How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘courtship’

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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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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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 Ten: Take Time to Savor Love

 

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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Avoid Invidious Comparisons

Don’t say “And you know, you are the first,” because he would pretend to believe it but it would be sheer courtesy. But say: “Before I knew you, I didn’t know what it was” because that men always believe.
—George-Armand Masson

It’s a cliché to affirm that each man—or woman—is unique. Why is it then that so many women who have found one lover who has pleased them implicitly spend so much time trying to find another lover who also pleases them in exactly the same way?

You’re not the same person you were then; he isn’t the same man you had then. So why do you expect the relationship to therefore be the same? And why do you wail and fret when it isn’t?

The secret of love is to live in the present affair. That doesn’t mean that you forget your first love or your former love. Nor should it. It does mean that you don’t judge your present circumstance by past glories. Each affair has something unique to offer, if you’re attentive and receptive to it. If you’re nostalgic, keep it to yourself or tell it to your mother or a friend. To your lover, all comparisons are invidious.

Love Compared

Love Compared (Photo credit: jah~)

A friend of mine who has had a number of lovers over the years amuses herself with what she calls her Academy Awards. “Harry received the Best Dressed Award; he was always impeccably turned out. Charles was the quintessential handyman; I gave him the Mr. Fix-it Award. I knew a Herman who could always make me laugh, even when I was almost in tears: he gets the Academy Award for Humor and Distraction. And then of course, there is a young man I knew only briefly who was awarded the Five P Award: proud possessor of the practically perfect pecker. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much else to recommend him although he did have that. The most important award in my books is the Boon Companion Award. That’s the Oscar that really counts.”

This kind of game is amusing, and it helps to reaffirm what you should always remember: that each man is valuable in his own way. But keep it as a game of solitaire or for your memoirs when you are old. If you want to minimize jealousy, avoid the temptation to brag about old loves and old conquests. Don’t discuss one man with another, not even if the discussion focuses on his negative points. He doesn’t want to hear it, he has no right to hear it, and you have no right to tell it anyway.

Paranoia, Projection, Protestations

A man does not look in the closet unless he has stood there himself.
—Leonard Levinson

The English have a saying that it’s reformed rakes who make the best husbands. One wonders at its veracity, but whether or not it’s true, it’s certainly true that it’s reformed rakes who make the most suspicious husbands.

If a man is himself a veteran of many affairs of the heart, with many ladies married and otherwise, he knows what duplicity can lurk in the hearts of women and how unflattering and even ridiculous the imposed role of cuckold can be. One might hope that such a man of the world would be wise enough to turn a blind eye to suspicious circumstances. If he doesn’t choose to do so, then he will be very difficult to deal with. It goes without saying that his own behavior, past and present, does little to increase his tolerance for yours.

The best defense against jealousy in simultaneous affairs is to keep one relationship as far away as possible from the other in terms of time and of space. The point is to avoid confrontations at all costs. In the abstract, the idea of another relationship may be vaguely upsetting. In the flesh, it may be enraging. Whether the man in question is a husband or a boyfriend or something in between, he should be protected as much as possible from having to deal directly with the reality of another affair.

The double standard isn’t just a masculine flaw: it’s part of the human condition. If you are having another affair, even if he “knows” that such might be the case and even if he “permits” it, he should never have to deal with finding the wrong brand of underwear in his underwear drawer or a package of incriminating snapshots or a carelessly displayed love letter or e-mail.

The best advice, and very important advice it is, is simple: at all times, act as your own detective.

Cover of "Same Time, Next Year"

Cover of Same Time, Next Year

In Same Time, Next Year, the hit Broadway comedy by Bernard Slade, George and Doris have an affair for twenty-four years. They meet every year in a hotel in California, he supposedly on an annual business trip, and she supposedly at a retreat. As the play unfolds from one year to the next, we see how they share their lives and how the affair is a meaningful part of them. Apart from illustrating how an affair can be incorporated into a marriage and may actually strengthen it, the play provides an ideal circumstance for a tryst. When they are together, both are away from their respective homes and routines, and they relate only to each other. The more separate one affair from the other is, in time and space, the better.

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