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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Secret Affairs: The Extramarital Connection

If you cannot have your dear husband for a comfort and delight, for a breadwinner and a crosspatch, for a sofa, chair, or hot water bottle,one can use him as a cross to be borne.
—Stevie Smith

Adultery: democracy applied to love.
—H. L. Mencken

It’s one thing to reflect upon your life and to decide that you would like to have a lover in it. It’s quite another thing to do that when you are already married. A woman’s husband is, theoretically, supposed to eliminate the need or the desire for a lover; unfortunately, very often he doesn’t. The lover of a married woman is by definition an illicit lover, although he may not be a secret one. The special term for illicit lovers of either sex is “paramour.” The French par plus amour means “by or through love.” The role of paramour seems to have evolved simultaneously with the roles of husband and wife. In some cultures, the paramour was more blatant than others, but he has always hovered provocatively in the background.

Sexual encounters outside of marriage have such a negative connotation in our culture that it’s difficult even to discuss them in neutral and objective terms.

The technical term “adultery” means sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than a spouse. It’s often illegal and is generally considered to be a sin as well by most major religious groups. In addition, the term isn’t very precise, for it doesn’t include the wide range of sexual experiences other than conventional intercourse.

The Seventh Commandment

The Seventh Commandment (Photo credit: pasukaru76)

The verb “to adulterate” means to debase or to make impure by the addition of inferior materials. It conjures up negative images such as contaminated food. People who have extramarital involvements are said to be unfaithful or to betray their vows or to cheat. The common phrase “sleeping around” implies a very casual and promiscuous behavior, presumably involving more than two beds. “Playing around” has a connotation of something other than serious intent. The most neutral wording to refer to the relationship of a married woman and her paramour, or a married man and his, is simply as an “extramarital relationship,” meaning one which exists in addition to a conjugal one.

Technically, you can only commit adultery if you are legally married. Moreover, if you are legally married, then any sex with anyone other than your spouse is adultery. In the spirit of the law, the relationship inherent in an “extramarital relationship” could be considered the same for any two people who cohabit as husband and wife, whether they are legally married or not. Being unfaithful to a common-law husband is a lot like being unfaithful to a legally married husband, if the couple’s understanding is that they are in fact in a “husband-wife” relationship. “Married but not churched” is how my grandmother would have described it.

The situation is less clear when you have two people who are lovers but are not married or living together as husband and wife. They don’t have the same obligations to each other as would formalized couples that are legally married, living common-law or are registered domestic partners, in that they have not promised to forsake all others forever and ever. They have almost no legal privileges involving the relationship, but they also have almost no obligations. In that context, value-laden words such as “unfaithful” are even less appropriate.

Anyone discussing the virtues and vices of contemporary marriage usually brings up the importance of monogamy. The term “monogamy” does not refer to relationships at all but to a certain kind of marital structure involving one husband and one wife: “mono” for one, “gamy” for marriage. An alternative to monogamy would be bigamy, in which one person has two husbands or two wives, and bigamy is considered illegal everywhere in the Western world. The
person with an extramarital connection is not, usually, a bigamist. He or she has one spouse and one or more other relationships with the opposite sex. Erica Jong does not exactly clarify the issue when she explains, “Bigamy
is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.”

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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.

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