Elaine and I are watching an interesting TV series on Showtime called The Affair. We’ve only watched the first two episodes, but it is already compelling. It is about a married man who is going through some difficult times with his wife and four children, and who meets a married woman he becomes infatuated with. The woman he meets has recently lost a child and is therefore also experiencing a very difficult period in her life. So they begin the early stages of an adulterous affair.
This alone wouldn’t be anything new—we’ve seen extramarital affairs in countless movies and TV shows before. The interesting twist is that the writers and directors have chosen to show us two different interpretations of the same set of events—one through the eyes of the man, and the other from the perspective of the woman.
In one set of scenes the two run into each other on the beach one night (they both have beachfront homes). From the man’s perspective, he has innocently gone for a late night stroll and just happens to run into her (they first met a day or so earlier in a restaurant, so they already know each other very casually). From the start of their beach encounter she is very flirtatious, but he does not encourage her obvious interest in him. She asks him to walk her back to her house, and he begrudgingly agrees. She then tells him that she has an outside shower that he must see. When they get to the shower, she tells him she is going to take a shower, and that he should join her. He says no, that would be a mistake. She undresses and begins showering in front of him, and he chooses to leave.
In the alternate version of events from her perspective, she is not at all flirtatious on the beach, it is instead he who makes advances on her. She even asks if it is a coincidence that he happened upon her that night, or if he had possibly planned or hoped to see her there, which he denies. It is he who suggest that he walk her home, and he is the one who notices her outdoor shower and asks to see it. She takes an outside shower after he has already left, but unbeknownst to her, he is still nearby, watching her. (There is an even more salacious occurrence at the end of this scene, from both the man’s and woman’s perspective, that I have left out. I’m trying to keep this post PG rated!)
The stark differences in their versions of these events is fascinating.
I couldn’t help but think, “What really happened? What is the truth?”
The writers and directors are apparently saying that neither person has recollected the truth. They have both bent the facts, shaped reality, to fit what they expected or wanted to see. From the man’s perspective, he was innocent from the start, and she was the aggressor. She instead believes that he was the aggressor, and she was being loyal to her husband and above reproach. What is really interesting is that their versions of their dialogue and physical movements differ so greatly. They disagree not just on motives and interpretations, but even on the supposed “hard facts” of what occurred.
As I look over my above description of these particular scenes in the show, I think I may have even gotten them slightly wrong! In her version of events, he may have even been so forward as to have kissed her when they were on the beach. I can’t remember!
I believe that it is almost always the case that we don’t see a clear version of reality, or what would be considered the 100% objective “truth.” Are we even capable of seeing things objectively, what with all of our past emotional baggage, traumas, fears, desires, etc? Rather, we see what we want and expect, or even need, to see.
My takeaway from this is not that we should try really hard to view our experiences in a completely objective fashion. I don’t think we are capable of it. Rather, I believe we should instead consider treading a bit more lightly when we are discussing with someone the “facts” of a given situation. Most people are very adamant about what they consider to be the truth when they are engaged in a discussion or argument. But can you really be so sure? Is it possible you are wrong, or more likely, you are both wrong? It might be better for us to consider our recollections to be our interpretation of the truth, rather than the inviolate truth.