Can you love two people at once and stay married?
I have interviewed dozens of wives who love, or have loved, two men simultaneously. They have shared different strategies -- and different outcomes -- to this "euphoric, painful juggling act" as one 42-year-old wife put it. She says she "deeply loves" her husband of 20 years, father of her two young children, though is "madly in love" with her first boyfriend with whom she chatted all night at a recent high school reunion.
She wants to stay married and stay in touch with her teenage love, which she has, so far, kept as a "text- no-sex-affair." While the numerous conversations I've had with wives on this subject show there's not one surefire cure for this schism of the heart, here's one piece of advice that comes up a lot: It is possible to love more than one at a time if you love each person differently. Translation: It's rough on the psyche to have multiple sex partners unless you swing or come from a polygamous culture.
"My old boyfriend and I realized that we have to keep our revived love affair virtual," says the wife described above. "We had a lingering goodbye kiss -- okay a long make-out -- then when we got home we both realized, 'Put us in the same room and it is absolute, guaranteed disaster for our marriages.' So we communicate online, and maybe, someday we can meet again -- if I outlive my husband..." Her voice trails off.
There is often a powerful longing, and curiosity, about "the one who got away," the prom date who re-appears 10 or 30 years later -- with less hair and more belly but with the same penetrating eyes. Old boyfriends are our history-holders; they watched us grow from girls to women, they took us to drive-ins in Mustangs on summer nights.
The chapter on flirty friendships in my book "The Secret Lives of Wives" has prompted a deluge of mail from wives who swear by their boyfriends-with-boundaries, men they love in their hearts and not with their loins. These flirtations can spice up the gray corridors of a long marriage. Feeling sexually and cerebrally charged by others beyond a primary relationship is a natural response of the human animal. And when kept within limits, who can deny that it feels good?
Men we aren't married to find us smart and extraordinary because they don't live with us in the grind of ordinary life, with kids, mortgages and sinks strewn with toothpaste and their newly shaved facial hair. In old boyfriends, we find our lost youth; in new men friends, we get the endorphin rush of being on a first date. The trouble starts when sexual crackle between two people who aren't married to each other erupts into a roaring bonfire love, an urgent attraction that is both dangerous and delicious. These are the stories in the "Naughty Girls" chapter of my book, depicting wives who cross the line, propelled by a "passion I need and am not getting at home," as one woman accounts for her "justified" philandering .
This is a wife who is married to a man who has initiated sex "maybe four times" in 25 years of marriage, and each time was "cold and unsatisfying," she says. She doesn't want to divorce a man she loves as a friend, and who is a doting father and grandfather.
"What he doesn't know won't hurt him," she adds. "I feel like I'm getting the best of both worlds -- a stable family and passionate love. And so far I've been successful at compartmentalizing my two lives without suffering."
This woman is rare in that she possesses the compartmentalizing skills most prevalent in the male species. Most wives who speak to me about sleeping with men they aren't married to feel like their insides are being torn up. I hear the word "Xanax" a lot.
"Sleeping with two people at once is exhausting, torturing and makes you bitchy to your kids" is one common summation.
Acting out on forbidden love has been shaking up, and shattering, marriages since men and women first started forming permanent bonds. I can't interview women from prehistoric times who played around in the cave next door. Yet I bet their reflections wouldn't be that different than those of the modern women in "The Secret Lives of Wives," who come from a plethora of experiences but agreed on one thing: There are no road maps to navigating illicit love. Only you know what you are capable of doing, without losing your mind.
Can you handle a secret second life? Are you willing to risk your marriage since most secrets get found out? Can you keep a sexy male friendship in the platonic state while feeling stuck in a loveless, sexless marriage? If that answer is "no," can you handle a divorce?
I know I leave you with more questions than answers on this subject that has fascinated writers like me for centuries. Yet there is one fact I know for certain: Fantasy is too often better than reality. A new boyfriend becomes an old boyfriend who probably shakes gross facial hair off his razor into the sink like that yucky husband of yours does. Holding a flirtation at arms length allows you to sustain the alluring mystery.
This blogger's book, "The Secret Lives of Wives" can be found here, and she can be found on: www.iriskrasnow.com