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The Growing World of Unfaithful Wives
Linda is going about her usual morning routine. A sweet-looking, tall blonde, Linda at age forty is a successful interior designer. After seeing her husband, a lawyer, off to work she bundles her seven-year-old daughter into warm clothing and, in the brisk wind of the winter morning, walks her to school. She drops her child off, then strolls to a fashionable shopping area nearby where she stops to see a few antique dealers in search of some tables and mirrors for her clients.
When she finishes her business, Linda doesn't return to her own apartment. Instead, she walks to a building a few blocks away, takes the elevator to an apartment on the eighth floor, rings the bell, and is greeted at the door by an older, charming European art dealer she met while lunching with a client. He has been eagerly awaiting her.
Linda has been having an affair with this man for the past two years, seeing him three afternoons a week. She is part of a large group of daring women who have swollen the population of unfaithful wives in our society to an all-time high.
Husbands have always been known to cheat in large numbers—in 1948, Alfred Kinsey, in his first landmark study of human sexuality, pegged the rate of male infidelity at 50 percent. Other, more recent estimates place the contemporary figure at anywhere from 60 to as much as 70 percent for men in the upper income brackets.
Although it has taken a while for women to embrace the playing around game, statistics from many sources indicate that wives increasingly have been taking lovers of their own. The rise in female infidelity is evident once you look at the results of these surveys:
In 1953, Kinsey reported that 26 percent of wives had been unfaithful.
By 1970, the number had risen to 36 percent, according to a poll done for Psychology Today magazine.
In 1975, a survey of the readers of Redbook magazine (considered to be a conservative population of women) uncovered the fact that 39 percent of them had been unfaithful.
In 1980, Paul Gebhard, a coauthor of the first original Kinsey report, estimated that 40 percent of married women would have an affair by the age of forty. That same year, a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine came up with the startling fact that 51 percent of its readers had committed adultery.
In 1982, a survey by Playboy that included fifteen thousand females found that 38 percent of the wives had been unfaithful.
In 1984, Playgirl magazine sponsored a survey that revealed one out of every two wives among 1,207 women had played around.
In 1986, a survey of thirty-four thousand women by New Woman magazine found that 41 percent of the wives had actually had extramarital sex, while 44 percent admitted being tempted.
In 1989, New York Woman magazine polled its readers and reported that almost one out of every two wives surveyed had cheated.
In that same year Woman magazine revealed (in a report I wrote for the magazine) that half the women who had responded to its survey about office affairs were wives carrying on with men they had met in the workplace.
Of course, men still are having more affairs than women, but based on cumulative data, the evidence is quite clear: Women are catching up to men, and both sexes are indulging in a lot more extramarital hanky-panky.
The high rates of female infidelity uncovered by the more recent surveys jibe with earlier predictions by many respected sex researchers. Looking at the greater number of unfaithful wives among younger women (a finding of all surveys since Kinsey's), and figuring that these younger women would be moving through the life cycle, researchers Morton Hunt; James Ramey; and Gilbert Nass, Roger Libby, and Mary Fisher all made an educated guess that in the last years of this century—just about now—45 to 55 percent of all married women would be unfaithful by age forty.
As I report later in this book, two surveys reveal that in the youngest age groups, under the age of thirty, wives may even be outstripping husbands by a small margin.
No one knows how the fear of AIDS may be cutting into the infidelity rates of both sexes, but, according to recent reports, heterosexual women and men are still by and large continuing to practice sex as they did before it became so potentially deadly. Only two among the 250 letters in my files from women having affairs mentioned AIDS.
The statistics alone warrant a serious consideration of infidelity—a significant proportion of the female population is involved, using a conservative estimate backed by the majority of the surveys cited, if approximately 40 percent of wives in the United States have had extramarital relationships, that means more than twenty-one million wives in this country alone have sampled the joys and sorrows of a secret love life.
Women as a group don't cheat lightly, and don't have quick or casual flings. Because most have serious, lengthy affairs that engage their emotions, unfaithful wives tend to be troubled in one way or another. They are afloat in uncharted waters, in which they often flounder.
Women in the Dark
There are no guidelines for women in affairs, no models except soap operas and steamy novels, which serve up glamorized and inaccurate portraits. In more serious works of fiction suicide, social ostracism, and other disasters, unlikely for contemporary women, befall possible models like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.
Women are further hampered in understanding the female experience of adultery by the secrecy that surrounds their liaisons. Wives are extremely furtive about their extramarital activities. As a result, many of them have no idea how other women act and react in similar situations. With no confidantes, they have no place to unload their feelings. They are unable to seek solace or insight into their dilemmas. They often feel very alone.
As I have discovered, an illicit relationship is not all glamour, romance, or joy for the woman involved. Romance and joy may, indeed, be there, but wives involved with other men are also often conflicted, confused, subject to incredible highs and devastating lows.
I am quite certain, from the 250 letters written in response to the office affair survey I authored, and from the other case histories of unfaithful wives that form the basis of this book, that in the end wives are not liberated as women by their affairs, as Dalma Heyn suggested in her recent book, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife. Instead, there is a tendency for wives to become obsessed with their lovers and emotionally dependent upon their relationships. They are unable to break off their affairs even when they want to.
Here is an example of the kind of helpless dependency that too often sets in:
I am a thirty-three-year-old woman. I have been married for fifteen years to a man who is gentle, kind, and a very good provider. In the first three years of our marriage we were very much in love and our sex life was excellent. Twelve years ago we moved to the town we live in at present. I met this man twenty-one years older than I am. We began an affair. He was also married. Gradually I grew apart from my husband, although I believe he still loves me. I love this other man more than I ever believed possible.
Four years ago he was divorced from his wife. Just prior to his divorce I had a son. I do not know which man is the father. Since his divorce, this other man started to date other women in the open while continuing to see me secretly. Three months ago I decided I couldn't take his seeing other women, so I told him we should stop seeing each other. He agreed, mainly because of my intense jealousy. He says he has to get on with his life and he never promised me any future with him. I still see him about twice a week. I know for both our sakes I need to let him go, but I can't. Each time I see him I fall apart. I can't help myself and I don't know what to do.
Another wife wrote:
I still love my husband and I never want to hurt him. I hope to God he never finds out. I also know I cannot stop this affair. I need it. My greatest fear is that my lover will want to call it quits.
My own conclusion about the way wives ultimately lapse into dependency upon their lovers is echoed by sociologist Annette Lawson's observations about a population of unfaithful women in Great Britain. What we have here, then, is a large group of women still, in many ways, at the mercy of men they care for, even in an outlaw situation.
Why women get involved and what happens to them when they do are the subjects of this book. Although there are some wives who get sexually involved with other women, that is another story for another time. This book is about heterosexual affairs. There is a heavy concentration on real affairs—the ones that seem to go on for years—because they seem to be what most women have. That was certainly true among the 250 women who wrote letters about their extramarital liaisons, among those seeking my counsel as an advice columnist, among the women whose case histories are in my files, and among participants in my workshops. It is also serious, emotional affairs that tend to get women into the most trouble.
In addition to wives already embroiled with other men, this book is for the uncounted but considerable number of women consumed by temptation, who fantasize about extramarital partners and wonder what it would be like to have an affair.
Studies show that sex with a different partner is the favorite fantasy of married women. This fantasy generally arises while they are making love to their husbands, but I have found it haunts a lot of wives outside the bedroom as well. Here are two examples, drawn from the many letters about extramarital fantasies I received during my years as an advice columnist for New Woman and Woman magazines:
I am very happy with my married life of five years, but I catch myself daydreaming about one of my co-workers. We have been friends since I started working here three years ago. We find it very easy to talk to one another. I can tell he finds me intriguing and I like the attention he gives me! He says, "Boy, if you weren't married." I only want to have a platonic friendship with him and have told him so. But we both get a feeling of excitement when we are with each other. I know if I wanted him sexually he would hop to it. I like the fantasizing I do about him, but I have become so obsessed....
I'm going crazy. 1 find myself extremely attracted to a man I work with. I think about him all the time and find little excuses to go in his office and talk to him. The trouble is I am married and have been for fifteen years. I love my husband and don't know why I am having these fantasies about someone else. I am anxious at the thought of a possible romance and all the wonderful feelings associated with it, coupled with guilt for even thinking about such a thing. My mind is always wandering to this man.
I believe we are currently living in a world of tempted women. What draws wives into actual affairs is explored in the heart of this book. However, our culture contributes to the temptation that women everywhere are experiencing—often to their own discomfort, as the letters above indicate.
Soap operas, best-selling novels, the lyrics of country and rock music, and the movies all portray wives in affairs, often in appealing, glamorous ways. Subliminally these images pave the path to adultery. When an opportunity presents itself (as it does increasingly among working wives, who constitute the majority these days) women are more likely to want to try extramarital romance.
The media are also full of real-life illicit affairs. Royal princesses are accused of having lovers on the front pages of tabloids. Royal princes are accused of having affairs with women married to other men. Married movie and television stars are, thanks to the press, having "secret" affairs publicly. Biographies and autobiographies of film stars like Ingrid Bergman and Joan Crawford reveal lives dotted with extramarital affairs. Maria Callas, the opera star, carried on her liaison with Aristotle Onassis quite openly, even though she was married at the time. What all this public exposure of the love lives of the high and mighty does is create a climate of acceptance for extramarital affairs for others.
We are in an era of quick fixes as well. When something goes wrong we look for a fast remedy. If there is trouble in a marriage, it often seems easier to seek solace with another man than to confront the problem and go to work on the marriage.
The philosophy of me-first selfishness holds sway in our culture and contributes to adultery, too. The idea that you have a right to whatever you think will give you pleasure or happiness makes it easier to give in to temptation when it arises.
Finally, there is a less obvious but intriguing factor at work. Adultery has always been associated with dominance on the part of the adulterer. Men have been able to institutionalize it as their right and get away with it so freely in the past because they were the ones with the power and the control of financial resources within the family. Historically, women with power and resources of their own have always indulged in more adultery than others. Queens like Catherine the Great of Russia took lovers rather openly. In the upper classes generally, women with their own wealth and influence have always had more lovers than their middle-class sisters, and have silently been permitted to do so in their own circles.
If there is a relationship between rates of adultery and dominance, and I believe there is, then we must look at the increasing number of dominant women in our society today. As I point out in other parts of this book, higher education, larger paychecks, the power to make decisions in the family, sexual aggressiveness—all have been shown to be linked with increased rates of female infidelity. Since, in our culture, there are more college-educated women, more women earning higher salaries, more women who are able to make the first move in the bedroom, and more women involved in making family decisions than ever before, females may simply be seizing the prerogative that has always gone along with dominance.
In my last book, Men Who Can't Be Faithful, I gave women insight into the extramarital excursions of their husbands—something they sorely needed, according to the response of readers. With this book, Tempted Women, I am rounding out the subject of infidelity and giving women information they need to understand themselves or other women in the most secret part of female life.
I have found out, in the writing of this book, just how curious men are about women's infidelity as well. So, I say welcome, too, to any male readers who want to understand more about what tempts wives to stray and what they think and feel when they do. A lot of what you will be hearing will be in the unfaithful women's own voices.CHAPTER 2
How to Predict Whether a Woman Will Have an Affair
What makes a woman a prime candidate for a steamy affair? Novelists have drawn memorable portraits of Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, Isadora Wing in Fear of Flying—unforgettable women drawn into forbidden, overwhelming passion. The Odyssey gave us their opposite—Penelope, who remained faithful despite the long absence of her wandering husband, Odysseus, and plenty of suitors clamoring at her door. Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table told us of Arthur's wife, Guinevere, lusting after Lancelot. Isolde letched after Tristan. The movies gave us Mrs. Robinson seducing Dustin Hoffman, as a very young man, in The Graduate.
Always the stuff of fiction, adultery in real life has only more recently come under the professional scrutiny of social scientists and professionals in the field of psychology, who have been pondering the question of who commits adultery and why. Ever since Alfred Kinsey first made the study of human sexuality a respectable pursuit with the publication of his first groundbreaking Kinsey Report in 1948, there has been a stream of professional and scientific papers, studies, and surveys on the subject. They have given us clues as to why a wife who, like most young brides, originally believed in fidelity, turns around and risks all—her marriage, her home, her children, her security, her social standing, and sometimes her job—for the forbidden: the anxiety-provoking but incomparable excitement of a secret love.
Excerpted from Tempted Women by Carol Botwin. Copyright © 1994 Copestone Press Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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