How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘mistress’

The Borrowed Husband

Husbands are chiefly good lovers when they are betraying their wives.
—Marilyn Monroe

Given the response to my previous posts about women having affairs with married men, I believe a word on the ethics of such involvements with married men is needed. In the first place, you should assume that a man old enough to be married is old enough to be responsible for his own actions. You don’t, indeed couldn’t, induce, seduce, entice, or otherwise abduct him away from home and hearth if he didn’t wish to be waylaid.

Well, to be strictly accurate, maybe you could hornswoggle a husband into a compromising position if you were outrageous enough and if he were drunk enough, tired enough, or provoked enough. The man may be strong, but his flesh is weak. Even if such a seduction could be successfully staged, it is hardly the kind of relationship I’ve been focused on in my posts.

First, if a husband enters into an affair, he must want to enter into an affair. The moral implication of what that does to his promises to his wife and to the nature of his understanding with her are his problems, not yours. Second, having an affair doesn’t necessarily compromise his marriage, especially when having him for a husband isn’t among your aspirations. It is a fact, although not a widely acknowledged one, that in a number of cases, a mistress is a stabilizing influence rather than a disruptive one. An extramarital connection may make bearable a situation that would otherwise be unbearable without the emotional underpinnings of the affair.

Cover of "Husbands (Extended Cut)"

The most obvious examples of such situations are those where the wife is, in some way, sick or disabled; but these are, by no means, the only instances. Marriage involves many obligations or, to use an old-fashioned word, “duties.” A husband may be able to carry out his duties to his wife and his responsibilities to his children better with the help of a mistress than without her. Having a mistress may very well lessen a man’s feelings of marital discontent and his overall desire to end his marriage. It is not an argument that many wives are likely to buy, but it may well be true all the same.

It may also be true, of course, that the presence of a mistress raises discontent that did not previously exist in the marriage. I doubt that the impulse for extramarital connections comes willy-nilly from a scene of domestic bliss. The seeds of the liaison are there long before the first introduction is made. You can’t “steal” a husband unless he wants to be stolen. Or since wives don’t own husbands, and husbands don’t own wives, it would be more precise to say, “You can’t entice a man into an extramarital connection unless something about his marital connection makes him want to be enticed.”

As one unrepentant mistress explained to me, “I’ve never stolen a husband. When one was just sitting around and no one was using him anyway, I may have borrowed one once in a while, but I always sent him home when I was done.”

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.

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