaps a bit more than women do? Again, speaking very generally and not looking to offend… but when I was reading the question I just kept thinking, “oh, he’s probably married.”

    Our hormones are different and we react differently to them. There is also enough world history to point to men having multiple marriages since the beginning of time in various cultures and some of that remains. Where polygamy doesn’t exist, “cheating” does, yes both women and men. I think that some European cultures are either more “out” with it or more stereotyped with it as there is a seed of truth in it. American men are less “up front” about it but that doesn’t mean at all that American men don’t cheat — ha! Yeah, they do. A lot!

    I might be treading on dangerous turf here again, I’m speaking generally. As to the question, it seems possible surely that the man is married since he won’t have you at his home. “Been there / done that!” However, if he is, don’t beat yourself up for believing what he told you… why shouldn’t you believe what someone says? BUT, if you think he really is married, … well, I would ask him straight out why he doesn’t take you to his home and see what he says. And tell him why you’d like to go to his home.

    The sooner the better…

  2. I think a little bit of it has to do with the attitudes towards it as well. While it is definitely a stereotype that the French cheat more (they don’t), there is definitely a more relaxed attitude towards it. I was talking about this post over instant messenger with my boyfriend, who is French but has lived in America for ten years, and he summed it up as such:

    [13:03] (boyfriend): the main difference between french and americans
    [13:03] (boyfriend): french on cheating: “eh, it happens. people are weak”
    [13:03] (boyfriend): americans: “omg that person deserves to be hanged. what a bastard”

    And, frankly, I’d tend to agree. What are your thoughts?

  3. Yeah, that’s pretty much what we talked about. When it comes to cheating, the French tend to find an excuse and turn it into not as big a deal. Americans, on the other hand, tend to act like it’s the end of the world and that someone who cheats is a monster. Now, I’m not saying that cheating isn’t bad (it is), but I do feel that the French way of dealing with it is more healthy.

    For what it’s worth, my boyfriend was cheated on a couple years ago, and he didn’t blow up at his girlfriend when she told him. He did break up with her, but calmly, and he explained that it was not because she cheated on him, but because it took her 3 months to tell him. If she’d just told him right off the bat, he would have looked the other way and given her another chance, but the fact that she lied to him for 3 months told him that she was likely to lie again in the future. The irony? She fussed at him constantly during their relationship for hanging out with female friends, despite the fact that he was sleeping with none of them. Her stated reason? That as a Frenchman, she wasn’t sure he could “control himself”.

    There are times when my countrymen make me want to bang my head against the wall.

  4. If you meet up this person and are quite involved with him, I do not understand why you do not ask him directly????????????
    He does not have to be married, he is probably in a stable relationship..? After all, it is nice to come home which is clean, smells of fresh beefsteak etc. no??
    Also people cheat in all parts of the world….Americans being no exception… But maybe in France… people are less restrained in talking about it?

  5. David,
    What are the most common expressions in French for what most of the comments here are calling ‘cheating’? I ask because it occurs to me that what a culture calls this must say something about how it views it. I’m an Irishwoman living in London and ‘cheating’ isn’t something I’d use myself in that context - ‘having an affair’ or ‘being unfaithful’ are probably more common in these parts, with ‘cheating’ being an Americanism familiar from television and country and those depressive western songs about cheatin’ and drinkin’ and whorin’. Not sure what that suggests in terms of cultural differences in attitudes to infidelity, but I’ve always thought the French phrase ‘cinq à sept’ suggests that there is a social place 9and time!)for the mistress, if you see what I mean…? Also, the existence of Mitterrand’s daughter by his mistress would have created much more moralistic outcry in the US…

  6. I can’t speak for American men, but I can talk about the reaction of those around me with my last relationship with a Frenchman (very rural, working class people). Pretty much everyone told me not to leave, that it was just “une petite aventure”. And they all kind of just shrugged while they said it, like it was to be expected and not worth ending a relationship over. My ex just told me the other day though that right after we separated, there were 4 other couples in our circle that also separated for the same reason.

    So while I’m sure cheating happens in the US (maybe even at the same rate), it’s definitely a lot more hidden and less socially accepted. Speaking of which, that’s one thing that’s always surprised me about French films - how lax they are when it comes to spousal cheating.

  7. I don’t think people in France advice their friends to forgive cheaters as a general rule. I know I spontaneously would suggest to distantiate and start a quarantine for the relationship. Most of my friends have this tendency. The cultural acceptance is one thing, but real life teaches a different lesson. Sure there are poly amorous and cheaters and a somewhat strange fascination for adultery, this and a usual indifference about politicians affairs. But it doesn’t mean on a personal level that people generally approve of cheating.

  8. Kelsey’s comment and other on this site have alerted me to something strange. If the French have a more relaxed attitude toward infidelity, then why do French women seem so paranoid about the following: newcomers to a group, their husbands or boyfriends talking to women, women in the workplace, women in general. I’m also remembering the question about why French women are “bitches”. If French women tend to be less inviting or friendly to other women, they may not be as relaxed as they say. I’ve found that the infidelity excuse is a way to make the culture sound more civilized, as if you are a bourgeois American rube if you value something so quaint as marital fidelity. Thoughts?

  9. lifelong monogamy is a completely unrealistic and rather juvenile expectation.

    and yeah, for the original inquirer … just ask him. good grief.

    and David, I found your comment about a fr. woman’s reaction to an imagined affair vs. the reality quite interesting…

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