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.
RELATED: 8 Reasons You're Not Addicted To Sex (According To Dr. David Ley)
"When [people] assert that sex addiction is like these disorders, they ignore the many ways that sexual behaviors are not like alcohol and drug use. Somebody who is addicted to alcohol and stops drinking can die. No one has ever died from wanting to have sex and not having it, or from having too much sex. Drugs and alcohol introduce a foreign substance into the brain. Sex doesn't introduce anything. During sex the brain is working the way it's supposed to work. There's also no evidence of what [is referred to as] the 'tolerance effect.' With alcohol, when you start drinking, a little can have a big effect, but later on you need more to have the same effect. There's no evidence of a tolerance effect with sex. An orgasm never stops feeling good. We excuse people for diseases -- we have destigmatized alcohol dependence so that people can get treatment. Maintaining [sex addiction] as a disease makes it more acceptable to people, and allows people to use it as a justification for ... unhealthy choices."
"There is little real evidence that sexual fantasies have anything to do with mental health. Some research, including Brett Kahr's interviews [with 23,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 90], suggests that healthy people have complex, elaborate sexual fantasies. ... Nancy Friday [author of "My Secret Garden: Women's Sexual Fantasies"] also spoke to people around the country about their sexual fantasies. There's a huge range and diversity of sexual fantasies among 'normal' people. Some of those fantasies contain things that are out of the box -- and sometimes disturbing. But it doesn't mean that it's unhealthy. We don't know that there's any direct connection between someone's sexual fantasies and behaviors."
"High rates of sex are extremely healthy. Sex improves people's hearts and slims their waistlines. When couples are trying to conceive, they have to have lots of sex. Lots of women even use masturbation to help them sleep every night. Sometimes 'too much' sex is just what the doctor ordered." When asked how drugs like Viagra play into this idea, Ley responded: "All Viagra does is allow a man's existing levels of arousal to [create] physiological arousal. Viagra doesn't turn a man on unless he's already turned on; [it] doesn't lead to people having more sex unless they want to have more sex. The desire is already there ... there are people who abuse Viagra, but that's drug abuse."
"Feeling out of control and being out of control are two very different things. When we blame sex addiction for [people's sexual choices], we take the blame off of the person and put it onto the addiction or the stimulus. We take away the responsibility from that person and instead say, 'Gee, we wouldn't have this problem if we didn't have so much porn on the Internet.' We need to remember that people are making choices."
"Some folks have applied [the idea of sex addiction] to women, but pulled back from the emphasis on sex, saying, 'Women don't have sex as much, but what they do is get addicted to love.' I think that [idea] is so gender-biased that it's offensive. There are women out there who enjoy anonymous sex as much or more than some men do. There are [also] men who can't get an erection unless they're in love."
"Some proponents of sex addiction argue that high levels of sex that go untreated lead to ... problems like infidelity, rape, pedophilia and even bestiality. There is no slippery slope here that leads people who have too much sex to descend into a morass of sexual crime and depravity. High rates of sex do not affect a person's morals, values or judgment. This is also an example of the moral panic that is embedded in [the narrative of] sex addiction."
"The needs of the media have changed [over the last 20 years]. Media outlets need to put things out as fast as possible, and put out ideas that are going to grab people's attention and create anxiety that can be relieved. Sex addiction is a great way to do that because it creates fear in people. [It makes them think], 'Maybe I'm a sex addict or my husband or wife is a sex addict.'"
"[The myth of sex addiction] emerges from a very long history of anti-sex, anti-masturbation sentiment that exists in a lot of American culture. We tend to view sex in very dramatic moral terms, and there's a very significant fear around what sexuality potentially means. Unrestrained sexuality [and] the use of pornography are seen as the way in which a slippery slope is created -- especially for men. When they get in trouble for sexual behaviors, they say, 'Oh, it was sex addiction.' It's the same thing as saying, 'The devil made me do it.' We treat sex with fear, but we're so bloody obsessed with it that you can't turn around without seeing sex."
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