• Thu, Jun 16 2011

Sex And The Sixties Girl: Married Men And Me

Anna David is the executive editor of The Fix, as well as being the author of Party Girl and Bought. Her newest book, Falling For Me, wherein she tries to follow the advice in Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, is due out October 11th. She’ll be telling us about some of her adventures in this new column, Sex and the Sixties Girl.

Helen Gurley Brown perpetuated certain ideas about marriage in Sex and the Single Girl: namely that married men are fair game. When I was growing up, I had my own ideas about marriage: namely, that the two people in it remained faithful to one another. I also assumed that they weren’t all that happy together but I didn’t think those facts were related, necessarily. They were just what I concluded, I would imagine, through some combination of obsessive Brady Bunch viewing, Judy Blume reading and observations of my own parents.

My parents were, I sensed, not happy together. My ideas about happiness weren’t fully formed yet—I graded the days in my diary and only handed out automatic A+’s when Mom took us to McDonald’s—but I was fairly certain that two people who rarely communicated and seemed to have nothing in common simply couldn’t be.

They didn’t fight, really. They didn’t really interact long enough to fight.

Dad worked, all the time. That’s what we were told. And it was true. But it was also true that he had affairs—usually with women who worked for him. I don’t remember how old I was when I first learned about this, but I recall wishing I didn’t know. Mom, at a certain point, began referring to Dad’s paramours by their last names with a Ms. tacked onto the front, her trademark sarcasm on full display. “Ms. Beamen is coming to the party,” she’d say. Or “Ms. Mulvey is now running that office.” She smirked when she said it and I always suspected that my older brother, who seemed to be privy to the vagaries of the adult world in a way that I wasn’t, understood what was going on better than I did. The fact that these women were never nearly as attractive or intelligent or funny as my mom—and this isn’t some delusional my-mom-is-amazing thinking, this is straight-up inarguable fact—confused me. I couldn’t understand why Dad would want someone besides Mom. But since he did, why did he pick women who were so clearly inferior to her?

And now that I’ve traipsed down my own path with a married man, I’m really not any clearer. When I was a child, of course, I didn’t know that there were studies claiming that 80% of men were unfaithful. There were no Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner scandals. Ronald Regan seemed to be pretty good to Nancy, I never heard about my friends’ parents cheating and, growing up outside San Francisco, almost all my teachers were either female and single or male and gay.

I do know this: Helen and I agree on the point that no man or woman is going to be attracted to only one person for their entire lifetime. I’d love to say that I think healthy, boundaried flirting should be the solution to this but what do I know? I’ve never been married. Part of me questions the very notion of fidelity and thinks we set ourselves up to fail. I mean, romantic love—that is, marrying for reasons other than property and familial obligations—is a relatively new phenomenon and the way the women’s lib movement has shaken down (that is, leaving everyone overwhelmed by both career and familial obligations) hasn’t exactly left any of us living under ideal circumstances. We’re all supposed to be overworked, exhausted and only attracted to the person who may be overworking and exhausting us?

Still, I don’t exactly endorse the views on married men that Helen puts forth in Sex and the Single Girl. Her suggestion that you “use them to add spice to your life” as they use you “to varnish their egos” isn’t entirely possible for someone like me. With remarkably few exceptions, I really don’t know how to do anything casually. I am someone, after all, who took up knitting, set up a business with a friend selling hand-knit scarves and was at the chiropractor for knitting-related neck and shoulder pain all within a month. So treating a married man like, say, cumin or harissa—something to be added to an otherwise less interesting chicken recipe—just isn’t within the realm of possibilities. There’s also the matter that I saw first-hand the kind of unspoken but pervasive pain infidelity caused, not to mention the fact that the married man I fell for pummeled me—though certainly not intentionally. But, arguably even worse, I suddenly became aware that one could live an entire life this way: afterwards, you see, I suddenly found myself doused in a sort of secret perfume that seemed to attract other married men. I’d never really had a married guy so much as ask me to lunch before and suddenly they were all around, blatantly hitting on me. Was the fact that I’d considered being the other woman once suddenly emanating from me? Was it going to be like cocaine—did my willingness to try it out mean I’d end up falling past a trap door that would land me in permanent Ms. Mulvey-land with a rehab and radically different way of life my only ultimate solution?

As it turned out, no. I managed to extract myself from those dicey situations and move into a phase that didn’t involve men who were already committed to other people. I ended up concluding that there are women who know how to keep married men as “pets” and I’m simply not one of them. And this isn’t become I’m some excellent person or even because I believe in karma. It’s just that I think life is complicated and difficult enough without all that. Besides, a simple trip to McDonald’s isn’t enough to give me an A+ day anymore; as a matter of fact, I’d say that the few days I have been over the past decade would have received quite low grades, were I still in the business of day grading.

But what if marriage—the right marriage—could inspire the kind of happiness I once felt certain those milkshakes and fries provided? Despite my cynicism and doubts, I can imagine this is possible. If only, of course, I’m not selecting married men off my own personal spice rack.

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  • Amy

    Any woman that knowingly has an affair with a married man 100% deserves to be cheated on when she gets married. If you wouldn’t want it done to you, don’t do it to another woman. It’s not karma, it’s being a decent human being.

  • Eileen

    I disagree with Amy (unless, of course, the “affair” happened because she drugged him and/or blackmailed him, in which case she deserves to be indicted).

    A marriage is between two people. Someone who is happily married does not cheat, no matter how much he or she may be attracted to someone else. You’re not “doing it to another woman”; her HUSBAND is doing it to her. You never made a commitment to her (unless she’s your friend, in which case, stop being a jerk and sleeping with your friend’s husband); he did make a commitment to her.

    Not that I think married men are the best people to go for, but I don’t think that blaming “the other woman” is appropriate. Breaking a marital commitment is wholly on the married person. Blaming the other woman is what a wife does when she’s unwilling to admit that her husband is being a jerk and is desperate to find a villain that is not him.

    My parents were always really happy, btw – so much that until I was about fourteen I didn’t know that there were people who were unhappily married.

    • Eileen

      (they still are, for the record – I just realized that I made them sound either dead or divorced. Nope; they’re alive, kickin’, and just celebrated their 25th anniversary)

  • Dove

    I have to say that there’s a difference between being ATTRACTED to someone else and cheating.

    I personally don’t consider infidelity a flat-out dealbreaker. I’d be pissed. I’d lose a lot of trust. But one mistake would never automatically lead to divorce. Also we agreed when we got married to let the other know if one of us felt too claustrophobic and wanted to stretch outside the monogamy lines. I’d much rather hear “look, I’ve been thinking about this for a little while, and I really need to have your permission to hook up when I’m out of town next month. Can we talk about that?”

    If I found out he had some girlfriend on the side…. I don’t think so. Game over. And fuck her, if she knew he was married it’s her fault too. I wouldn’t smash her car windows in or anything but I wouldn’t be like “oh well, all’s fair in love and war… ladeeda.”

  • Anthony Mark

    I love your writing so much
    I had not seen this issue approached in this way before
    I have to think about this some

    Thank you for sharing so much of your childhood in this particular column

  • R

    While I do not condone cheating – AT ALL, and it’s wrong on all accounts, people fail to see that cheating with a married person is a 2 way street. And frankly, while everyone is quick to blame the other woman, what about the actual married husband? I mean, he was the man who asked his wife to marry him? And he was the one who said the vows professing his life-long fidelity, right? Let’s be real here- the woman (assuming she isn’t married), other than some serious lack of character and who is asking for some serious bad karma, has nothing to lose. The married man has everything to lose. Then why would he do it?

    No, I am not saying the other woman should get a pass, but let’s assign blame where blame is due. If a wife has to spend her time obsessing over the other woman, she’s obviously not acknowledging her husband in a cheating jerk who clearly has his own issues. A woman cannot just seduce a married man into bed (or vice versa)- BOTH parties have to be ready and willing and able.

    And quite frankly, any wife who is willing to put up with that behavior from her hubs has her own set of issues. I knew so many girls in college who had long time boyfriends who cheated on them all.the.time. And guess what? They STILL married them after college. I never understood that, because then if something happened, they would be “so shocked” he cheated. Really? Your man couldn’t keep it in his pants while he was dating you, what makes you think a marriage vow would change things?

    • Colleen

      I had a friend from high school who did exactly that…friends told her he was cheating, she chose to believe his denial instead…and married the slug. Twelve years and who knows how many affairs later, he was finally caught in a way that she couldn’t look past and sweep under the rug–he was caught by the other woman’s husband.
      Even when it ended, with her husband leaving her for the other woman, she was still in denial about how bad it was, and still mostly blamed the other woman.

    • Dove

      Yes, it’s ridiculous to act like one person caused an affair, or that your husband is so pathetic and weak that he can’t say no to someone.

      But, you know your husband. You know the good, the bad and the weird about him. He’s probably done some unbelievably wonderful things for you in your relationship, so even when he does something terrible, it’s all grey and confusing.

      The other woman, however, you don’t know. She is a stranger or maybe acquaintance and 95% of your knowledge of her is that she knowingly banged your husband. There isn’t any “good side” you know about to make it confusing, you can just hate her.

  • What?

    Cheating is a bad idea. Someone you cheat with is not being nice to their partner, and chances are they will not be nice to you

    It’s a shitty thing to do all the way around

  • Marc

    I have to say that I’m fascinated by your attraction to a married man, it’s like Steve Irwin getting killed by a stingray – I didn’t see that one coming. I’m glad you got away from that (proud would be a better word) because it’s not you.

    I’ve never been married, but I’ve never cheated on a woman. I’m big on communication in a relationship, and while it can be painful it is always less painful than keeping unfortunate secrets. I have however come close to crossing the line with a couple of married women. What stopped me was I don’t want to be that guy. I suppose if I’d had more booze in me, and if I wasn’t good friends with the husbands I could be singing a different tune. I ended up distancing myself from those couples, and there’s no suprise that both marraiges failed with ugly divorces.

    I will never understand infidelity, it would kill me if the woman I loved cheated on me.

    That said, when I was a young punk my friend and I used to wear wedding bands to the club to get women. In hindsight we should have played it up more with pictures of kids in our wallets. That’s a social experiment that needs to be explored in depth.

    Anyway, admitting your attaction is a daring move. I like it.