The State of Affairs is packed with such sage insights into the disappointing human heart. Through her formidable elegance, Perel manages to infuse some dignity into the pettiness of most betrayals: the unconvincing lies both parties tell and permit; the self-delusions (again, on each side); the flagrant, gratuitous gestures of disrespect (fucking a third party in the marital bed, say, or letting a girlfriend wear a piece of the wife’s clothing) ... I can’t be the only conveniently elastic reader who’s been unfaithful but always identifies with the partner who hasn’t, and Perel’s book draws out the dynamic behind this intellectually incoherent impulse ... Part of Perel’s charm is the nimbleness with which she assigns responsibility without condemning anyone outright. She embraces ambiguity, not equivocation—'There is a world of difference between understanding infidelity and justifying it'—so cheater and cheatee are held accountable for their failings but not provoked into (counterproductive) defensiveness.
In The State of Affairs, Perel delves into cheating, asking the usual questions (Why did it happen? How can we recover?) and some that might occur only to her (What if an affair is good for a marriage?). She doesn’t dispense advice as much as scratch at orthodoxies, and pose questions with wit and a Continental exasperation with American mores ... As a writer, Perel is nimble and playful, and she knows her way around a phrase. We can hear these qualities on the podcast, where her good ear and gentle teasing produce quick complicity with each client. But as a thinker, she’s essentially a synthesizer — albeit a talented and confident one. The State of Affairs is a patchwork of (mostly attributed) common references ... Like other writers on sex — Emily Witt and Dan Savage come to mind — Perel is inspired by communities of queer and polyamorous people; 'monogamy’s dissidents,' she calls them, who are rethinking the boundaries of the couple. It’s an idea that’s easy to dismiss as outré but, Perel reminds us, so was premarital sex not so long ago. This is the kind of maneuver that makes Perel so bracing to read, this quick pivot to remind us how culturally specific our traditions are and, in some cases, how new. She doesn’t peddle in bromides or offer a shoulder to cry on — she’s too busy trying to shake you to your senses, insisting on your agency, your vitality and your complicity in what happens in your marriage. She’s a tonic, and sometimes a tough one to swallow.
Ms. Perel uses this sensible book to dispel these myths and to show that affairs can sometimes even fortify relationships, so long as they spur a couple to discuss what has long been left unsaid ... Sometimes an affair is a signal that a relationship should end. But plenty of adulterers are content with their home lives. Prising out the stories of happy people who cheat, Ms Perel learns that many adulterers are most excited to discover a new self—one that is creative, erotic and very much unlike the devoted mum who spends her days chauffeuring her children. Ms Perel’s critics say she is soft on those who cheat, but she acknowledges the grim effects of infidelity.