(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, March 23, 2019)

In a few days the children’s mother and I are at a marriage retreat. It’s our first since I can’t remember when. The invitation, by fluke, came a day after I was propositioned to have an affair.

Now, in this space, I don’t talk much about it, sex and all. This is because Mennonites didn’t even know what sex was until 1985, when the movie Witness came out and Harrison Ford, a detective pretending to be an Amish farmer, saw Kelly McGinnis having a sponge bath. This got the Amish and Mennonites, along with everyone else, talking.

I was a young man then, the sort that the pretty girls never invited to their parties. Whenever one winked at me with what seemed like the big invitation, turns out she just had dust in her eye. Now at home it’s different. Sometimes I’ll even blurt out, “Hey, let’s talk about sex!” Just at the right time. Like at the dinner table, or between periods of the hockey game. For the kids.

Anyway, the proposition came from Ashley Madison. “Life is short. Have an affair,” was the cool invitation. Just in my email. Even so, Ashley Madison, the well-known Canadian-based cheating service, wants me.

Not that Ashley is chiefly interested in blowing up my union – or yours – be it traditional marriage or common-law or anything else. She simply wants to outsource your sex life. So you have more satisfaction. Or rediscovered lost satisfaction.

Hmm. Let me think about it. Remember the news? In 2015 hackers published names of millions of Ashley Madison subscribers. If caught, I’d probably have to kill myself. For good measure, the children’s mother would then have to kill me. Fifty times over. Satisfaction, you know.

Then I’d likely still lose my marriage. Because after an affair, two-thirds of marriages do, in fact, fold. Then the affair inevitably ends. Because in an affair you rarely love another human being. Rather, you love the adrenaline rush, the fresh affirmation, the image you’ve created, your castle in the sky. Then you wake up.

Even if you commit to your lover, another divorce is likely because second or third or eighth marriages have higher divorce rates. As it is, four in 10 marriages in Canada now divorce.

Eight marriages is what actress Liz Taylor had. “A woman has to love a bad man once or twice in her life to be thankful for a good one,” she once said. Maybe. And Liz was a fine actress and humanitarian. But in marriage the poor girl just didn’t know when to stop.

She comes to mind because today happens to be the anniversary of her 2013 death. Her name is also shared by my eldest. And, naturally, I wish my children be spared the pain that comes with one broken relationship after the next.

So, sure, let’s talk about sex, especially for the kids, mine and yours. Let them be students in the classroom of it all. Detectives. Science and math can’t be more important than sex, that is sex within – if anyone still believes in this – happily ever after.

In The Science of Happily Ever After, relationship expert Ty Tashiro makes the point: good marriages don’t happen by chance. And, in our culture, we now have a sobering one-in-three chance of finding this illusive happily ever after. Why?

For one, our relational wish lists are too long. Imagine three wishes, he says. Not 300. Three. Don’t squander them. Do your homework. Know the fault lines. Gain understanding. Learn about Mars. Visit Venus.

In Finding the Love of Your Life, psychologist Neil Clark Warren, drawing on experiences from hundreds of couples, walks through similar social science. Reading his work helped lead me to the good fortune of my own marriage.

Or read John Gottman, who spent decades studying why some marriages sink like the Titanic while others flourish.

Not to remove the mystery from marriage and relationships and love. Or the work needed after partnering up. That’s why they have marriage retreats. Because you never stop being bewildered.

If it was any other way, you might as well marry yourself. Which may not seem like the worst option. Until you have to live with all that too.