By Marcia Gloster
Pondering Love and Life
When I was a 20-year-old art student, traveling through Europe in the summer of 1963, I had a passionate affair with a married, philandering painting instructor. The experience, recounted in 31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction, impacted my life in profound and sometimes surprising ways. Here, I offer some of the lessons learned about love during that long ago summer, a bit of the wisdom acquired in the decades since, and what I have been told is my “generally unsentimental and straightforward perspective” on romantic relationships between men and women. Please do let me know what you think. —Marcia
Negotiating an Affair with a Married Man
“Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.” —Robert Frost
Since I wrote a memoir about an affair with a married man, many people have asked me if I sanction such a relationship. My answer is always “No.” However, as a realist, I know there are times when you meet someone who attracts you and with whom you feel an immediate and instinctive connection.
I’ll leave it to Dr. Phil and others to tell you, in no uncertain terms—don’t do it! Essentially they are correct, but if you’ve already said to yourself, “Let’s just see where this will lead,” you’ll need to know how to navigate such a relationship and come out of it with your self-respect intact. (No guarantees about pain, however, and that’s something to think seriously about.)
“The best ones are all taken,” is a phrase I hear frequently. While it isn’t so, it may often seem that way. And a married man who has you in his sights can be very seductive. But be aware that within that seduction there are caveats, e.g., he expects no demands. After all, you are both well aware that he returns to his wife and family at the end of the day.
He may tell you that he loves you, and that may well be true. After all, love and marriage are not necessarily synonymous. Your challenge is to not go off the deep end and fall hopelessly in love with him. Love is a good thing, but please try to keep it real. Why? First, it is doubtful that he’s ever going to leave home. (A well-known Rutgers study noted that 56% of men who had affairs reported they were happy in their marriages.) Second, if he does, it’s highly likely that he’ll do the same to you as he’s now doing to his wife.
I speak from experience. Years ago I had an affair with a married a man who eventually left his wife. He said he had been unhappy for a long time, and I, perhaps a bit naively, really wanted to believe him. A few months later, he told me I was the love of his life, his soul mate and muse, and we would always be together. When he asked me to marry him, I did believe him. Yet, one night, only four months after we married, he didn’t come home. It was the first of many, and I will spare you the excuses.
Do I regret it? I did then, because three years later the marriage ended in anger and resentment. And while it wasn’t the last time I went out with a married man, I learned my lessons well. I will now share those lessons with you:
- Stay away from discussion of wife, home, and family. You have no clue how real any of it is, and the less you know, the less there is for you to question and therefore think about.
- Don’t ask him to leave home. That’s his decision, and the only way it works is if it’s his idea. Don’t ask and don’t ever nag (true for all relationships); the anxiety it creates will affect you far more than him. You don’t want to continually ask yourself, “Should I have said that?”
- Relish the moment. Then put it away in a nicely furnished room in your mind. Close the door and return to your everyday life. After a couple of days, the intense emotions will subside and you’ll be able to think straight. At least until the next time.
- Be cautious. Do not call him—unless it’s legitimate business. Let him come to you. Look at your phone, but do not pick it up. Wait. If you’re anxious, he’ll pick up on it and it will create tension. It might even make him back off.
- If he doesn’t call for a few days, let it be. He will. He wants this affair. Keep texts and emails short and delete, delete, delete. If you’re in a relationship of your own, you don’t want to slip up.
- And finally, don’t let him intimidate you by saying he’s jealous that you’re dating. Keep your outside activities going; they are real and they help maintain your balance. And don’t forget where he ends up every day—in bed with his wife.
Most important is to recognize the relationship for what it is—the passion of a stolen moment. Talk about things you are both interested in, not about your husband (if you’re married) or his wife. As difficult as it may be, keep your emotions under control and have no expectations. If you can enjoy, even treasure the moment, and then tuck it away until the next time, you just might survive it.
Marcia Gloster is the author of 31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction.