Love is in the share? Colombia vs England

I once took a taxi in Bogotá and the driver, for reasons known only to himself, began to wax lyrical about his wife. “She is my best friend, she is the smartest woman I know, I trust her with everything,” he gushed. “And do you know, in 12 years, I have only slept with two other women?”

That still makes me laugh, even as I write it.

I think marriage is hard enough without other people jumping in to judge what you get up to, so I stress, from the outset, that what fascinates me about this comment is not the fact he had slept with two other women. It is the fact a) he thought the number was an achievement and b) he thought it was such an achievement he could share it with a complete stranger and she would probably applaud (I think I managed to stutter a gentle: “Oh? That’s nice,” in reply)

I have long been fascinated by the nature of romantic relationships in Colombia, the power structures that unite men and women here, the friendship and camaraderie that exists within the sexes, the attitude towards the way partners behave and this is just one of the many anecdotes that has stuck with me.

A male friend recently tried to explain to me what he perceived to be the difference in attitude between England and Colombia toward sex, marriage and fidelity.

“Okay, so if you go for a drink with a friend in England, a married friend and he tells you he has started sleeping with his secretary, he feels embarrassed about it,” my friend said.

“And you say: “Jesus mate, what are you doing? Why are you telling me this? I am friends with your WIFE for God’s sake!” and you might discuss it or whatever but the general idea is that what he is doing is wrong and is only going to cause disaster for everyone.”

“Here in Colombia, when the same thing happens, the guy slaps the other guy on the back, says ‘Always thought that secretary was hot’ and understands the unwritten, unspoken rule that if the cheated upon wife were ever to find out, he would be a social outcast.”

Please note that in this story both men are cheating and this research is hardly sophisticated. But, as always, it is the perception of culture that is the interesting part, don’t you think?

I have often asked my female Colombian friends about the attitude of their menfolk toward fidelity and when I did so last week one rolled her eyes and said: “Darling, why do you think Colombian women are like bees around a honeypot when it comes to foreign men?” (okay, so she didn’t use that absurd English expression, she actually cupped her hands together and did a little “zoom” noise, but it was basically the same thing)

Everyone is different though and I don’t believe that nationality predisposes people toward certain behaviours. But I do think culture is controlling and stifling and difficult to over-rule and if your society says “this is okay” you feel a lot more comfortable doing it than if your society says “this is not okay”. And if your mates think cheating is okay, is it easier to cross that line?

(This doesn’t stop shedloads of people in anti-cheating cultures from crossing the line. Still, I can’t imagine an English cab driver making the same confession, even if he had the same record)

I long to do a proper study of Colombian attitudes towards fidelity and I have wanted to write about this for ages to find out what you think. I would like views from both men and women because I am a woman with a lot of female friends and that does make my anecdotes a bit biased.

And now, at last, I have a decent excuse to ask you because the Economist, that oracle, has gone and published this lovely article about British attitudes to sex.

For those that cannot be bothered to read it, the article says that British people take a dim view of extramarital affairs, apparently in 1990 45% of our men and 53% of our women thought it was wrong to cheat and now those numbers are even higher – 63% and 70% respectively.

The slightly adorable reason they give is, first, the recession (apparently we British people like to, er, stick together in a crisis) and, secondly, because that super-smart new generation of whatever-they-are-called has looked at all of the mistakes that have gone before them and thought, okay, not going to repeat that one.

Do you think the Economist would do a survey for us on attitudes to fidelity in Colombia? And, if they did, what do you think it would find?

Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.

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28 Comments

  1. Tesstastic

    When I lived in Bogota, I would have completely agreed with you about the lower social acceptability of cheating in UK (well, Australia in my case) compared to Colombia. Now, while living in London, I think that you just have to ask the question in a different way. I definitely think London has it’s own social norms etc but maybe it’s a big city thing rather than a Colombia vs UK thing?

  2. Oscar Lopez

    Its very interesting to see this article today. I just had a similar conversation with a Brazilian friend of mine over some drinks last night and we came to the conclusion that fidelity is 100% a cultural/environmental feature.

    It would be interesting to see the difference between how kids grow up (in regards to their relationship with girls) in both Colombia and North America/UK.

    Another question one must ask when dealing with this is, what do women who are partaking on the cheating think? The blame is usually put on the guys but girls are just as guilty of having sex as the dude, no?

    1. Charles Parkinson

      What specific question asked here is that the answer to?
      I think if the Economist did a survey and everyone was honest, they would find there is not such a massive gap between men and women here in terms of the rate of infidelity.

  3. 1yearinsoledadDaniel

    I guess it’s just another aspect of machismo and marianismo. Women are expected to be virgin mothers while men need to put food on the table and they can sleep with whoever they want. I think as attitudes change and machismo is reduced, fidelity will probably increase.

  4. Robert Aníbal Sánchez Fajardo.

    No se puede juzgar a todos por uno…claro que existe un denominador común de comportamiento dentro de una sociedad que contemporiza( que está de acuerdo) o hace apología(defensa) de alguna costumbre o aspecto de conducta social o personal.Mas siempre aflora la verdad y la verdad es la fidelidad.Sé que en Inglaterra es esencial para la conciencia social y personal :No mentir y ser fiel.Ya que son la esencia del sentimiento donde nacen los sueños.Las mujeres inglesas prefieren quedarse solas y no olvidar al hombre que aman para ellas la fidelidad es la esencia de la vida y del amor y aman ser buscadas por el hombre.

  5. tjherman

    Overweight people have much less pressure to lose weight when they are surrounded by overweight people. It sort of makes sense. Culture or your surroundings definitely make it easier to do what others are doing and harder to be different.

    -tj

  6. Juan ma

    I believe you are mistaken, most of my friends doesn’t cheat, and the ones that do….well, it’s not my place to judge, so I don`t, when I talk to them I hear them out, a tap on the shoulder might seem like: congrats!, but it also can be: It`s ok if you like it, you`re your own man and I`ll support you, but you have to deal with the consequences.
    Now I leave you with other thing for you to think about: It might also be related to the “stages” in life, when we were in college.. Anything goes! Boyfriend – girlfriend stage, but marriage it`s a full commitment.

  7. WINDSURF Colombia

    When I lived in Miami, I had a Colombian boss.
    He was married to a really beautiful and nice wife and they had a young child.
    My boss frequently travelled back to Colombia on business to visit clients.
    Often, clients would call me in Miami (free 1-800 line direct from Colombia) so that I could conference them in with my boss’s cell phone, wherever in the world he was traveling.

    Well one time, one of our big client’s secretaries called me as she wanted to speak with my boss.
    She had done this very often in the past to connect the client (her boss) with my boss, so her call to me was not out of the ordinary.

    Usually, when facilitating these conference calls I would stay on the line for a few seconds to make sure that the call went through ok.
    I swear to you I was not spying (I was just doing my usual job of connecting the calls).
    I couldn’t believe it when immediately as he came on the line, she started calling my boss “Mi Amor” and telling him that she missed him. My jaw almost hit the floor.

    Ok, so I stayed on the line a bit more (I know, I shouldn’t have but I guess I was in shock), and my boss was horrified that she was calling him through the work line to speak to him in this amorous fashion, and told her not to do that anymore. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I stopped listening.

    Not in a million years would I have expected this from my boss.
    He was such a prim, proper and nice guy, and he had such a nice family, but I guess he compartmentalized those two opposing sides of his life.
    I lost all respect for my boss after that.
    I mean not only was he cheating on his beautiful family, but he was also for risking such an important business relationship just to sew his seeds with the client’s secretary.

    Of course there is cheating in all countries (just watch the misdeeds of past Presidents / Politicians in the U.S, Italy, France, etc.), but I guess I do agree with you that a country’s culture can predispose most citizen’s attitudes towards the cheating.
    Colombia of course does have the legacy of machismo influencing the behavior of certain husbands.
    However, I don’t know if I agree fully with your assessment that in Colombia a male colleague / friend would automatically congratulate a cheater.
    I guess you can take my story as an example.

    On another token, during this same job I also witnessed female on male cheating.
    The Colombian wife of another one of my Colombian bosses, cheated on him with one of his clients.
    I know this because they got divorced over it.

    You may be asking yourself if I was living in a Telenovela? Yes, sometimes it felt that way.

    Anyways, back to my original story, I never did bring it up to my boss that I knew his secret, but I couldn’t stand to look at him.
    I ended up quitting that job a bit later to go backpacking in Europe.

    Sometimes, I wish I would have anonymously wrote the wife to tell her what was going on, but I never did.
    I guess I didn’t want to be the person responsible for shattering her illusions of her perfect marriage or breaking her heart.
    Or did I simply pussy out because I suffer from Colombian “Politeness” (not stirring the pot, as you have so well documented in your other blog posts)?

    Should I have told her? Honestly, would any of you have told her? (Does the answer change whether you are male or female; I am male)

  8. Carolina Castro

    No way! you are a person worthy enough not to be cheated. And is perfectly logic to stick together in crisis but don’t take that argument as the unique explanation (“God bless us with problems for what it helps us keep going”… is pretty absurd for me).

    Of course your partner is worthy as well so “don’t cheat either” is more than over understood. Btw this is my first time reading you and I really enjoyed it, love the explanations between parenthesis…

  9. steveh

    reminds of the joke about some famous old Costeño being interviewed, the reporter asked him about his many many children….
    ´y todos con la misma?’ ,
    ´si, pero con diferente mujeres´….

  10. Clare

    I’ve actually only met Colombian men who have had girlfriends and fiances who cheated on them. I’m very wary of seeing my Colombian (male) friends date Colombian women because of this. It’s definitely not accepted or bragged about in my circle of friends and acquaintances.

  11. Ceri

    This is such an interesting post. I always find it interesting how British attitudes have changed towards infidelity. Most of us have this image that for the first half of the 20th century, marriages lasted longer because we were all faithful and knew how to be good and proper. What a joke that is! Affairs were definitely still happening – We, as a society, just didn’t talk about it or, if the neighbours knew, they whispered and gossiped but chose to ignore it and didn’t speak it out loud in public. We have the Jeremy Kyle culture now where everyone feels the need to talk about their personal lives to anyone who’ll listen (Says the girl who writes about sex).

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Agree with you completely hon. Just because people don’t talk about something doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And often the societies that pretend to be conservative are the worst! Look at the Victorians and what they got up to!

  12. Anna

    Windsurf: Are you really sure that your boss was cheating or did you only make that conclusion because the client called him ’mi amor’? I live in Peru and my butcher calls me ’mi amor’ and so does my doctor, and I swear I’m on platonic terms with both of them 🙂

  13. Lofty

    As an Australian I still can’t fathom my Colombian ex-partners complete lack of regard for fidelity. I think it was socialised as acceptable for him. Cheating in his family was commonplace- he was the middle child of three, the elder and younger being the mistresse’s children. They seem to exist, at a surface at least, as one happy family which I find particularly odd but maybe the woman just had to put up with whatever the breadwinner dealt them. Maybe they suffer in silence. Still can’t work out how my ex regarded his father as ‘just and innocent man’ who was trying to keep people happy. Go figure???

  14. JeanLuc

    Im from Bogota, and I want to tell you a little story about my family. My Grandfather used to be the richest man of his town (the dessapeared Armero), and because of that he thought that he was allowed to sleep with other women. Back then he had lots of children with lots of women, to the extent that I don´t know how many uncles or aunts I have. My Father tried hard with fidelity, but deep in his heart he has always wanted lots of women too. At one point he cheated my mother, and she noticed and she started to do the same to him.

    The funny thing is that my grandmother, who was cheated by his ex husband, doesn’t dissaprove his son’s behavior.

  15. Mariana Pin-Cai

    I only discovered your blog today and I’m fascinated with it. I’m a Colombian who happened to live for a while in the UK and I’ve experienced many things you’ve been writing about from the other side.

    On topic, I’ve had this conversation with several British friends. I particularly remember a chat I had with an English friend at an airport. It all started with her saying that she thought Colombian men were hot and me saying that I definitely prefer British men. It all led us to the whole British vs. Colombian comparison (regarding men). Long story short, when a Colombian man tells his friends he will be getting married, they usually reply with something like ‘why would you do that? Are you aware you’re going to loose your freedom?’. On the contrary (or so she said), a British telling that to his friends would result in kind words of respect and congratulations.

    I do think this does reflect on how Colombians behave in a relationship, many actually think that being in a relationship is a sign of weakness, and that committing to a woman is a silly thing to do. I fully agree with the views on how cultural responses to cheaters can either encourage (or discourage) such behaviour; Colombians are somehow encouraged. I think our culture has come to raise unfaithful uncommitted men (if not all, many of them).

  16. Felipe Leyva

    Llego tarde, sin embargo para mi la pregunta no es si se es mas fiel en Colombia o UK, sino en que cultura es mas fácil hablar de ello o aceptarlo frente a otros. Que cultura es mas liberal para poder aceptarlo frente a amigos confidentes o desconocidos a pesar de haberlo cometido. Creo que los ingleses son igualmente de infieles que acá en Colombia solo que son mas recatados y callados para evitar sospechas o críticas por parte de su entorno social. La fidelidad se da mas por el nivel de respeto y amor hacia tu pareja pero si en esta existe poca o mínima como consecuencia obvia, va a haber infidelidad. Y eso cuenta no solo tener sexo. Muchas veces es mas infiel cortejar a otra mujer porque te gusta solo enviándole Rosas gigantes a la casa que tener solo sexo, lo que muchas veces llega solo hasta ahí para acabarse.

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