Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The End of the Affair

Hers has been a sexless marriage. The fault, dear reader, lies entirely with her husband. Or so she says. The marriage was plagued by husband’s sexual issues from the onset, and we do not know why she married him. And we do not know why he cannot, in her words, be helped.

For all we know, he is just not into her. Or he is just not into women. As for his impotence, aren’t there pills for that? Aren’t they hawked on television all day long? 

We will note in passing that the woman and her husband are probably 50 years old, at the least. 

Anyway, she consulted with a therapist, who told her to find a lover. What would we do without therapists? She did, and she discovered sexual pleasures she did not know she could experience. Apparently, her lover is also married; his marriage also lacks lust.

Anyway, the woman likes her marriage and likes her husband sufficiently to stay married. Fair enough. The choice is hers. But now, here’s the kicker. Husband has received a job offer that will take him and her far from her lover. Her lover is not reacting well.

So, she writes to therapist Lori Gottlieb. Here is the letter, unredacted:

I’ve been married for 25 years to a man who went from having many sexual issues and hang-ups to being impotent, and I am now in a totally sexless marriage. He can’t be helped, and frankly, I am not attracted to him at all anyway. We’re good partners and parents, and our family works well.

At the suggestion of a therapist, I sought out and found a wonderful man in a similar situation. We became friends and then lovers. The sex is the best of my entire life. It has given me so much joy and made me feel alive again. It’s also one of the best relationships I’ve ever had. No games, lots of laughs and connecting on many levels. The whole affair has made me a happier person and less resentful of my husband and marriage.  

Here’s the tragic part: My husband was recently offered the job of his dreams halfway across the country. While I protested it along the way, he felt this was an opportunity he could not turn down. So in the middle of a pandemic, he’s taking our family to a new state.

I have so many emotions about this. Besides leaving my great job and friends, my parents and brothers, and taking my kids away from everything they love and know, I am of course leaving my lover. I have tried to explain it all to my lover since the beginning, but he becomes enraged and screams that my husband is controlling and crazy, that I should stay here and my husband should go and then visit us on long weekends. I have never thought it was crazy for a family to move if the breadwinner gets a new job, but I find myself questioning that now, thanks to my lover’s reaction. I haven’t even been able to tell him when I’m actually leaving, because he begins ranting, and it makes our sporadic encounters too upsetting. So I have lied and told him I’m trying to see if I can stay somehow, just to keep him calm so we can enjoy our last weeks together. I don’t know how I will tell him the truth, and I have anxiety over that too.

I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that I finally found a wonderful person who has enriched my life—something I had been looking for forever—and now I have to say goodbye. I feel so out of control. I am envisioning my new life, relatively joyless, sexless, lonely, and isolated. My lover will never speak to me again—he’s made that clear—and obviously we won’t ever be able to see each other. And all of this angst and sadness is being experienced in secret.

How does one handle heartbreak that is a secret? Part of me wonders if I am even entitled to any of this grief, that maybe I deserve this for being an adulterer.


Newton, Massachusetts

The salient point here is very clear. Gottlieb sees it immediately and underscores it. This man, who is said to be the most wonderful lover this woman has ever had, is a boorish and abusive clod. Thus, something about her portrayal is obviously wrong:

What strikes me most in your letter is the contradiction between the joy you say your lover brings you and your description of how he treats you. I’ll start there, because when you express your profound heartbreak, I have a feeling that your loss—and the experience of bearing it alone—isn’t just about leaving your lover.

You say this affair is “one of the best relationships [you’ve] ever had.” But when someone who supposedly cares deeply about you becomes enraged and threatens to never speak to you again because you may make a decision that doesn’t suit his needs, and there’s so little room for your perspective that you feel you have to lie to appease him, that sounds as heartbreaking and lonely to me as the marriage you were using this relationship to find respite from.

Instead of seeing his behavior for what it is—manipulative, menacing, controlling, and cruel—you seem to idealize your lover as the source of your happiness, which indicates to me that your distorted ideas about love and connection have deep roots. In your lover, you say that you’ve found—and are now losing—“something you have been looking for forever,” and I think the word forever is probably apt. It sounds as if you’ve been longing for this “something” not just during your marriage, but for as long as you can remember.

Got it-- manipulative, menacing, controlling and cruel. That describes the lover’s behavior aptly. We might add: possessive. For the record we know nothing of the lover’s marital situation or his family relations.

Clearly, this woman has missed something essential about her lover. But, has she really? For all I know, the man has always had a cruel and manipulative streak. For all we know, Anonymous responds sexually to that aspect of his personality. Perhaps she has unrecognized masochistic tendencies. We do not know what it is about her affair that turn her on so fully, but perhaps it more closely represents 50 Shades of Gray than what we would think of as conjugal or even extra-conjugal bliss.

Better yet, and for all I know, we might speculate that the lover is a woman!! And that the letter writer is hiding her lover's gender. Would it be more likely that a man or a woman would throw this kind of tantrum? Wouldn't that make the situation a lot clearer?

Gottlieb suggests that the affair is covert. Undoubtedly, she knows more than we do. And yet, if a man’s wife is having a thrilling lust-filled affair, I suspect that he knows. If he doesn’t, then he has his own problems. Perhaps he does not care. Perhaps he has a lover on the side. 

To her credit, Gottlieb looks for ways to salvage the marriage. It seems clear that the couple is going to move away. It seems clear that the marriage has reached a tolerable modus vivendi. It might be the case that the wife can find a new lover in her new city. It might be that the husband would accept the possibility. I suspect that both parties prefer that the marriage continue, but there are other options.

Gottlieb continues:

I wonder, too, about your interpretation of your therapist’s suggestion to seek another sexual partner. Was your therapist truly suggesting that you deceive your husband with a covert affair, or rather that you talk with him about the possibility of opening up the marriage and see if the two of you might find a different way forward? Having that conversation, even if he wasn’t open to that arrangement, would at the very least have helped you both to have a more candid dialogue about the state of the marriage and what you were each willing to do—including committing to sex therapy as a couple, staying together but living apart, or splitting up and co-parenting amicably. Instead, you unilaterally decided to direct all of your sexual and emotional energy outside the marriage, making it even harder for your husband to connect with you on any level.

The last sentence intrigues. Note that Gottlieb has no real sympathy for the cheating wife. And she believes that when a woman directs her sexual and emotional energy outside of the marriage this will make it harder for the husband to connect. 

I am slightly more skeptical here, but I do not have enough information to know why she married him in the first place. Anyway, as for the therapist prescribing a lover, I like that Gottlieb tries to relieve the therapist of the suggestion that the wife take a lover, but I suspect that that was precisely what the therapist said.


whitney said...

This perfectly illustrates how sin darkens the intellect

Anonymous said...

The woman tells what's-her-name that she took a lover via the permission/suggestion of her therapist. I don't denounce her for having a lover (who I think is a man), I'm just saying that she shouldn't even mention the therapist because the therapist didn't do this, she did. She's a big girl and the therapist is just her excuse. Then she chose, for whatever reason, a neurotic person. She is now going to escape this person which is fortunate. And yes, she is being punished right now for being an adulterer; not punished by God, but by consequences. She's actually getting off easy.

Giordano Bruno said...

This would make a fine reality TV show. I bet everyone except the husband of the letter would eagerly sign off.

urbane legend said...

Al of us have a blind spot, or blind spots, and don't want to explore the big picture.

Your husband gets a great opportunity. All you see is losing everyone you are comfortable with, especially your lover. You apparently haven't noticed your lover is possesive, perhaps unbalanced if he screams and rages. Your children will also move from the comfortable to the unknown.

The world works like that sometimes. You can make new friends, You made those, didn't you? Your children will make new friends, and if they are not of age to be independent they don't have a choice anyway.

The lover? Look at him honestly. Do you really need him when he is like he is? Unless you move to a very small town you can find another lover, too.

I can see that kind of change being a very big challenge, though, especially after 25 years.

Kansas Scout said...

Their affair was not a completely unreasonable solution to an intractable problem. This kind of accommodation seems to have worked, at least with what she provides it did. The other person assumed to be someone's husband and his wife's relationship are not revealed other than sexual dissatisfaction. There is reason to believe this was very common in our societies past. We are going by her characterization of her lovers reaction. It might be very skewed. You are probably right...she's likely a passive pleaser with some masochistic tendencies. Who would not be upset? You have to wonder just how upset she really is about moving. I think she might be more upset about angering her lover and being a pleaser becomes anxious and confused.