How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘sexual adultery’

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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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.”

The Apathetic Husband

Never mind “Is there life after death?” That is too abstract. What I really want to Know is: “Is there sex after marriage?”
—Jadah Vaughn

One of George Bernard Shaw’s often quoted sayings observes that marriage remains popular because it combines “the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.” Usually, Shaw’s epigrams are quite pithy; but in this instance, he is mistaken. A honeymoon might well combine temptation with opportunity, but cohabitation does not, especially if the marriage is of long duration. Familiarity need not breed contempt, but it very often does breed sexual apathy.

My Cheating Heart

My Cheating Heart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was passion in a marriage can become so vitiated, so watered-down, and so dissipated that it is hardly worthy of the name. In some marriages, perhaps in many, the act of love becomes an act of sex and an infrequent one at that. When you have reached the stage where you make love on Saturday nights, and Saturday nights only; when you have reached the stage where you have sex rather than making love, only late on Saturday nights in the dark; and when you have reached the stage when you have sex on Saturday nights only, late at night in the dark and quickly, without words, then you have reached the stage where you owe it to yourself to take a lover. You owe it to yourself, not only for the desolation you experience now, but also for the desolation you will feel when you are old and look back on thirty years of such encounters—one thousand and forty consecutive Saturday nights of minimal fulfillment.

You owe it to the old lady you will become to give her something better than those passionless encounters to reminisce about and then either exaggerate or deny, depending on your perspective.

Married Women Will Seek Lovers Too

There is a proverb, “As you have made your bed, so you must lie in it,” which is simply a lie. If I have made my bed uncomfortably, please God. I will make it again.
—G. K. Chesterton

What is it that motivates a wife to take a lover? Those acts, which in retrospect come to be recognized as decisions, have a multiplicity of roots. Some wives are pushed toward an affair by an unsatisfactory marriage. The really unlucky ones are those who were unhappy with their husbands from the start, either because they picked a man with whom they could never be compatible or because they discovered too late that they were not really the marrying kind.

Marriage Day

Marriage Day (Photo credit: Fikra)

Other wives have had a period of marital happiness, but later find their marriages stultifying and unrewarding. Sometimes, the women have changed; sometimes, their husbands have. A girl who married very young may have found exactly the kind of husband she wanted, only to later change her mind. She may have selected exactly the kind of nice boy who seemed ideal when she was seventeen and then found at twenty-seven that nice boys are boring. Alternatively, the man may have himself changed with time.

In Fear of Flying, Erica Jong has her heroine lament, “I longed for him as he was when I first met him. The man he had become was disappointing.” In conventional wedlock, the emphasis was on the “lock.” Once a husband had won his wife, she was, in effect, his chattel and she had, virtually, no other options but to remain his wife. He could rest on his laurels until they rusted and still be assured of her presence.

In modern marriage, the relationship is more one of a voluntary partnership. Neither husband nor wife is obligated to stay married—and so neither can become totally secure and complacent that once a mate has been won, that individual will remain his or her possession for life. A husband or wife must not only convince a mate to want to marry but must also continually convince him or her to want to stay married.

Waiting for a husband to change and for a deteriorated relationship to rehabilitate itself is indeed an exercise of faith. In many cases, it is a lot like Waiting for Godot who, in the Samuel Beckett play, never shows up even though the watchful and undeterred Valdimir and Estragon wait and wait and wait for him to come.

In pharmacology, there is a category of drugs called palliatives. They do not cure what is wrong with you, but they mitigate some of the symptoms and make you feel better. They are anodynes which relieve distress or pain and soothe the mind and feelings.

In a marriage, there may come a point where a wife has accumulated a whole bale of last straws. Taking a lover may be a desperate palliative before chucking the whole unfulfilling enterprise.

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