How to Pick a Lover

Archive for the ‘fidelity’ Category

Collusion: The Blind Eye

I pray that I may not be married
But if I am to be married
that I may not be cuckold
but that if I am to be a cuckold
that I may not know it
but if I know it
that I may not care.
—Anonymous Bachelor’s Prayer, circa 1650

In a number of cases, the practice to deceive a husband about an ongoing or prospective affair is simplified by his implicit, and sometimes explicit, agreement not to notice anything. The wife and her husband enter into what amounts to collusion, thereby saving face on both sides. If he doesn’t ask, she doesn’t have to lie; if he doesn’t know of an affair, then he doesn’t have to do anything about it.

Such an arrangement may often occur in a marriage of convenience where there’s little pretense of affection between the husband and wife. They simply agree to lead separate lives and come together only when the business of the marriage, in the form of children or property or social functions, demands it.

A parallel arrangement may also exist for couples who are quite fond of each other but have made a realistic assessment of the importance of their sexual bond. In fiction, the well-known story of Lady Chatterley and her lover involves the explicit permission of her husband to take a lover, and indeed to have a child by him, since the husband was crippled and paralyzed and could not provide an heir for himself. Righteous indignation eventually came, not because she had an affair but because she selected a gamekeeper who was too déclassé to be considered an equal.

History provides some real-life examples of husband-wife collusion. When Lord Horatio Nelson began his infamous affair with Lady Emma Hamilton, they were both living in the same house as her husband Sir William Hamilton, her senior by thirty years. Husband and lover were friends, although there is little doubt that Sir William knew the real parentage of “his” daughter, especially when Lady Emma named her Horatia. He simply announced his quiet determination that the peace of his household would not be disturbed, and apparently it was not.

Emma, Lady Hamilton, by George Romney (died 18...

Emma, Lady Hamilton, by George Romney (died 1802). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similar situations occur in the contemporary world. There is a vivacious, sensuous wife, a mother of two that I know, who habitually goes out to play bridge or to see a movie or something equally innocuous and returns home at two or

three in the morning and explains that she and the girls “just got to talking and forgot the time.” She has been married for nearly twenty years and has been playing bridge far into the night for at least eighteen of them. She has learned a lot more than Goren and the Blackwood convention.

Her suburban husband watches the eleven o’clock news and then goes to bed and goes to sleep. Sometimes if he wakes up at four and she’s still not back, he worries. She could have had a car accident or be in some kind of trouble. He’s reassured when she comes home all right and goes back to sleep. Sometimes, since he is awake anyway, they make love first.

Eighteen years. He does not ask how the bridge game went. Various men show up at various times to take her to lunch. After lunch, they tend to stay for dinner at the house. The husband is gracious enough, plays the good host, and then retires to his study and his books.

Peering through the window into the mystery of other people’s marriages, one must conclude that the husband does know what’s going on but chooses not to recognize it. This is what is meant by “the blind eye.”

Unless a man has decided that he wants to divorce his wife, presenting a blind eye to her affairs or to the possibility of her affairs is an excellent and wise strategy. If he officially knows, then he’s required to act, and none of the available options for action is very appealing. Oliver Goldsmith considered all of this and concluded that, in the Western world, not seeing may well be the best answer. In The Citizen of the World, he writes, “If I were an English husband, I would take care not to be jealous, nor busily pry into the secrets my wife was pleased to keep from me . . . Whenever I went out, I’d tell my wife where I was going, lest I should unexpectedly meet her abroad in the company of some dear deceiver. Whenever I returned, I would use a particular rap at the door, and give four loud ‘hems’ as I walked deliberately up the staircase. I would never inquisitively peep under her bed, nor look behind the curtains. And even though I knew the Captain was there, I would calmly take a dish of my wife’s cool tea and talk of the army with reverence.”

There are two players in such a charade: one who deceives and one who agrees to be deceived. Vicki Baum puts the same message somewhat differently in And Life Goes On when she observes, “Marriage always demands the greatest understanding of the art of insincerity possible between two human beings.”

Second Caveat: No Bastard Children

There is no word equivalent to “cuckold” for women.
—Joseph Epstein

In medieval times, a man whose wife deceived him with another man was called a cuckold, a pejorative term which fortunately isn’t used much anymore. The origin of the term “cuckold” is revealing. If you are interested in ornithology, the study of birds, you may have come across accounts of the habits of the cuckoo bird. Cuckoos solve the problem of the perpetuation of their species by the simple expedient of laying eggs in other bird’s nests and departing, leaving other birds of another species to raise the young cuckoos.

Once upon a time, observers might signal the approach of a man who was committing adultery with someone’s wife, or who had designs in that direction, by warning the husband with a whispered “cuckoo, cuckoo.” Eventually, the term got changed around to refer to the betrayed not the betrayer and became “cuckold.”

Calling All Cuckoos

Calling All Cuckoos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare and other authors perpetuated the literary myth that such a man was burdened with a set of horns on his head, which others could see, but of which he was blissfully unaware. It was another version of the truism that the husband, or the wife, is often the last to know. In Italy, one of the most unforgivable insults still is to make the sign of the “cornu” at someone: taking your index and pinkie and putting them on top of your head to resemble horns.

On the issue of bastard children, there are some real legal and moral differences in the situation of single women compared with married ones. If you are single, you might decide to have a child but choose not to get married. You have a right to become a mother without becoming a wife. It’s the contention of many that, as long as you expect nothing of the father, you don’t need to have his consent or, indeed, don’t even need to inform him. It would seem that, if such is your intent, having a child through artificial insemination would be a better alternative, but there is nothing to stop you using the old-fashioned way if this is your decision.

However, if you’re married, any child you have is legally the child of your husband and is assumed to be so socially and emotionally. A husband has the right to certainty of the parenthood of “his” own children. As the lyrics from The King and I caution, “But blossom never ever float from bee to bee to bee.” A basic assumption is that the married woman having an affair has no right to get pregnant by another man. Her body is her own, as is her sexuality; but her children are to be shared for as long as she stays married, and usually after that.

The married woman must be especially scrupulous and fastidious not to let herself get pregnant by her lover rather than by her husband.

 

 

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First Caveat: Facing the Risk of Exposure

You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
—Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

In relating to a paramour, the first thing a wife must decide is just how secret her affair has to be. To decide this usually means deciding whether or not she wants to maintain the viability of her marriage and, if so, for how long. If a couple who embarks upon an illicit affair takes seriously the need to remain undetected, both participants can usually avoid exposure and embarrassment. Most of the time, they get away with it, and no one is the wiser. Most of the time.

A word of warning. A serious word. If someone, a husband or a lover, decides that he does want to know what you do, where you go, and when and with whom, then he can find out. A skilled detective can know more about you in a few weeks than you care to know about yourself. A bugged telephone is not entirely a far-fetched idea if total surveillance is what someone has in mind. Such techniques are expensive, but even those of modest means may decide that the price is worth it if the stakes are high. Few husbands are this unscrupulous or this paranoid, but if there’s enough at stake, it’s always possible for such drastic measures to be taken.

When a married woman has an affair, she must also remember that there are more people potentially involved in the question of secrecy than herself and her husband. She may also be subject to scrutiny by her lover’s wife, or girlfriend, who resents her poaching on what she considers “her” territory.  Your lover’s wife may need to be able to prove his adultery to establish her own alimony payments, and you end up being an unwilling co-respondent in a divorce action. His girlfriend may be simply curious to know what is going on. And if he’s in a position of power and authority, he is always vulnerable to the blackmail of opponents who will resort to whatever techniques they think will work. Mr. Sterling are you paying attention?

Adultery

Adultery (Photo credit: tugwilson)

Jealousy can be a desperate thing leading to desperate measures. Adultery may also involve serious practical issues: who gets a divorce, contested or otherwise; who gets custody of the children; who does or does not pay alimony.
It is unlikely that anyone will be interested enough in your affairs to go to such drastic lengths to discover and document them, but it is possible, and that possibility is something to assess and to keep in mind.

An outraged husband I know, determined to avoid alimony and to keep custody of his children, led his wife to believe that he would be out of town overnight. He anticipated that she would take advantage of his absence, as she had on other occasions, to entertain her lover in their master bedroom. He quietly let himself into the house and, using equipment he had set up the previous day, secretly taped her activities, using her own video recorder. She was so appalled at the video tape he subsequently produced that she meekly signed over everything to him and retreated to a commune in New Mexico to think things out.

Schoolchildren often advise each other, “Be good. If you can’t be good, be careful.” Out of the mouths of babes can come some sound advice. Be careful.

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The Seventh Commandment

If wishing damns us, you and I,
Are damned to all our heart’s content;
Come, then, at least we may enjoy
Some pleasure for our punishment!
—Thomas Moore

Marriage in our culture is defined traditionally by the Judeo-Christian ethic, an ethic which is quite unambiguous on the question of adultery. Moses brought down the Word carved in stone and the word was “no.” It is written clearly in Exodus: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

skeletons in love

Photo credit: Dreaming in the deep south

To underline the message even more strongly, one was not even supposed to want to commit adultery. The tenth commandment goes on to specify: “Thou shalt not covet . . . thy neighbor’s wife.”

“Covet” is an evocative word. It means to desire inordinately. Perhaps desiring ordinately is all right. (My neighbor’s wife has been generally unappealing to me, but I have lived in neighborhoods where I could have been said to covet my neighbor’s ass.)

But in fact, even ordinate desire isn’t acceptable, for the Bible then goes on to prohibit even quiet longing. It’s written in Matthew: “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Remember Jimmy Carter’s interview in Playboy where he quoted that passage and admitted that he had lusted in his heart?

If you take these prohibitions literally, then my upcoming posts are not for you. There is no provision to be made for negotiation about extenuating circumstances. If you do proceed anyway and decide you would rather commit your sins in bed than in your heart, then you can expect a certain amount of moral outrage from the more devout. Remember that in the Bible, it’s also written: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Watch out for anachronistic Pilgrims!

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Rule Seven: Respect Privileged Information

I lay it down as a fact that if all men knew what others say of them, there would not be four friends left in the world.
—Blaise Pascal, Pensées

One of the crucial components of the intimate relationship is the sharing of the self. With a mate or with a lover, there develops a sense of trust which means, among other things, that there’s a willingness to let down your guard and reveal more of your true self, including some components that do not make you especially proud. The willingness to be psychologically naked in front of the other is an important component of love. It’s also an important part of making yourself vulnerable to being loved.

The sense of knowing the other in an intimate relationship comes not only from this voluntary exposure but also from having seen that other person, backstage as it were, in a number of unflattering circumstances. If you have lived for years with someone, you know that knowledge carries with it an obligation not to reveal what you know.

100_1162

100_1162 (Photo credit: Pega.WHORE.us)

There’s a real temptation with a lover to discuss intimate details. If you are married, you may well be tempted to reveal details about your marriage; or if you are in the process of dating someone new, all the intimate details of your recent breakup. Remember in doing this that you have a right to reveal what you feel, what you want, what you have experienced, and other things about yourself. You don’t have a right to reveal the inner life of one man to another. If you do, he will justifiably wonder how much of his inner life you may later reveal to some other man. The secrets of the bedroom should be seen like the secrets of the confessional or of the psychiatrist’s couch. Inviolate.

The prohibition against discussing the details of one relationship in the context of another is difficult to maintain since a major motivation for having an affair may be to have someone to discuss your marriage with, meaning someone to complain to about the troubles you’ve seen. When you’re tempted to launch a diatribe against your marriage or ex-boyfriend, remember the observation offered by the American Jewish writer and publisher Harry Golden: “The ultimate betrayal is not a wandering wife, but a wandering wife who tells her lover that her husband doesn’t make as much as everyone thinks.”

Rule One: Accept Responsibility for the Affair

The Guilt of Janet Ames

The Guilt of Janet Ames (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Responsibility: the high price of self-ownership.
—Eli J. Schleifer

The decision to take a lover, like the decision to get married, is a decision which a woman makes for herself. Except for the aberrant circumstances of rape, she is the one who says yes or no. She decides what she’ll do with her body. The price of that privilege is that she alone is responsible for the decision.

When women are in a servile position, with no resources and little self-confidence they are justified in attributing their misfortunes to what some man has done to them. They were seduced or bullied or beguiled or, in other ways, misled. They were ruined or knocked up or conned or despoiled. Such women adopt the role of victim, playing opposite men who they cast in the role of villain.

While some men certainly are villains and some women certainly unfortunate victims, in many circumstances, women’s misfortunes aren’t so much the result of what men have done to them as they are the result of what women have done to themselves. Children and the very naive are, of course, exempt. Statutory rape is viewed as rape because the teenager is often not yet self-aware enough to give informed consent. For grown-ups, however, the flaws in relationships and the harm that sometimes results must be shared by both men and women.

Once a woman is of age, she must accept responsibility for the consequences of her decisions. The relationship with a lover is an unconventional one. It doesn’t encompass the institutional protections associated with marriage. It doesn’t come with guarantees. The woman must rely on her own judgment about the kind of man she gets involved with, and she must anticipate some negative consequences. She is a willing participant in an affair. If he pressures her in some way and is successful, it’s because she let him pressure her. If he has seduced her, unless she was drunk or drugged or raped, then she must have let herself be seduced.

The relationship with a lover is not only an unconventional one but is something viewed as immoral by many people. It’s defined as out of bounds by virtually all of the major religions. Some groups, such as the Unitarians, might regard it with only mild approbation; but none would advocate it as the best alternative. If you are a fundamentally religious person, such a relationship can inspire a considerable amount of guilt.

Some types of guilt are small and nagging and go away in a short while, but others are more consequential, and some stay with you for a very long time or even a lifetime. If thinking about the various moral consequences of an affair makes you feel any guilt whatsoever, then resolve how you are going to feel in the morning before the fact, not afterward. Try the idea out in your mind; talk with someone you trust who knows you well. Read some books or more blogs about relationships and affairs.

Above all, don’t let someone talk you into a relationship before you are ready. Only you really know how you yourself feel, and you can only know that if you take the time to think things through carefully and clearly examine and understand your own feelings. When in doubt, wait. Sex is never an emergency. If you change your mind later, there will still be willing men out there.

If, however, you decide to have an affair, then remember that it was, indeed, your decision. You cannot transfer the blame to your lover or your husband or children or even your mother. You must take responsibility for your own sexuality. Once you can do that, you can truly begin to enjoy it.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line: it is my bottom that has the honey pot!
—Jadah Vaughn, “The Bottom Line”

Throughout most of the recorded history of the Western world, there’s been an implicit assumption that men owned women and that men especially owned a woman’s sexuality.

In the beginning, fathers owned daughters; later in life, husbands owned wives who had been given away by their fathers. The wife was a chattel. It would be an overstatement to say she was a slave, but she was a possession. In effect, she sold her sexual services at the time of marriage for the rest of her life. If a husband was made a cuckold by some other man, he had a right to be aggrieved and sometimes even a right to sue for damages. The law gave him not only a right to his wife’s body at all times, and under all circumstances, but an exclusive right to it. The wife had control of the husband’s honor. If she was wayward, she brought disgrace to him as much as a wayward daughter would bring disgrace to her father. In some cultures today, “honor killings” are based on that assumption.

Even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there remains a truism which still needs to be endlessly proclaimed. A woman owns her own body. She may decide to share it with a man, or she may not. She may promise to be sexually monogamous, or she may not. She may conceive a child if she wants, or she may not. Having conceived, she may carry that child to term, or she may not. A woman owns her own body.

Whose Body?

Whose Body? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you own your own body, then the decisions about what to do with it are in fact up to you. You may give your body to someone in an act of love, but you do not deed it to him for time and eternity.

Self-ownership involves two related principles. The first is that you don’t have to give your body to anyone if you don’t want to; it’s a form of rape, even if the man is your husband, if you are taken against your will. The second principle is that you have the right to give your body to whomever you want.

The bottom line: it’s your bottom that has the honeypot.

Pardon My Plurality

In matters of the heart, there may be two kinds of people: those who know that it is possible to love more than one person, and those who know that it is not.
—Jayson VanVerden

If a woman can take a lover, we now come to another nitty-gritty question: can she take more than one lover? What happens to a love affair when one or the other partner—or both—are also involved with someone else. There has been a lot of material, written mostly by men, implying that men are naturally polygamous whereas women, god bless them, are naturally monogamous. The man insists that his passion for another woman doesn’t have anything to do with his feeling for his wife, or doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it. The woman typically takes this assertion with a whole pound of salt.

In reality, however, it’s not so much that all men are polygamous in intent and all women monogamous as much as it’s that there are some people—men and women—who can and do harbor love and passion for more than one person simultaneously.

Some people—men and women—can feel love for only one person at a time. If they fall in love with a new person, they must, by necessity, fall out of love with the first. At the very least, they must love the first one less. If they have more than one love affair, therefore, it must be in sequence with the old love being replaced by the new.

In Marriage and Morals, Bertrand Russell points out that “the psychology of adultery has been falsified by conventional morals, which assume . . . that attraction for one person cannot coexist with a serious attraction for another. Everybody knows that this is untrue.”

Women as well as men may follow a pattern of simultaneous affairs. If you understand in your own heart the possibility of love for more than one person at a time, then when your lover has an affair, you may be hurt and unhappy; but it’s comprehensible to you. When you wail, “How could you?” it’s a rhetorical question, for you know quite well how he could do that and more. You also know, although you may choose to forget it in the heat of the moment, that his having slept with another woman, or even loved another woman, does not necessarily mean that he loves you less. The one love is different from the other: it has a different place in the psyche, and it fulfills different needs.

Not necessarily just being attracted to one person

Photo credit: theslowlane

A woman has a right to a lover. Indeed, she has a right to more than one lover. While it’s quite possible for many women to love more than one man at a time, it’s also important to remember that not everybody believes this or is willing to accept it. You have a right to do it, but you must expect a wide range of consequences, some of which will be unfortunate.

To a committed monogamist, male or female, the reaction to infidelity is often a sense of total betrayal, however inappropriate or over-the-top you may find that reaction. If your male lover thinks this way, then love that’s really love, in his mind, means love that is exclusively with one person. In deciding to embark on an affair, you need to realize that, for him, even one involvement with one other man will be viewed as an absolute end of your relationship with him. Such an arbitrary stand is quite likely to be associated with a lot of pain and ultimately with loneliness, but the decision may be so fundamental and so emotional that it’s non-negotiable.

In most instances, though, the acceptance of the plurality of love and lovers is part of the more sophisticated wisdom that comes with experience. Even with married couples, it may be painful, but it’s not necessarily outrageous.

Many people would tend to agree with Oscar Wilde when he asserts, “People who love once in their lives are really shallow people. What they call their loyalty and fidelity is either lethargy of custom or lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what constancy is to the intellectual life, simply a confession of failure.”

The Penultimate Test: Take Him Home

A woman’s home is her hassle!
—Jayson VanVerten

When you have found a prospective lover who seems in many ways to be the real thing, or at least close to the real thing, take him home. Well, not necessarily home to meet your mother unless you are only seventeen, but home to where you live or work.

If you are in a relationship contrive some situation in which he’ll meet your husband or your current lover dangerous as that may initially seem. See him when you’re with your children. Put him in the same group with other significant people in your life, be they coworkers or a brother or whomever. This strategy is, of course, irrelevant if all that’s involved is a one-night stand or a one-afternoon tumble.  This strategy is only important for a lover that you hope to keep for a period of time.

Lover

Lover (Photo credit: Squirmelia)

First of all, you’ll see how well he behaves under moderate pressure before there is any real pressure. Can he talk baseball scores with your husband without glowering? Does he show deference to your husband and his domain? Does he treat your children as miniature people or as little irritants that get in his way? Can he be cool and poised in a situation in
which, you hope, only you and he understand the real nature of the dynamics that are going on?

If a man bungles initial meetings before any events of real significance have occurred, you cannot trust him to be cool and to remain discreet when at some future date there may be more violent emotions and more significant events to cover up. What’s really involved here isn’t only a test of sophistication but also a test of potential possessiveness and jealousy. Some unworldly boys of twenty can manage the situation with good grace and good humor; while some apparently worldly men in midlife are transparent and awkward.

The good lover must have a certain amount of guile, a certain talent for ambiguity. It’s paradoxical, but what you want is a contradictory qualification: the ability to dissemble to the world at large and the ability to project to you that with you, he speaks and shows only the truth and all the truth.

In 1984, George Orwell called it double think, a dubious trait you must both possess. You must be willing to believe: “Yes, we lie to the outside world, by omission if no other way. But no, we don’t lie to each other.” Like good theater, a good affair requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

Taking a prospective lover home also helps him to concretize the day-today reality with which you have to contend. Not just a husband, but Harry the husband. Not just three kids, but Mollie and Mattie and Maryanne. When you have to get home for a Girl Scout meeting, he knows who it is for and what it will be like. When you have to get home to make cunning
little stuffed mushrooms to stuff into your husband’s cunning little stuffed business associates, he can visualize the kitchen where you work and the room where they are served. The obligations are made real, and the more they are made real, the more he’s able to take them as seriously as you must.

You also need to take your lover home to demystify him for the people you work and live with. A mysterious gentleman caller is quite romantic and attractive if you’re a single girl who delights in collecting beaux just as your grandmother did. But if you are of a certain age and especially if you are married, collecting beaux isn’t exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, however delightful that pastime may be.

When someone finally asks, “Who was that man?” you need to be able to say casually, “Who? Oh, him. You remember him. That’s Tony. You met him at the Smith’s party. He’s in landscaping. He’s trying to talk us into a new pool.” Or whatever.

The best alibis are those you create before you need them, not afterward.

The Oldest Profession

It is a silly question to ask a prostitute why she does it. These are the highest paid “professional” women of America.
—Gail Sheehy, Hustling

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with selling your body. It is, after all, the oldest profession. And it is, after all, your body and you have a right to do with it what you will, including making some choices that others may think unpleasant or unwise.

There are a number of circumstances in which some or another variation of prostitution may be a rational choice. If you are young and powerless, if you are young and powerless and poor, then you use what you have. Eva Peron, who became a political icon in Argentina, was a major spokeswoman for los descamisados (the shirtless ones). She herself was born into a slum family and, it’s alleged, began her career as a teenage prostitute. Under such circumstances, when all that a woman has is an attractive body, it’s difficult to condemn her for doing the best she can with what she has.

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the ...

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a less dramatic level, the trade-offs involved in sexual exchanges can be very useful. Using your sexuality for nonsexual goals is a question of individual choice and is often a legitimate way to get what you want. In Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos quite rightly points out that “kissing your hand may make you feel very good, but a diamond is a girl’s best friend.” It’s more or less acceptable for nice girls to prefer men of wealth. While they may be considered gold diggers, they are also considered smart.

Granting sexual favors may not be necessary for survival, but it can be expedient. If the sex acts involved are at least not unpleasant, then having sex can be a convenient way of paying for dinner or of being nice or of exerting control or of creating a useful obligation.

If you want to get money from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick a rich one. The richer, the better. If you want to get favors from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick an influential one.

The exchange of sexuality for other favors can have important consequences. The legendary Hollywood “casting couch” is based on reality and has its equivalent in many other industries. Television celebrity Barbara Walters assures young women, “I didn’t get ahead by sleeping with people. Girls, take heart!” Perhaps she did not, but many have.

Many young women have come to realize that like Sally Stanford, the last grand “madam” in San Francisco who later became mayor of Sausalito, they too are “sitting on a fortune.” The folk wisdom is full of references to such exchanges, which don’t involve explicit prostitution but which do involve the trading of sex for nonsexual considerations.

It’s not only that one is advised to “go along in order to get along.” Women are also advised to “give head in order to get ahead,” and that happens at all levels. In a 1981 book The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, Irving Wallace reports that when Marilyn Monroe signed her first major contract, she is alleged to have exclaimed, “That’s the last cock I’ll have to suck.”

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