To what extent can you forgive the unforgivable? Venice-born Giacomo Casanova was a complex human being, who, like all of us, had some admirable and some not so admirable qualities. Indeed a well-known womanizer, Casanova was also a sentimental, gentle lover of life who took a genuine interest in the (many) women he wooed— so much so that most all remained friends with him, even after the love affair was over. He was a fascinating adventurer, author, gambler, and connoisseur of life; and much like Italian men of today, he made his women feel like princesses; worthy of every luxury the world had to offer. The trouble was— he couldn’t stay faithful.
Erroneously, people often mention infidelity in the same breath as they mention our Italian heritage. Statistically, however, we are no more or less faithful than any other ethnicity, and most of us do NOT think it’s OK to cheat. While for many couples, infidelity would indicate an irreversible relationship disaster, Italians handle such matters with compassion and understanding. In fact, Italian marriages are more likely to break up over a partner’s lack of culinary skills (accounting for approximately 30% of Italian divorces), than they are over a partner’s extramarital lust (23%, according to a poll reported by Zoomata.com). Is it that Italians condone infidelity? Mai. But what they do accept, are their partner’s human flaws, including weaknesses and mistakes, which can be forgiven when someone sincerely repents.
Italy will never be a disposable society. Razors are still the kind you refill. Cartridge pens get handed down for generations. Italian couples don’t give one indiscretion the power to dispose of an entire history together. Only when all other options are exhausted does the word divorzio even come to the lips.
The serial monogamy of the American culture is not common practice in Italy. People make mistakes, but deeply believe that the ability to correct those mistakes is a revered part of the human spirit. In Italy, betrayal does not usually end in divorce. Even though divorce has been legal since the 1970’s, Italian law still encourages couples to give it their best shot, by ordering a 2-3 year waiting period before the marriage is officially dissolved.
Only after all else fails will Italians concede to mollare, let go. Even then, it is rarely done with hostility, or anger. Italians try to divorce in the same way they marry—with a reverence for life and respect for their partner.
While I’m not suggesting that you tolerate infidelity in your relationship, I do encourage you to practice compassion towards the imperfect person who loves you; especially when they ask forgiveness for their mistakes. Even the Roman soldiers practiced tolerance, as evidenced in the treatment of their prisoners from different lands. Why? Because a centuries-old culture shaped by the wisdom of experience, has formed a people who believe in human value. Who believe in forgiveness. Who believe in love. And above all, who believe that everyone deserves another chance. Including ourselves. Pasqua of course, is a perfect time for all of us to practice the art of “perdonare”.
For more great self help listen in or stream in to “The Art of Living Well”, each Monday at 7AM. Great interviews, an Italian -American corner, general self-help strategies and more. www.wnhu.net (streaming) or 88.7FM. This week’s guest will be Stephen Spignesi, author of “The Titanic for Dummies”. Can’t wait!