As an expert on unhealthy relationships (and isn't that what we all aspire to be when we grow up?), I was recently asked to comment on what might have motivated the assorted Mrs. Gingriches to have an affair with a married man in the first place. After all, while Wife #3 might have held out hope that he would leave Wife #2 for her -- he had a track record by then -- Wife #2 had no reason to expect that. For all we know, she was gobsmacked when Newt said he was leaving cancer-stricken Wife #1 for her.
Like a woman I know moaned to me when her own married lover filed for divorce, "What part of 'unavailable' doesn't he understand?" Now that he was actually leaving his wife, things got a little more serious -- and a lot less sexy. I've seen Newt Gingrich. His unavailability was his most attractive quality.
Married men are catnip to some women. Perfectly nice women, women who really don't notice that their actions are harming another woman, or a family, or even their lover himself. Usually the only person they realize they are hurting is them, by denying themselves a fully-rounded relationship with an actual future. Perfectly nice women like, once upon a time, me.
When I was a practicing love addict, married men were my drug of choice. Affairs are goldmines of drama, and there's nothing a junkie likes more than drama. It masquerades so easily as feeling. A wedding ring can turn a certified public accountant into a motorcycle outlaw. You have to -- get to! -- keep secrets and tell lies. Suddenly, your life is filled with all the intrigue and mystery of a spy novel. You meet under false names wearing a floppy hat: "I am Natasha, and I am naked under ziz trenchcoat."
Yes, married men are like artists or CIA agents or vampires -- relationships with them are almost always doomed. But beautifully, romantically doomed, or so it seemed, and that, of course, was the point. Deep down, I was terrified of actual intimacy. The illusion of story-book romance trumps the reality of "What are having for dinner tonight, honey?" every time. There's no arguing over the utility bills, or the kids' bedtimes, or which in-laws to spend Thanksgiving with. No, those duties belong to the wife. You get to model the silk lingerie. Which sounds like more fun to you? I suspect it's a lot like the reason grandparents love spending time with their grandkids; when they get carsick, they just give them back.
The next great thing about married men: They are incredibly affectionate and forthcoming about their feelings. They can adore you unreservedly, because they have no fear of commitment to get in the way. They are, after all, already committed. To someone else. Your married boyfriend will tell you he adores you, can't live without you and will die if you leave him every morning upon awakening. That is, if he ever spends the night. Otherwise, he says it as he kisses you goodbye and rides off into the darkness. He can propose to you during every whispered phone call, because you can't actually take him up on it. It's just a another fantasy, like the trenchcoat scenario.
Third, seeing married or otherwise unattainable men (gay guys, for example) is a way women with zero self esteem create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don't genuinely believe you deserve someone in your life -- guess what? You don't have to worry about that any more. The marriage bonus is that if you can snag some other woman's man, even for a little while, you can tell yourself that you must at least be better than she is. And this was a woman desirable enough to get a cool guy to marry her in the first place. Advantage, you.
The "relationship" itself is a total fiction, but who doesn't like a good romance novel? When you're not in rom-com fantasyland, you get to dwell in Shakespearean tragedy. We are Romeo and Juliet, forever being kept apart by the evil, never mentioned Mrs. Romeo. If only he had met you first! You two were destined to be together, had not cruel reality intervened! You're the pitiful plaything of heartless fate! There are at least two poems and a song lyric in any decent extramarital affair. Also, a blog post.
I do not deny the appeal of affairs with married men. They no longer stir the same delusions in me, however. As with a number of other intoxicating behaviors, I have become too cognizant of the inevitable hangover. Also, you could end up with a Newt Gingrich. Now, that would be tragic.
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