How to Pick a Lover

Discreet Indiscretions

Be discreet in all things, and so render it unnecessary to be mysterious about any.

—Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington

If you decide to have an affair and to keep it a secret, take yourself seriously. If you want to write letters, texts or e-mails—and that is an important part of many friendships and love affairs especially when one cannot be in daily contact—then rent a mailbox or use a private e-mail address your partner can’t access.

If you want to keep letters or endearing Hallmark cards, as most people do, rent a safety deposit box. If you have a key to his apartment, put it on a separate key chain and keep it out of sight. Pretend, in other words, that you are your own detective on your own trail and try to be a difficult subject.


Your worst problem in managing an affair is the disruption of your known habits. If you always shop for groceries on Wednesday, then not getting groceries on a Wednesday is a cause for comment. The more you establish yourself as an erratic person with an erratic routine, the more freedom you have. This will mean, of course, that even when you do not have a lover, or when he is not available, your non-predictable patterns must still prevail.

When we are concerned about protecting the chastity of young girls, one of the first measures taken is to impose a curfew. Young ladies in good schools must be home at ten o’clock on weeknights or at midnight on weekends. We assume that there is safety in numbers so that as long as one is out in a group, in the daytime, all is well. Such structuring only shows the lack of imagination of the chaperones and means that, a generation ago, college girls missed a lot of afternoon classes, which they had to make up some other time. After their “matinees,” they went back to their carefully supervised official residence and were snug in their own beds, alone, by “lights-out.”


Husbands and wives think much the same way. The only really serious problems of accountability occur when you have two married people, who are not married to each other, alone together, and when they are alone at a time so far into the night that there is nothing for them to be officially doing. How late is “late” depends on where you live. In many small towns, everything is closed up by 10:30 p.m.; in New York, there would still be many activities happening at 2:30 a.m. Wherever you are, four o’clock in the A of the M is too late.

The first prudent rule, therefore, is to concentrate your activity in the daylight hours. A second protective strategy is to surround yourself with other people. In Hollywood, the coming and goings of the stars are conspicuous and of considerable interest to the public. It is difficult for anyone who is even a minor celebrity to remain incognito for long. So to cope with this problem, there has evolved a custom of going out in the evening in the company of a “beard.” In this context, a beard is a friend who accompanies an illicit couple out in public, thereby creating a group instead of a dyad. A beard can be a man or woman but is usually a man. If a woman is out with two men, or with three, then officially, she is not really out with any of them. She is just “out with the boys.” The beard who comes along to offer his or her protection understands his or her role as third wheel but is willing to enjoy the couple’s company as a favor.

It is a nice bonus that, traditionally, the beard never pays for any of the dinners or drinks and is not expected to return this hospitality. You don’t have to be a movie star to find this strategy a useful distraction.

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