Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why she dates married men

Heather L. Hughes writes on the subject in Salon. It's one of those pieces that is meant to be sexually revealing but ends up being much more emotionally revealing than its writer intended. There is something pathetic about poor little Heather. She's a small person.

People don't know quite know what to do with a piece like this. The reason for that is that married men having affairs is supposed to say something about men; we're not to think about the women involved.

It should, but doesn't, strike us as significant that married men who want to have affairs can almost always find willing partners. I haven't even been trying but have  had several offers, always refused, over the last two decades. The women making the offers were quite appealing. In one case I felt rather unsettled and almost bitter at the the thought that the much younger woman in question was much hotter than anyone who expressed an interest when I was single and her age.  She, like poor little Heather, was a young single women willing to have affairs with much-older men. Other times, married women who've lost interest in sex with their husbands but have not lost interest in sex and don't want to end their marriages have affairs with married men who are probably much more like their husbands than they care to notice. Other times they are women who genuinely believe they want to be married themselves but end up in an affair with a married man, suggesting that their feelings about marriage are more mixed than they like to admit to themselves.

What all these women have in common is that none of them are very honest with themselves (it's telling that the title to the Salon article is why Heather "dates" married men and not about why she has sex with them) and none of them have much respect for other women's marriages.

There is a lot of anger in the comments to poor little Heather's article. Ann Althouse, from whom I learned about the article, called it "squalid".
squalid adj. 1. extremely dirty and unpleasant. 2 showing a contemptible lack of moral standards. (Oxford Concise Dictionary)
The married man who cheats on their spouse should, and typically does, receive more of the moral blame than the immature woman-child he has sex with. I suspect the moral revulsion that results when we are forced to think about the woman is not because we believe she has a contemptible lack of moral standards but because we find it dirty and unpleasant to have to think about her.

Guitars are often stolen. A woman I know who rails about the horridness of guitar thieves also brags about a vintage Martin guitar she found for only $300 at a fleamarket. She thinks that the person who sold it didn't realize its worth. I doubt that. I suspect they paid the person who stole it $50 and marked it up only to $300 knowing that my friend would be too excited about the deal to worry much about the guitar's provenance.

Guitar theft depends on that kind of thinking. So does bicycle theft. The other day I saw a sign on a bike shop window that said bicycle thieves should be executed. I suspect the owner of the shop is opposed to the use of the death penalty in cases of murder. We focus our moral emotion on the person who steals and not the sort of underground market that makes theft lucrative. Which is not to say that we are all hypocrites who rail against thieves while knowingly buying objects that are probably stolen. No, the point I want to make is that we just don't like thinking about these things. Similarly, it's easier to think about the married man having an affair than the woman he has an affair with.

I've written before about our unwillingness to be honest about women who cheat on their husbands. In art, the unfaithful wife is either a contemptible whore, which is to say a shallow stereotype rather than a real human being, or somehow innocent because, like Emma Bovary, she is trying to fill some emptiness in her life rather than fill her ... .

We don't like to think of the squalid things women sometimes do in pursuit of sex—squalid things that most women have done at least once in their lives—not because we don't like working ourselves up into righteous moral anger at women but because we know that there are far too many such women for them all to have contemptible lack of moral standards. We don't mind at all in the case of men (unless they are gay men in which case it is politically incorrect to discuss sordid details). And, as poor little Heather's article reminds us, a married man is not much of a deal. He is likely to be older and less attractive physically, he is likely to wallow in drink and self pity, he needs Viagra to perform and, most of all, he is tied to someone else. And yet there are a lot of women like Heather out there. There are millions of them.

Don't respond to that with anger at women in general or women in particular. That would be to deliberately miss the moral point. We don't mind thinking about men who cheat. We may hate the man when he cheats on someone we know and care about but the general thought of him, knowing that his type exists, is not something we hide from ourselves. We don't prefer not to think of him or make up elaborate Bovary-like stories about him. We deal with him in a straightforward manner. We don't like to think about women doing things like this.

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