During several casual lunched in Connecticut with women friends last fall, the conversation invariably seemed to turn to married women and their lovers. On another occasion, this time at a trendy New York restaurant, a friend spoke almost wistfully of her friend who was blithely conducting a torrid love affair with a married man while remaining happily married and deeply committed to mothering. “This guy,” my lunch date reported, “makes every part of her life better, even marriage. Don’t roll your eyes-that’s a direct quote.”
Soon after, I sat at a dinner party in the country and listened to yet another friend whisper a similar story, her admiration and envy obvious. And when I ran on the beach last summer, a jogging friend told me of her own “new” friend. It appeared that, wherever I turned, someone was having an extramarital affair. I was amazed, yet fascinated by the realization. Was it so prevalent? Did it affect married women everywhere? From all walks of life? How do they find the time and energy, I wondered- with children, a career, a demanding husband? How does an affair get started in the first place, and where do they meet afterwards without getting caught? And what about AIDS-aren’t they concerned, even terrified? Did they still do it with their husbands, the same day, the same nig ht?
As a writer my curiosity was piqued; as a married woman I was overwhelmed. I wanted details, I needed reasons, I itched to hear the whole story and realized powerfully that many similarly situated women would want it too. This is why I pursued the interviews: to learn what women have to say about their secret liaisons, and to share this knowledge with other woman.
Since my initial investigations, I have discovered there are many reasons why a married woman takes a lover. The rationales are diverse an often complex. A volatile subject from the start, this exploration has not only provided I-opening insights into the female perspective on contemporary extramarital connections, but painted a sometimes startling portrait of how women in the early millennium are choosing to live their lives.
I began to read material on marriage and affairs. Much of the information seemed judgmental, moralistic and sexist. Few books gave equal time to the idea of married women conducting affairs, focusing instead on the married man and his escapades. Even fewer addressed how women felt while in the midst of these relationships.
Because it was evident to me that many of my peers were indeed engaging in these triangles, I set out simply to hear their stories, leaving aside preconceived notions of right and wrong. All of us are aware that affairs have been in existence since the beginning of times. Throughout literature mostly written by men (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenine), infidelity is a recurrent thing. So it is the nature of these bondings today which is unprecedented, as is the attitude of the women who practice them. When Nacy Friday tells us in her book Women On Top that “our sexual lives are on a different course from earlier generations,” we know it to be true.
I did not set out to re-create a Kinsey-type report, with its inevitable reams of questionable statistical data, nor to predict any emergent social trend or universal pattern. However, I do know as a certainty what is going on with a specific group of women today. Within a sphere of working-class, college-educated, middle-or upper-class married women, lovers are sought with a sense of entitlement. Women find them everywhere: in the workplace, at their children’s school, the playground, a health club, or while an addition is being built on their home. Taking lovers seem not a rite of passage, but something very=0 Apossible at any time.
I recognized from the interviews I conducted that not every relationship results in a full-fledged, long-standing affair. As a professional in the field pointed out to me, women are seeking men outside of marriage in each instance, but not also to sustain a love affair. Friendship, anger, compassion, rebellion and pure sexual fulfillment must also be given their due. Women appear to appreciate the sense of control their self-initiated action produces; that is, if a man can do it and get away with it, so can a woman. The assumption of a generation of married women have been shaken so that in their search for emotional satisfaction they have entered uncharted waters. Combine these factors with the narcissistic desire to battle growing old and less attractive, and an explosive potential for infidelity results.
The response to the project has been astonishing, from both interviewees and likely readership. It is that reaction which has impelled me to move forward, to share the fabric of the other couple, their intimacy and time together, to elicit and profile the feelings and thoughts it evokes in the women who experience the relationship. These women are the protagonist of this book; it is their stories that are told.
The women I spoke with fall between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-five. Some are childless, others have children. While they may bear little resemblance to each other in type, need an behavior, they share one common thread: the desire and willingness to go beyond monogamy, to break the marriage vows. These women may be urban or suburban or come from a small town anywhere in the United States. After putting out my initial feelers, numerous women contacted me, eager and enthusiastic, some almost driven, to recount the most personal details of their attachment to their lovers. Each adventure is special and the disclosures go beyond anything I anticipated when I first embarked on this odyssey.
The level of interest and identification with the material on the part of women has been staggering, and convinced me that I had something engrossing to share. At the same time, the virtually universal repudiation by men, especially husbands, has been equally dramatic. To say that not many husbands are pleased with the idea of their wife’s lover floating about is understatement indeed.
I have followed as many leads as possible, honing in on how woman’s affinity with this o ther partner develops and how it has impacted her marriage. The results range from divorce to a strengthen marriage, with the women’s choice the most amazing part of the process. Some women feel they can sustain both-the lover and the husband-at once. These lovers provide a range of possibilities, from substituting for a part of a woman’s marriage that is lacking to merely providing the best, kinkiest sex she’s ever known. Often women talk about the childbearing, mothering, loneliness and insecurity as ingredients that come into play. The interviews made me acutely aware that women are not alone in their needs to sensations. These interviews are for women, not in derogation of women. They are a declaration that women today are not willing to accept this area of limitation in their lives. Bold female initiatives seem a natural outgrowth of these troubled times we live in, and those who seek the full-time lover strike the boldest pose of all.
What beguiles me about the inquiry is the increasing number of women who uphold the conventional image of wife and mother, yet are absorbed in unorthodox romances with men. The contour of each relationship sheds some light on what it is that modern women desire, and why sex, passion and love do not always come in one package. Women readily discuss their attraction to their lovers. We learn who these lovers are, where they first met, how often and where their secret rendezvous take place. They describe the erotic aspect of the affair, how they react to their husbands, juggle their lives and perhaps their children’s lives too.
The double standard of fidelity still holds despite how far we’ve come. Beyond the sexual revolution, and the idealized working women of the ‘80s and ‘90s, it still stands. Something meaningful and evolutionary is heard in these women’s voices, in terms of women’s ability to achieve their full potential at last. It is in the spirit of self-discovery and self-awareness that I offer tales of the other partner.
A PASSION FOR MORE: WIVES REVEAL THE AFFAIRS THAT MAKE OR BREAK THEIR MARRIAGE
- Over 60% of all women will engage in an extra marital affair at some point in their marriage
- 65% of the interviewees reported that sex was better with the lover than in the marriage
- 70% say that their lover is the opposite of their husband
- 45% remain in their marriage after the affair
- 55% of the women interviewed leave their marriage
- 33% report their lover is the catalyst to leave a poor marriage
- 25% of the women marry their lover
- 40% view their lover as an escape
- 60% of the women believe their lover is a wake-up call
- 90% of the women have no guilt, rather they feel entitled to the affair