Thursday, June 15, 2017

Obsessed with Married Men

This week Ask Polly offers the case of a woman who dubs herself: Not Like That.

As often happens with these letters, this one does provide enough information to allow us to know what is happening. NLT is divorced, in her late 40s, dating a couple of men—no strings attached—but is obsessed with the idea of dating a married man. I know you did not know about this, but apparently the internet has web sites where husbands can seek out prospective mistresses, women who want nothing more than to have affairs with married men—again, straightforward, upfront cheating, with no strings attached. Better yet, the men who are seeking mistresses say that they need to be rescued from their wives. A charming picture, don't you think?

NLT’s marriage was destroyed by another woman. When she became suspicious of her husband, he told her that she was insane and was seeing things. She went to a therapist and threw the bum out. Now she finds herself on the horns of a dilemma.

Examine her letter:

I’m in my late 40s, divorced, and have recently tried online dating. Overall, it’s been great. I’ve met some terrific men and have been seeing a couple of them regularly. I’m upfront about not wanting to be exclusive at this time, and they’re fine with keeping things light and casual, so that’s all good.

A bit of background: I was married for 17 years. When it went bad, it went very bad. I know “gaslighting” is the term du jour, but in my case, it’s accurate. When my (now) ex found someone else, he covered his ass with an assault on my sanity. “Crazy,” “imagining things,” “paranoid” were the words he used most frequently when he laid the blame for our problems at my feet and told me that despite my horrible flaws, he loved me and was committed to me and I should be grateful. This went on for years. He was very good and very convincing. I got to the point where I didn’t know what to believe because I just couldn’t figure out what was real. It damn near destroyed me and sent me running to a therapist to figure out what was wrong with me. With her help, I came to understand that I wasn’t crazy, this was abuse, and I kicked him out and saved myself. Now I feel strong, peaceful, and blessedly sane.

The issue I am facing now is a desire to respond to online ads from married men looking to cheat on their mean, awful partners. To be clear, I will never act on that desire. I work really hard to conduct my life with integrity, and I want to be as far from my ex’s brand of toxicity as possible. But … a part of me is drawn to the idea of being the other woman. Of getting to have the fun and pleasure while the wife sits at home. I find these feelings disturbing. I thought I was better than that. I thought I was more healed than that. I don’t know where this desire is coming from, what it’s trying to tell me, or how to make it go away. Do you have any perspective to give me?

You will notice that we know next to nothing about this woman. We are not, in other words, dealing with a human being, but with a fictional character living in a fantasy world. Yet, any serious novelist would provide us more salient details about her life.

We do not know what she does for a living. Does she work or does she receive spousal support? And, we do not know whether or not there are any children involved. Did their marriage break up because one party wanted children while the other did not? The fact that it seemed to come apart when she passed beyond childbearing age might be relevant. Did he seek out a younger woman to have a child? We do not know.

We also do not know whether her ex-husband married his mistress. Did the other woman poach her husband, steal his affections, or was she in the dark about the scheme also? Again, we do not know. We do not even know whether the other woman was single or married.

We also know nothing about the men she is dating casually. One finds it slightly surprising that she seems to be having two simultaneous affairs, but we do not know whether these men are older, younger or neither. We do not know what they do in this world and whether they are looking for marriage or hookups.

If NLT is allowing herself to be used by men for their sexual pleasure, it might be that she does not feel very good about the situation. She might feel that she deserves it and she might derive pleasure from it, but still, the situation seems slightly peculiar.

We do not know whether she is attracted to married men because she finds it more difficult than she says to let herself be someone’s hookup. We do not know whether or not she is looking for a married man because she wants to poach him and—assuming that she is childless-- to become a stepmother.

Would she prefer to be a wife or a mistress? We do not know. Does she prefer not having the daily drudgery of wifedom? Is she torn because the arrangement appeals to her more than did being a wife? Again, we do not know.

Apparently, her former husband did not merely lie to her. He tried to make he think that she was crazy. And he, despite having a mistress, chose to keep his wife. Again, we would want to know whether or not there were children involved. And we would want to know whether he wanted to stay married because divorce would have been too costly. And perhaps the mistress told him she did not want to marry him anyway.

I have chosen not to share any of what Polly thinks about this. Consider it my good deed for the day. 


Shaun F said...

I want to thank you Stuart for not sharing Polly's thoughts. And as gauche as this is going to be to say - this woman, NLT, is batshit crazy. It's almost like there is a place beyond the abyss that I am accustomed to looking into, that is even more disturbing. I'm sure that we would find a shrine to Polly's thoughts in said place.

Ares Olympus said...

NLT: With her help, I came to understand that I wasn’t crazy, this was abuse, and I kicked him out and saved myself. Now I feel strong, peaceful, and blessedly sane.

That is a very short story, 30 words, problem solved, almost poetic like AA, but with all blame conveniently pointed outward.

I'm not sure I'd ever risk declaring myself sane, much less blessedly so, nor trust anyone to certify me as such. The gods of Fate do not always respectful to such declarations.

Stuart: One finds it slightly surprising that she seems to be having two simultaneous affairs...

I don't know the firm definition of affair, but if a woman told me "not wanting to be exclusive at this time" I would assume she's not having sex with anyone. In fact I'd assume that is what she's suggesting, or that and showing she's got options, even if she doesn't. It's a way of telling a man he still has work to do.

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