To Love, Honor, and Betray: The Secret Lives of Suburban Wives
by Stephanie Gertler and Adrienne Lopez
Published by Hyperion
226 pages, 2005
A look at the lives of 26 married suburban women, offering a fascinating portrait of marriage and infidelity.
Extramarital affairs are often whispered about behind closed doors. Stephanie Gertler and Adrienne Lopez take a look at the lives of 26 married or previously married women who have either had an affair, are having an affair, or are wrestling with their conflicting emotions and loyalties as they consider the possibility of being unfaithful to their husbands.
The women are between the ages of 35 and 70. They hail from various cultures, races, professions and economic levels. Most have children. Many crave passion, intimacy, conversation, romance. And when those things aren't forthcoming in their marriages, they seek them elsewhere. To Love, Honor, and Betray provides candid conversations, rendering women's lives in ways that are surprising and moving, while offering remarkable insight into the complexity of long-term relationships.
Mrs. E is a warm, bright, lively, beautiful fifty-four-year-old woman. The mother of four children, she is an English teacher in a Chicago suburb and has been married for thirty-one years. To the suburban community where she and her family live, Mrs. E is a shining star and, of course, a mentor to many young children. Her husband, Peter, a local real estate lawyer, appears to be a loving husband, a real family man, and a pillar of the community as well. Mrs. E is the last person on earth one would think would have an affair. All seems perfect behind the white picket fence and in front of the blackboard-- but it's not. She is deeply in love with another man. It's not that her husband isn't loving, Mrs. E's conflict lies in the fact that it's difficult to forsake a husband whom she loves with the devotion of a sister to a brother.
I never understood how women, working women with husbands and children, could have affairs, because I never understood how they could fit them into their schedules. I remember when I smoked-I always found enough money to buy cigarettes. I've come to realize that it's the same kind of thing when it comes to having an affair.
Sam, my lover, is married. Not happily, though. Of course, a cynic would say that men say that all the time about their marriages when they're having affairs, but in my case, it's true. He's not happy. As for me, my God, I never thought I would have an affair. Neither Sam nor I exactly fit the stereotype for people who would do this, but then again, I guess there really is no stereotype. Of course, before I started this affair, I thought there was.
Sam and I live in the same town, and oddly, we'd never run into each other before That Fateful Day. We also work in the same town. I have kids and he doesn't, so that could be one reason why our paths never crossed. Well, one day we met on the train coming home from work. Remember that movie with Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro? It's called Falling in Love. They meet on a train as well. I only recently saw the film ... amazing how art imitates life. Anyway, Sam and I talked and started to become friends. We are still very good friends. We share many interests. I'm a teacher, and he's an editor of children's textbooks at a small publishing house that I never knew existed, so right from the beginning, there was a lot to talk about. And we still talk a great deal. Our relationship evolved from a very fundamental, connected friendship.
One day we decided to meet for lunch. One lunch led to another and then to another, but it was always just lunch. It did get to the point where we started getting together with our spouses on the weekends. That stopped rather abruptly when we confessed to one another that we were planning those evenings because we missed each other on the weekends. The weekend evenings were never an obvious ruse to either his wife or my husband, but they were becoming worrisome for us. I don't want anything to be obvious. And it's not that our spouses are oblivious; it's more that the two of us are extremely discreet.
The first time we four got together, I told my husband, Peter, that I had become friendly with this man I met on the train, and my husband thought nothing of it. Now, another husband, a different type of man, might have said something like "What the hell do you mean? You met some guy on the train, and now you're bringing him home?" But I suppose that's another example of the lack of passion in my husband and within the realm of my marriage. You see, I have been very angry at my husband for many years now. I don't understand why he doesn't want intimacy. It's not as if we live in a culture that doesn't have a million ways to teach yourself how to do something like have sex. We've never even had a screaming match over this, because we don't fight--and that's a lack of passion as well.
As for Sam and me, neither of us wants to hurt anybody. Our affair just happened slowly, over time, and as I said, it grew out of friendship. The first time Sam and I were alone together was in a hotel in Chicago. I was absolutely terrified. We were both quite nervous. We both had legitimate business there for a few days--I had union meetings, and he had editorial meetings with some bigwigs from New York City, so it worked out perfectly. Funny, because in the beginning, you don't know what you're getting yourself into. When we were just friends, we shared a common value that neither of us would ever cheat on our spouses. We had this morality. We both had a sense of true commitment. It was like that tenet became our mantra, and we kept saying it over and over again. After a lunch when I drank too much wine, we began to talk more about the possibilities of each other--and that was six months later, after riding on the train together every morning and meeting for lunch maybe once a week or twice a month. We were friends first. But maybe we kept reciting our mantra because we were either trying to convince ourselves or each other, or because we had a sense of what was coming.
The hotel in Chicago was not the best. As a matter of fact, it was sort of seedy. We knew it wasn't great, and it was off the beaten path, but we didn't know how seedy it was going to be. When I think back to that, I laugh, because the place where we go every week now is like the joke motel in the town where we work: People often talk about it and say that they have day rates and call it things like "Happy Hour Hotel." It was a world I once knew nothing about, and here I am going there every week.
I remember that first pivotal lunch when we knew it was more than lunch. Nothing happened that was earth-shattering except that I was eating a salad and had something on my cheek, and he reached across the table and brushed it aside, and it was electricity for me. It was such an intimate act that it scared me. It all came together. We admitted to feeling, without saying it aloud, a connection. Something happened that was different, and we stopped fighting it. We'd had too much to drink, and I told him that I had to walk off the wine to perform properly at my presentation in front of the principal later that afternoon, so we started walking. It was snowing like crazy. I looked at him and asked, "Where are we going?" He laughed and said, "Down the street." I said, "No, I mean personally, where are we going?" We stopped, and he looked at me and said, "I don't know. Probably in the wrong direction." That was the only time we were indiscreet. We stopped in this town where we both work, and he kissed me for the first time, and I felt like I was eighteen. It was pretty incredible. I went back to the school and had the meeting with the principal (after lots of coffee), and then I met Sam at the train that evening, and on the ride home, we just talked.
Surprisingly, I have never felt guilty. Maybe it's rationalization on my part, but I really do love him, and it's been very difficult. In the beginning, when we were failing in love, it was such a strange feeling, because I thought, This can't be happening. I really felt that it was impossible. I'd been married for too long. I never thought about falling in love with someone else, and I never thought about failing in love again and certainly not while I was still married.
My husband and I really have very little in common. We have the kids, of course, and that's a very important part of both of our lives. But the kids are grown now. None of them lives at home anymore. My husband and I have been through counseling. The bottom line is, we live like brother and sister, except we never fight. We haven't had sex in three years. I know that my husband feels guilty about that, but he doesn't know how to fix it. He doesn't even attempt to have sex with me anymore. At some point he did, and I swear, I never rejected him. I wouldn't reject him even now. Another wife might wonder what he's doing for sex, but I don't wonder, because I think he's just not doing anything. It's a performance issue with him. He's not comfortable having sex. Having sex was okay when we were trying to conceive our children, because there was a purpose to it--it was procreation, not recreation. He's really lousy at sex, and I think he knows that, that's why I don't think he wants to do anything about it.
If Peter wonders what I do for sex, well, he's never asked. I asked him a few weeks ago if he wondered about me, and he said, with a shrug, that he hadn't given it much thought, and then he changed the subject. It's like he thinks if he doesn't ask, then it's not an issue. As long as I'm there and right beside him, which is ultimately what he wants, then he sees everything as fine.
I still see Sam every day on the train, but for the last four years, we meet once a week at a motel. It's not a standing date. We fit it into our schedules, but it's every single week. We go to the same place every time, and he signs a different name every time. It's one of those places where you can drive up to the door so no one ever sees me when I come in. We can't stay there very long--maybe an hour at the most--because we have to get back to our jobs. But we have lunch a lot. People see us at lunch together, but I don't think they suspect there's anything more between us than a friendship. We look like such unlikely candidates. Of course, I could be fooling myself, but I don't think so. I'm always talking about my husband and family to my friends and my colleagues, and the truth is, my husband and family are a very important part of my life. People don't suspect me.
Sam and I rationalize what we're doing by saying that, well, you see, we're keeping each other married. That sounds weird, doesn't it? You see, neither of us was happy until we met, and now our marriages are more bearable because we have each other. By the way, his wife is awful. She is the most self-centered, egotistical person I have ever met in my life. I think the reason he hasn't left her yet, regardless of me, is that he was so determined to make his marriage work, since he married late in life and the idea of failing at marriage really bothers him. He's coming close to leaving her. We really try not to talk about our married relationships too much, though.
Sam satisfies me and gives me things to took forward to--the conversations, the lunches, not just the once-a-week at the motel. And I miss him terribly when I'm not with him. He's away with his wife right now, and I don't think they're having sex, although he's honest with me and tells me that they do have sex every once in a while. When he tells me that they've had sex, I get really jealous. It drives me crazy. I think that's part of the reason this all might come to a head a little bit sooner, because it's beginning to drive him crazy, too--that I'm upset and also that he feels an obligation to have sex with her every so often.
People who know Peter and me--our friends, neighbors, colleagues--all think we have a wonderful marriage. We still sleep in the same room, you know. I tell you something, if we do end up getting divorced, it will be the biggest shock to everybody. Recently, I gave Peter an ultimatum: If he doesn't start sleeping with me by the time our oldest son returns from overseas in six months, then we have to separate. And the thing is, I guess it's an unfair ultimatum, because what if he does? Then what do I do? Although I think my ultimatum is unfair, I've been married for so long that I would probably stay with him if suddenly we began to sleep together. I suppose that sounds awful, but you have to understand that despite the fact that I'm in love with someone else, if Peter and I could have something of a real life together, I would stay. Not breaking up my family is of the utmost importance to me. Besides, despite my affair with Sam, I made a commitment to Peter a long time ago, and the weird thing is, I believe in that commitment.
If I leave Peter, it won't be because of Sam. I'd want to be alone for a while if I left my husband. I wouldn't just jump into something else. I was married so young. Time alone is something I've never had. I was right out of college when Peter and I were married. Why did I marry him? My father had died, and I thought I had found my father in my husband, I don't think Peter gets the idea behind romance in marriage. For him, marriage was and is about providing things. It's never been about passion. Even in our youth, as I said before, our sex life was poor. Our conversations were strained, and yet I looked past it, perhaps because we had children so quickly. The kids were always a viable excuse for not having sex and conversation--I mean, when you have little kids, it's exhausting. But when the kids get older, what's the excuse? Well, there is no excuse. We're not having sex, because we're just not. But even though sex with my husband was never great, I loved him so very much. I still love him. I think he's a wonderful man. He's been a wonderful husband from a practical point of view, and a devoted father, but the marriage is just so dead. There was never any passion. What scares me to death about growing old with him is boredom. I would die inside. I would wither away. The thought of retiring with him--I can't do that. I would work until I took my last breath.
I worry a great deal about how the kids would react if I left Peter. I really think the three older children would blame me, and that scares me to death. It's another reason why I would never leave Peter and dive into a relationship with Sam. If I did that, I would lose all my children for sure, and they're my main concern. Another man in my life would have to be an eventuality. My children are the reason I have stayed with Peter all these years. | February 2005
Copyright © 2005 Stephanie Gertler and Adrienne Lopez
Stephanie Gertler is the author of four novels, Jimmy's Girl, The Puzzle Bark Tree, Drifting, and The Windmill. She writes a monthly lifestyles column for two Connecticut newspapers, the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time. She lives in Westchester County, New York, with her family.
Adrienne Lopez is an attorney and an independent TV and film producer with a first-look development deal at Spike TV. A former talk show producer and network executive, she is also the health, fitness, and beauty editor for Black Elegance magazine. She lives in Westchester County with her family.