How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘divorce’

Incipient Divorce Potential

Though many, whose church forbids it, believe divorce is a sin, it may be said that aside from these groups, two marriages with a divorce are thought normal; among the rich, three are normal; and in Hollywood four are normal.
—Edmund Wilson, The Cold War and Income Tax

If you’re already married but are nevertheless contemplating an affair, you need to consider how you feel about maintaining your marriage.

Some women who aren’t very satisfied with their husbands are nevertheless determined to maintain their households intact. They have other considerations to think about. Often, the main marital glue is a child, but it can also be financial considerations or other family obligations. “How can I leave my husband?” a woman friend of mine lamented to me recently. “He’s paying for my mother’s nursing home care. I could never afford that, and what would become of her?” A fair and legitimate question for which I had no answer.  Then there are some women who are simply afraid of being single again and don’t think they can manage on their own.

Cover of "Love Affairs: Marriage & Infide...

Cover of Love Affairs: Marriage & Infidelity

An affair can be the first rebellious step on the way to a woman’s freedom. A woman I met at a cocktail party several months ago quipped to me, after hearing about my blog, “Wanting an open marriage is nature’s way of telling you that you need a divorce.”  An affair is one way for a woman to test her wings or to bide her time until an opportune moment arises. The wife of a close male friend of mine confided in me that she intended to leave her husband and that she had a definite timetable. She calculated she would be finished graduate school in fifteen more months and would then be graduated and gone in sixteen. Her departure would coincide almost to the day with her first paycheck. You can well imagine the dilemma this confession put me in. I found myself avoiding my male friend for the next sixteen months.

Some women contemplating an affair are already thinking about what a second husband would be like. Many others have had enough of marriage, at least for now, and are looking for a lover for the sake of a worthwhile affair and nothing more.

For a start, a first requirement that you owe your paramour is to be honest about the state and prospects of your marriage, at least as you understand them at the time. If you’re determined to maintain your marriage at all costs, then don’t let him hope that someday you’ll leave your husband and run away with him. Men tend to feel they’re irresistible, so if you’re serious about remaining married, you cannot stress it too much or too early in the relationship.

On the other hand, if you’re more or less looking for an excuse to get out of the marriage, and perhaps someone who is willing to act as a co-respondent in a divorce action should you be found out, then it’s only fair to say this as well. When later you do leave your husband, you have precluded any potential guilt on the part of your lover that he was a home wrecker who broke up an otherwise satisfactory marriage. Being honest here also warns him that you may not always take the need for discretion very seriously.

Love affairs do sometimes change things, and you may decide later that your initial intent needs to be revised. All you can do is to level with him about how you feel at the time.

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First Wife, Second Wife

Many a man owes his success to his first wife—and his second wife to his success.
—Jim Backus

In traditional courtship, unmarried women were pursued by unmarried men with the explicit intent of getting them paired off and safely wed. When this ideal norm was broken, as it often was, the most common variation was the situation of an unmarried woman being courted by a married man. The triangles that resulted from this pairing have been the subject of many stories, plays, and movies. The wife was compared and contrasted with the mistress, and the question was would the man leave his wife and children.

The unmarried woman in this situation was usually advised not to believe any of his stated intentions because in the end, he would be won back by responsibilities and respectability, and the disillusioned mistress would have wasted her time.

Cover of "Marital Affairs"

It’s interesting that a belief that the mistress would be used and abandoned has persisted despite the evidence that in nearly half of all marriages, somebody does leave somebody, and it isn’t at all uncommon that the precipitating event involves the husband leaving his wife for another woman. In any case, if the goal of courtship was supposed to be marriage, the man who was already married was a poor risk. From the woman’s point of view, his marital status was critical. The same applied to the less common situation of a married woman being courted by a single man. If one begins with a different perspective and approaches a love relationship as an end in itself, then the issue of marital status makes a difference mostly in terms of the logistics of the affair.

The married man who makes a good lover is the one who can handle the complexities of loving more than one person and who gives the mistress a legitimate place in his life. He recognizes the legitimacy of her claims on his time and attention. However, you must cope with the need for secrecy and must adapt to his unpredictable time schedule.

The problems of the backstreet mistress have been documented endlessly. In fact, there was a 1941 film, later remade in the early sixties, called Back Street, which, predictably, ended in the mistress being cast aside. However, in fact, an attentive married man might even be preferable to an unmarried one. He will, of necessity, be less possessive; and he does not have the option of trying to turn you into his wife.

If you’re  married, the main advantage of having an affair with a man who is also married is that he has as much to lose as you do if the relationship becomes public. He will, therefore, be most rigorous in taking precautions and most understanding of your circumstances. The disadvantage, of course, is that instead of having to worry about one set of schedules, you have to worry about two, and both may be relatively inflexible. There’s also no safe and obvious trysting place. He has to take you to the no-tell motel, and you can only hope that sometimes, there is truth in advertising.

Freud observed that in every marriage bed, there were really four persons to be concerned with: the bride, the groom, the bride’s father, and the groom’s mother. In the adulterous affair between two married people, the hypothetical marital bed is even more crowded: you must make room as well for his current wife and your current husband. When four people rather than two must be taken into account, the situation is made more than twice as complex. Add children of various ages, and it becomes a scenario worthy of a double agent.

Fortunately, the rewards for both the errant wife and the errant lover are often so delightful and so sustaining that it’s worth it all. Indeed, the very poignancy of an impossible situation and the necessity of love expressed from afar may add intensity and a magic melancholy, which is the essence of romance. The drama of star-crossed lovers may make their occasional coming together that much more marvelous, both literally and figuratively. In the long-running Broadway play The Fantasticks, two young lovers are presented with as many deliberate obstacles as possible, so their love for each other will be that much more intense and romantic for having had to overcome them.

These lines,

Two households both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hand unclear

begin the prologue of Romeo and Juliet, the world’s most celebrated star-crossed lovers.

Single Men, Married Men, and Sorta Married Men

No man worth having is true to his wife, or can be true to his wife, or ever was, or ever will be so.
—Sir John Vanbrugh, The Relapse
The world is always more complex than it first seems. At first glance, it would be natural to consider single men, and perhaps married men as well, as potential lovers. Among single men, we could include those who have never married as well as the divorced and the widowed.

Cover of "Married Men"

Cover of Married Men

Alas, it is not that simple. A man who is separated is still technically married in that he cannot yet remarry. However, he usually thinks and acts single and is socially considered that way.

A man who is living with someone is outwardly viewed as a married man by society even if he is not legally married. The U.S. census calls him a POSLQ, which is ungainly bureaucratese for “persons of the opposite sex sharing living quarters.” He is, perhaps, not quite a common-law husband, which is a matter-of-legal definition, but he is certainly more than a boyfriend.

To make matters even more complex, there are also degrees of being married. Some men seem to be “barely married” in that they come and go as they please and, in general, act as if they were single in spite of a wife and children who technically live in the same place with them. On the other hand, some men are “dreadfully married” in that their wife is a constant presence to be taken into account whether she happens to be physically present or not.

If you’re a single woman who selects a single man as a lover, you’ll find that he presents  no real problems. In this permissive day and age, lovers can be quite open about their affair, and few people are likely to object openly. The end point of the affair is also open: it could easily lead to marriage, or it could easily not. The situation is balanced and relatively uncomplicated.

If you’re a married woman with a single man as a lover, you’ll find that he presents a number of advantages. If you’re constrained by when your husband gets home or by when you can get a babysitter (and many other domestic details), your lover can arrange his time to suit your erratic schedule. The disadvantage is that in a very short time, he will resent having to do so. Men are used to being the ones who make arrangements and call the shots even in such trivial ways as deciding the time for a date. The married woman with an unmarried paramour reverses the roles and must do so with considerable tact. Conveniently, the unmarried man has to live some place; and often, his own home will provide a safe and opportune location for the affair.

The unmarried lover of a married woman is in a relatively powerful position in that his relationship is not balanced by a relationship with a wife. Almost always, that means he will exercise his right to have other women, just as you, as a married woman, have another man. The jealousy you may experience is made twice as hard because you have no legitimate grounds for complaint and because you are never exactly sure whom you should be jealous of or why. On the other hand, with a married man, his wife provides a clear-cut target for any jealousy you might feel.

The most common kinds of affairs, however, involve two other possible combinations: a single woman with a married man and a married woman with a married man. The subject of upcoming posts.

Married Women Hunger For Love Too

Where there is marriage without love, there will be love without marriage.
—Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard

Cover of "The Loveless Marriage (G K Hall...

Cover via Amazon

Falling in love and getting married are supposed to solve the problem of the hunger for love. Unfortunately, all too often, it does not quite work that way. Sometimes, a marriage becomes loveless or, at least, is felt by the wife to be loveless because of her husband’s distant behavior. The opposite of love is not hatred but indifference.

The indifferent husband does not interact with his wife with much intensity. He has other concerns and preoccupations, be they his work or sports, and his interest in his wife appears to be exhausted. It well may be that he still loves her, but he has ceased to show it in any meaningful way. A woman friend of mine told me that she remembered exactly when she decided to have her first affair. “I was feeling neglected and finally asked him straight out, ‘Do you love me?’ He looked up from his newspaper and answered, ‘Of course, I love you. That’s my job.’ And he went back to reading his newspaper. That did it. I couldn’t imagine having nothing but that attitude for the rest of my life. I’m too young to just give up having a good life.”

Women in Contemporary Relationships

I think we can all agree that romantic relationships have changed dramatically over the past 50 years.

A mere two generations ago relationships and marriage were rather vanilla. Couples were heterosexual, of the same race/ethnicity, religion, social/economic and political background – so much for diversity. Also, marital roles were fairly circumscribed – men were the breadwinners and women the homemakers. There were shared expectations about sex roles for men and women, which were primarily based on what constituted masculine and feminine behavior. Premarital sex was taboo – at least for women. There were “good” girls and “bad” girls, and I don’t think I need to tell you what made a good girl good or bad girl bad. In any given couple, the man was usually older, taller, better educated, and financially better off than the woman.  All things that defer more power to the man than the women. Few women worked outside the home. And when they did, it was to supplement her husband’s substantially larger income.

Well, so much for the good ole days. Today’s relationships run the gamut of the rainbow – heterosexual/gay, interracial/ethnic, interfaith, binational, older women and younger men, couples from widely different social, economic, political backgrounds. Women have full fledged careers and they are financially independent. For women, being a virgin – or almost a virgin – is no longer a prerequisite to marriage.  All in all, women today have a range of options and opportunities that far outstrip those of our grandmothers or even our mothers.

It all sounds wonderful.  However, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, many of our social values that govern love, sex and marriage remain markedly different for men and women in many ways. While both men and women may openly and freely engage in the pursuit of love and sex, how they reach their quest is not always the same.

"The world turned upside down" (gend...

“The world turned upside down” (gender-role reversal) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our cultural traditions are strong and differences in the socialization and physiology of men and women remain a reality. And unfortunately, or fortunately – depending on your personal views–many traditional sex roles remain deeply embedded in modern-day relationships – straight and gay. When these traditional roles collide with the realities of modern day – which they often do – couples find themselves in conflict.

While contemporary relationships may be much more rewarding than the those of our parents and grandparents, they are also much more complex and difficult.

Through this blog, I want to explore the relatively new emotional and sexual freedoms that women have gained through their struggle  for equality and freedom of sexual expression in contemporary relationships – including a woman’s option of having a lover(s) if she so chooses.

Each week I will post some specific thoughts about women in contemporary relationships for comment and discussion. Hope you will join in on what I believe will be a fun, enlightening and rewarding blog.

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