When I was in my early 20s, my Aunt Veronica yanked me aside at a family party and said, "Has anyone told you about married men?" Her inflection made me laugh. It was a warning both stern and amusing.
As it turned out, I was learning quite a bit about married men. I worked as a cocktail waitress in a lounge called Metrazur on the East Balcony of Grand Central Station (it's now an Apple store). The married men -- those residing in the city and commuting to the suburbs alike -- came in and talked. Some of them hit on me (none of them succeeded) while others, after several drinks, opened up about marriage and all its agony. Many had been unfaithful; none of them had immediate plans to leave.
I think they liked talking to me because I didn't judge them. I didn't judge because I was fascinated -- I wanted to hear their stories. I was young and still under the impression that marriage was magic. This was a brand-new reality. I asked one man what went wrong with his marriage. He said, "When we got married, she was my best friend. She's not my best friend anymore." It's an honest yet evasive answer -- failing to explore what actually happened. I asked him why he stays. He responded, "She begged me to. She said, 'I don't care what you do, just please don't leave me.'" From what I could tell, the arrangement was that he didn't have to wear his wedding ring and could sleep with whoever he wanted while she continued to enjoy his salary and their house in Westchester, N.Y. They also had two children under the age of 10, which is probably another reason he stayed.
A decade later, I still talk marriage with men -- except no longer in the cocktail lounge. I now do it on the train. I'm a commuter these days. The unhappily married men I've known inspired me to write a blog called "How Many Marriages Actually End In Happily Ever After?" The write-up takes a broad look at couples who stay married for legal or financial reasons despite no longer feeling any type of connection with each other. I'd now like to take a more intimate look into this situation, which in my experience, is quite common.
One man I commute with regularly agreed to be interviewed -- anonymously, of course. He's been married twice. The first marriage lasted five years, and his second marriage is approaching the 30-year mark. He confessed to me last year that he had just ended a decade-long affair. Here's what he has to say:
Tell me about the affair.
I hate to use a cliché, but sparks flew from the very first moment we laid eyes on each other. We anticipated each other's next move and we were like one. At the very beginning, we each agreed that we loved our spouses and would never leave them (not sure about the love part anymore, but I'm still not going anywhere), and we never deviated from that. We ended our relationship in early 2011 because we decided we'd never leave our spouses. I have not spoken to her since, but I miss her and every day something reminds me of her.
I am so glad that I have experienced this in my lifetime. I have not had such an intense connection with either of my wives; by the time I realized what I needed in a mate, it was too late to change.
Do you think your wife suspected the affair?
I honestly don't think she suspected. How does one have an affair for 10 years and his or her spouse know nothing? Someone isn't paying attention to what matters.
What would you do if you got caught being unfaithful?
Probably lie and say it was just sex.
Why do you stay married?
There are many reasons. I have been through a divorce once and don't want to do that again. My wife has been a wonderful mother, and I want her to have holidays in her home with her children and grandkids. My wife has not worked outside of the house since she had our youngest 20-some years ago; I don't want to make her start all over in her 50s.
How do you feel about your wife?
My spouse is the wrong spouse and was so from the day I married her. I just wasn't wise enough know it back then (perhaps it was infatuation). I don't think I love her anymore or could ever love her again.
I have come to realize that my first wife was a much better fit for me; I was just a fool who was looking for greener grass. With the second one, I thought I had won a prize: beautiful, great body, wanted to stay home with the kids. Those were all the wrong reasons, and I overlooked a lot of flaws.
Are you friends with your wife?
I try to be a good husband by remembering all of the important dates and buying nice gifts. We do things together: miniature golf, swing dancing, and deep-sea fishing, but quite frankly, I'd rather be doing all of this with someone else. I can't remember the last time we had sex. It's sad; how many husbands get rejected for sex? I've just stopped trying to have it with her. And quite frankly, I no longer enjoyed it with her, so no big loss. She does not understand the impact of not having sex with your husband. She thinks it's just a throw in. She used it to punish me. Now it's no longer a punishment.
Are there other reasons you stay, such as not wanting to pay alimony?
To be honest, I just don't want to go through everything that a divorce entails. Plus, unless I can find a much younger woman to support me in my old age (ha), there are not enough assets to support both my wife and me in separate retirement.
Any final thoughts?
Why does it irritate me that I have provided you such good material for your anti-marriage campaign*? I really do wish that I loved my wife and that she was the one who did it for me!
*For the record, I don't have an anti-marriage campaign. I just like to look at situations from all sides.