Ask A Spinster: Beware the Affair

Once again, it’s time for Ask A Spinster!, the long beloved post series in which Grace answers all your questions. today’s question is especially interesting, but controversial.Neither bottles nor insults should be slung, whilst we discuss in the comments.

Dear Spinsters,
I have a thing for married men / men in relationships and cannot seem to settle for a real relationship. Can I just do my thing and date these guys or should morality prevail and I should steer clear from them?
Yours truly,
C

mailgirlMy dear Mademoiselle C,

What a brave question! Most people will have an automatic response to your inquiry. You’ve probably encountered this already: rotten tomatoes launched, heads shook in horror, and defenses for the sisterhood of women made. When it comes to affairs, modern ethics are black-and-white.

The short answer, which matches mine, is: steer clear from the attached men. My reasoning, however, is complicated.

I find that society can be all too quick to blame “the other woman” in these situations, rather than the person who actually took a vow of commitment. We cast women as opportunistic harlots preying on the weak wills of poor, tempted menfolk. This is ridiculously unfair. If you’ve made a promise to someone, don’t act like an asshole and give in to sexual longings! Men are not animals. We cannot blame every sin on their penises, then make negative character assumptions about the women involved.

If a married man makes an advance towards you, do I think you’re automatically a harlot for accepting it? Of course, not. This isn’t always a straight-forward situation, from any side, so we need approach the larger questions for you. What worries me is the health, emotionally and physically, of such a relationship. What is your end goal here? Do you want one of these affairs to turn into a real relationship?

If the answer is yes, then I caution you. The covenant of commitment is important. When we enter a monogamous relationship with someone, we expect it to stay monogamous. We’re more vulnerable, both sexually and mentally, because of that implicit exchange of trust. Anyone who can throw away such trust so easily once, can surely do it again. If you want a solid relationship, then starting with a broken promise is a bad way to get there. Even if he turns out completely committed to you, how will you ever know?

Additionally, if a committed relationship comes out of an affair, will your conscience be able to reconcile your happiness with being complicit in the hurt of another person? While there are some marriages in which affairs don’t cause harm, because of emotional or relational circumstances, most spouses expect—rightfully—fidelity from their partners. The realization that a spouse is cheating is, for most people, world shattering. It’s hard to shatter worlds, even when love is involved, and not feel guilt. It’s human nature, thank heavens. Living with such guilt, the kind that stays and festers, is no easy feat.

If you don’t expect these relationships to go anywhere, then my concerns are graver still. There are less emotionally destructive ways to have casual relationships. Affairs, from all sides, are messy. If a spouse or girlfriend discovers the affair, what will she do? Most women are sane, coping through a nice bout of chunking shit out windows and impressive streaks of cussing, but there are the Lifetime movie girls. Having affairs really increases the chance that someone will plot your demise. Meanwhile, a nice friends-with-benefits tryst usually ends in awkward small talk at a grocery store. Grace’s Rule for Life #42:Try to avoid encouraging other people to plot your demise. 

Why risk becoming fodder for Nancy Grace, if you don’t have to? I’ve done the pro/con and it never looks rosy for the side of affairs. They may be more exciting, but you can always go cliff diving instead. Some people find their true love, because of an affair—take Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, for example—but more end in tears or cyanide. Even Tracy and Hepburn had issues—despite over two decades of love, Hepburn didn’t feel right attending his funeral, out of respect for his wife. If even she had heartbreaking complications, surely us mere mortals will? Real relationships may not fare any better, but at least they have a fighting chance.

Good luck, my dear, whatever you choose.

With love and pie,

Grace, Giver of Advice

If you have questions you’d like answered by your friendly local spinster, leave them in the comments or e-mail them to us!

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8 thoughts on “Ask A Spinster: Beware the Affair

  1. This is one of the best advice pieces I’ve ever seen. The fact that you delve into the emotional and interpersonal consequences of affairs — while also acknowledging the gender-based double standards surrounding them — makes for some phenomenal advice.

    I’ve always been bothered that “the other woman” is blamed for most affairs, when in reality it took two to tango. The expectation that men are incapable of keeping it in their pants has been used to hold women accountable for mens’ behavior since time immemorial, and it’s a steaming load of shit. (Men are, well, *men* — which means they’re adults and thus just as capable of impulse control as anybody else.)

    But, double standards notwithstanding, affairs can still be disasterous and destructive for a wide range of people. I think of these things as being similar to explosions: they affect or destroy anything within a certain range. The blast radius doesn’t only encompass the two people involved in an affair; in fact, it can hurt a ton of secondary actors in profound and difficult ways.

    Grace, you’re one sage woman!

    • Lillian, thank you so much! I’m so glad that the advice resonated with you. If I could just copy your line – “Men are, well, *men* — which means they’re adults and thus just as capable of impulse control as anybody else” – put it on fliers and spend all day handing them out to people, I would. It kills me how much we attribute to men’s “baser impulses.” If guys couldn’t keep it in their pants, we never would have made it as a civilization. They can, they do, all the damn time. Because men are people, not slaves to their hormones.

  2. I also wonder whether, in this case, the wanting of an affair instead of a real relationship means she would rather have a man who chooses her over another woman? This can either go back to the ‘get a real relationship out of an affair’ or just to a confidence thing. I’ve seen people who are raised to base their value on whether men like them, and in a lot of cases, they aren’t happy with just finding a man who likes them.

    They like to win a man who already has his eyes set on another girl, because it means that they’re better than that girl. It also means that their relationships and affairs don’t last that long (usually they last proportionally as long as the person has been in a relationship with their significant other) because once they’ve won, they’ve won, and they get bored and need to find another person to win.

    It makes sense to me, because she said she didn’t want to “settle” for a real relationship, implying that she gets something out of affairs that she doesn’t out of real relationships.

    I raise this idea not to demean or blame, but because it is also troubling for one’s mental health to base one’s confidence on other people, and especially troubling to base it on something that actively hurts others in the process. Guilt factors into it, so as happy as you are with yourself at first that will go away and you’re faced with feeling like a terrible person because of what you did.

    • Cheratomo, thanks so much for the great comment! You raise a really interesting point. There are people out there who, usually from engrained parental conditioning, base their value on obtaining romantic partners and lust of others. I hadn’t thought about what that could mean for affairs, but you’re right. It very well may be that there’s a sense of victory in drawing the gaze of a married man. Not only are you getting a man, but you’re so irresistible that you’re taking someone else’s. It’s certainly an intriguing theory…

      This is one case, where I’d really like to have lunch with the asker of the question and get her whole story, in detail. No matter how you frame it, there are thought processes worth examining here.

  3. It doesn’t make you a harlot. What it does make you is a side-dish, and you’ll start to believe that’s what you’re meant to be. You’ll enter with the buzz of “I’m worth cheating for!” and 6 months later are left with “I’m not worth being his primary lover.” In fact, he is just trying to pretend that he has been a big boy and kept his commitments- false. Date someone honest and willing to genuinely love you even when you don’t know how to love yourself properly.

    • I love your response, Rebecca. Thank you! No matter how you look at it, these relationships are rarely emotionally healthy. You’re either a dirty secret, a side dish, or complicit in pain. It’s hard to see a positive way they can go forward.

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