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Posted on 08/25/2012, category: News

Global Post: Infidelity in France - It's okay to stray

The French have the world's highest level of tolerance towards infidelity. Unless, of course, it’s women who are cheating.

The French have a reputation for tolerance towards extramarital relationships, of course.

According to Gleeden.com, the premier “extramarital dating site” — yes, they have those sites now, welcome to the 21st century! — 53 percent of those questioned in France said it was possible to cheat on your partner while still loving them.It was the highest rate for all countries surveyed by Gleeden.

Matthew Warren at The Local in France explains why the French are so tolerant towards infidelity. He writes:

As with food, wine and fashion, it seems the French possess a certain flair when it comes to bed-hopping. French movies are filled with married men and women slipping elegantly between partners with not the slightest hint of marital discord. Everyone seemingly gives a Gallic shrug, smokes a cigarette and moves on. And it's not just the movies. French presidents through the years have been well-known to have had affairs with women other than their wives. France's last Socialist president, François Mitterrand, kept a whole second family on the go while married. He had a daughter, Mazarine, with his long-time mistress, Anne Pingeot. Both attended his funeral in 1996 alongside his wife, Danielle. Mitterrand's successor, Jacques Chirac, wrote in his own memoires about his affairs. “There have been women I have loved a lot, as discreetly as possible,” he said coyly.

Let’s not forget the current president Nicolas Sarkozy and his rather quick split from his last wife and rapid marriage to Carla Bruni.

Then, of course, there is Dominique Strauss-Kahn and all of his various sexcapades.

Nevertheless, according to a poll taken in mid-September by Ifop, 47 percent of French population would like to see DSK return to politics.

So why is it that in the Anglo-Saxon world such behavior would break a politician, while in France it’s apparently business as usual?

For starters, infidelity is not discouraged by experts in France. Maryse Vaillant, a celebrated French psychologist and author of the book Men, Love, Fidelity, famously said that wives should welcome their husbands' extra-marital affairs as a sign of a healthy marriage because a "pact of fidelity is not natural but cultural." In an interview with The Telegraph in 2009, she explained marital infidelity this way:

[Most men] don't do it because they no longer love [their wives], on the contrary. They simply need breathing space. For such men, who are in fact profoundly monogamous, infidelity is almost unavoidable.

Even if we consider it a universal “male-female principle,” it still doesn’t explain how French women have managed to look past it with the kind of style and grace perhaps only French women are capable of.

Here is why, Vaillant tells The Local:

Our culture isn't as harsh about infidelity as, say, the Anglo-Saxon countries…It's different to the US where cheating on your wife is seen as very bad, by the wife, the cheater and the whole community. There, people would rather get divorced and remarry, whereas in France we can imagine someone being married and having relationships at the same time. See, easy. So, if I am getting it right, tolerance to infidelity is actually a sign of a greater respect for marriage? Unlike divorce-happy Americans, French people prefer to keep families intact by finding a few “moments of adventure” outside their marriage. And it seems to be working. Divorce rates in France are lower than the US, as well as many of the country’s European neighbors, including the UK, Germany, Belgium and Sweden. All you have to do, is "look outside the marital box."

But there is one big hitch in all this tolerance, though. Apparently, there remains a huge difference between what men and women can get away with.

According to Vaillant, “French culture is hard on women who cheat and the husband of a woman who cheats is ridiculed, even today.” The fear of being “cuckolded” is almost as French as croissants.

After all, the term “cuckold” is derived from the French “cocu," an Old French expression for the Cuckoo bird, the kind that lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, freeing themselves from the need to nurture the eggs to hatching.

So here's a question: if men’s infidelity is tolerated but women’s isn’t, who do all the men cheat with?