Lunchtable TV Talk warmed over: The Affair


I am still not really liking The Affair, but for the first time this week I actually felt a stirring of interest in my brain. Generally speaking, I like Maura Tierney. Her role in this seems a bit strange because she is meant to come off as some ultra-privileged and almost clueless woman – also the woman scorned and hurt (by her husband having an affair). But she has spent the 20+ years of their marriage blithely unaware, undercutting her husband and his confidence, seeming to revel in having the upper hand. She never saw it, and maybe it never really existed except in his mind, but as Tierney plays it, you get the sense that her entitled nature and habitual getting her own way have made her blind to the slow erosion and eventual disappearance of the relationship she believed she had.

It’s interesting that I saw this episode today. I had been thinking a lot about how relationships end, and how it happens that one person can be completely blindsided by a breakup. Of course it is normal that one person may plan the breakup and want it for some time before setting it into motion. But are there not signs? Things, that if one were paying attention and not, as I wrote above, blithely unaware (or willfully ignoring, hoping against hope that one is wrong?), that would be bright red flags? The tragedy of relationships that end, particularly for the person who is “dumped” is that it so rarely ends up in the kind of self-reflection it should, that would benefit. It often turns into a victim/self-pity party (which of course is fine for a while because it hurts. The pain is real). But how often do we – any of us – use a breakup as a genuine opportunity for real self-reflection and introspection?

I know that there is a phase in the breakup/heartache cycle during which the “dumped” asks him/herself, on a very superficial level, “What did I do wrong?” But this is not the kind of self-questioning that I think would help. No, instead, it’s a true assessment of what did I contribute (or not) to the relationship over time that led to this. Sure, sometimes people just grow apart. But in these cases where one person is just *dumbfounded* by being broken up with, I imagine the signs were there, and it’s not all one person’s fault (not that it is a fault-based thing). How can one look at the whole picture and find the places on the path that they stumbled or tripped but got back up again and kept walking without addressing the underlying symptoms?

These thoughts were swirling around in my mind today as I watched Tierney’s character. Even as she committed the ultimate fuck-up, she still was not honest enough with herself to start looking at the pitfalls and stumbles that put her marriage where it ended up. No, it is not all on her, and obviously, her husband had an affair and they split up. But that is never the whole story.

I was also struck by the fact that it is so rare, in all likelihood, that Tierney’s character would ever in a million years break away from the kind of rigid, taut life she had formed. A dose of divorce proceedings going south and a dash of pressure from a would-be suitor/longtime family friend and the general discord of her family life, I am sure she was worn down, and as the episode depicted, she got wildly drunk, consumed some edible marijuana … and realized only after she was swarmed by the multiple forms of inebriation that she had to go pick up her kids at camp. As soon as you see her rush off to get them, you know this spells trouble because, as the always responsible one, the one who holds things together, who never breaks rules, she will never catch a break. In the chaos that ensued in that storyline, I came to really feel for her character in ways that none of the other parts of the story had ever allowed for.

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