Valentine's Day is a commercial holiday that causes a lot of men and women to feel sad and lonely if they are not romantically involved with someone. For those that are currently in a relationship or married, the holiday forces us to think about our feelings towards our significant other -- whether positive or negative. The following story is true.
The Other Women
Am I wearing a sign that says, "I sleep with married men"? Wh y is it that I seem to have attracted more married men in the last few years? I think it is because at my age, I meet age-appropriate men who have been married for around 20 years and are seeking something that is missing from their marriages -- I am not just talking about sex, but communication and fun. Yes, fun! I know that many men are attracted to me for the same reason that my friends like hanging out with me -- I am honest, friendly and fun. Just imagine spending 20 years with the same person and after the honeymoon wears off, the children enter the picture. Suddenly, all the focus is on them and their health, education and welfare. The romance disappears from the marriage and communication suffers. Someone in the relationship is not getting their emotional needs met, so although they don't want to divorce, they still have needs and may look outside the confines of the marriage to find that certain something that may be missing.
It used to be that people didn't live as long as we do today, so marriage did last until death. Now we are alive and well when a marriage hits the 20-year mark, and it seems that this is the point when many of these "sacred" unions begin to deteriorate -- if not sooner. If there were children in the picture, they may be in college or moving out of the home and a couple loses them as a mutual focal point. It is usually at this moment that communication breaks down, romance disappears and sex dries up. It is very difficult to be intimate sexually in a marriage of 20 years without that emotional intimacy. Ironically, it is easy for a one night stand.
After years of criticizing those that fall for married men or women, I accidentally fell myself -- not once but three and almost four times! (Truth be told, two out of the four lied to me about their marital status). I am the "other woman," vilified through the centuries in novels like "The Scarlett Letter" and movies like "Fatal Attraction".
You would have to be living on another planet to not have heard about Paula Broadwell, the "other woman" who caused the demise of four star General David Petraeus, and Rielle Hunter, who was not only romantically entangled with John Edwards, but had his baby as well. Both of these women were labeled "crazy temptresses" and "home wreckers".
Nobody forced these two men to stray from their marriages or "cheat," as most people like to call it. Those two women were smart, interesting and very attractive. There are a lot of men who would possibly do the same thing, but these two men were famous and had political careers; therefore, they were outted.
As I said before, it is not sex that is the driving force behind extra-marital affairs. Forty-eight percent of of men or women who cheat do it because they are not getting their emotional needs, wants and desires met within the relationship. Also, another motivation that drives some into extramarital affairs is the opportunity to be fresh and interesting to someone new. It is not that each member of the couple doesn't change on a daily basis, but sometimes when we live with someone, we don't notice that change occurring. We may be too busy raising a family and too focused on our work. Therefore, spouses tend to stop being enamored with one another no matter how interesting each person in the relationship happens to be. An affair gives a person the opportunity to tell their story once again to new ears and eyes, and it is also a way to feel young, attractive and alive again. But this magic will generally rub off with familiarity -- unless you have really found your soul mate.
In my opinion, the affairs that most often succeed are born in the work place. I know many people who began affairs in their places of employment that subsequently ended in marriage. Work is where people spend the majority of their time, and for many people, work is their main passion in life. If two people share work - whether it's in politics, on a movie set, or in technology -- they speak the same language, and an affair can be more than short-term self gratification. Look at the TV show "Mad Men." Jon Hamm's character, Don Draper, marries his secretary, who then gets promoted to being a copywriter. Their relationship sizzled when she was working at the company, but she eventually quits to pursue her acting career and they begin to have problems in their marriage.
Why do these people who feel the need to find gratification elsewhere choose to stay in a dying marriage? Well for one, they might feel that divorce is shameful, which stems from their belief systems and their respective religions or perhaps from the idea that they may be failures at relationships. One of the married men with whom I became involved commented to me about a male friend of his who had been married and divorced twice. He called this man "A two time loser at marriage." I responded to this statement by saying that maybe his friend was a two-time winner because he knew when to get out of a bad marriage.
The most common reason as to why many people choose to remain in their marriages is the unfounded fear that they will lose the love and respect of their children, family and friends. Equally as scary is the fear of losing their hard-earned money due to the division of assets. As comedian and political satirist Bill Maher once said on his TV show, "Real Time," "More and more couples have stopped getting divorced mainly because they can't afford to in this bad economy." He created a few new greeting cards for those that are forced economically to stay and may have a lover on the side. One card was from a husband to his wife and read, "Thinking of you when I have to delay orgasm for my mistress."
I do have friends who have taken the healthy route and tried individual and couples therapy to remedy the unhappiness they were experiencing in their marriages. For a few, counseling helped to resolve many issues, although there are others who were unable to find a solution for their differences and chose to divorce. Today, these people are happy individuals; they haven't lost the love of their children and have even found someone new to love.
In the movie "Hope Springs", Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play a couple that have been in a loveless marriage. After celebrating their 31st anniversary, Meryl Streep's character finally hits an emotional bottom. Feeling terribly lonely and unhappy, she decides to pay for a week of intensive couples therapy with a couple's therapy specialist whose book she had read. His therapy is aimed at bringing back the emotional intimacy, love and sex into a dying marriage. She begs her husband to go along with her. He refuses. When she leaves the house without him to catch her plane, he enters the kitchen but there is no breakfast waiting for him on the table, as he had been used to seeing every morning. As he begins looking around their house, you can feel his fear of being alone; he panics, quickly packs a bag and rushes to the airport to get on that plane with her.
Still, there will always be those that, though they are unhappy, don't seek help and continue to stay and stray. Marriage gives them a certain comfort zone because, though they may be emotionally alone, they are not physically home alone.
My own story started innocently enough. It was the end of a lovely autumn Sunday in New York, and I was having a bite to eat with some friends in our favorite neighborhood hotel, The Carlyle Hotel, which is situated on New York City's Upper East Side. When my friends left, I spotted "Tom" as he and his friend entered the Carlyle's Bemelmans's Bar. He was casually dressed in khaki trousers and a matching suede jacket with locks of prematurely graying hair falling over his frameless eye glasses, and his arm was in a sling due to recent surgery on his shoulder that kind of added to his sex appeal. I thought he looked like William Hurt in his younger days. When he and his friend sat down next to me, I glanced down at his hands and noticed his gold wedding band. Feeling disappointed, I turned away to finish my dinner.
When his friend left him alone for a moment, he turned to me, reached out his hand and introduced himself, "Hi my name is Tom, what's yours?" He then asked the bartender, Luis, to get me another glass of whatever it was I was drinking and charge it to him. I politely declined, but he insisted. I was feeling melancholy that evening due to the ending of my relationship with another man who, I might add, was single. I was flattered by the attention Tom was showering on me. We began to talk and talk and talk. He was a smart and seemingly successful lawyer from one of New York's most prestigious law firms and had just moved back to New York from London. His friend was a legal journalist.
The three of us closed the bar and, still ensconced in a lively discussion, decided to move on to a local restaurant, JG Melons. When his friend left him alone once again, this man -- who I had known for just a short amount of time -- looked me straight in the eyes and said, "I would really like to kiss you right now". I knew he had had one too many, and as I casually looked down again at his wedding ring, I laughed off his advances, thinking he couldn't be serious. I admit that I found him to be very attractive and he made me laugh like crazy. Enjoying his company, I let him walk me home, then hesitantly -- because of the fact that he was a married man -- I let him kiss me. We eventually ended up in my bed.
I didn't give much thought to the night I spent with Tom because I was still emotionally hung up on the other man in my life. But it was good for me to see what was missing from my other relationship by comparison, such as the intense passion and loving affection. As much as all of this was absent from my previous relationship, I imagine it was also not a big part of Tom's marriage. I don't like to call what Tom did "cheating" because both parties in a marriage are being cheated out of something, so who is the cheater if we stay too long in a marriage?
Tom and I emailed on and off for the next few weeks. I had gone home to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. One night while I was on the computer, I received an email from him out of the blue asking simply, "Alive or dead?" I hadn't communicated with him in ten days. I responded that I was alive and well and still in LA but would be coming back to New York City for Christmas and suggested that we meet for a drink before the holidays. "What a good idea," he said.
We met at the scene of our initial "crime", The Bemelmans's Bar at The Carlyle Hotel. He said he had wanted to see me again to know if he would still feel the same attraction towards me that he felt the first time we met, and upon seeing me, his answer was a resolute "yes." I then asked him the following question, knowing that I was playing with someone who could ultimately prove to be very dangerous to me: "Ehat is your story?" He said, "Nothing really, I am happily married". I thought, "Hmmm, if you are so happily married then what are you doing out and about hitting on and sleeping with me?" He added, "I have a stray eye, so is it really so bad to want to sleep with an attractive, sexy woman?" I didn't answer him, but I was thinking, "Oh yes, indeed it is bad. Bad for me and bad for you and bad for your marriage. If you were so happy, then there would be no need to look for this kind of attention outside the confines of your marriage." This was a man who seemed starved for attention and affection and through sex, he was able to obtain both.
I figured that he had never engaged in any type of long-term affair while he had been married because if he did, he would have had his own credit card and a private email account. He lost four of my earrings and broke a string of pearls in our many heated moments of passion. He offered to buy me a new pair of earrings, although he never did because he said he couldn't figure out a way to purchase them without his wife finding out about it because she paid all of the bills in their house. Funny, but he didn't seem concerned about his marriage when he would kiss me on street corners and in restaurants. Although, after the fact, I admit it would have been nice to replace at least one pair of those earrings. Nonetheless, I wasn't with Tom for the material goods -- I liked him.
He admitted to having three one-night stands in the last ten years, but I tend to believe there may have been many more; he likely doesn't remember them all probably because they happened when he had been in an alcoholic haze. He liked to drink and when he did, he drank a lot.
After the fourth time that we slept together - which, months later, he confessed was the best sex of his life and I had succeeded in satisfying every sexual fantasy he had ever had -- he proceeded to end things with me. It was just a few days before Valentine's Day. He told me that he went to sleep thinking about me, woke up thinking about me, was arranging his work schedule so that he could see me and he was afraid that he would do something stupid and his wife would find out and she didn't deserve to be hurt like this. I was thinking, "I don't deserve to be hurt like this," but I didn't vocalize it because I had been the one to choose to become involved with a married man, and I had to take responsibility for my actions. He never lied to me about being married as some men and women do when getting involved in extra-marital affairs. It didn't make it hurt less. A relationship is a relationship, and I wasn't ready for it to end.
Alas, our relationship didn't end that night. It continued on for the next year until he made a final decision before the Christmas holidays to end it for the last time, saying he just didn't have the time for two relationships in his life. He said, "I don't know how some men have mistresses, I really don't have the time". I think that the guilt was killing him -- guilt about what he was doing to his marriage and guilt about what he was doing to me. He was also dealing with some personal issues at his law firm. I think that I became collateral damage.
For many of the reasons I already explained, Tom is someone who -- no matter how unhappy he may be -- will never leave his wife. He is too worried about what his children, in-laws, friends and co-workers would think of him. He once said to me, "If my children found out, my youngest would never speak to me and my oldest would say 'Dad what are you doing?'" That is a pity because we were soul mates. We connected on many levels. I would have continued to see him if he hadn't have ended things because sometimes something is better than nothing, especially if you have found your great love and soulmate which, at the time, I thought I had.
In June, I was walking out of a play in New York whose story was coincidentally about relationships and the power of passion, "Venus In Fur". I began thinking about Tom. When the lights went up, there he was with his wife! I waited until his wife exited the theater and went up to him to say hello. Surprised to see me, he stopped quickly to give me a kiss, as we hadn't seen each other since that last December when he ended things. I was dying to get a good look at his wife because I had fantasized about her and what she was like for a very long time. I think it is a normal curiosity. But as I watched them walk up the street, he trailing behind her, not talking or touching each other, I felt sad for them. They reminded me of the couple in "Hope Springs."
I don't get it -- life is too short to be in a marriage without that all encompassing love, passion, communication and respect. I know it exists because my parents are fortunate to have it all in their marriage of almost 60 years! On the last evening that I was together with Tom, I asked a question: Of all of his male friends, who did he consider to be his best friend? He replied, "My wife is my best friend". I thought, "How could she be his best friend when they were living a lie together? Best friends don't lie to each other." At least they shouldn't.
I am not someone who intentionally set out to hurt anyone. I am like most women my age, looking for good sex, love and affection in a world where it is not the easiest thing to find anymore. As the saying goes, "All the good ones are taken." At least the once-single good men are taken.
Hester Prynne from "The Scarlett Letter", Alex Forrest from "Fatal Attraction", Paula Broadwell, Rielle Hunter and me, Mara Gibbs, are all "the other woman". Today's society continues to look down at us. There is a double standard; women tend to forgive their husbands when their extra-marital affairs are discovered, as the wife of one of the men with whom I was involved did. Yet, in my opinion, the majority of men would throw their wives out and ask for a divorce if they found out their wife had cheated on them, just as the husband of a girlfriend did last year.
When women screw around they are called "whores" and "sluts". A man who has multiple lovers is considered to be "macho" and a "playboy". It is 2013, and women are still treated like characters in a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. We definitely don't deserve the "Scarlett Letter" just because we become "the other woman".
Many months after the ending of my relationship with Tom and the mending of my broken heart, I returned to The Carlyle (my version of Match.com) with some friends. It was there that I met married man number two, "Edward", who -- when asked -- told me he was divorced. To be continued...
Happy Valentine's Day