I’ve been in five relationships with married men. Am I wrong?

Posted Aug. 04, 2012, at 7:17 p.m.
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe

Dear Prudence,

I have always tried to be a kind person. However, I have lived my adult life in a way many people would disapprove of. During the last 11 years I have been a mistress of five married men.

One had a long string of previous affairs. One was a friend for whom I had much tenderness and who told me he would rather have had me. One was a three-year relationship that caused deep feelings and deep distress. I do not regret these or the other adventures. I have not been the initiator of the affairs; the men have pursued me. Apart from one, I would not have wanted to live with these men.

I do not know any of the five wives, and I am discreet. When people discuss adultery, the cheater and the other woman are often spoken of harshly as deceivers and egoists. I have never felt like either, and have never felt guilty. Is it possible the rest of the world has a limited emotional imagination and cannot see that such affairs are meetings between two people who don’t want to hurt innocent partners, but who choose to explore their intimacy and chemistry in secret? Or have I somehow become morally crippled since I can so easily do something most people would chastise me for?

—The Other Woman

Dear Other,

Give the rest of the world more credit. Most people’s emotional imagination is able to grasp that affairs are precisely about delivering the kick of clandestine intimacy and chemistry. That they exist in a nether world of pure sex, without all the domestic thrill kills of bills, groceries, kids, and mortgages.

Of course it’s silly to say there’s only one way to live and everyone should settle down to a monogamous relationship. (I don’t have to tell you, since your lovers are all people who vowed to do just that and then found it lacking.) But you sound proud of your furtive life—you’ll never be the deluded wife who doesn’t know that the real secret to her devoted marriage is that her husband has a girlfriend.

Sure, you can say you were never the initiator. But at least acknowledge how much you enjoy the pursuit, how well-versed you are in sending signals you’re available. You’ve ruminated here about your choices, so I suggest you examine why you so easily have slipped into the role of other woman. Maybe you are afraid of being in a sustained, open relationship. Maybe you’ve become addicted to the narcotic of the illicit. Maybe you like the safety of knowing the affair is bound to end. Imagine that you are writing to me five years from now, and you’ve concluded affair No. 7, or 8. Perhaps in that time you will have started seeing these interludes as not so much tender and deep but tawdry and dishonorable.

There are women who spend their whole lives as the other woman—until perhaps they realize that while men are still pursuing, they’re no longer pursuing them. If this is not a place you want to end up, take a long break from this role. Decide not to exchange those glances, or stop at just one drink, and see how it feels to create a different kind of life.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have an ongoing dispute I hope you can resolve. I would like him to give me a little present once a month. Nothing elaborate — a pair of earrings, a blouse, a trip to the spa. If he were to do this, it would make me feel special and appreciated, but he says that if he’s expected to give me something according to a schedule, there’s nothing special about it. He does give me spontaneous gifts from time to time, but I think it would be more romantic if he did it regularly. It would tell me that he’s always thinking of me. My father has always done this for my mother, and they’ve been happily married for 46 years!

— Giftless

Dear Giftless,

Fortunately for your mother, you cannot marry your father. That leaves you having to make a brand new marriage with your own husband, which is better than fruitlessly trying to recapitulate that of your parents’. I agree with your husband that if “romantic gift time” comes around with the regularity of the gas bill, it’s unromantic. You also fail to mention what you plan to do to make a concrete demonstration of tender feelings for your husband. Perhaps you envision not an exchange, but a one-way sign of appreciation. Yet what you desire is more than simple recognition. You want evidence that your husband is always thinking of you. Normally, someone thinking of nothing but you is cause for a restraining order.

You need to figure out why you are so insecure that your husband is required to constantly prove to you that you exist. I don’t know if your parents’ marriage is healthy or sick, but you are unlikely to get to 46 years of bliss if you don’t stop making stupid demands about what should be going on in your husband’s head.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

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