Breaking Up: Deciding to Be Alone - Interviewing: Marriage - Who the Women Are

Playing Around: Women and Infidelity - Linda Wolfe 1975

Breaking Up: Deciding to Be Alone
Interviewing: Marriage - Who the Women Are

Affairs catapult questions of divorce. This is true despite the fact that most women do not intend to abandon their marriages when they first turn to extramarital sex. Yet as I was to discover, even the briefest of affairs could cause immediate changes in life situations, abrupt separations, dramatic divorces. It was always difficult for me—or for the participants—to tell why this was so; to decide whether an affair pinpointed a marriage’s deficiencies and thereby caused divorce, or whether a deficient marriage already hurtling toward divorce paused inevitably at an affair.

I have arranged the reports I heard from once-adulterous now-divorced women into three chapters. The first two deal with women who themselves decided to end their marriages after some exposure to extramarital sexual experience, either to be on their own, or to realign with their lovers. The third deals with women who wanted to continue their marriages but whose husbands decided on divorce.

Among those who decided to end their marriages were a handful of women whose lovers had been catalysts but not goals. These women had used extramarital sex as an almost ritualistic precursor to divorce, a rite of passage that established that they were sexually or emotionally desirable. Even living for a short time in quarrelsome or neglectful marriages could cause women to doubt their desirability, and although they might contemplate breaking up such marriages, they hesitated, fearing that no man would ever again find them appealing. Winning the affection of lovers, or feeling affectionate once again toward new men when they had felt only anger or resignation toward their husbands, was a sign to such women of their sexual and psychological capacities. It gave them courage to undertake new life situations for themselves—to leave their marriages—but not necessarily to be with their lovers.

These women tended to consider their lovers way stations, but not the end of their emotional or sexual routes. They felt that because they had chosen men while they were still married, they had chosen under duress. When they divorced or separated, they did not long realign with their lovers. Typically, their affairs ended as soon as their marriages did. Dramatically reversing the fairy tale view, lovers lost their glamour overnight and princes turned into frogs. Extramarital sex proved, for such women, to have been a stepping stone, a pathway out of turbulent or difficult marriages.

Carol Battersby / Stop Teaching. Have a Baby. It’ll All Be Okay.

One of the first women I talked with whose affair and marriage had ended almost simultaneously was Carol Battersby, who lived in a small, midwestern city. A twenty-four-year-old schoolteacher, she had, just three months before we spoke, taken flight from both her year-long affair with a fellow teacher and her three-year-old marriage to a law student.

We talked in her apartment, three rooms in a private house on a quiet, tree-shaded street. She was sharing the rooms now with a young man she had met only a month ago, but with whom she was having, she said, “the best relationship of my life.” I found her very enthusiastic about the role her extramarital lover had played, even though she seemed no longer even to like him. “When I think how I might have missed this new relationship,” she said, “I bless the affair I had, even though it was really pretty lousy. I bless it because I don’t see how—without it—I’d ever have had the courage to start out on my own again.”

She had gotten married at twenty-one, she explained: “It was a typical right-out-of-college marriage and two years later I started the love affair. The guy taught with me. At the time we started, his wife had just had a baby and I’m sure he just really wanted to screw somebody. I was attracted to him. Not just to his body but to his mind too. I mean, it didn’t happen like, ’Hi! What’s your name? Let’s screw?’ At least, it didn’t seem that way to me. Maybe it would to you.”

“How did it happen?” I asked.

“It was at school. That was the wild thing. In a closet at school. It was a supply room kind of thing. There was space to lie down on the floor. It was a totally physical, brute sort of thing. I went home after and took a shower; I felt really dirty. But at the same time I knew I had thought about it and wanted it for weeks and weeks before. Still, it was crazy. I mean, to start a relationship just like that on the floor. I wish it had been a little bit more glamorous and comfortable, but what the hell.”

Carol refused to get bogged down in what she called “the guilt trip” because, she said, “I was there. I was there for the first six months and now I’m someplace else.” What had happened was that during the first six months of her relationship with the fellow teacher, she had tried to glamorize him. “He told a lot of funny stories. I told myself how entertaining he was. But you know, he was just a really heavy come-on type of dude. Guilt makes you exaggerate a lover’s good points or overlook his bad ones.”

What had her marriage been like, I wanted to know. Carol said, “Sex was lacking. That was one thing. But that’s only a symptom of other things that were lacking. One thing I could say about myself as a sexual person goes way back to when I was in high school. I began having intercourse when I was a junior, and then I went away to college, and there were lots of true loves between the beginning and the end. But then I ended up marrying the first guy I’d ever been to bed with. My husband had lived down the street from me in high school and he was my first. What I think is that when you start screwing you feel guilty, no matter what age you first start. I felt guilty, not about the later experiences, but about that first early one. So I ended up marrying him. It wiped away my guilt, but it didn’t do anything at all for our relationship.

“This turned out to be a dud, a blank. I don’t know what changed between the beginning and the end, but after we were married a year we were down to screwing maybe once a month. I didn’t exactly count, but around the time I was expecting my period I’d look up and think to myself, ’Jesus, the last time, wasn’t that just before my last period? Or was it just after?’”

I wanted to know if she and her husband had talked about her sexual deprivation. “Yeah,” she said, “but he had all these million excuses. He was too tired was the biggest one. He was going to law school, and he’s no great brain, and he had to keep up and he had to study and anyway, after a while I just didn’t care. I masturbated. He locked himself up in the kitchen to study and I locked myself up in the bedroom and I got cleverer and cleverer about masturbating, trying different things, different textures, trying wet washcloths and leather gloves and stuff. You know, varying it. I couldn’t have cared less after a while whether he approached me or not.”

For about six months her affair with the fellow teacher delighted her. “I was never so energetic in my life. I mean, wow! Like I just functioned on very few hours of sleep because I’d think about him all night and wake up each morning and say, ’Wow! Do I get to see the dude today or not?’ And actually, it did a hell of a lot of good for my marital situation. In terms of living together, I think my husband and I were much happier. I’d still come home, fix good dinners. And I got along better with my husband during those months.”

In this period Carol was meeting her lover at her house in the late afternoons and sometimes at his, once his wife had returned to work. But after a while, she had begun to grow restless. “When I think back to then, to what my intentions were, I guess I really didn’t have any at first except to go on doing it as long as I could. You have to understand my background. I come from a family of churchgoing Presbyterians and divorce was the worst thing I could do to my parents. Divorce was unheard of. You just don’t get divorced. You know, you work it out or you sit there miserable for the rest of your life. So at first I was trying to work it out. Whenever I’d let on to my mother that things weren’t just as rosy between my husband and me as she liked to imagine, she’d come back at me with the solution: ’Stop teaching. Have a baby. It’ll all be okay once you have children.’”

In her efforts to work things out, Carol had continued to see her lover, but found that she wanted more from him than he was prepared to give. “In the beginning just talking to him in the corridor for a second was just great. Like we’d stop for a minute and chat, and he’d say, ’I think I can get away tomorrow,’ but then the next day at noon he’d tell me, ’Yeah, well my wife is home today and I can’t think of an excuse for getting back late.’ I felt like, ’You sonofabitch! You can’t think of an excuse! You just don’t have enough balls to do it!’ And once I started getting angry, it started getting less and less fun.”

I asked, “How did it affect your sexual relations with him?”

Carol said, “Badly. I got into this thing where I began feeling, ’You’re just coming here to get in bed with me, and like that’s cool, but why can’t we do some other things too? Like eat lunch or at least talk more or something.’ It wasn’t like I wanted him to buy me gifts or anything, but I wanted him to spend time with me as a person as well as a body in bed.”

Around this time Carol decided to broach with her husband the idea of separation. “I think I had finally realized all this wasn’t worth it. And somehow, just from doing it, I’d gotten rid of the idea I wouldn’t be able to find someone else pretty quick. That was a thing that had really frightened me. But now I figured, if this guy was breaking his ass just to meet me for a couple of quick hours, I must be pretty good. Something like that.

“I got into a lot of heavy stuff with my husband. Like, ’We’re going to work on this; let’s go to a marriage counselor.’ And we did; we were in limbo for a number of months. But I think I already knew what I wanted to do because one day I said, ’Look, I’m going to leave in three months when the term is over.’ And that’s what I did.”

Rose Marie Corelli / It’s Always Oneself When One Says “The Kids”

Perhaps, I thought after interviewing Carol Battersby, deciding to be on one’s own with neither husband nor lover for insurance is possible only for the young woman or the woman without children. But when I met Rose Marie Corelli, a thirty-seven-year-old editor with two young children, I realized that even older women and mothers were as capable as Carol had been of viewing their affairs simply as life-preservers thrown down to rescue them from icy or storm-tossed marriages. Once ashore, they let go. Rose Marie, who was recommended to me by a professional colleague, said, “I had two affairs while married, the first one brief and unrewarding, the second one lovely, a joyous experience. I’ve never felt guilty about either one of them, which is strange because I had a very religious upbringing and I am still quite religious. Not in the conventional sense. I don’t go to church. But I believe in good and bad, in right and wrong, in punishment for our sins. But the sin for me was staying married, because by that act I was forgetting that joy existed in the world. I was denying, to myself and all those around me, that life had value.

“I stayed married years longer than I should have because I had two little children. Whenever I’d think of ending my marriage I’d say, the kids; the kids. But I did end it, after the second affair. I came to realize that the kids were going to be okay. And, as you’ve seen, they are. Kids don’t go around blaming you for taking them out of a marriage, even when they love their father, if they know that you know that what you’re doing is right. And what’s right for a woman—for any human being—is to live with the knowledge and expectation of joy.

“It took the affair for me to get that again. My marriage was placid, even companionable. But it was also a form of violence. I was slowly suiciding. My husband seemed to have stopped liking my body. He didn’t want to get close to it, to explore it. And he tried to keep me at a physical distance, too. I don’t mean there was no sex. Obviously, we had sex. But it became rare, occasional, and tentative. Sometimes I thought of us like creatures in a science-fiction movie, two enormous disembodied brains, his a little bigger than mine. We talked a lot. He was poetic, an analyzer. But neither of us had any substance.

“From longing for his touch I went to feeling a revulsion toward it. I wanted to leave him but my friends and family and the voice inside me said, ’the kids.’ It was only after I had the second affair that I began to realize that when one says, ’the kids,’ it’s always oneself one means. It’s always oneself who is the primary and central kid, oneself who feels too vulnerable and helpless and scared to face life all alone. I began to perceive that you can be more alone with a husband than you are by yourself, and that your kids can be more alone with you and your husband than they are with just you when the ’you’ inside marriage is dying.

“I must have known it was dying for a long time, but when you think back to these things they come dressed up as revelations, fancy realizations. My dissatisfaction hit me one summer when we were in France. We always traveled in the summers. I was working free-lance then. My husband was an academic, and we took the whole summer and went to glamorous places. Jamaica. Mexico. France. I had been poor as a kid and the traveling was always like dreams come true. But that summer in France, while we were purchasing spices at an outdoor market, I remember looking up at the big full trees overhead and thinking with a monumental sense of dread, “This is what I’ve got. Everything I ever dreamed of. But it’s all I’m ever going to have. And it’s not enough.”

I had my first affair shortly after that. There was a house in the town in which we were staying which was occupied by a household of interesting English people. One of them, the father of five children, most of whom were in and around during the summer, was the most elegant individual, extremely charming, extremely handsome. When he professed love and lust for me in equal measure, I went to bed with him. But it was hardly a world-shattering or even a momentous experience. I didn’t feel guilty, as I’ve told you. But I didn’t feel any better. Just more dullness and more dread. I was frozen, positively rigid in bed. He never came back for any more.

“During that summer I’d also had some bantering with one of his sons, a nineteen-year-old who was going to attend college next year in California. He too came on with me, but I never considered him. I was thirty-four. But I talked with him a lot. He was astonishing. He’d climbed Mount Everest with the sherpas; had won the chess award; had hitch-hiked halfway around the world when he was sixteen. He was brilliant and full of enthusiasm.

“Just before my husband and I went back home in the fall, Reggie, the young man, asked if he could spend a week with us in New York before his school started. We said sure, and one rainy September afternoon he arrived. My husband was at work. The kids were at school. Somehow, without our really planning anything, we just ended up in bed. It made Reggie wild with delight. I was suddenly one of his enthusiasms. He thought of me as a first love. Said he’d adored me all summer. It was infectious. I began to feel so good about his pleasure.

“He stayed with us two weeks and then he went off to college. In those weeks, I spent a lot of time in bed with him. It was still hot, and I’ve never really liked the heat, but I remember how magnificently slippery and sweaty we were. I can feel it still. It’s become part of my consciousness and I can summon up at will how joyous I felt to be sticky and smelly and trammeled at last. It was like awakening from the dead.

“I never tried to stop him from going off to school. I knew it was an impossible relationship. He had wild ideas. Was into drugs. I couldn’t lean on him. But when he was gone I began to realize that I had been happier in that almost mindless two weeks than I had been with my companionable husband for years. I began to consider a life on my own. I would take the kids. I would get a job. Somehow we would survive. And as you can see, we have. I’m almost never sorry. How can you be sorry if you were suiciding and changed your mind in the middle because it hurt too much and miraculously someone arrived and pumped the poison out of you?”

Gail O’Connor / Breaking the Crutch

Gail O’Connor, a forty-one-year-old fashion coordinator, had decided when she was thirty-eight to force herself and her three children out of the magnetic field of her marriage. The magnet had been her lover, not her husband. He had helped her overlook the flaws in her marriage. When she decided to separate, she broke off with both men.

“I was married for fourteen years. After about four or five of those years, I started thinking that other men were interesting. But the possibility of really doing anything about this was something that didn’t occur to me for a number of years after that. I would meet men I was attracted to and I would think, ’Wouldn’t it be nice to have a new experience?’ and I would feel some sort of nostalgia for it. But I figured I would never be able to again.

“Then, finally, I did have an affair. It was with a man for whom I was working. It took him a long time to beat down my resistance. He said that if he had had to sit across the lunch table from me once more, he was going to grab me right in the restaurant. It’s a standing joke with us that it took forty-eight lunches to break down my resistance.

“My marriage was going downhill at the time and I think this relationship helped me to keep my sanity. The marriage was a mistake. My husband should have married a nice, quiet housebody Irish girl from the Bronx instead of a live-wire from Brooklyn. I kept thinking that it would all work out. But he was a very hostile guy, very demanding. He felt very threatened by me, by my working, and he was very angry most of the time. Still, because of my background, which is Irish-Catholic, I felt I had to stay married.

“When I met the man I had the affair with, I had one child, a boy. Then, after seeing him for a time, I had my second child, another boy, and then the third, a girl. The children were another reason for staying with my husband. And there were other factors.

“My husband lost his job and I just didn’t want to leave him when he was low. And then, my mother was quite ill. So I saw this man on and off in hotel rooms, on business trips we took, for about five years. Then I realized that I could no longer stay married. I just couldn’t tolerate my husband. But I didn’t leave him because of the affair. In fact, when I decided to separate, I broke off the affair because I didn’t want to use it as a crutch. I knew I’d be limping but it seemed best.

“I just wouldn’t have wanted to marry the man I had the affair with. He was fatherly and kind and sympathetic, but he would have been a mistake for me too. And it’s very strange. He still comes back. I broke off with him about three months before I asked my husband for a divorce, which is three years ago, and at least once every year I get a call from my ex-lover. I hear from him every year, especially around holidays, and this past December he called me and he wanted to have dinner. And I know that he’d start up with me again tomorrow. But I don’t want it. It was good for me when I was married, but it isn’t what I’m looking for now. You need different things from a lover when you’re married than you do when he’s going to be the central man in your life.”

Gwen Tully / Only Crazies Would Have Come Along

What was the process that enabled a woman married for many years and for many years pushing at the walls of her marriage to lean ever so lightly on a lover and then almost at once bring down the marriage? It was hard to capture. Even when one woman, Gwen Tully, gave me the diary in which she had detailed some aspects of her flight out of marriage, it was difficult to get inside the process, to understand her sudden grasping of independence. I found I admired it without understanding it.

August 26, 1971

It’s the middle of the night. I am going to sit down and then I am going to try to forget it all. It can’t really be so important. Why am I torturing myself with it? Just an hour in bed with a man. Comical, really. I was holding my breath the whole time, afraid Everett would get home early. He had gone to pick up the kids from camp. Comical, all the torture over a penis going in and out a few times (well, more than a few; I liked that part). Probably it wouldn’t seem so terrible if Carl hadn’t been Everett’s friend, if we hadn’t spent so much time this year en famille. I want to put it in perspective. I haven’t been able to sleep the night through since that afternoon. I spend what seems like six hours trying to sleep, then manage an hour or two. Not even that sometimes. I wonder how much longer I can bear this. Unfortunately, probably an infinite time. I have some sort of inner strength. I feel I might be better off without it. I have a fantastic capacity for suffering.

I want to run. But where? Out of myself, that’s for sure. Shed myself. Sleeping offers no relief for the first time in my life. When I wake up my heart is pounding fiercely.

It can’t be just because of that single hour. It’s that I’m afraid, afraid of facing the here and now. Afraid of five more months like the last ones, with apathy eating deeper and deeper into me. I know I still love Everett. So how could I have done this? Because I believe I am growing old. Because gather ye rosebuds while ye may. No, I’m not so sure I do still love him. We always quarrelled like cats and dogs about everything. I love certain aspects of him, and I love his love for me. But he’s been so tense and withdrawn and absent, vacated. A structure, not a person. I needed to feel with someone in someone’s arms. Which is how come Carl. This says nothing and I’m going to try to sleep now.

August 27, 1971

Carl called this morning. He said that if it was true I’d felt flattered, and wasn’t angry (how old-fashioned he is; or maybe all young men are old-fashioned; they haven’t learned yet that we court them) then could he see me again. He suggested his place. I’m not sure and I told him I’d think about it. It gives me a lift, thinking about it. But I can’t see what’s the point. He leaves in mid-September to start his research fellowship. Suppose I grew attached to him, he’d just be going away. But why should I grow attached? I’m a married woman with two children, heading for thirty-five and he’s a mere thirty. Why isn’t he married anyhow? Must be something wrong with him. When we got married, Ev was twenty-four.

September 7, 1971

I think I’ve finally had enough. I am so thoroughly angry and disgusted, not just sad and tired like most of the time, but genuinely furious. I am so angry with Everett. He’s tricky. On the one hand he’s the soul of gentleness. There’s never anything one can get angry with him about. And yet the diffidence he treats me with has made me so horribly insecure. What a boring weekend it was. If I say, “What’s on your mind?” he says, “Nothing.” If I say, “Talk to me,” he says, “I have nothing to talk about.” If I say, “I’m going out of my mind from boredom,” he says, “Maybe next year you could get a job.” I don’t want a job. I want a man.

I feel so much anger toward him. Sex seems like a trap and a trick. I feel he uses my being hard-up as a way of controlling me. Perhaps that’s why, after all, I did sleep with Carl. And will again.

September 8, 1971

How funny Carl’s apartment was. A pad. Just a big bed that filled the whole bedroom, and bookshelves laid out on bricks, and a kitchen with a bathtub in it. We took a bath togteher. I felt clean. I feel clean about this whole thing. Not dirty. I haven’t been near another man besides Everett in over ten years, and where’s the harm in a couple of afternoons?

September 9, 1971

Phyllis said today she hopes Aunt Miranda’s baby is a boy so she can marry him. I said, “But you’ll be eight years older than him.” She said, “So what?” She is so precious; so fresh and new.

September 10, 1971

Carl called and we had a big discussion. Should we get together once more before he goes? He wants to very badly. I don’t get it. I don’t see what he sees in me. Maybe he just couldn’t get started with someone his own age when he knew he was going away so soon. Anyway, what’s the harm? After next week he’ll be gone and no one will know. Except you, Diary. I haven’t written in a diary since I was fourteen. Oh, the confessions I used to make then. I stopped the time my mother found one of my diaries while I was away at camp and came tearing up the Taconic and wanted to take me home and send me to a psychiatrist all because I’d written I’d been doing “it” with some pimply dummy whose name I can’t even recall. I told her “it” was petting, which it was but she was still crying bucketsful. I never confided in a diary again. When I finally did grow up and go to a therapist he said I’d probably left the diary around just in order to get caught. I don’t believe that. It was hidden in the bottom of a huge box of records. Am I writing this one to get caught? I keep you hidden in the laundryroom; steamy you are. Everett never goes downstairs; God forbid he should bother his philosophy with a touch of Dash. No, I don’t want to get caught. I won’t get caught. Maybe I’ll catch him. Maybe the reason he’s been so distant is that he’s got someone on the side. Somewhere in the house is a counterpart of my diary: his. Filled with confession and undoubtedly more high-toned than mine. Her white flesh. Her blond pubis, her moans and groans and frowns and gowns. I’m sure Everett must write a better diary. Would I care if he had someone else? Only if he fell in love. Men are so much more susceptible to love than women, in my opinion. It’s they who make declarations while coming. “I love you.” Carl said it to me last time. I said, “Cross your heart and hope to die?” But I was faking, playing that it mattered.

September 14, 1971

Said good-bye to Carl. I had managed to get the whole afternoon. We screwed twice and I came twice, each time. “Only twice?” he said. I told him it was four times more than with Everett over the past six months. A lie, but Carl has a weak ego. I protect him. I’m mothering. Maybe that’s what’s behind it all. He’s so slight, so timid. So philosophical. Like Everett, really. Another intellectual. I wouldn’t mind a gardener, a plumber sometime. Still, Carl touches me. I feel so important with him. I haven’t felt important to Everett in years. It’s as if the last five years he’s had nothing on his mind but writing journal articles that no one ever reads in order to make money that we never spend together because he’s so busy writing more journal articles. Dinner is always at 7:00 P.M. Sex is always at midnight. Maybe I will get a job. Just so we can change our bedtime hour. Am I sad that Carl is going? Not really. I’ve felt uneasy about lying to get time in the city. Even when I pull it off without a hitch I feel bad, as if maybe Everett isn’t even paying much attention. But whatever is wrong with my life, I have to solve it on my own.

September 23, 1971

I had a letter from Carl today which he sent me care of Miranda. What a letter! He said he was convinced we were destined for one another, that he’d never been with another woman who had given herself to him in bed as fully and joyously as I did, and that he knew it meant I loved him. As for himself, he said he knew now that he loved me, that it had been a mistake for him to have gone away, and that he wanted me seriously to consider informing Everett of what had transpired between us and coming out to live with him. Is he crazy? What about my children?

September 29, 1971

I wrote Carl he was crazy, that all that giving was just the way I screwed. That lots of women screwed that way, as if their hearts were in it. And that besides, I was the busy mother of two. Today, Miranda gave me another letter from him, this one more insistent than the last. He said I had to come out there, that he couldn’t live without me, and that if I wouldn’t come, he was going to quit his fellowship and come back to New York. He said he’d always meant for me to bring the children, and that surely it was worse for them to grow up in a loveless household than in the atmosphere he was planning to make for the four of us. And he ended by saying he didn’t want me to sleep with Everett anymore. He sounded either insanely possessive or really in love. Is what he feels love? Is being loved as good as loving?

The letters kept coming and Gwen kept discouraging Carl, but it was as if, she told me, she herself did not exist. Only his image of their love existed. He insisted she tell her husband. He threatened that if she didn’t, he would tell her husband himself. And for a long few weeks she began to waver, wondering if perhaps his definiteness and love made a lot more sense than her own mocking attitude toward what had occurred between them. There was a diary entry early in November in which she wrote:

One thing is sure, I can’t love Everett at all anymore. I don’t think I love Carl either. But all this love talk of his, the letters, oh God, the letters, have made Everett and the dryness of our life seem like a desert. Maybe it was always a desert. But once there were waterholes here and there. A film we’d see together and only we would share an opinion, different from everyone else’s, different from the critics, our own sharp, brilliant view. Or an insight into a friend. But we hardly even talk anymore. Perhaps Carl is right. Another thing that’s sure is that I really want to see him, want to live in his atmosphere at least for a bit, for a while, to see if it’s all sheer fantasy. I have written him that it is impossible for me to come out to him. That’s part of the blindness in him; his idea that one can disrupt the life of two small children to go careening after love. But if he still feels the way he does about me when he returns in the spring, I will see about moving out, about making a stab at a temporary separation from Everett.

Carl just called Miranda’s house and told her to call me. He’s quitting his fellowship and coming back to New York. I am too nervous to write anymore.

Gwen left her husband shortly after Carl’s return to New York. She decided she had to explore the relationship with Carl. He had turned her head. She told Everett what had happened, asked for a temporary separation, and moved, with the children, to a sublet city apartment. Everett was bitter and bruised but agreed to the separation and promised to help support the children. They went to a city school; Gwen got a part-time job in a nursery school; at night she saw Carl constantly. He wanted to move in with her at once but she fended off that arrangement.

She describes that period as hellish. Carl kept threatening suicide; she herself was terribly confused. He kept telling her she loved him but she remained unsure. She started psychotherapy, started making city friends, started going out on dates. After only two months she decided that she most certainly did not love Carl but that, despite appearances, she herself had been responsible for what had happened between them, that she would never have inspired his enthusiasm for her if it hadn’t been that in some way she had already been up for emotional grabs. She then broke off both her marriage and her affair with Carl.

I read her diary, which she had dropped off with me, then visited her one day in the rather dreary, six-room West Side apartment she and her children now occupied. The boiler in the building had broken down that day and we sat in coats and gloves. “Surely you’re sorry?” I kept asking, but Gwen insisted she was not.

“Carl was a catalyst,” she said. “He was wrong and so was I. I didn’t love him, but I was giving a great deal. In bed. In our conversations together. Giving it just because I had it all to give and Everett wasn’t taking anything from me. Hadn’t been for years. But I wasn’t giving it because I loved Carl. He was so young, so childish, so solipsistic, and while all of that touched me, moved me, really moved me—made me leave my home and all—he wasn’t the kind of man for me and I always knew it. Thank God I always knew it. I think a marriage with Carl would have gone sour in a year. I don’t want to be someone’s mother. But although I’m lonely now, I’m not sorry at how things have turned out. I’m not the kind of woman who has affairs casually. I wouldn’t have slept with Carl if life with Everett hadn’t become so dreary. And at least now, I’m on my own again and there’s a chance, a thin gossamer chance if you will, that I’ll find a man I can love. I couldn’t have if I’d just stayed with Everett. Only crazies, babies like Carl would have come along.”