An ineffectual venture: Attempting to counter discontentment through infidelity

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Individuals in modern relationships are frequently dissatisfied with their romantic situation, as they feel like they can achieve something “better”. As a result, these individuals seek something more, often by committing adultery; these individuals feel they can escape their current reality and instead find something more to their “satisfaction”. However, these individuals soon realize that trying to achieve perfection is futile, as it is only the pursuit of affairs and the associated secrecy that make the love “exciting”.

This sentiment is reflected in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, as individuals in a relationship will inevitably develop a sense of ennui, arising from dissatisfaction or discontentment with commitment to their partner; this manifests in secret acts of adultery, which ultimately cause unhappiness for all individuals involved.

For instance, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the main character Tomas has a string of lovers, who bring him only temporary happiness; when he marries, this strains his relationship with his wife, Tereza, and makes her continually suspicious of. Tomas calls his relationship with his mistresses “erotic friendships”, as they “do not pretend to be “love” affairs; he is able to move among many women without betraying any of them” (Galens 2003). However, not even this can ease his loneliness, as even “after making love [Tomas has] an uncontrollable craving to be by himself” (Kundera 13-14).

In addition, Tomas enjoys the premise of adultery, since “once [his mistresses] are gone they assume a pleasing poetic existence that can be enjoyed at will without the endless accommodations that any real relationship involves” (Kimball 1986). Evidently, Tomas enjoys the lack of commitment. Franz is another character that engages in adultery; he shares Tomas’ mistress, Sabina. Unlike Tomas, who occasionally thinks of Tereza with guilt, Franz “[enjoys] the lying and hiding: it was all so new to him” (Kundera 112).

When Franz realizes his wife, Marie-Claude, knew about his adultery all along, Sabina breaks off her relationship with Franz. The initial purpose of Franz’s infidelity was to escape commitment to Marie-Claude, and after that, the secrecy perpetuated the excitement. Therefore, adultery is only a false attempt at breaking boredom and achieving happiness, as “the first betrayal is irreparable. It calls forth a chain reaction of further betrayals, each which takes [the individual] farther and farther away from the point of our original betrayal” (Kundera 92).

The characters in the novel attempt to resolve their unhappiness and reduce their boredom to commitment by engaging in adultery, but find themselves no less happier than before. Likewise, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, several characters resort to infidelity in order to relieve their boredom. Patrick, an employee at “selective memory-erasing” company Lacuna Inc. , purposely engages in a relationship with Clementine, one of their clients. In addition, the boss Howard previously had an affair with the receptionist, Mary, despite being married.

In the last lines of the film, Clementine voices the reasoning behind this: “[we] get bored … and feel trapped because that’s what happens” (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). The characters use adultery in order to escape the “trapped” feeling they have, not necessarily for love or any particular romantic purpose. Despite knowing that Clementine used to be with Joel, another client of Lacuna Inc. , Patrick has no particular remorse for his actions; Patrick merely wishes for his own selfish happiness. Stan, Patrick’s colleague, sums up this sentiment: “You looked happy.

Happy with a secret” (Ibid). In the end, it was the secrecy that made the characters temporarily satisfied, not the infidelity. As well, it is clear that both Clementine and Joel harbor feelings of boredom as well, since they sought to remove the memories of their relationship. Although the film ends with a relatively “happy ending” for the main characters, both characters acknowledge that they will still, eventually, tire of each other. Whilst eating in a restaurant, Joel wonders: “Are we like couples you see in restaurants?

Are we the dining dead? ” (Ibid)). His relationship with Clementine is evidently not one that always satisfies Joel’s boredom; however, this is arguably the reality for many couples. Joel contemplates that it is such a loss “to spend that much time with someone, only to find out that she’s a stranger” (Ibid). Joel and Clementine are the only two couples to remain mostly “faithful” to each other, but they could have easily followed the path of the Lacuna Inc. employees and resorted to infidelity.

The film exemplifies how easy it is to stray from the path of fidelity out of a sense of boredom, and portrays the subsequent unhappiness of the individuals in these broken relationships. Similarly, in Lady Windermere’s Fan, Lady Windermere suspects her partner Lord Windermere of infidelity when she discovers letters he wrote to a woman, Mrs. Erlynne; it eventually transpires that her fears were unfounded, but the premise is the same, that their relationship was unstable and thus Lady Windermere believed her husband was likely to cheat on her.

This play portrays the consequences of infidelity, whether the suspicion is merited or not, after Lady Windermere confronts her husband about the infidelity. Lord Windermere denies it and thus Lady Windermere decides to leave her husband for another man, Lord Darlington. Though Lady Windermere does not have romantic feelings for Lord Darlington, the dramatic irony is revealed in that Lady Windermere is – in effect – cheating on her husband. Indeed, at one point she remarks: “Good heavens! ow marriage ruins a man! It’s as demoralizing as cigarettes, and far more expensive” (Wilde), indicating her negative views of commitment. However, unlike the other two works, the play ends on a relatively happy note; Lady and Lord Windermere reunite and continue with the planned marriage. However, again playing on dramatic irony, neither know of the others’ secrets, and this remains to the end of the play, assumably continuing for the rest of their lives.

The difference between this work is that the secrecy is supposedly “maintained” throughout the play and thus the characters lead relatively pleasant lives, although they live in ignorance. In Act III, a minor character remarks: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it” (Wilde). In the end, both Lady and Lord Windermere achieve their desires; this is a tragedy for the audience, who knows the deceit that is still present in their relationship.

This play shows that ignorance and secrecy really can bring “happiness” and even suspected infidelity can cause intended fissures in a relationship. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michel Gondry, and Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, the characters attempt to escape their unrelenting boredom and dissatisfaction of a commitment to their partner by committing infidelity; however, this does not bring them happiness, and ultimately causes misfortune for all involved.

Unfortunately, infidelity and adultery is increasingly prevalent in society as individuals attempt to escape an ennui that will never end by seeking “satisfaction” elsewhere. However, infidelity never has a happy ending, and if the individuals are satisfied it is only a superficial and temporary satisfaction. In this modern day and age, individuals feel they need to strive for something more exciting in their relationships; however, this goal is often unachievable, and the quest for an unattainable happiness is often futile.

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