It always sounds clichéd: about to turn 40, married 15 years, two youngish children; just back from a family vacation in the Caribbean and starting a new job for a dot-com company; an artistic husband (is that a euphemism for non-supportive and non-supporting?) who many said looked like a Calvin Klein model.
I thought I was pretty happy, and though a life-long flirt, I’d never kissed anybody but my husband from the day I had met him at age 23. Among other things, the idea of taking off my clothes and being naked in front of someone new terrified me enough to stay monogamous. Then I met Steven at work. He was married, with a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. His wife had told him that until the youngest reached the age of 5, she was “off-duty.”
All the rules changed. That which was once primary now became secondary.
People cheat for three reasons: to transition out of a marriage; to stay in a marriage; or because they just can’t stay monogamous. But how do you actually do it? How does one pull it off? A few years ago, two women wrote a wildly popular, much-praised and much-vilified handbook for single women called The Rules. Below, I’ve listed what I see as The Rules for an Affair.
In my case, I had one foot out the door; I would have never gotten involved if I hadn’t been 100 percent sure that my marriage was over. I had participated in a year of marriage counseling, in addition to weekly visits with my own therapist: Nothing was working. I’d had a breakthrough, a powerful, scary breakthrough-I realized that I was never in love with my husband. I married him because I thought he was appropriate: handsome, a good friend, smart, Jewish, good in bed (no: really good in bed-initially, at least) and would never leave me. I picked exactly right. I was pretty sure that he would never have an affair.
But now, for the first time in years, I felt that I had options. I didn’t have to stay. I needed to feel: passion, hurt, happiness-any emotion at all.
Steven needed to have an affair to stay in his marriage. He was adamant that he wanted to stay until his youngest was 5. (His son turned 5 three years ago; Steven is still married.) I still love him. He taught me that I am beautiful (my husband used to say that I was “kind of attractive”), smart and sexy, and that I’m able to have an orgasm every time I have sex.
After an initial glance, Steven and I would stare at each other. I would feel his eyes on me. Always. One night he asked me to dinner. I am one of those women who have many male friends. I didn’t think anything of the invitation and called my husband to tell him I was having dinner with Steven. We ate and drank and spoke of our lives, me waxing poetic about my wonderful life, he complaining bitterly of having no time for himself. He told me he would never tell his wife that he was having dinner with me. I thought that was weird.
On the eve of my 40th birthday, we went out for drinks at a hotel bar in midtown. I asked him whether I was crazy, or was there something between us? I wish that I had recorded that conversation. Steven was concerned about the implications at work. He wasn’t my direct boss, but he was more senior than I. I said I didn’t want two families wrecked by this. I also knew that I couldn’t wait to fuck him.
That wouldn’t happen for a month. He wanted an overnight. My husband benefited -I was hot and horny all the time. I couldn’t get enough.
A few weeks later, Steven and I had our first date. He lives in Chelsea and I live on the Upper East Side, so we picked a neutral neighborhood-Soho-to minimize the risk of bumping into friend or foe. It was a warm June night and pouring rain. We had drinks at the Mercer and dinner at Balthazar. I didn’t want to leave him; I said I’d drop him home in a taxi. We were making out like mad. We tumbled out of the cab onto a deserted street and, with a large umbrella shielding us, I gave him a blowjob. I felt elated. I got home at 1:30 a.m. My husband asked me, teasingly, if I was having an affair.
Steven and I planned an overnight to Washington, D.C. We met at Penn Station for the Metroliner. I was wearing a black summer dress with a long slit up the back, a new lacy black thong and high heels. I was shaking. We settled in our seats and got vodka and snacks. I was dripping wet. In Washington, we checked into two adjoining rooms. I got out candles. It was the beginning of a three-year ride.
Keep It Simple
Making time for an affair is challenging, especially if both of you are married with children. A good memory is essential. Always ground excuses in reality and truth. You need to be able to provide a skeletal accounting of where you have gone and with whom. The fewer details, the better. Steven had season tickets to the Rangers and no interest in going to the games. I became acutely aware of their schedule. Build excuses into your life. Join a fictitious book group or a poker game. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Anything that gives you a regular, legitimate excuse to be out of the apartment.
Nothing in Writing
I cannot stress enough the importance of this rule. Put nothing in writing, period. No love notes, no text messages, no nothing. I learned this by example. A few years ago, dear friends of mine were in the midst of martial stress. The husband renewed a “friendship” with his high-school sweetheart, who lived in another state. They started an erotic e-mail relationship. I know this because his wife printed out every e-mail and showed them to me. She’d figured out his password (change your password!) and was monitoring the electronic affair, missive by missive. She also knew exactly when her husband was planning to consummate this affair. And, by the way, she didn’t stop him.
I broke the “no writing” rule once. Steven and I were checking into a fancy hotel in New York our first summer. (I was getting tired of having sex on the floor of our office.) I used a credit card that was in my name alone (see: Cash Only , below). At the hotel reception desk, I was asked for the billing address; I was reluctant, but they told me it was for their internal records only. A few weeks later, while attending a birthday party in the Hamptons with my husband, he innocently asked me when I had spent the night in this particular N.Y.C. hotel, because I had received a postcard thanking me for choosing them for my overnight stay. I quickly said that a group of us from work would often go there for drinks, and the hotel must have mixed up its mailing lists. People see and hear only what they want to see and hear. I narrowly escaped.
Cash Only, or Get a New Credit Card
Cash rules an affair. The last thing you need is a paper trail. Steven and I each got a new credit card, using our office as the billing address. We used these cards for all expenses associated with our affair. It was particularly useful when we used Priceline.com for getting a low-price New York hotel at the spur of the moment.
Cell phones are lifelines for affairs. You need to feel as though you can reach your lover at any time (even if you are deluding yourself). Steven and I had the same provider: We sent “stealth” voice messages to each other and had a sound that was a code for “I love you.” Make sure you request a non-itemized bill; the last thing you need is for your spouse to see how many times you have contacted or been contacted by 917-, etc. I also made sure that when I went away on vacation with my family, it was to a place where I had service-so the Caribbean was out.
When Steven and I went away on “business,” I never gave my husband the name of the hotel, saying that it was easier for him to reach me on my cell.
Hide in Plain Sight
It helps that we were both married with children. I talked about Steven all the time-to my husband, kids, parents and friends. I’d share funny anecdotes; I spoke of his wife and kids. People knew that he was a good friend of mine. Everyone knew that I traveled with him, and that we went out for drinks after work, or to dinner. I was so obvious and open. When I finally confessed to my sister, she exclaimed, “You hid in plain sight!” We did-it’s the best hiding place.
Have a ‘Beard’
I became best friends with Steven’s older brother, Peter. Peter was separating from his second wife and had four children, three of whom were just about my children’s age. Steven, Peter and I started hanging out all the time. I wanted Peter to know that I was involved with Steven, and one evening out I told him (with permission). He was unsuspecting, but nonjudgmental and supportive. As my marriage disintegrated, Peter and I started spending more and more time together: family dinners (often including my husband), movies, museums and brunch. We celebrated birthdays and holidays. Our kids developed their own relationships. Peter became like family. He was like my brother-in-law, but there’s no word in English for “affair-in-law.” My husband asked me if I was having an affair with Peter; so did my mother. No one thought of Steven. Find a beard.
I never used condoms before, but I learned to love them. Besides the obvious protection from disease and pregnancy, you don’t have to worry about dripping. On one occasion, I came home after having sex with Steven and got into bed with my husband, and I could tell that he was good to go. I had no excuses; I had to have sex with him. Just close your eyes and think of England . But I wouldn’t let him go down on me. I figured the taste of latex would be a giveaway; at least there was no trace of another man’s sperm.
Another thing: I never knew I was so delicate. Steven and I often had sex on the floor in the office, on a rough carpet. (That was before I bought a blanket-next problem was how to get it cleaned.) One morning, I was getting dressed and asked my husband to zip up my dress. There were three angry marks on my spine: a rug burn. He asked me what they were, and I said I had no idea. After a tryst, always examine yourself in a mirror.
And give up perfume. Give up lipstick. You know why.
Rites of Passage
Birthdays, weddings, funerals, etc., can wreck havoc on affairs: They shove in your face the fact that your lover is married and your own relationship is a secret. It’s helpful to have a mantra: “He is married . She is his wife . He should be buying her a Christmas present …. ” Often, it doesn’t make you feel any better; it’s just a way of getting through. In my case, I had to deal with Steven’s 40th birthday and his father’s funeral.
Steven left work early one afternoon to take his daughter to an after-school activity. My cell phone rang-his home number. I thought, This is odd; he shouldn’t be home yet. It was his wife. I didn’t even know she had my number. She was calling to invite me to Steven’s surprise 40th-birthday party in a few months. She was giving me a heads-up because she wanted me to do a video vignette, to be part of a tribute she was putting together. This shocked me: Steven and I had been together for about two years, and I had thought his marriage was waning. The last thing I would do for my husband was to throw him a party.
Should I tell Steven this was in the works-or should I keep my mouth shut? Should I even go to the party? I called my therapist immediately. I called my beard. No one called back. Later that evening, Steven picked me up and knew something was upsetting me. I spilled the beans. I didn’t make the tape. I didn’t attend the party. I was a tornado. Steven did tell me about the video: At the end of it, his wife exclaimed that Steven was a wonderful husband, father and lover. But I knew they hadn’t had sex for over 14 months.
On another day-a cold, snowy spring morning-Steven called me and said he wasn’t coming in.
“Too cold and snowy for you?” I joked.
“No,” he said. “My father died.”
His father was relatively young and larger than life. I was stunned.
The funeral was the hardest day in my life. It was filled with shouldn’ts and couldn’ts. I shouldn’t be too close or familiar. I couldn’t hug him. I couldn’t drive to the cemetery with him. I was trapped in a room with his wife, and I had to watch her try to comfort him and he her. I wanted him. I wanted him to announce to the world that it was me he needed by his side. Everything changed for me that day. I really got it.
Sex with the Spouse
Avoid it. As much as I didn’t want to continue having sex with my husband, I did. At least for a while. I tried to say no as much as possible, but I didn’t want to raise red flags or have a heavy conversation with him about our fading sex life. Finally, about a year after my affair started-and after a blow-out fight-I told my husband that I was done. No more. We lived together for many, many more months. Oddly, we never discussed fulfilling our needs outside the marriage. There was a deafening silence.
Jealousy can infuse itself into an affair. Steven was never jealous about my husband and me and sex. He was jealous of everybody else-and I mean everybody else. I had never dealt with that before. I found it flattering and really annoying. My own green-eyed monster appeared whenever Steven had sex with his wife-and it was a topic that I asked about all the time.
Circle of Trust
Bartenders, wait staffs and doormen are reliable. They are trained. You can go to a restaurant one night with your husband, the next with your lover, and no one is the wiser. The more difficult part is whether you should share the information that you are cheating with friends. As a general rule, I’d say no. It is dangerous. The more information floating out there in the universe, the more the possibility exists of getting caught.
I never followed this rule. I told all of my friends, day by day, month by month. The paradox was that I was trying to be authentic and truthful within a weird framework of lies and deceit. I was feeling powerful, alive, sexy and purposeful. I wanted everyone to know that I was finally happy.
Lying to my husband was one thing; lying to my friends was another. It tests friendships. It tests morality and loyalty. Telling friends burdens them. You are requiring them to keep a secret, and it makes it difficult for them to look at you or your spouse. It changes your social life: going out as a foursome doesn’t work. You are a threat: Their marriage suddenly feels like it is at risk. If I could do it, they could do it. Be ready to be judged-and harshly. My true dear friends understood my predicament, understood my deep frustrations and supported my decision. They were all extremely reliable.
Deny, Deny, Deny
Don’t confess. It is never appropriate and only leads to hurt feelings and emotional turmoil. I got really good at denying. I used denial in all aspects of my life. I could look my husband in the eye and flatly refute any accusations. I desperately wanted to protect my affair. Telling my husband that I was in love with someone else, that I was intimate with another, would only dwarf our own martial issues.
Don’t be fooled: Spouses always know something is awry on an instinctual level. But they too live in a perpetual state of denial. They have to make up their own stories in order to survive. Use this to your advantage. My husband was acutely aware that our marriage was dying, and he suggested, yet again, that we go to a marriage counselor. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do.
Don’t go to counseling if you are having an affair. Steven’s wife was disconnected from her reality as well. One morning, she told him that she’d had a dream in which Steven was telling all their friends that they had a less than perfect marriage and that he was sleeping with someone else. He didn’t bite; he said nothing. Spouses know-you don’t have to tell them.
The Status Quo
Maintain the status quo. Of course, there’s a fatal flaw here: In order for your relationship to grow, it must change. I wanted growth; I wanted sleepovers; I was sick of my secret. I wanted to spend time with his family, he with mine. I wanted normalcy. I wanted two, not four, adults in this relationship. I wanted my marriage to end. Yesterday. But I didn’t push hard for my husband to leave, because Steven wasn’t leaving his wife. I felt like I was drowning. After almost three years, my husband finally left. I was free. My affair became shaky; the playing field was uneven. It ended. I used my affair to transition out of my marriage. Steven used it to stay.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Do not close off your emotional life waiting for another to exercise their options. An affair can be a life lesson. Examine your motivations, your guilt and your needs. Question everything. I learned over the course of my affair what I ultimately needed from a relationship. An affair can be a mirror. Pay attention.