How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘sexual relationships’

Collusion: The Blind Eye

I pray that I may not be married
But if I am to be married
that I may not be cuckold
but that if I am to be a cuckold
that I may not know it
but if I know it
that I may not care.
—Anonymous Bachelor’s Prayer, circa 1650

In a number of cases, the practice to deceive a husband about an ongoing or prospective affair is simplified by his implicit, and sometimes explicit, agreement not to notice anything. The wife and her husband enter into what amounts to collusion, thereby saving face on both sides. If he doesn’t ask, she doesn’t have to lie; if he doesn’t know of an affair, then he doesn’t have to do anything about it.

Such an arrangement may often occur in a marriage of convenience where there’s little pretense of affection between the husband and wife. They simply agree to lead separate lives and come together only when the business of the marriage, in the form of children or property or social functions, demands it.

A parallel arrangement may also exist for couples who are quite fond of each other but have made a realistic assessment of the importance of their sexual bond. In fiction, the well-known story of Lady Chatterley and her lover involves the explicit permission of her husband to take a lover, and indeed to have a child by him, since the husband was crippled and paralyzed and could not provide an heir for himself. Righteous indignation eventually came, not because she had an affair but because she selected a gamekeeper who was too déclassé to be considered an equal.

History provides some real-life examples of husband-wife collusion. When Lord Horatio Nelson began his infamous affair with Lady Emma Hamilton, they were both living in the same house as her husband Sir William Hamilton, her senior by thirty years. Husband and lover were friends, although there is little doubt that Sir William knew the real parentage of “his” daughter, especially when Lady Emma named her Horatia. He simply announced his quiet determination that the peace of his household would not be disturbed, and apparently it was not.

Emma, Lady Hamilton, by George Romney (died 18...

Emma, Lady Hamilton, by George Romney (died 1802). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similar situations occur in the contemporary world. There is a vivacious, sensuous wife, a mother of two that I know, who habitually goes out to play bridge or to see a movie or something equally innocuous and returns home at two or

three in the morning and explains that she and the girls “just got to talking and forgot the time.” She has been married for nearly twenty years and has been playing bridge far into the night for at least eighteen of them. She has learned a lot more than Goren and the Blackwood convention.

Her suburban husband watches the eleven o’clock news and then goes to bed and goes to sleep. Sometimes if he wakes up at four and she’s still not back, he worries. She could have had a car accident or be in some kind of trouble. He’s reassured when she comes home all right and goes back to sleep. Sometimes, since he is awake anyway, they make love first.

Eighteen years. He does not ask how the bridge game went. Various men show up at various times to take her to lunch. After lunch, they tend to stay for dinner at the house. The husband is gracious enough, plays the good host, and then retires to his study and his books.

Peering through the window into the mystery of other people’s marriages, one must conclude that the husband does know what’s going on but chooses not to recognize it. This is what is meant by “the blind eye.”

Unless a man has decided that he wants to divorce his wife, presenting a blind eye to her affairs or to the possibility of her affairs is an excellent and wise strategy. If he officially knows, then he’s required to act, and none of the available options for action is very appealing. Oliver Goldsmith considered all of this and concluded that, in the Western world, not seeing may well be the best answer. In The Citizen of the World, he writes, “If I were an English husband, I would take care not to be jealous, nor busily pry into the secrets my wife was pleased to keep from me . . . Whenever I went out, I’d tell my wife where I was going, lest I should unexpectedly meet her abroad in the company of some dear deceiver. Whenever I returned, I would use a particular rap at the door, and give four loud ‘hems’ as I walked deliberately up the staircase. I would never inquisitively peep under her bed, nor look behind the curtains. And even though I knew the Captain was there, I would calmly take a dish of my wife’s cool tea and talk of the army with reverence.”

There are two players in such a charade: one who deceives and one who agrees to be deceived. Vicki Baum puts the same message somewhat differently in And Life Goes On when she observes, “Marriage always demands the greatest understanding of the art of insincerity possible between two human beings.”

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...

Cover via Amazon

 

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.

Second Caveat: No Bastard Children

There is no word equivalent to “cuckold” for women.
—Joseph Epstein

In medieval times, a man whose wife deceived him with another man was called a cuckold, a pejorative term which fortunately isn’t used much anymore. The origin of the term “cuckold” is revealing. If you are interested in ornithology, the study of birds, you may have come across accounts of the habits of the cuckoo bird. Cuckoos solve the problem of the perpetuation of their species by the simple expedient of laying eggs in other bird’s nests and departing, leaving other birds of another species to raise the young cuckoos.

Once upon a time, observers might signal the approach of a man who was committing adultery with someone’s wife, or who had designs in that direction, by warning the husband with a whispered “cuckoo, cuckoo.” Eventually, the term got changed around to refer to the betrayed not the betrayer and became “cuckold.”

Calling All Cuckoos

Calling All Cuckoos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare and other authors perpetuated the literary myth that such a man was burdened with a set of horns on his head, which others could see, but of which he was blissfully unaware. It was another version of the truism that the husband, or the wife, is often the last to know. In Italy, one of the most unforgivable insults still is to make the sign of the “cornu” at someone: taking your index and pinkie and putting them on top of your head to resemble horns.

On the issue of bastard children, there are some real legal and moral differences in the situation of single women compared with married ones. If you are single, you might decide to have a child but choose not to get married. You have a right to become a mother without becoming a wife. It’s the contention of many that, as long as you expect nothing of the father, you don’t need to have his consent or, indeed, don’t even need to inform him. It would seem that, if such is your intent, having a child through artificial insemination would be a better alternative, but there is nothing to stop you using the old-fashioned way if this is your decision.

However, if you’re married, any child you have is legally the child of your husband and is assumed to be so socially and emotionally. A husband has the right to certainty of the parenthood of “his” own children. As the lyrics from The King and I caution, “But blossom never ever float from bee to bee to bee.” A basic assumption is that the married woman having an affair has no right to get pregnant by another man. Her body is her own, as is her sexuality; but her children are to be shared for as long as she stays married, and usually after that.

The married woman must be especially scrupulous and fastidious not to let herself get pregnant by her lover rather than by her husband.

 

 

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First Caveat: Facing the Risk of Exposure

You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
—Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

In relating to a paramour, the first thing a wife must decide is just how secret her affair has to be. To decide this usually means deciding whether or not she wants to maintain the viability of her marriage and, if so, for how long. If a couple who embarks upon an illicit affair takes seriously the need to remain undetected, both participants can usually avoid exposure and embarrassment. Most of the time, they get away with it, and no one is the wiser. Most of the time.

A word of warning. A serious word. If someone, a husband or a lover, decides that he does want to know what you do, where you go, and when and with whom, then he can find out. A skilled detective can know more about you in a few weeks than you care to know about yourself. A bugged telephone is not entirely a far-fetched idea if total surveillance is what someone has in mind. Such techniques are expensive, but even those of modest means may decide that the price is worth it if the stakes are high. Few husbands are this unscrupulous or this paranoid, but if there’s enough at stake, it’s always possible for such drastic measures to be taken.

When a married woman has an affair, she must also remember that there are more people potentially involved in the question of secrecy than herself and her husband. She may also be subject to scrutiny by her lover’s wife, or girlfriend, who resents her poaching on what she considers “her” territory.  Your lover’s wife may need to be able to prove his adultery to establish her own alimony payments, and you end up being an unwilling co-respondent in a divorce action. His girlfriend may be simply curious to know what is going on. And if he’s in a position of power and authority, he is always vulnerable to the blackmail of opponents who will resort to whatever techniques they think will work. Mr. Sterling are you paying attention?

Adultery

Adultery (Photo credit: tugwilson)

Jealousy can be a desperate thing leading to desperate measures. Adultery may also involve serious practical issues: who gets a divorce, contested or otherwise; who gets custody of the children; who does or does not pay alimony.
It is unlikely that anyone will be interested enough in your affairs to go to such drastic lengths to discover and document them, but it is possible, and that possibility is something to assess and to keep in mind.

An outraged husband I know, determined to avoid alimony and to keep custody of his children, led his wife to believe that he would be out of town overnight. He anticipated that she would take advantage of his absence, as she had on other occasions, to entertain her lover in their master bedroom. He quietly let himself into the house and, using equipment he had set up the previous day, secretly taped her activities, using her own video recorder. She was so appalled at the video tape he subsequently produced that she meekly signed over everything to him and retreated to a commune in New Mexico to think things out.

Schoolchildren often advise each other, “Be good. If you can’t be good, be careful.” Out of the mouths of babes can come some sound advice. Be careful.

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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...

Cover via Amazon

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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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.

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