How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘Relationships’

The Practice to Deceive

The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey

Most of the time, if a man and woman want to have a love affair and if they are both serious about keeping their affiliation unknown, it’s possible to do so. It’s much more possible in a large city than in a small town, it’s much

more possible without children than with them, it’s much more possible if only one of the parties is married. Nevertheless, it can be done and indeed is being done all around you all the time. Linda Wolfe, in Playing Around: Women and Extramarital Sex, describes her surprise at discovering that her West Side Manhattan neighborhood, which appeared on the surface to be a world exclusively of mothers and children, was in reality a world shared extensively with male paramours, some of them fantasized, others quite real. Just in her small apartment building alone, four of the eight married women with small children were having affairs.

Cover of "Playing Around: Women and Extra...

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Sometimes, the cuckolded husbands and wives involved are very naive; more often, they have decided at some level of consciousness that they would rather not know. Sometimes, the participants are skilled at maintaining a suitable image so that there is no reason for suspicion. Sometimes, they are skilled at dispelling any suspicions which do arise.

And sometimes, of course, they eventually just don’t care and gleefully toss cats out of their bags and let them land where they may.

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Taking Chances: Wives Who Have Affairs

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...

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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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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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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.

Rule Eight: Minimize Jealousy

Yet he was jealous, though he did not show it, For jealousy dislikes the world to know it.
—George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron: Don Juan

In any relationship, whether or not the couple is married, there is the specter of jealousy. The woman may be jealous of the man’s money and the power it conveys; the man may be jealous of the woman’s education and cultural refinement. A husband may be jealous of his wife’s right to stay home and not confront the rigors of the marketplace; his wife may be jealous of his exciting career which contrasts too sharply with her own dull domestic existence. A father may be jealous of the affection the children shower on their mother, while the mother may be jealous of her husband’s ability to reap the benefits of parenthood without contributing sufficiently to its physical and emotional demands.

In other words, there may exist in a given relationship a state of barely suppressed outrage that, for one reason or another, one person is getting more than his share of joy and the other more than her share of grief (or vice versa). It’s not fair! If you add to that the possibility of one person having a lover or lovers, then the potential is increased many fold.

In our culture, men, even more than women, have been socialized to think of love in terms of possession. Nearly any man will rebel at the thought of any other male being with “his” woman. The man with whom you have only a casual relationship may well be presumptuous when he regards you as “his”: the husband or the long-term lover has a more valid case. The most legitimate kind of jealousy and the one the world most readily understands and takes seriously is jealousy stemming from another love relationship. Sexual jealousy, although strong, is not necessarily more or less intense than jealousy from  other sources. The root of jealousy is in whatever one partner feels insecure about. Once you have assessed what that is, then you have some insight into what the sources of trouble are likely to be with a particular man.

Jealous Girls

Jealous Girls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A problem with minimizing jealousy is that many women rather like their men to be jealous. They view it as a sign of love, and the more intense the response, the more loved they feel. Sometimes, a woman will deliberately go out of her way to provoke jealousy: when her man reacts to the red flag she is waving, she feels desirable and powerful.

Creating jealousy isn’t only an unkind and inconsiderate act, but it’s also a tactic of dubious worth in terms of providing emotional reassurance. The intensity of a man’s jealous response doesn’t necessarily tell you much about his love for you or lack of it.  As de La Rochefoucauld points out in one of his many maxims, “Jealousy is always born with love, but it does not always die with it.”

A man’s jealousy may tell you more about his own insecurities and his possessiveness than it does about his feelings for you. Unless your intention is unkind and you wish to torment and punish, deliberately creating jealousy is playing with fire, which is always a dangerous game.

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