How to Pick a Lover

First Wife, Second Wife

Many a man owes his success to his first wife—and his second wife to his success.
—Jim Backus

In traditional courtship, unmarried women were pursued by unmarried men with the explicit intent of getting them paired off and safely wed. When this ideal norm was broken, as it often was, the most common variation was the situation of an unmarried woman being courted by a married man. The triangles that resulted from this pairing have been the subject of many stories, plays, and movies. The wife was compared and contrasted with the mistress, and the question was would the man leave his wife and children.

The unmarried woman in this situation was usually advised not to believe any of his stated intentions because in the end, he would be won back by responsibilities and respectability, and the disillusioned mistress would have wasted her time.

Cover of "Marital Affairs"

It’s interesting that a belief that the mistress would be used and abandoned has persisted despite the evidence that in nearly half of all marriages, somebody does leave somebody, and it isn’t at all uncommon that the precipitating event involves the husband leaving his wife for another woman. In any case, if the goal of courtship was supposed to be marriage, the man who was already married was a poor risk. From the woman’s point of view, his marital status was critical. The same applied to the less common situation of a married woman being courted by a single man. If one begins with a different perspective and approaches a love relationship as an end in itself, then the issue of marital status makes a difference mostly in terms of the logistics of the affair.

The married man who makes a good lover is the one who can handle the complexities of loving more than one person and who gives the mistress a legitimate place in his life. He recognizes the legitimacy of her claims on his time and attention. However, you must cope with the need for secrecy and must adapt to his unpredictable time schedule.

The problems of the backstreet mistress have been documented endlessly. In fact, there was a 1941 film, later remade in the early sixties, called Back Street, which, predictably, ended in the mistress being cast aside. However, in fact, an attentive married man might even be preferable to an unmarried one. He will, of necessity, be less possessive; and he does not have the option of trying to turn you into his wife.

If you’re  married, the main advantage of having an affair with a man who is also married is that he has as much to lose as you do if the relationship becomes public. He will, therefore, be most rigorous in taking precautions and most understanding of your circumstances. The disadvantage, of course, is that instead of having to worry about one set of schedules, you have to worry about two, and both may be relatively inflexible. There’s also no safe and obvious trysting place. He has to take you to the no-tell motel, and you can only hope that sometimes, there is truth in advertising.

Freud observed that in every marriage bed, there were really four persons to be concerned with: the bride, the groom, the bride’s father, and the groom’s mother. In the adulterous affair between two married people, the hypothetical marital bed is even more crowded: you must make room as well for his current wife and your current husband. When four people rather than two must be taken into account, the situation is made more than twice as complex. Add children of various ages, and it becomes a scenario worthy of a double agent.

Fortunately, the rewards for both the errant wife and the errant lover are often so delightful and so sustaining that it’s worth it all. Indeed, the very poignancy of an impossible situation and the necessity of love expressed from afar may add intensity and a magic melancholy, which is the essence of romance. The drama of star-crossed lovers may make their occasional coming together that much more marvelous, both literally and figuratively. In the long-running Broadway play The Fantasticks, two young lovers are presented with as many deliberate obstacles as possible, so their love for each other will be that much more intense and romantic for having had to overcome them.

These lines,

Two households both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hand unclear

begin the prologue of Romeo and Juliet, the world’s most celebrated star-crossed lovers.

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Comments on: "First Wife, Second Wife" (2)

  1. Recovering Wayward said:

    A lot of truth here. It’s a point of view that is rarely stated and is abhorrent to a lot of people (especially betrayed wives), but I certainly can relate to much of what you said here. I’m certainly not proud of what I did (quite the opposite), and while I was in it, it certainly was stressful to navigate it all. It’s not something that I recommend to anyone. But at some weird level, for me and for “her”, it worked. It all unraveled when the OW wanted more and started to put pressure on an already overly-pressurized situation. But that’s another part of the story. Thanks for writing this.

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