To Love, Honor, and Betray: The Secret Lives of Suburban Wives
by Stephanie Gertler and Adrienne Lopez
Published by Hyperion
226 pages, 2005
Buy it online
Bursting Those Tiny Bubbles
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
Was it the bright pink cover that seduced me into picking up To Love, Honor, and Betray? Or the possibility of uncovering another classic in the making, a sexual exposé equivalent to The Feminine Mystique? Or Curiosity... or....?
Twenty six women between the ages of 35 and 70 were chosen from an original 65 who volunteered to tell their stories of infidelity. Taken from various cultures, races, professions and economic levels, the women hail from various areas in the United States.
While the sampling seems random enough, it is remarkable how much in common so many of the women seemed to have. Firstly, almost every woman was seeing a therapist. Secondly, a large proportion of the women included in the book had married without love. Their reasons? Biological clocks, an affluent lifestyle they couldn't provide for themselves, companionship and a need to escape. In a decisive blow against arranged marriages, at least in America, these women did not fall in love with their husbands later and most still yearn for or seek out the romance they had originally decided to go without.
Thirdly, and not surprisingly, most women had children. For many, it seemed the arrival of children was what had put a strain on the marriage, which in some cases had been thriving until that point.
Housewives and stay-at-home mothers will not be thrilled with the revelations here. Moving to the suburbs, having children and staying at home seem to have contributed to many of the problems. These suburban wives uniformly complain of isolation, exhaustion, a husband who is never home, never spends time with the children, never has time for conversation or romance when he stumbles home late at night, and who never shares or communicates his feelings or cares about hers.
Sex -- either the lack of it or the reluctance to give it to their husbands -- seems also to be at the root of many problems and many of these relationships endured years without any physical intimacy.
Lastly, I was struck with the fact that in almost every case the women seemed primarily to blame their husbands and even their parents, for the state of their affairs. They don't seem willing to look at the possibility of a shared responsibility for a marriage gone sour.
The authors have divided the book into three sections: "doing that," those women who are having an affair at the time of the interview, "been there, done that," women who have had affairs in the past, and those who "would like to do that," women contemplating or daydreaming about having an affair. That covers a lot wives. Each section has a brief introduction and a summary of what the authors found in that sampling. Then the women, from Mrs. A to Mrs. X, from doctor to artist, are allowed to speak for themselves.
Is this going to be the latest definitive book on a hot topic? I don't think so. It's interesting to read what the women have to say; it might even make you feel better about your own marriage, but it's unlikely to be a reference source for marriage counselors or required reading for engaged couples. There are no insights here, nothing new, controversial or startling. The writers, one an author and lifestyle columnist and the other an attorney and TV and film producer, are well suited for their task but something is missing. I want a more diverse sampling and more variety in the stories. Gertler and Lopez make it very clear that they are merely presenting the tales, but is there sufficient value in that? (Other than the catharsis the women themselves may have experienced.)
For me, this study needs a different framework, some perceptive questioning perhaps, or someone directing the women to a deeper sharing that touches all of us in some way. Without this, the women's confessions get too repetitive after a while. I've been asking myself, "Why should I care?" and I don't want to ask that. Resonances from a popular television program do not a successful book make. Perhaps Lopez and Gertler could have found ways to make their material stand on its own. | March 2005
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.