Staying Married: Long-term Affairs
Interviewing: Marriage - Who the Women Are
I was always most curious about women who had long-term affairs, women who maintained both husbands and lovers over a period of many years. How did they pilot their years of secrecy? Were the rewards worth the price they paid?
I had known such a woman once. Like a general, she had always seemed prepared for every contingency. She knew exactly which restaurants to avoid because they were too big, noisy, and popular, and which to avoid because they were too small, quiet, and compromising. She was an expert on where to get one’s hair cut, washed, and set in record time and where to buy children’s clothes without having to rummage through stacks of mis-sized items. She had friends who could cover for her on days the housekeeper was sick; friends to help account for the sudden presence in her closet of expensive gifts from her lover (“Let’s say you gave me this alligator bag. No, not gave. Why would you have given it to me? It wasn’t my birthday. Let’s say your cousin is in the wholesale handbag business and you sold it to me at a third its real price.”); friends who would go to movies for her, which meant tell her exactly what happened in a film, down to details no reviews had mentioned, so that her report on it to her husband could be eminently credible.
Everyone in her circle (except, of course, her husband) had known about her lover. No one had approved, but no one had ever said a word to her husband. We all knew him for a nice fellow, a generous man. None of us wanted to hurt him; to be the bearer of cruel tidings. But more than this, we figured if he’d wanted to know, he could have. Overused psychology provided a way out; obviously he didn’t want to know, we’d say. Besides, we figured that one day they would work the whole thing out; the situation would be “resolved.”
I looked up this woman when I was starting this project. I had lost touch with her a year before when she moved across town. Now I telephoned her and asked if she would be willing to be formally interviewed. She was agreeable, and I ended up by interviewing her twice, once at the start of my research, the second time a year and a half later.
Sylvia Shusky / I Can’t Bear Loneliness
That first time we sat around Sylvia’s living room. Her daughter and a friend were eating peanut butter sandwiches in the kitchen, making a mess, giggling their heads off, joyous. Her son was in his bedroom, watching TV and drinking Hawaiian Punch. Sylvia got up from time to time and wiped up spills. A slim, attractive blonde of thirty-four, she seemed awkward and absent-minded in the kitchen. Once she used a potholder to mop up some punch. Once the girls asked for spreading knives and she gave them small, elegant bone-handled steak knives.
“My lover picks me up in the car,” she told me. “We’ve been together five years now. I still walk the kids to school and then I wait on the corner at York Avenue. He comes down the East River Drive from Westchester, gets off the highway and picks me up. Then we spend the day in his office.
“It wasn’t always like that. In the beginning it was the usual thing: lunch once a week, the rest of the afternoon in a hotel room. But it gave us a creepy feeling. We felt we were in love, but we couldn’t tell because we never did anything but go to bed together. So one day he said, ’Come down to my office. No one will say anything. They don’t know you and your family from Adam. And the people who work for me are all loyal; old friends and loyal; none of them would dream of saying anything to my wife. They like her and know it would break her heart.’
“So I started going down there once, twice a week. Later I hired a housekeeper because I wanted to be sure of getting out and if a kid got sick I couldn’t be sure. But with the housekeeper I can. I meet Tom every day during the week except holidays. I sit around his office in the mornings while he works. I write letters to my friends. I keep cookbooks there and plan my night’s menu. Then I call up for the groceries and have them delivered to the housekeeper. I do my hair there a lot. In the sink in the ladies’ room. That way my husband thinks I’ve been to the hairdresser.”
She also pays her bills from her lover’s office, does her nails, and reads the magazines. It makes Tom, her lover, feel good to have her working beside him, she said, giving an air of domesticity to their lives. When she calls Gristede’s and orders fruits, he smacks his lips at her choices and says, “Delicious,” quite as if they were being ordered for his own snacking that night. He works more rapidly than he used to, finishes what once took a whole day in only half, and then he and Sylvia daily go off for lunch and for the remainder of the afternoon to a studio apartment he has rented under Sylvia’s maiden name. She is always home by five; her husband gets in around six; and she regales him with stories of her day’s adventures out shopping, lunching with friends, touring the galleries.
She and Tom actually do go shopping a couple of times a week. “We look around in Saks or Altman’s. We never spend much time at it, but about twice a week I make a purchase—whether it’s a dress or slacks for me, a toy or sweater for the kids, new towels or a kitchen gadget. On those nights I tell my husband, ’Look what I found today!’ Whatever the thing costs I always quote a lower price. Then if he is in the mood to chide me, either for going shopping as frequently as I do or because by his reckoning I’ve spent the whole day at it and made just a single small purchase, he can’t. He thinks of me as a crazy, meticulous shopper and is impressed each time at how little I have spent. And of course, since Tom pays for almost half of everything I buy, our house really is nicely furnished on very little, the kids have better toys than anyone else on the street, and I have a stunning wardrobe. And it doesn’t cost Bill very much money.”
I found Sylvia startling, even when I came to know many other women whose affairs were as elaborate or complex as hers. I think it was because she focused so squarely on the economic conveniences of her double life. But convenience had always been uppermost to her. It had made her quick to marry, she told me. She had come to New York from the suburbs right after college and worked for an insurance company briefly, sharing an East Side apartment with three other girls. “That was terrible,” she said. “We had to sign up for the bedroom on weekends. And the food situation was worse. Each girl had a yogurt container with her own name written on it and at any one time there were four half-eaten grapefruits and four sticks of butter turning into cheese in each quadrant of the box.”
Bill Shusky, who was to become her husband, was a friend of family friends. He looked her up and took her out. To East Side movies. To dinners. “Five-course French dinners,” are still uppermost in her memories. He was a joke-cracker and fond of remarks like “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.” Just finishing engineering school, he wanted a wife, a home, furniture, children, respectability. They were married four months after they met, basking in their families’ approval.
They had been to bed together during the four months of courtship, and Sylvia remembers, “Bed was boring from the start. We used to get laid in the early evening so we could top the experience with a movie or dinner. But I didn’t think it made too much difference. I didn’t know what it was going to feel like five years later.”
A year after they were married they had a child; three years later, another. Sylvia had not liked her time in the work force; there was nothing she wanted to study; so she furnished her home, learned to cook, took care of the babies, and then looked up one day and noticed that her husband seemed fonder of them than he was of her. Or they were fonder of him than she was.
“He used to work late and was always tired when he came home. Sometimes he’d have supper and just go right to bed. But if the children woke up he was always willing to feed them, diaper them, play with them. He used to hold them on his lap, brush their hair, and feed them endlessly with the baby spoon. Big mouths gaping, tidbits going down. Daddy. It made me sick.
“I hated going to parties with him,” she said, “with his color photographs of the kids zipping out of his pocket the minute someone breathed, ’Do you have children?’ I hated that I was stuck at home while he was forever complaining, ’Oh, if I only had more time to spend with my family.’”
The winter that the second baby was two years old, Sylvia became very depressed. She made no social engagements with any of their friends. She no longer went to school to meet the older child’s teachers. She stopped buying clothing, slept ten or twelve hours a night, napped in the afternoon, and read nothing but Vogue.
On weekends her husband took the children sleighing or skating and she was angry with them when they came home, either cold and hungry or, when he had tried to keep them longer out of her hair, warmed and sedated on a snack at the Chinese restaurant. Those nights he brought her a Chinese supper home in containers since she insisted she hated the smoky place. But she rarely ate it. It was the wrong dish; didn’t he remember what she liked; she was angry, furious, fierce. The children were afraid of her.
Then, that spring, a friend introduced her to Tom. Sylvia described how it happened: “My best girlfriend from my single days called and said, ’Sylvia, there’s this guy I ran into who we used to know. He makes toys. He remembered me from the days we were working at the insurance company. He remembers you too, but he says you’ll never recognize him now. He used to be fat and now he’s gone to Weight Watchers and he’s positively skinny. What about a lunch for old times’ sake? He says you and I were the most beautiful girls in New York in those days and that I’m still one and he wants to see about you.’”
It was enough to get Sylvia up and out of bed that day. She bought a hat and had her hair done. The three of them had lunch at The Sign of the Dove, a setting Sylvia found very romantic, and by the time they were into their third martinis, Tom Brower had confessed how badly life had treated him. His wife was an invalid.
The friend who had brought Sylvia and Tom together was herself having an affair, the details of which had been known to Sylvia for some time. During lunch Sylvia sensed why her friend had presented her with Tom. “It was the same as when you get married and you keep trying to get your single friends to do the same as you,” Sylvia said.
Sylvia had two or three more lunches with Tom and then they went to bed together. From the beginning, she found him more sexually stimulating than her husband. “We made love that first time for what seemed like hours. It seemed as if he just couldn’t get enough of me. He’d had another mistress before me but she’d left him some months before to get married, and he was really hard up. But the strange thing was that our sex life pretty much stayed this intense. Maybe it’s because of the secrecy. I’ve read there are some people who can screw better just because they’re a little scared. In any event, it’s been three years now and I’m just as excited every time we make love as I was the first time.”
I told Sylvia my notion that probably her husband knew about her affair but had decided for his own reasons to keep silent. Her reaction was odd. She seemed hurt by the suggestion, indignant. “He doesn’t know,” she said. “If he knew, he’d want to divorce me. What man could just stand by and let his wife have an affair with another man and not do anything about it?”
“Maybe he has a girlfriend and he likes things the way they are.”
“Impossible. He’s become absolutely asexual.”
“Maybe with you.”
“No. I’m sure of it. And I’m sure he loves me. It’s got to be that he doesn’t know.”
The next time I spoke to Sylvia about her affair it was a year and a half later. This time she agreed to meet me for lunch. I remember being troubled when I arrived in the restaurant a few minutes late and noticed that Sylvia was already seated at the table and in the company of another woman. I was sure it meant that she had decided not to confide in me further, that she was angry at me for the questions I had already asked. She had brought a friend along as armor.
As I came up to them Sylvia introduced me. “This is my friend Roberta,” she said, “you know, the one who introduced me to Tom. She called this morning and I said I was meeting you and that I didn’t think you’d mind meeting another one of us.” She smiled coyly. She was in a club with Roberta. They were campfire girls, scouts, companions in tying and untying sexual knots. I realized I would still get my interview and I relaxed, annoyed with myself for having assumed that Sylvia was angry when in actuality she was trying to help me.
Her friend Roberta was, it turned out, a theoretician of affairs. She could always tell when a woman needed an affair, she said, and when she had actually started one. The need took the form of what she had recognized in Sylvia: depression, withdrawal. Starting had coiffure clues. “Most women change their hair style,” Roberta told me. “They go from long to short in a rush, or from straight to curly.” She had just noticed such a hairdressing change in a neighbor and extricated a confession: the neighbor had begun an affair with a cabdriver. Roberta frowned. Her own affair, five years in duration, was with a wealthy businessman. “I like all the trimmings,” she said. “The lunches; the gifts; the trips when we can manage them.”
Sylvia, it developed, was still seeing Tom but she had been through a crisis. During the past year she had begun to pressure Tom to leave his wife. She had grown edgy about lying to her husband, anxious about her future. She and Tom had begun to squabble. He had pleaded the illness of his wife, saying, “If I left her, I could never forgive myself.” Sylvia had said, “If you don’t, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”
Through all the quarrels, Roberta had been Sylvia’s confidante, helpmeet, therapist. “You were wacky!” Roberta said now, prodding Sylvia. And to me, she said, “She’s telling you the facts but she’s leaving out how wacky she was. The phone calls in the middle of the night! The vomiting!” Both women laughed now. It had been said. It was a while ago. Things were different now, settled once again.
Sylvia had made a decision. She no longer wanted to leave her husband. “I have the best of both worlds,” she said, “a husband who asks no questions. A lover who cares about me. It’s fun going places with Bill and the children on weekends. And it’s good being able to get away from them during the week and see Tom. He wouldn’t leave his wife, but I decided it was just as well. I’d be scared to marry Tom. The thing, the real thing, that worries me, is he’s fifty and I’m thirty-five. Suppose I married him, and let’s say we lived happily for the next fifteen years. Well, let’s say he’s sixty-five, and he dies. And me, I’m fifty, still young, a fairly young widow. I just don’t know. I just don’t see how I’d find another man easily at that age.”
I felt Sylvia really meant this, felt that her acceptance of the status quo of her affair had not come about because of Tom’s reluctance to leave his wife but because she had a mammoth fear of loneliness and, to relieve it, two men seemed to her geometrically more effective than one.
Evelyn Clement / Just How Worthwhile Is That Self?
Sylvia was of course a very idle woman. Whenever I told her story to friends, they would say, “Well, certainly she could conduct an elaborate affair like that. It’s because she’s so underemployed.” They read into her daily grooming and domestic habits with her lover an exquisite variation on the boring drudgery of housewifery. Several friends said, “She’s a double sufferer,” and they were sure that if Sylvia had had a career, she might have been faithful.
But I interviewed several working women whose affairs were just as extravagant. They seemed to exemplify the old notion that the busier one is, the more time one finds.
This was what had happened to Evelyn Clement, an accomplished forty-year-old lawyer. She was one of the most articulate women I met, and a very successful one. She objected to the proposed title of my book, Playing Around. Extramarital sex wasn’t playing; it was really work, in her opinion.
She lived in Washington, where she had been having an affair with the same man, a colleague, for over ten years. It had been an exquisitely private affair. Both Evelyn and her lover were prominent, in the public eye, and only a few people knew their connection. One of them was the woman who put me in touch with Evelyn.
Evelyn said she was interested in my project but wasn’t certain she cared to discuss it. She would buy the book. Yet several days later she telephoned me and said she had decided to speak with me. “Perhaps it will help me sort things out,” she said. She would get in touch with me, she promised, when she came to New York in the summer. She and her husband had rented a house at Fire Island, “to get away from it all,” she explained, and I could interview her there.
I went to see her on a hot August day. Her house was in a community composed almost solely of married people and small children. Life there seemed deliciously stable and extravagantly boring. Women, for the most part alone, were sprawled on the white sand beyond Evelyn’s enormous sun deck, tanning themselves and gaily supervising blistering, sandy children. Evelyn confessed to being restless. Taking the house for a month had been her husband’s idea, she explained. He liked sailing and was out on the bay now with friends. But besides, she had been working hard all winter and he had wanted her to unwind.
She looked quite relaxed to me. Wearing a bikini and deeply suntanned, she seemed almost too young to be the mother of the two pre-teen-aged girls she introduced as her daughters, although they resembled her: all three were blond and freckled and fishing rod-thin. The girls were barefoot and clamoring to go musseling and soon disappeared, reappearing much later in the afternoon with their catch, which they washed and set to steaming for dinner. Evelyn and I lay down in deck chairs on her porch. But yes, as she had said, she was restless. While I sprawled in the chair, she paced. When I commented on her energy she said it was at once her most valuable asset and her biggest human defect.
She had always had it, she said. She attributed the first affair she had had—some four or five years after her marriage—to her abundant energy. “I hadn’t thought of law school at the time and was working as a secretary for a publishing company. It was a dead-end job and my mind was often on ways out of the tedium. So when a very attractive and rather well-known writer I met there began flirting with me, it wasn’t long at all before I was available. It started with lunches, of course. I thought him the most exciting man in the world—much more exciting than my husband—and at that point in my life, had this man been deeply interested in me, I might have left my husband. But although I was very committed to him, he just considered our relationship a romp. He was used to adulation. I was just another autograph hound to him, a bedhound, trying to get his unique sexual signature. He had in mind one-night stands in hotels while I had in mind changing my life.”
Evelyn went on to describe the defects in her marriage at that long-ago time. “I was very attached to my husband and thought him very good and decent. But I believed that somehow I was stronger, smarter. He didn’t really meet all the things I needed in a man.” She had felt this from the beginning of her marriage. “I remember crying when I was packing for my honeymoon trip. It was right after the wedding and my husband, Peter, was in the room with me and I knew my crying was making him feel bewildered and betrayed, but I couldn’t stop. My mother came in then and tried to smooth things over. She said, ’All girls cry on their wedding day. It’s from all the fuss; too much emotion.’ Peter and I were both comforted, and I stopped crying.
“But I no longer believe what she said is true. I believe a lot of girls cry on their wedding day, but that when they do, it’s not unimportant. It really is a sign of feeling bad, and the idea that it’s just emotion is hogwash. The woman may not wander from the husband she cried about getting, but the longing is always going to be there in the back of her mind.”
In recent years Evelyn had become active in the women’s movement. She had made a name for herself as a legal defender of women’s rights. She told me that her reputation, with which I was familiar, was making her self-conscious about telling her story. “I suppose the young women of today would condemn me. They’d say, ’If you felt that way about your husband, why didn’t you just get out? But it was different twenty years ago. We were raised differently. Even today women my age don’t think in terms of giving up a marriage just like that. We look undercover for a substitute husband and only when we have one do we let go.”
She had looked for close to fifteen years. After the writer, there was a publicist. After him, there was a professor at the law school to which she had now determined to go, “a very tortured, bizarre person,” she said. “I think I’ve always had a thing for troubled men. Perhaps I viewed myself as capable of saving them. But I wasn’t just a missionary. I enjoyed being a little scared. With this man I was always scared. He was married and the whole notion of having an affair was, for him, a notion of perversity. It had to be everything his marriage was not. Had to be dirty, perverse. He didn’t want to have intercourse with me, for example. He would keep me in his office late and tell me how much I turned him on, though we didn’t call it that then. Probably he said something like how much I excited him. But he wouldn’t, couldn’t have intercourse with me. He said it would hurt his wife. Probably he was impotent, but I didn’t understand it all at the time. In any event, he would insist, plead that I masturbate in front of him. He would raise my skirt and pull down my pants and make me stand, while he stared, handing me different objects from his desk. ’Do it with the pencil,’ he would say. ’Just rub yourself with the pencil.’ And then, ’Do it with the pen. Stick it in a little. I’ll be able to smell you on it all day.’ I found the whole thing very humiliating.”
Engrossed in her memory, she was frowning, annoyed. I didn’t need to ask her why, then, if it had been so humiliating, she had participated, since she offered, “I think the thing about me then, and maybe still today, was that if the man was important, I wanted to collect him. I was, in my job at the publishing company and later in law school, a celebrity-fucker. It’s not an unusual madness among women. It’s the madness that makes us willing to have relationships in which we’re uncomfortable and even scared as long as the men are prominent. We’re willing because we imagine that the power of prominent men will somehow rub off on us. It’s a form of masochism that occurs when a woman can’t invest herself or her husband with stature.”
I asked her why she had not been able to invest Peter with stature. “Just because he and I were agemates,” she said, pondering it. “Just because I knew him from Day One. A woman meeting Peter today would probably consider him important and a little scary; he’s a top childrens’ book illustrator, quite successful. But I knew him when we were both nobodies, and so I always felt he was inferior. And since I also felt inferior, I felt I needed someone who was in some way superior to myself to give me ideas or at least surround me with a climate that was intellectually stimulating; it was as if I couldn’t get ideas on my own.”
At this point we were interrupted by the girls returning with their catch. Evelyn was attentive but quick with them. She set them to washing the mussels. I remember that they used the washing machine, which I thought very innovative.
When she returned to the deck she continued: “But actually none of what I’ve been telling you is important. What is important is the relationship I’ve been having for the last ten years with Marcus Roth. I’m sure that’s what you meant to ask me about.”
I said it was all important, that I was trying to understand the origins of women’s wishes for extramarital sex as well as the current events. Evelyn said, “Well, you’ve got a good subject in me. I’m an analyzer, I’ve lived with this thing fifteen years and I’m not one of these people who just lets things happen to her, who specializes in shifting responsibility. I know a woman like that. She says, ’I don’t know how it happened. It just came over me. Nothing was planned.’ To me, that’s irresponsible, self-deluding.”
Evelyn revealed now that she had carefully plotted her affair with Marcus, to whom she had been introduced at a dinner party. “I had heard him lecture once when I was in school. I was flattered by his attention to me at the dinner party. When, some days later, he called me up for a drink, I knew I was going to try to push us into getting to bed.”
Still, the little-girl awkwardness was there. “I didn’t know what to call him,” she said ruefully. “I remember how excruciatingly awkward it was, that first time in bed. I didn’t feel right using his first name. In fact, I don’t think I called him by any name for maybe six months.”
She must have gotten over her awkwardness, however, since soon she and Marcus were using his apartment regularly when his wife was away, and taking afternoon excursions to motels. But the first arrangement was too erratic and the second too time-consuming. Both Evelyn and her lover were bent on success at work. So after the first six months they rented an apartment together.
“We took it in his name. We usually met just about every afternoon or late afternoon, the first couple of years. As the years went on, we did other things there besides screw. We both loved cooking, and we’d make these opulent lunches for each other, with wine and good French cheese and elaborate sauces. We were trying to get some simulation of real life, because in the back of both our minds was the idea, ’This can’t go on forever. Sooner or later we’re going to have to give it up or give up our spouses and make a stab at living together.’ But cooking lunches wasn’t real life, and we never felt quite sure enough of whether we loved each other, I guess. So the sooner or later dragged on and on.”
Curiously, Evelyn insisted that despite her sexual experimentations, sex with her husband was better than with her lovers. She said, “I had a better sex life with Peter than with any of them. Still have, for that matter. I think partly this is because it is the most honest. I can feel much freer with Peter to sift out what I like, and to tell him. And he is always very responsive to me. With Marcus I am often dishonest. I feel I always have to pretend to something, have to protect him. He has a lot of potency problems and he always has to prove to himself that he is best at whatever he does. Like if he goes skiing, he has to master it. He took up the piano at forty and after three years he was playing Beethoven’s Appassionata. He’s always testing himself, and he craves evaluation. But I have very few orgasms with him. If I tell him I haven’t had one, he always feels upset and obsessed about it, so I have to pretend a lot of the time. Whereas with Peter I can be myself and be honest. But I don’t want to deny that there’s a strong turn-on for me about Marcus. I always find him stimulating. In some ways sex with him is more exciting because the tension between us mounts and mounts. Still I am freer with Peter.”
She followed this with, “In fact, there are many things about this affair, and perhaps about all women’s affairs, that are extremely peculiar. For example, I have built up a lot of resentment toward Marcus over the years. Conducting the affair has been much more taxing for me than for him. I have children, lots of home responsibilities. He is on a much looser schedule. He is filling up free time with me, whereas I am sandwiching him into a very crowded life. Every summer I am aware of my unhappiness. Mostly I never want to go away on vacations at all. I am afraid to be out of contact with Marcus. So I am always slipping away to make long distance phone calls. My life is filled with subterfuge and it isn’t fun. As a result, even out here, I’m not relaxed. I’ve taken this month off because I need a rest, but I’m not really getting one.
“It’s this masochism I hope you’re going to be able to convey,” she said. “The married woman who has an affair is really making her own life difficult. She may think it’s delicious, but actually it’s damn hard work.”
I asked Evelyn whether there was any possibility that she and Marcus would end their respective marriages and stage a life together. I was surprised at how adamantly she said no. They had apparently tried it once, about three years ago. Each had separated, and they had attempted to consolidate their relationship. It had been a dismal failure. She had found that she was no longer turned on by him; that she did not enjoy his company over long periods of time; that to her astonishment, she missed her husband. She had gone back to Peter and Marcus had gone back to his wife. When they resumed their affair it was far less intense. “You must understand that all this time there were fights, screaming fights, between Marcus and me. And letters, dozens of letters going back over everything that had ever happened, finecombing every detail of how we’d met, how we’d ended up this way. And tears. Sometimes I’d be sitting at the wheel of my car and for no reason at all I would get so flooded-up with tears I couldn’t see the lights change. Now it’s different. It’s become a matter of convenience. I can’t quite bring myself to let go, but I have no high hopes for a life with Marcus.”
She was convinced, instead, that fairly soon their affair was going to terminate. The way she saw it, she said, she had two choices. One was to find someone else with whom she could anticipate a new marriage, someone she resented less than she did Marcus. The other was to give up seeking a new man altogether and settle down emotionally with Peter. She was, she said, leaning toward this resolution. “Now that I’ve at last become somebody on my own, now that I have a reputation and external success, I find I’ve begun to believe in myself more. I’ve begun to believe in my own ability to give myself ideas. And along with this development, I have greater and greater respect for Peter, who must on some level have known about all this but who has put up with it, put up with me, waited me out. I know he loves me, and more and more, I’d like to be able to spend at least some years of our life in which I am all his.
“That’s where I’m heading. But it would give a very false impression to say that I’m there. I’m not there yet. The truth of the matter is I feel very bereft these days just because the guts have gone out of my relationship with Marcus. It’s almost worse to have no emotion than to have bad emotion. My life in the past was so characterized by big emotion that now I often feel empty. Still, sometimes I think that after all I really could fill up the space with Peter.”
Evelyn and I became friends. Once I went down to Washington and had lunch with her and Marcus, dinner the next night with her and Peter. I understood more after those two meals than I had before. With Marcus, this articulate woman became kittenish and quiet, leaving him to direct the conversation. With Peter, it was Evelyn who was the star. Peter was a frowning, slightly critical audience who nevertheless would not walk out in the middle of the show; the tickets had cost him too much and the play moved him almost despite himself. There was no question but that Evelyn was more comfortable with Peter, more herself. But when I said this as I was leaving and she was handing me my coat, she whispered, “Yes, but just how worthwhile is that self?”
I remember standing in the carpeted hallway outside Evelyn’s apartment and realizing that more than any other characteristic, self-doubt and a striking fear of loneliness, even future loneliness, seemed to characterize the women I spoke with who were engaged in long-term affairs. Although they went through turbulent periods in which they tried to exchange lovers for husbands, they apparently felt less fearful of solitude having two men rather than just one. It occurred to me then that these women were curiously well mated. The husbands they had chosen seemed not only to respect their wives’ apprehensiveness but to share it. They were men who were willing to close their eyes to a certain amount of emotional deprivation rather than risk abandonment.