great thinker once noted that the window to a nation’s soul is located at the supermarket checkout counter. I had this in mind last time I went shopping for pangrattato and couldn’t resist the glossy allure of a certain women’s magazine positioned prominently near the cash register. When I picked it up to examine its contents, a small booklet fell from its pages and landed squarely in my hands. To my surprise and delight, I was now holding a precious expression of editorial genius entitled La guida ai maschi single più affascinanti d’Italia.
A monumental discovery.
Flipping through its pages, I was greeted by the meticulously-groomed faces of what were, supposedly, Italy’s most eligible bachelors. Among the various specimens were a fireman, a racing driver, a wine maker, a doctor and a university professor. Near each man’s photograph was a data box with relevant information: astrological sign, hobbies, age and eye color. The biographical profiles also contained a score sheet in which each bachelor was asked to rate, on a scale of one to five hearts, the importance he gives to “sex,” “romance” and “fidelity.”
As may be expected of any self-respecting maschio affascinante d’Italia, each one demonstrated unbridled generosity when assigning themselves scores in the “sex” category, represented by a full five out of five hearts across the board. Generally, the “romance” heading also fared well — four hearts on average. But, darn it, and may I be hit by lightening now, not a single bachelor gave five hearts to “fidelity”! Only one (the fireman, bless his soul) ventured above the three-hearts mark.
Judging from this handy resource booklet, one might conclude that Italian men have a fidelity problem.
A specific incident comes to mind. Actually, numerous incidents come to mind, but there is something compelling about this one.
A man I knew was tempted by the possibility of an affair with a woman who was not his girlfriend. Yet, he loved his girlfriend dearly and could not comprehend why his body desired to venture places where his heart would not follow. He wrestled with the dilemma for many months — he being a sensitive and intelligent man — while pressure from the other woman mounted.
One day, he had what can only be described as an epiphany and approached his girlfriend with the following realization: “I have determined that I am an immature man and therefore need to be with a younger woman.”
His statement is nothing short of brilliant in a ying-yang sort of way: carefully contemplated and sufficiently self-degrading to be, well, forgivable. And, this is the key to my understanding of incidents of unfaithfulness in Italy: Without infidelity there would not be forgiveness and without forgiveness there would not be infidelity. The two are a chicken and egg proposition. (Yes, I probably have lived here too long.)
My friend Christopher agrees: “Relationships are very resilient in Italy and less linked to sex. Elsewhere an act of unfaithfulness would spell the end of a marriage, but here they are equipped to survive. Maybe it has to do with the fact it was impossible to divorce until a short while ago.”
Another friend, Andrea, thinks Italian males can be inadvertently driven to infidelity because there is too much sex on television. He specifically (and hungrily) cites a tire ad, in which a near-naked supermodel straddles a tire. It apparently left a strong impression.
Yet another friend, Enrico, who is unabashedly unfaithful, believes having sex outside a relationship is not infidelity, technically. Only falling in love with someone else constitutes infidelity. I wonder if he’s had success explaining his theory to his wife.
My girlfriend Fern, who has previously been interviewed for this column (I’ve changed her name), thinks male infidelity is linked to Italy’s Mammismo phenomenon: “Italian mothers encourage their sons to be unfaithful because it means he still belongs to her and ultimately makes the mother feel younger.”
Whatever the case, I can tell you from personal experience that if your boyfriend or husband ever tells you he could never be unfaithful, you have reason to worry. Yet again, one of my Italian boyfriends cleverly circumvented this dilemma by announcing he would never make such an empty promise because he had higher moral standards than most men. When I found out he had indeed cheated his reply was: “At least I was consistent.”
No drama: I have my Guida ai maschi single più affascinanti d’Italia on hand and am told a second edition may be published soon.