How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘emotional infidelity’

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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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.”

Love, Oh Practically Perfect Love

Infatuation is when you think he’s as sexy as Robert Redford, as smart as Henry Kissinger, as noble as Ralph Nader, as funny as Woody Allen, and as athletic as Jimmy Connors. Love is when you realize that he’s as sexy as Woody Allen, as smart as Jimmy Connors, as funny as Ralph Nader, as athletic as Henry Kissinger, and nothing like Robert Redford—but you’ll take him anyway.
—Judith Viorst, Redbook

In the best of all possible worlds, it would be ideal to find that a lover who was just right for you in terms of emotion and affection was also just right for you in terms of erotic fulfillment. Unfortunately, in real life, that’s often not the case. The man with overtly tender and affectionate concern for you, the emotional marathoner, may not make love with you at all or may do so very seldom or may not do so very well when he does. The swordsman, who is turned on and gives of himself freely in bed, may not have much love or even much affection once dressed and out of bed.

Many a maiden is still dreaming of the perfect prince who will one day come, who will make her come, and who will love her at all levels all at once. But later, many a woman realizes that love in the many forms she desires isn’t to be found all at once in the arms of any one man. She gives up on the perfect prince and begins to look around for a make-do prince instead . . . maybe a mere duke, or maybe a mere commoner. The road to love is a series of compromises from the fantasy of girlhood to the world-weary cynicism of old age. There is Mr. Right, but there is also Mr. Right Now, Mr. Right for Me at this Moment, etc. Fortunately, in affairs of the heart, even mistakes can be glorious.

Cover of "Mr. Right Now"

Writer Suzanne Jordan is correct when she asserts that “the perfect mate, despite what Cosmopolitan magazine says, doesn’t exist no matter how many of those tests you take.” However, Merle Shain is also correct in asserting that “some men are more perfect than others.” What’s needed is a new oxymoron: things don’t have to be perfect; they only have to be perfect enough. A lover who is perfect enough is just fine. Finding him is a much easier task than finding the absolutely perfect man of your fantasies.

Our technology is so proficient that we can get quite carried away with our expectations of what we need—or think we need. With an imposed sixty-five-mile speed limit, we still delight in buying a car that can cruise at a hundred miles per hour without effort. Almost every kitchen has an eight-speed blender when most cooks only need one marked Fast and Slow. Home audio systems can be so elaborate and powerful that only your dog can hear the differences, and the speakers can never be turned up more than one-tenth of their volume capacity. A camera used for family snapshots nevertheless is selected because it is capable of shooting at one-thousandth of a second. This kind of technological overkill produces products which are far more perfect than necessary. A camera shooting at one-five-hundredth of a second produces satisfactory pictures for half the price. The man who isn’t perfect but who’s perfect enough may well be the one to love you throughout a lovely love affair.

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is widely quoted as reflecting philosophically: “If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not, you will also regret it.” The same applies to your decision of whether to picking a lover. If you take a lover, you may regret it; if you don’t take a lover, you may also regret it.

The question you need to consider is this, when you are an old lady of ninety-two, reflecting on the past decades, which will you regret the most: the sins you committed or the sins you omitted? In my conversations with old ladies, guarded as they are, they usually suggest regret for opportunities lost, for time wasted, for doors not opened, and for experiences not enjoyed.

The poet Robert Herrick gives timeless advice, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” He is speaking “to the virgins, to make much of time,” but he might well speak to other women too. It’s healthy to enjoy the men of the world while they are as eager to enjoy you. It’s healthy to experience as much as you can of what life has to offer. And the devil take the hindmost, whatever that is. The philosopher Bertrand Russell offers a sound conclusion, “Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.” If you must love, love bravely.

Lovers Are Not For Everyone: Traditional Wives

I’ve only slept with men I’ve been married to. How many women can make that claim?
—Elizabeth Taylor

English: Studio publicity portrait of the Amer...

Elizabeth Taylor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another kind of woman who won’t want a lover is the married woman who is committed to being faithful to her husband. Some fortunate wives would never consider taking a lover because they find, in their own husbands, all the affection and sexuality that they desire. For them, there is no need for more love or a different love. As Sir Charles Sedley points out in “Reasons for Constancy,” “When change itself can give no more, ’tis easy to be true.”

Other wives may think wistfully of men more appealing than their husbands, but they are firmly and irrevocably committed to the principle of marital fidelity. Such a good wife may be inhibited from fully loving any man she isn’t married to or isn’t intending to marry. Elizabeth Taylor-Hilton-Wilding-Todd-Fisher-Burton-Burton-Warner-Fortensky may not be exactly your idea of a traditional wife, but on this issue, at least she had traditional attitudes.

Other wives may be faithful for a lifetime, not because they are particularly infatuated with their husbands, but because they are not particularly tempted by anyone else. Such women may seem to be very virtuous, but in fact, they are merely apathetic. Their energies have been channeled into other things, such as careers or children, which take precedence over love and romance. The absence of a lover is not a sacrifice for them, and the prospect of a lover doesn’t entice them. They are, in effect, faithful by default.

Finally, there are some wives who would love to have a lover, but they cannot find the kind of man that they want. Or they would love to have a lover, but they don’t have the courage. They think of a lover, and they visualize jealous husbands and gossiping aunts and sleazy private eyes. They think of a lover, and they remember the scene of sudden, violent death that was the shocking climax in the movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar. In real life, taking a lover can sometimes be hazardous; and drastic consequences can, in fact, occur.

As Mark Twain observed, “There are several good protections against temptation, but the surest is cowardice.”

Flirtation: Attention without Intention

A woman may very well form a friendship with a man, but for this to endure, it must be assisted by a little physical antipathy.
—Friedrich Nietzsche

Why bother to have a lover who is not really a lover? Many reasons. There are, after all, a number of historical precedents.

Consider, for example, the good Queen Victoria, who was surely the epitome of all that is moral and proper. After the death of her beloved Prince Albert, she was distraught and sought consolation from one John Brown, who had been an attendant to her late husband. John Brown was made her personal servant; but as depicted in the movie Mrs. Brown, featuring Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, Brown obviously far exceeded that modest role. Their relationship was extremely close emotionally, and his privileges at Windsor Castle certainly reflected a great deal of trust and intimacy. Were they lovers? No one knows. There was speculation. There were rumors. If you can’t trust Queen Victoria, who can you trust?

In prior posts, I’ve talked as if  the new sexual freedoms women now have, magically transformed them into completely sexual creatures. Often, this is simply not the case. It may not be a case of moral guilt or psychological hang-ups as much as simply an absence of desire. Certainly, there can be an absence of desire for a particular man, someone whose body does not seem erotic even though he is lovable in many other ways. A woman may prefer not to have to bother with sex. If she doesn’t want to bother, such a turn of phrase reveals so much of her attitude that it’s probably just as well that she doesn’t.

The lover who is not reallya lover may be willing to be emotionally involved with a woman, yet unwilling to be physically involved with her, especially if she is married. To love her emotionally is acceptable, but to make love to her isn’t because that would be adultery. According to the Bible, a man who lusts after a woman has already committed adultery in his heart. There can be, however, a curious kind of doublethink wherein having an affair of the heart, which technically is not consummated, does not count. It is not really adultery and is therefore acceptable. Some women committed to the ideal of premarital chastity may use much the same reasoning so that they may be sexually experienced while technically remaining virgins.

Cover of "Emotional Infidelity: How to Av...

Such an affair may evoke the same jealousy that a betrayed spouse feels when his mate is physically unfaithful. In actuality, such emotional infidelity may be harder for the spouse to accept than would a casual affair, which could be dismissed as an impulsive roll in the hay or a one-night stand.

Be that as it may, as long as the lovers can maintain that it didn’t happen, they have what seems to them an impeccable moral position. When confronted, they will even manage a little sanctimony and lament the kind of world in which simple platonic friendship is disallowed. They will even muster some righteous indignation at what from the outside seem to be perfectly well-founded suspicions.

Should you take a eunuch lover (see previous post), you need a husband of considerable trust and/or credulity in order to carry off what seems to be a flagrant disregard for convention. You then have the freedom to be quite open about your comings and goings with him. What is the husband to think? What are the neighbors to think? One obvious explanation is that the man in question is less than a real man and is a eunuch in his heart, if not in actuality.

A woman I know came home late to an angry husband who demanded to know where she had been. She confessed that she had been drinking at the Purple Cow, a local tavern.
“I don’t want you hanging out with men in bars,” he said.
“But I was with Freddy,” she said.
“Oh,” he said, “well, at least you could have called to tell me that you’d
be late.”

Being with Freddy didn’t count. Freddy was not a real man and so could not be threatening. Once Freddy knows how he is regarded, and he is not gay, then one wonders how it will make him feel. He is the kind of man with whom one’s wife is absolutely safe, not because he or she are so honorable, but because he is so—safe.

The decadent East has a treasury of erotic literature in which the roles of the potentate, harem girl, and the eunuch figure prominently. One theme of these tales is the delights which await the man who pretends to be a eunuch in order to get into the harem, but who is not, and is instead a fox among the chickens.

Another theme is the eunuch who is not totally a eunuch in that he is still capable of an erection and of some sexual feeling. Sexologists allow that this is possible if unlikely. The eunuch lover who is presented as such to the world in general and to the husband in particular has an especially provident game plan in that he can have all of the enjoyments with none of the penalties. He must learn two maxims which both he and his ladylove must say repeatedly, “Deny, deny, deny,” followed by “That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.”

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