How to Pick a Lover

Really, Post Racial

QBG_Tilted Tiara

OpEd We are living in a ‘Post Racial Society’, isn’t that what those in the know want us to believe? Do you believe we are living in the fantasyland the pundits gleefully spew forth? Yeah, well neither do I but you have to give them credit for trying. It would be interesting, if a bit filthy, to open up their minds and see if they actually believe it themselves.

In the last few weeks, we were treated to some real cretins, lacking in any form of social grace or guile they have spewed the vile bigotry into our homes through the airwaves. Granted, at least one of them didn’t intend his remarks to reach our ears, they did though and we hung on every disastrous word. Interestingly, these two cases have nothing in common and their outcomes cannot be compared, except for one very specific point; they prove beyond a doubt…

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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 chains of marriage are so heavy that it takes two to bear them, and sometimes three.
—Alexandre Dumas: fi ls, L’Esprit d’Alexandre Dumas

As Val, whose blog I highly recommend (valentinelogar.com), noted in her comment on my last post, the double standard of sexuality has always been more tolerant of the husband who strays than of the wife who strays. Nevertheless, a large proportion of married woman do have extramarital sex, at least once, during the course of their marriages. Quite a large proportion take a lover and have an affair which continues over time on a number of occasions. Some have more than one affair at a time. How large are these proportions? No one knows, but they would seem to be an increasing minority.

Back in 1948, Kinsey and his associates reported in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female that about 20 percent of all wives had had extramarital sex at least once. In 1972, Hunt published a survey done by Redbook magazine, which suggested approximately the same ratio, with rates slightly higher among young women. In her book The Monogamy Myth, Peggy Vaughan estimates that 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair while married. The rate is likely to vary depending on the type of women interviewed, with the highest probably to be found among younger wives working in urban areas. While extramarital sex is still a relatively secretive activity, it’s becoming more and more of an open secret. Elaine Denholtz provides an account of women who are Having It Both Ways, based on a series of very intimate anonymous interviews. Mary Anne Wollison does much the same thing in her discussion of Affairs: The Secret Lives of Women, as does Linda Wolfe in her book Playing Around: Women and Extramarital Affairs.

Cover of "The Monogamy Myth: A Personal H...

Cover via Amazon

Some people who commit adultery do incur most unfortunate results, just as the folk literature tells us. However, in real life, many women have affairs which no one knows about except the participants. Many women have affairs which are eventually discovered but which don’t automatically bring destruction and ruin about their heads. Many women have many affairs and live to tell the tale and, eventually, live happily ever after.

The real message may be that it’s not an extramarital connection per se that is bad for one’s mental health, but the wrong extramarital connection, undertaken with the wrong person for the wrong reasons and managed in the wrong way. There isn’t a whole lot of instruction given wives on the important subject of how to have a successful affair, with the result that there’s a lot of on-the-job training. As a married friend of mine told me after she had a disastrous affair, “The trouble with on-the-job training is that you can make so many mistakes.”

Help may be on the way, as women become more circumspect about their sexual needs. In the early 1980s in Los Angeles, psychologist Cynthia Silverman began to offer workshops for married women who are having—or thinking of having—extramarital affairs. While such groups may offer some psychological support and may be useful in dealing with guilt, they are most noteworthy for the changing attitudes they represent.

A married woman who contemplates an affair should take into account all of the rules of safe conduct discussed in my previous blogs. In addition, however, she needs to contend with two other factors: the risk of exposure and the special problems of pregnancy. More to come on that later.

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“Come, come,” said Tom’s father, “at your time of life,
There’s no longer excuse for thus playing the rake.
It is time you should think, boy, of taking a wife.”
“Why, so it is, Father—whose wife shall I take?”
—Thomas Moore, “A Joke Versified”

Thomas Moore wrote these ironic lines at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They illustrate a paradoxical aspect of our views of adultery. On the one hand, it is supposedly a very serious affair, a major sin, and a cause for outrage and retribution. On the other hand, it’s incorporated into the jokes and wisecracks of everyday life in such a way as to suggest that it’s not really all that serious.

Rodney Dangerfield's comedy album No Respect.

Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy album No Respect. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People laugh at the prospect of adultery in ways they do not (yet) laugh about things they regard as more beyond the pale, such as child abuse or incest. “Do you suppose,” the comedian wonders, “if infants have as much fun in infancy as adults do in adultery?” “A man can sleep around, no questions asked,” quips Joan Rivers, “but if a woman makes nineteen or twenty mistakes, she’s a tramp!” Marty, a comic, reports a conversation with his friend Art. “Your wife is gorgeous! Tell me, is she faithful?” asks Marty. “My wife is too good to be true,” replies Art. And Rodney Dangerfield jokes, “I have good-looking kids. Thank God, my wife cheats on me.”

The ubiquity of humor about adultery suggests that it is quite a commonplace occurrence, in actual fact as well as in fantasy. It implies an ambivalence about it which softens the sense of prohibition.

It does not matter whether or not you happen to find jokes about cuckolds and horns funny. What is significant is that adultery is often seen as being, literally, a joking matter.

 

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Adulteress as Villainess

A hundred years ago Hester Prynne of “The Scarlet Letter” was given an A for adultery; today she would rate no better than a C-plus.
—Peter De Vries

Throughout history, women who were caught in adultery have suffered grievous punishments. In India, they might have been burned. In Persia, men favored beheading adulterous women. In Turkey, the traditional punishment was the lash, a painful prospect but one offering more hope than in traditional China, where errant wives might be imprisoned for life.

Under Sharia law in a number of Islamic countries, all it takes is two male witnesses swearing that the woman is an adulteress, and she can be stoned to death even if she never committed adultery.

Countries with Sharia rule.

Countries with Sharia rule. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the literature of the Western world, women who are, as they say, “taken in adultery” are not punished as blatantly, but they don’t fare well. The world’s literature is, of course, written primarily by men and may, consequently, reflect more the position of an outraged husband than it does the sentiments of the outraged wife.

In Dante’s Inferno (ca. 1300), Francesca loved not only her husband but also his younger brother, Paolo; and when they were discovered, both were put to death. This sad tale, repeated in other literary versions, is unusual in that both guilty parties were punished. Usually, the double standard results in the errant woman being the focus of concern and punishment.

In Hawthorn’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne was forced to wear an embroidered scarlet letter on her dress to show that she was an adulteress and then required to stand in the pillory holding her illegitimate child. In Tolstoy’s tragic story of Anna Karenina, the social disapproval of the lovers is so pervasive and extreme that Anna disintegrates and ultimately throws herself under the wheels of a train. There are a plethora of other examples of the same ilk, conveying the message that crime does not pay and that the woman who strays from the domestic hearth will come to a tragic end.

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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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Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.
—William Feather

In general, men are more achievement oriented and career conscious than are women, although the gap has narrowed significantly. Men, especially young men, spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to get ahead
and to build a secure niche for themselves. Their priorities are often in terms of work; and often, that work is an end in itself, as well as a means to money and success.

Many women don’t understand the drive that propels some people to work sixty-hour weeks. They believe there should be a balance between work and other priorities and frequently complain that their men don’t spend enough time with them. They feel they are wasting their time as they languish hour after hour, waiting for the man of the moment to stop working and pay attention to them. The best kind of lover is one who takes time to savor a love affair and who considers time with you to be a high priority.

Young Couple Sleeping

Photo credit: epSos.de

Men may be more likely to be short of time and to tend to hurry from one thing to the next than are women, but they are not the only ones who make this mistake. Women may also find their lives so full that they have little time to pause and reflect and enjoy. Career women may be workaholics, obsessed with the knowledge that, as a woman, if she is to go half as far her male counterparts, she must be twice as good. Young mothers may virtually martyr themselves to their children’s real and imagined needs. Housewives may work twelve-hour days in a futile attempt to keep everything perfect all the time.

If you want a lover and if you want a love affair, then take the time to enjoy it. Think of the importance of watching a sunset versus getting a report done or ironing the towels. You don’t have to stop and smell the roses, but you should. And if your lover doesn’t yet know this, then you should teach him to slow down as well.

Journalist David Grayson expresses this sentiment well: “Many times in my life I have repeated Rodin’s saying that ‘slowness is beauty.’ To read slowly, to feel slowly and deeply; what enrichment! In the past, I have been so often greedy. I have gobbled down books—I have gobbled down work (I have even gobbled down friends!)—and indeed had a kind of enjoyment of all of them. But rarely have I tasted the last flavor of anything, the final exquisite sense of personality of spirit that secretes itself in every work that merits attention, in every human being at all worth knowing.”

Love takes time. Make time to enjoy it.

 

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