day 13: liberty, fidelity, fraternity

…And then, of course, there’s the women.

Edinburgh swarms with women. And alcohol. And a general feeling of arty freedom.

This can be a problem for some comics who, like me, are in long-term relationships, particularly because a lot of the girls who hang around in comedians’ bars seem to have travelled from across the country with the prime objective of getting off with comedians. That only happens at comedy festivals.

I don’t usually find fidelity especially difficult, for two main reasons.

Firstly, I’m not on television, and nor am I better than average-looking, so girls are hardly fighting over me.

But on the very rare occasions when they do seem vaguely interested, I’ve got a second reason: basically, that I don’t subscribe to either of the two most popular codes of relationship ethics, those codes being a) impulsive romanticism, and b) the duty-based moral maxim that it is simply ‘wrong to cheat’.

Most people seem to suffer from an unfortunate combination of those two codes. They want to romantically follow the desires of their hearts, like good little Disney capitalists; but they also feel like they have a kind of absolute ‘moral duty’, either from religion or from their moral socialisation, to be faithful.

But of course, there is no real ‘moral duty’ to do anything, and when people claim that there is, I can’t help but notice that unless they have incredible moral discipline, they also sometimes get ‘caught up in a moment’ with people other than their regular boyfriend or girlfriend. In that moment, the two contradictory codes clash; their emotional desires provide a condition, a reason to act one way; but when, in that decision-making moment, they look for reasons to follow the simple and absolute categorical imperative to simply ‘be faithful’, they find that (by its very definition) it is without reasons, other than avoiding the feeling of guilt for having infringed a moral maxim, and their morality slips through their hands like dust. Their passions override their ‘duty’, they cheat, and then they feel guilty.

I’m not completely unromantic; emotions are reasons, and in any given moment the urge to act on ones immediate desires can provide reasons to act. But I don’t think momentary impulses should override other emotional reasons – better reasons can only be provided by a consideration of consequences. Moral maxims aren’t real, they have no basis in fact; but the consequences, particularly emotional consequences, of any given behaviour are terrifyingly real. The most rational normative judgments are based not on what you think is right or wrong, but on maximising satisfaction over the long term. In other words, a kind of amoral Utilitarianism, based on a consideration of practical and emotional consequences, is actually much more likely to prevent harm than any kind of dumb duty-ethics.

And the consequences for me provide very good practical emotional reasons for fidelity: I know that if I was going round getting jiggy with other girls, my girlfriend would find out, and that would cause a lot of emotional harm all round.

I was explaning this yesterday to another comedian, who is also in a relationship, and he said, “so you’re saying there’s nothing wrong in the thing itself, and it’s only wrong if they find out? And if they don’t, then…no harm, no foul?”

Well, sort of, but that misses the point – partly because you could never completely eliminate the chance of being found out, and any risk at all is too high a risk; and secondly, because, well, Nan knows me too well – she’d just know, and would never trust me again. And that thought is unbearable.

All of which, combined with the fact that I grew up around women and have always found them generally better company than men, has the overall effect that I can talk fairly easily, (even flirtatiously) to women, without ever seriously thinking that anything would ever happen. Not very easily – Like all comedians, I’m shy and insecure underneath – but fairly easily.

I can also talk, to other men, about women who are attractive; I can even be been fairly suggestive with it. To these other men, particularly those men who don’t have girlfriends, this can appear to be a bit odd and I’ve been accused more than once by Loz and Tony of being ‘sleazy’. I laugh along with that accusation because it’s funny, but ultimately it misses the point; it’s not really sleaziness, so much as the freedom that comes from knowing there is no chance of me actually being unfaithful.

So, back to the point. Yesterday evening I had an evening that by any heterosexual male (or homosexual female) standards would be a ‘successful’ evening in terms of talking to girls: while compering the evening gig I told a very pretty and charming girl that she had nice hair, and she hung around and chatted afterwards and then gave me her phone number; then, a whole bunch of times later on in the evening I found that girls who I would normally think to be way out of my league were chatting to me in an unusually flirtatious way. But it means nothing: I can’t call the number and I have no idea whether anything could ever have happened with any of the others even if I were available; because I’m not.

All of which, on the rare occasions when it happens, can moderately annoy other men, who really do have trouble around women. One friend of a friend (a very nice chap whose name I forget) even started quoting Matthew’s Gospel at me:

“For everyone who has, will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

Well, lucky me. Except that it is hardly an accurate portrayal of the situation.

The fact is, there is no abundance and I am really no threat to anyone: what I want is to be emotionally satisfied, and as far as relationships with girls go, I already have that.

I just wish I could have it in stand-up comedy, too.

CTD: Audience – Full; Performance – A good, solid set, the best I’ve done at lunchtime (7/10)

SSS: Audience – Small and quiet, and all the acts struggled; Performance – good, and at times it felt like the only thing that was getting laughs was my compering. The promoting was bad, but my performance was solid. On the downside, the audience did respond well to banter, and I’m still too scared to really try much of that, so an opportunity may have been missed (6/10)

Other Stuff: See above. I should also note that in the afternoon I saw the sketch group ‘Superclump’, which had some funny moments.

Overall: WIN


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