Breaking Up: The Decisions of Husbands - Interviewing: Marriage - Who the Women Are

Playing Around: Women and Infidelity - Linda Wolfe 1975

Breaking Up: The Decisions of Husbands
Interviewing: Marriage - Who the Women Are

I met, of course, a number of women who, once-adulterous and now-divorced, had not desired the termination of their marriages. These women had never become even temporarily attached to their lovers. They had had casual affairs while hoping to preserve their marriages, and had sought adventure, self-exploration, sexual variety or temporary balm for a husband’s neglect or his own extramarital adventuring. They resembled many of the women I had interviewed whose motivations for extramarital sex had been the same, and whose marriages were intact. What made one such marriage come apart while another stayed together? Usually it was a husband’s decision to break up the marriage.

Had the women’s extramarital experiences contributed to their husbands’ decisions? I always asked this, whether or not the husbands had been made aware of their wives’ affairs.

Kinsey had asked it too and had heard from a majority of the once-adulterous, now-divorced people whom he interviewed that they did not feel that their extramarital activity had been any factor leading to their divorces. But Kinsey believed that extramarital sex could set up an atmosphere of “neglect and disagreement” which could indirectly affect marriages and cause divorce. Thus he had felt constrained to comment drily about those who saw no relationship between divorce and extramarital sex, “It is to be noted, however, that these were the subjects’ own estimates of the significance and, as clinicians well know, it is not unlikely that the extramarital experience had contributed to the divorces in more ways and to a greater extent than the subjects themselves realized.”

My experience with interviewing women on this question was quite the opposite of Kinsey’s. I met almost no one who did not attempt to find a relationship between her extramarital experience and her divorce, even though at the time of her experience that relationship had not been clear. Perhaps twenty years ago people were less willing to take subtle responsibility for divorce, or perhaps the women I met were just more psychologically-oriented.

Several who explained to me some of the more indirect ways extramarital sex may have contributed to their divorces speak in this chapter.

Claire Obrist /The Little Things Add Up

I met Claire Obrist, a market research corporation executive with two children, three years after her separation from the husband to whom she had been married for twelve years. It was clear to me that she had liked him; she spoke about him with a gentleness and pride that is atypical after divorce. But, she said, she hadn’t known quite how much she had liked him at the time she had started playing around, nor that in some ways she didn’t like him at all.

“I didn’t marry until I was twenty-seven. I had had tons of sexual experience but very few substantial relationships. I was scared. I felt I was being promiscuous, and although I’d go through periods where I’d sleep with whoever asked, I’d also go through others where I wouldn’t, even when I really liked the guy. I didn’t know what was going to become of me, not just because I was sleeping around, but because the world I lived in seemed so chaotic, so fluid.

“Everyone around me was jumping from new thing to new thing; my friends were forever traveling, to Europe, to Africa; one even went to New Zealand. I was a market researcher, a glorified doorbell ringer, and I had no roots. When Mickey came along and fell in love with me, I was ecstatic. He was the best-looking man I’d been out with, and the most loyal, and the deepest. He had a sense of direction in life. He was studying social work, he wanted to help people, he wanted children. And I wanted him.

“I was faithful to him for eight years, and he was to me. I quit work, had the children, was a terrific mother. But when our two kids were both in school, I went into a funk, a depression. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Should I go back to school? Get a job? Raising children had been a great goal and really taken up my time while they were little, but now I had hours on my hands, and I was right back where I’d been at the beginning. Not Mickey. He was still the same, a good family man, putting me and the kids above everything, struggling to give as much to his clients as he could, making it.

“I went back to work; I was a market researcher again. But in the few years I’d been off the labor market, things had changed for women. I got promoted, became an executive in the company, and made money. I really felt good about myself. And it was around then that I started playing around. Not with my boss, but with other men I’d meet. I hadn’t ever felt really sexy before, in those early days when I was screwing around, because I hadn’t felt like anybody, really—just a body. But now I felt like a good body and one with a good head on its shoulders too. I found that I loved being flirted with, and coming up with quips that would turn guys on, and I saw nothing wrong with this. A woman needs to know she’s attractive.

“My affairs were casual things. Unplanned. I had four. Maybe five. Actually, they weren’t really affairs, just episodes. Sometimes Mickey would be out of town, and someone I had to take to dinner would suggest a walk afterwards, and I’d call the babysitter and ask if she could stay later, and I’d get turned on during the walk and go to a hotel room with the guy, and just feel splendid about myself afterwards. Next morning I’d be hustling the kids off to school, packing lunches, wiping up breakfast food, but feeling terrific. I was proud of my kids and proud of myself for handling them and then getting off to work and for being so various, so alive, and so into everything.

“In the next few years I made lots of friends—women friends as well as men—and there were things I shared with them that I didn’t share with Mickey. And sometimes I found I just wanted to be by myself, not with Mickey or the kids or anybody. But what was wrong with that? Marriage, I felt, wasn’t meant to be a jail, and who’s to say that a married person can’t have a good friend—forget about sex—or enjoy a movie more with, say, a girlfriend, than her husband; or enjoy a weekend in the country all by herself and her thoughts and not with him; or prefer going to the zoo with the kids, and not with him along. All my friends felt this way. And sex is not a bigger part of this need for a private life than are any of the other things.

“But when you get right down to it, all these little things—not just the sex—add up. Mickey divorced me after he found out about a one-night stand I’d had. A friend was responsible, because she inadvertently asked something about where I’d been on a night I’d said I was with her, and Mickey kept probing, and eventually my date came out. And he went into an icy period. Wouldn’t talk to me. Shut himself off in the bedroom. And then finally came out insisting on divorce.

“At the time it seemed totally insane to me. He’s not the wounded-pride type, and I couldn’t see why he was overreacting this way to his discovery of what was at best a casual affair. I begged him and pleaded with him not to do this to me; to us; to us and the kids. But Mickey said it wasn’t the affair that had brought him to wanting a divorce. He said that from the moment I had turned onto flirtations and private friendships, I had turned off him. He said I never would have needed to flirt if it hadn’t meant that in some way I no longer considered him an estimable person. He said my having intimate friendships, even with women, was a sign of my not getting from him what I needed in terms of intimacy and friendship. And he said these things—not the date—had made him decide we should divorce. He had been rankling about them for years.

“I fought against his view. It seemed so moralistic to me. I did love him; I did want to live out my life with him; I just wanted a few frills. I never accepted his view, and he never accepted mine, and he left me. We’re still friends, by virtue of the children, but recently he’s gotten deeply involved with another woman and I believe they’re going to get married.

“I miss Mickey. I miss him a lot, even though I have a terrific social life. I handle the kids and my job and all of that, and I almost got remarried last year. But I didn’t feel, even with the new man, what Mickey seems to have felt about me, that contentment, and wanting no one else. So I didn’t marry him, because I’ve decided maybe Mickey is right. It isn’t affairs that come between people, but wanting them is part of all the little things that give you a hint that the person you’ve married isn’t a person you want to spend most of your time with. And those things wound that person’s pride as surely—maybe more—than sex.”

I asked Claire what it was about Mickey that had made her turn off. She still sounded so fond of him. She said, “That’s what I’ve never quite sorted out. I think it was his seriousness, a certain do-gooder-ness, which sometimes made me scoff at him—not aloud, never aloud, but inside myself. I’m kind of a noisy person; I’m tempestuous. If I had a tantrum and he treated me with understanding instead of with a comparable rage, I’d think, ’He’s understanding and kind because he’s afraid to be otherwise. He’s uptight. I’m the exciting one, the interesting one around here!’

“So I did put him down. He was right about that. And maybe I would again, if he and I were together again. I put him down when I went to the country alone, and when I took the kids out without him, not just when I went to bed with other men. In fact, going to bed may have been the least of it. If I ever remarry it’ll have to be to someone about whom I have no reservations at all.”

I asked whether she believed this was ever possible and Claire said, “Sure it is. Mickey had no reservations about me.”

Miriam Mindell / Affairs Seemed Wiser Than Divorce

Miriam Mindell, another once-adulterous, now-divorced woman whom I interviewed shortly after my meeting with Claire, was not nearly as complacent about the rupture of her marriage, but then, it had occurred quite recently and she was still in some shock. At the time I interviewed her she had been separated only a few months from her husband. After fifteen years of marriage he had, she said, “true to cliché,” fallen in love with his secretary and left his family to realign with her.

Miriam had had affairs during their marriage but had minimized their emotional content, believing that extramarital sex could be tolerated within marriage provided family came first. That her husband’s affair had been conducted more emotionally than hers and thus resulted in the break-up of their marriage infuriated her.

We met for a lunchtime interview, since Miriam worked as a film publicist and was on a very crowded schedule. She said, “I had several affairs, most were trivial. As far as I know, my husband only had one, this one that’s broken us up. We had a bad sex life, which is, I think, what caused the affairs, mine and now his. Let’s not beat around the bush. My husband came too quickly. All our life together he got on top of me, stuck his penis inside me, and came. Sometimes he’d masturbate me later, but that wasn’t such fun. When it’s always after the man comes, it feels like a chore you’ve both agreed to undertake, not something that’s fun.

“In the last few years he read that there was therapy that could help him. He wanted to go to a therapist and see if they could do anything for him. But it was part of the treatment that we would have to go as a couple. I suppose this will sound mean to you, but I refused to go. I couldn’t see the point to it, after all these years. I’d gotten used to the way things were with us, finally. I was making do with occasional affairs, and sex just didn’t seem very important, in or out of marriage.

“I had my first affair years ago and I think that what happened then was very significant. It was the only really meaningful affair I ever had. I was working as a secretary at a motion picture company and that milieu was big on sex. I was working part-time then since I’d already had my first baby. All the married men were having affairs, and so was the other secretary, a Dutch woman who had been married longer than I was and who was constantly involved with somebody or other. I guess I began to figure, ’That’s what people in the arts do.’

“The man with whom I finally had my first affair worked with me. He was married but his marriage was coming to an end. He was terribly lonely and he spent a lot of time at our home. It was clear that he found me attractive. He came over almost every Sunday evening. And sometimes my husband would go to bed and we’d just sit and talk. I mean, no sexual thing was involved at that point. After a while, we started going to the movies together. Then I stopped myself. I thought, ’Miriam, you are crazy! You’re mixing with the wrong crowd. You better cool it. You have a child. You’ve been married five years. Sure, it’s not a perfect marriage, but whose is? Stop it. Stop. This is the time to have a second baby, not an affair.’ I gave a party and I did not invite this man. And it happened that that night my husband made love to me and I got pregnant with my second child.

“Oddly, it was only after I got pregnant—safe and sound and committed again, I guess—that I actually slept with this man. I was very pregnant by the time we did it. I was wearing a maternity bathing suit and we went away for the weekend. We went to a place in the country. I took my oldest daughter, as if I just wanted a weekend away from home, the kid and me. And he met me there. It was fun. It was pleasant except I was very sunburned besides being very pregnant. I had a blister on my nose.

“I saw him a lot the last months of my pregnancy and we talked about my divorcing and our getting together. But I thought, ’Why should I marry him? He’s just like the man I’m married to. A little better in bed, that’s all.’ Anyway, the affair pretty much ended when my baby was born, although I did see him from time to time after that. He married somebody else and I later became very close friends with her. I didn’t regret my decision. In fact, I developed a philosophy about extramarital relationships which I tried to live by.

“It was that they were a lot wiser than divorce. Intellectually and emotionally we would like to believe it possible for two people to relate only to each other—intellectually and emotionally and sexually. But we know that this is not always possible. I think that on a practical level it would be better to resist most of the impulses to have extramarital relationships because there’s only a certain amount of time in the day for anything, let alone for two men or two women. However, I think every so often there comes along a relationship that’s marvelous that does fill a need, whatever the need is. Or you think it does. It’s okay to sample it, but you have to do it only once in a while and keep it discreet. You don’t have to let it take anything away from your marriage and you certainly don’t have to dissolve your marriage. That’s crazy! That’s going on the false assumption that there’s only one right person for you, one forever. Now you figure, ’I made a mistake and I’m going to try the other one.’ But the ideal adult is able to have and cope with more than one relationship; the ideal adult doesn’t expect any relationship to be the be-all and end-all of his or her life.

“This isn’t just my philosophy alone. I know others believe in it too. Take my ex-lover’s wife. She tells me they’re not having sex at all. And they haven’t for several years, ever since their child was born. But everything’s fine. He’s a marvelous father. He makes a lot of money. Their parents have come to live in the same town with them, which is nice. But then, there’s this sex thing, and she says he refuses to discuss it. I don’t think he’d have had a sexual problem with me, but who knows? Maybe there would have been some other problem. As I said, whose marriage is perfect?

“I never had any regrets about my philosophy until my husband left me this spring. When he did it, when he had his first affair, he suddenly out of the blue decided he had to break up our home and live forever and ever after with this girl. I can’t tell you how angry it makes me. Men are just so much more romantic than women are, I guess. But it makes me feel so terrible. Sometimes I have dreams in which I’m locked up in an elevator and my husband and his girlfriend are outside, keeping the doors shut, and I’m just riding up and down, all alone and stifling to death.

“I don’t think my affairs had much to do with our divorcing. But I guess they had something to do with it in this way: they made me complacent. Because I had decided to make do with occasional better sex outside our home, I assumed my husband was doing this too. I figured that, like me, he believed that our marriage and the children mattered most and was keeping his sexual affairs discreet. But all along he was too worried about his sex problem to try any other woman but me, and as soon as he did, and as soon as she told him she loved him and how great he was in bed—what can she know? she’s only twenty-six—he was up and out of here like the flash in the pan he is.”

Jolla Marshall / Making Marriage Work

Miriam, fighting her bitterness with a sharp-tongued humor, seemed strong to me. We laughed when she finished her story. Jolla Marshall, a university instructor, was equally bitter but a lot less strong. She was in her early forties, tall and slightly bent at the shoulders, a weeping willow of a woman. In her case, the relationship between an extramarital affair she had had and the break-up of her marriage seemed to have lain largely in the fact that she admitted the experience to her husband at a time he may have been seeking a reason for divorce. He himself had had affairs for years.

Jolla had come to see me partly through a misunderstanding. She had heard about my book from a doctor we shared. But Jolla hadn’t realized my concern was just with women’s extramarital affairs. She thought I was writing about the more classic situation: the wandering husband. Edwin Marshall had been one, and Jolla had overlooked his interest in other women for years, staunchly upholding a woman-as-victim role. Men were outrageous and sexually unfair, but women had to put up with this. It had always been this way and always would. If women did have affairs—Jolla’s had happened after eleven years of marriage—it was only when under undue provocation from men. She doubted that I would be able to find very many women who were adulterous except reactively, except when provoked by their husbands’ own adultery. Indeed, she seemed to think I might be betraying sisterhood by showing that it was ever any different.

We argued strenuously. I tried to explain to Jolla a feeling I had just sorted out. It was that if women were always to be presented as victims, then I myself could no longer bear to write. I craved another image of women, wanted it enough to have sought it out. It made me less fearful and miserable. I didn’t think I was betraying sisterhood to show it. I felt other women would feel, with me, that a perpetual insistence on victimization was just as much a betrayal. I told Jolla that she had pushed me forward in my thinking, in my understanding of my interest in the subject. And to my surprise, we became friends.

But that discussion came later. First, in my office, she told me,

“My husband must have been screwing around for years but I guess I didn’t want to know about it. When he’d say he was working late, I’d say ’Okay, honey,’ and hold dinner till whatever time he arrived. In the last few years we were married this was getting to be as late as ten or ten-thirty several nights a week. But, you know, mostly I really did think he was working late. He’s a lawyer, and he’d gotten into political work, and he often had meetings at night, and people calling him at odd hours. Even on weekends in the country he’d suddenly be called back into the city for important conferences.

“He started developing a temper. He’d get angry over the slightest provocation and if I urged him to keep more regular hours he’d scream at me. Didn’t I know he was working so hard for me and the kids? That sort of thing. Besides, he was clearly enjoying his work. And we were too. The kids and I. It was glamorous. I went places, met people I’d never have expected to meet. And I think that basically I was quite content with being Edwin’s wife except that I knew I was restless. He was overemployed and I was underemployed. So I decided to go back to school and finish my degree. I’d stopped in the middle, as so many women of my generation did. Now I went back. It seemed to ease things between me and Edwin.

“We weren’t having a very sexy marriage. But then, we’d never had. Edwin wasn’t very sexual. Even in the early years he made love to me only a couple of times a week. I had the idea this was enough for him, and in a way it was my conviction that sex wasn’t too meaningful to him that made it so easy for me not to be jealous. It would have been another story if he’d wanted more than I wanted to give, if I was turning him down in bed a lot. But I wasn’t. I never did that. Sex just wasn’t a big thing for him.

“Well, I was a little jealous. I did notice that he’d become more flirtatious with women, but then, so were so many of the husbands of my friends. It seemed to me that as all the men of our circle entered their mid-thirties they became more ingratiating with women. It had to do with their confidence, their success. So if I did happen to see Edwin hugging a woman hard, or catch out of the corner of my eye his hand stroking some woman’s bare arm, I put it all to his feeling that he could—and should—get away with a little more these days. He was important now and successful, so he could afford to be a little more daring. I didn’t mind as long as it didn’t come between us.

“During that last couple of years I had an affair. It came about quite unexpectedly. Edwin did a lot of traveling without me but one time we’d gone to London together, with the kids, for a kind of special treat when he suddenly announced he’d have to leave me for the weekend. There was a meeting in Paris and there seemed no point in taking me and the kids along just for the weekend. So we waited for him in London.

“I didn’t have any friends I wanted to see so I took the kids around to the parks there and I got a babysitter for one night and went to see a show by myself. Well, it was all a fantasy sort of thing. I was feeling sorry for myself, I guess. I started talking with a man sitting next to me in the theatre. He was an American in London on business. He didn’t know anyone either. At first I didn’t tell him I was married, although he told me he was. In fact, he told me a lot about his life. He owned a printing shop in Chicago. He’d made more money than he’d ever expected he would and he was a little bored with his wife. He loved her, but he really dug someone like me, he said. Someone sophisticated.

“I was sympathetic. I could understand that sort of thing. I knew he was just like Edwin, but whereas for Edwin, some Mrs. Hooten-Smitten would seem sophisticated and just the right challenging bit out of reach, so for this guy, a New York political lawyer’s wife had the same flare and consequent appeal. I went to bed with him and I guess I was hoping that whoever it was Edwin might occasionally spend the night with would have as much good sense as I was showing. I wouldn’t fall for Mr. Miehle from Chicago, wouldn’t call him up late at night, wouldn’t arrive in town unexpectedly so he’d have to leave his house abruptly before his kids had gotten to show him their compositions or their new clothes.

I saw Miehle from time to time, whenever he came on business to New York. I’d meet him after my classes, have dinner and a few hours in a hotel room. I never stayed away very late and I never saw him on a night when Edwin was at home waiting for me. But it was getting to be that there weren’t too many nights he was home anymore. It was meetings, conferences, business dinners night after night. I went to a lot of dinners with him, of course, and so it wasn’t as if I wasn’t part of his life. People were forever saying to me, “Mrs. Marshall! How proud you must be of your husband.” And all this time I was proud. We were making it—socially, economically, and even as a couple—while all around us people were breaking up.

“So in the end Edwin had to bludgeon me with the thing. He started coming home even later. Once or twice he didn’t show up until two in the morning. I’d catch people looking at me peculiarly when we went out. Did they know? I think it was those looks that finally unnerved me. I could have handled the whole thing if I’d been sure no one but Edwin and whoever his girlfriend was knew. But I was starting to feel that our friends knew too.

“I think this was what shoved me into telling Edwin, one night, that I was willing to share him with another woman as long as she wasn’t Number One. He could see her—just as I saw Miehle—but it had to be discreet, secret. We had the children to protect. And that’s when the marriage came apart.

“He acted enraged when I told him about Miehle. How could I do this to him? What was the matter with me? He carried on and screamed, quite as if he’d never done anything like it himself. I suppose he was hurt, and that’s why he lashed out so. But then he told me he wanted a divorce. I said it was ridiculous. He’d had affairs. Had I divorced him?

“But he was wild with anger, unreasonable. He said, what was the matter with me to put up with something like that, once I knew about it? He himself wouldn’t stand for such a thing in a wife for a minute.

“I think it was all some kind of show. I think he’d decided long before that he wanted to divorce me but he hadn’t quite known how to bring it about. I think that in some peculiar way he was furious with me for not having proposed divorce years ago, when he’d first started spending so much time away from home. But of course, to me divorce was a chasm, and I’d sidestepped it and clung to all sorts of ledges to avoid getting pushed into it. I clung on even when he was so mad about Miehle. I kept insisting we could still go on together, as long as we kept things discreet. But then he gave me a final push. He told me who it was he’d been seeing. She turned out to be a woman I knew quite well. That hurt a lot. But what hurt most of all was that he also told me that a number of our friends knew about him and her and had seen them together socially.

“I’d always figured I could handle the wandering husband bit, but I couldn’t take the fact that his affair had been so public. I really felt demeaned. Well, it hardly mattered. For Edwin, the fact that I’d had any sort of affair was apparently as terrible as the fact that he’d had such a public one was for me.

“So we did end up getting divorced, and I’m not really sorry about it anymore. The experience of being on my own with the children hasn’t been as terrible as I’d anticipated. But I couldn’t have known that then. I suppose you’ll think that I was a mess in those days, that I was very masochistic. But I really don’t think it was me, my character. It was the way I was raised. I believed in marriage, in making it work, no matter what the cost.”

Phyllis Eanes / A Time for Negotiating

Phyllis Eanes, a psychologist with two teen-aged children, had also tried to keep her marriage going by overlooking clues to its decay. In her situation, it was she and not her husband who was sexually active outside the marriage. She had started having affairs after she had been with her husband thirteen years in a marriage which initially had been comfortable but which, as she had grown older, had seemed competitive and confining. The affairs had created a smoke screen. The marriage had continued to deteriorate, but she had never directly expressed to her husband the aspects of their life together which made her chafe. When she finally did, she discovered that it was too late. They couldn’t change life patterns that were now thoroughly ingrained. Curiously, she maintains that the fact that she was in analysis at the time of the affairs kept her from discussing their marital difficulties with her husand. Instead, she concentrated on private anxieties. Today, she practices marital counseling.

We met in her apartment, a spacious old-world place, filled with heavy antique furniture and elaborately framed oils, an apartment as elegant as Phyllis Eanes herself. She said,

“I was twenty-one when I married and my husband was twenty-five. That was twenty years ago, and we were married seventeen years altogether. I had been seeing my husband-to-be for a year and a half before we married and we had then, and continued to have, good sexual experiences together. He was the first sexual partner in my life, but I never felt curious about other men or in any way disappointed in this aspect of our life together. I was perfectly faithful to him for thirteen years of our marriage, and I don’t think he ever was adulterous. Oh, possibly with a call girl once when some of his friends sort of dared him into it, but otherwise he was totally faithful. And so was I until after thirteen years.

“But there were a lot of things wrong in our marriage. He wasn’t meeting my dependency needs. I should have said to him, ’Look, you promised this and this, but here I am working like a dog. I can’t take time off. I’m paying all the bills. You let me down. I’m mad at you.’ He expected me to work harder than him—both at my profession during the day and then in the house when I got home at night. I think it was because he was very competitive with me. When we married, I was just a little admiring girl. But I had grown up, become a mother, become a professional. He was one too—a lawyer—but I think he was afraid I might outstrip him. I should have said, ’Look, Eugene, you’re too competitive. I work too, yet still you treat me like a kitchen slave.’ I think he couldn’t have changed his personality, but perhaps we could have negotiated much better than we ultimately did. In every marriage, there’s a time for negotiating, but you can miss it if you’re acting out instead.

“That’s what happened to me. I was afraid to face up to him and instead I began having affairs. Mind you, I didn’t know this at the time. I knew I was angry, but I thought it was mostly at my parents and myself. I had started analysis and in analysis I was bringing up a lot of self-derogatory feelings. I felt that my mother, who had had lots of men in her life, was more beautiful than me. I felt I had been awkward, a grind, ever since early childhood. It didn’t occur to me that Eugene was contributing to these feelings. Analysis made me concentrate on me, on how I’d always felt. If Eugene would say, ’You look ugly in that dress,’ I just assumed he was right, since I invariably felt ugly. It didn’t register with me then that a husband is someone who thinks you’re beautiful, even when you yourself doubt it, and that a husband can help to change those bad childhood feelings.

“Anyway, I started having affairs, and other men helped me see that I wasn’t an ugly duckling anymore. I had three affairs, two of them short, the third one pretty long. During that time, I began to look better. I lost weight, and I learned how to put on clothes, and actually I improved as a person. I became more assured. I had more fun.

“I wanted to stay married, but I also wanted to stay feeling competent and self-assured. I tried, finally, to talk with Eugene about the things in our life that bothered me, to make demands. But it was all too far gone. We had lived so long with him as boss and me as the meek underling that he couldn’t change fast enough and I had grown impatient and too independent. But it was Eugene who left. I was trying to negotiate. And I never stop daydreaming about the possibility that had I talked to Eugene earlier, and maybe gone into therapy with him, instead of alone, we might have accomplished something together.

“I don’t like being single. I’d like to be married again. Recently I’ve been in a two-year-long relationship with a man I like a lot and which has many elements of a marriage. But during it I have found myself getting interested in other men again, and I have had to catch myself or I would have just started it all over again. I have had to say, ’Hey, there’s something wrong and that’s why I am doing this and I am working it out in this way.’ What’s different now is that I’m seeing several men, but I’m also very openly discussing with my primary lover what is wrong, what my disappointments are, and why I suddenly found myself attracted to other people.

“I can’t speak for all women, but I wonder if it isn’t true that a woman only has affairs when there’s something wrong in her primary relationship. Otherwise, even if she only sleeps with a man once every two weeks, if she really loves him and if she’s really satisfied with him, she’s not going to have an affair. I don’t think that’s true for men particularly, but I have a feeling that it’s true at least for middle-class women brought up the way I was.”

But what about the new generation? I knew that Phyllis Eanes must be seeing younger women for marital counseling and must have come up against an ethic concerning extramarital sex that did not align with her own. What about those who insisted—even after scrutiny—that they felt no anger toward their husbands, only a biological tickle? What about those who had agreements with their husbands that permitted extramarital sex? Phyllis said, “It’s difficult. One hardly knows where to begin with them. One must ask oneself exactly where they are different from oneself, and exactly where they are the same.”