How to Pick a Lover

Though many, whose church forbids it, believe divorce is a sin, it may be said that aside from these groups, two marriages with a divorce are thought normal; among the rich, three are normal; and in Hollywood four are normal.
—Edmund Wilson, The Cold War and Income Tax

If you’re already married but are nevertheless contemplating an affair, you need to consider how you feel about maintaining your marriage.

Some women who aren’t very satisfied with their husbands are nevertheless determined to maintain their households intact. They have other considerations to think about. Often, the main marital glue is a child, but it can also be financial considerations or other family obligations. “How can I leave my husband?” a woman friend of mine lamented to me recently. “He’s paying for my mother’s nursing home care. I could never afford that, and what would become of her?” A fair and legitimate question for which I had no answer.  Then there are some women who are simply afraid of being single again and don’t think they can manage on their own.

Cover of "Love Affairs: Marriage & Infide...

Cover of Love Affairs: Marriage & Infidelity

An affair can be the first rebellious step on the way to a woman’s freedom. A woman I met at a cocktail party several months ago quipped to me, after hearing about my blog, “Wanting an open marriage is nature’s way of telling you that you need a divorce.”  An affair is one way for a woman to test her wings or to bide her time until an opportune moment arises. The wife of a close male friend of mine confided in me that she intended to leave her husband and that she had a definite timetable. She calculated she would be finished graduate school in fifteen more months and would then be graduated and gone in sixteen. Her departure would coincide almost to the day with her first paycheck. You can well imagine the dilemma this confession put me in. I found myself avoiding my male friend for the next sixteen months.

Some women contemplating an affair are already thinking about what a second husband would be like. Many others have had enough of marriage, at least for now, and are looking for a lover for the sake of a worthwhile affair and nothing more.

For a start, a first requirement that you owe your paramour is to be honest about the state and prospects of your marriage, at least as you understand them at the time. If you’re determined to maintain your marriage at all costs, then don’t let him hope that someday you’ll leave your husband and run away with him. Men tend to feel they’re irresistible, so if you’re serious about remaining married, you cannot stress it too much or too early in the relationship.

On the other hand, if you’re more or less looking for an excuse to get out of the marriage, and perhaps someone who is willing to act as a co-respondent in a divorce action should you be found out, then it’s only fair to say this as well. When later you do leave your husband, you have precluded any potential guilt on the part of your lover that he was a home wrecker who broke up an otherwise satisfactory marriage. Being honest here also warns him that you may not always take the need for discretion very seriously.

Love affairs do sometimes change things, and you may decide later that your initial intent needs to be revised. All you can do is to level with him about how you feel at the time.

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