Married Men

June 12, 2012 § 48 Comments

From yesterday’s Times:-

It is easy for me to say I would never have an affair with a married man.

A completely innocent but lovely “date” with an old (married) friend set me to thinking about this.  It is simple.  Married men are off my radar.   You make a decision: you just don’t.  You don’t put out the signals.  But if some opportunist bluffs ahead anyway, you say, “Thanks for the invitation for lunch/dinner/sex.  I’m flattered and if things were different – ie. you didn’t have a wife! – then, maybe, yes.  But you do, so thanks but no thanks.”  End of.

And yet, if there is one thing I have learned from my experiences over these past few years, it is, resoundingly, that things are not black and white.  I have been lucky enough to have had a fulfilling, long-term relationship (even if it did end in divorce) and to have children.  I haven’t been a plankton for all that long and there remains in me somewhere, somehow, some vestige of hope (even if I can’t for the life of me think why).

But, just say I had spent decades only being done over by horrible men (I’ve had my share, but been fortunate to have had some good ones too); and just say all hope was spent and proper grinding despair had set in permanently (as opposed to the odd encounter I currently have with it); and just say a married man were out of the blue to appear full of affection, kindness and companionship, love, even… well, then, I would be lying if I said I could put my hand on my heart and swear I wouldn’t buckle.  I think I wouldn’t, but who is to say my (pious? sanctimonious?) beliefs, after years and years of untold loneliness, would hold out in the face of the crumbs of something other, the promise of a scrap of intimacy, however fleeting or impermanent, and would not prove irresistible?

My hope is that temptation will never materialise and I will go the way of eventually waking up to the joys of solitude and acceptance rather than the other, less promising (and less moral) route, namely being complicit in marital mayhem.  I feel sure that I would never ever do it to anyone.  God forbid, it is the antithesis of my very DNA, and yet, and yet… plenty of women do – some close family and friends of mine amongst them – and I condemn their behaviour in principle – and not just in principle – but when you know and love them, you also get it (well, sometimes).  Every case is different and, as I say, so often not black and white.  And who am I to judge?

Still, it remains off my own agenda.  Both for now, and hopefully forever amen.


§ 48 Responses to Married Men

  • J says:

    This has reminded me of a conversation I had with someone I was working with some twenty-five years ago. I was still young and bright-eyed and perhaps a little naive, if I am honest. A colleague had given me a lift home one evening, as I had car problems. I was in my twenties and she was in her forties. We were talking about our plans for the weekend and she mentioned that she hoped to see her boyfriend and started telling me about him. I got the impression that she didn’t get to see him very often and I said to her, innocently, that it was a real shame that he didn’t see her more often. That is when she told me that he was married with a family. I didn’t express any moral opinion, it wasn’t for me to judge, but I was a little bit startled, maybe because I had lived quite a sheltered life. What she said to me then has stayed with me ever since. She said “J, you know … if you are a woman of my age, married men are all there is … and I hope you never have to find this out for yourself”.

    At the time, being her age seemed like a lifetime away to me, but it seems that the time it took me to get to the age she was then went by in a flash. I am that age now, in fact I am older than that and I remember what she said to me. I don’t agree with her that married men are “all there is”, as there are quite a few men around of my age who are single. The sad thing, though, is that it’s married men who seem to be more attractive. I have reached a stage now where I’m not interested in having a relationship with a man, as I honestly don’t think I would gain very much from it; I don’t even feel any real sense of attraction to men. Having said that, now and then I’m caught unawares and I find that I have just blindsided myself. There are moments, now and then, when I find myself talking to a man and he’s nice, bright, interesting and kind. As I’m talking to him, I feel my brittleness softening and my guard goes down without my realising it and I find myself thinking how nice it is to be talking to this really great guy. However, even though I know that not seeking relationships with men is the right thing for me, I still feel pain when the conversation reaches a point, and it always does, when he says something casually like “well, I’m hoping for a good summer as my wife and I are taking the kids sailing”. That’s just an example, it could be any comment about a wife and family. I always smile and say “how lovely, let’s hope for a good summer then” but inside I’m saying to myself “what did you think, J, what did you think? You were feeling relaxed and comfortable, he was bright and funny and made you laugh, where on earth did you get the slightest idea from that a man like this might not be married?”. That’s the thing which I find difficult, not the fact that “there are no single men out there” because there are; I meet the occasional one in real life and I have been contacted by a few on dating sites and they are out there, Oh God, they are out there. It’s that I seem to only warm to men who are married. When I reflect on it, I wonder whether there is something about a man being happily married which makes him appealing in some strange inexplicable way. I wonder whether married men exude a certain stability, a sense of security, a more balanced personality, perhaps some kind of generosity of spirit, honed over the years by the love and attention of a woman and children and that I crave those feelings of security and stability? I don’t know, but I do know that when I feel comfortable with a man, he always turns out to be married.

    I should add that I would never consider a married man. I did make an awful mistake once, one evening, with a colleague with whom I was working on a contract and I sat in a hot bath later feeling that I had let myself down very badly and made a mental note never to make that mistake again and I never did. Not giving any consideration to married men is my personal choice, though and I don’t feel that I should judge women who do; I do find myself thinking that I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, but they would probably look at me and think the same thing, maintaining that they do have someone, sometimes, even if that relationship is fraught with difficulties. If I am honest, I get the increasing feeling that attitudes towards women who have relationships with married men are changing. There seems to be a sea change out there which is saying that if a married man and an unmarried woman choose to sleep with each other, that it is a case of it takes two to tango and is the way the world is going anyway. I know that it isn’t for me, though and even though I feel very behind the times as women regale me with stories of secret trysts and the excitement of it all, I still feel that it’s a sad state of affairs. I hope that one day, when the light starts to fade, that I don’t look back on these times when I was single, so very, very single, with remorse and think to myself “should I have gone for married men, in the way that other women said I should? Is the fact that I wasn’t willing to take other men away from their wives the reason, as other women occasionally say to me, why I was destined to be alone for ever?”

    I pray that I never feel that remorse.

  • AnonW says:

    Although, I’m widowed now, whilst I was happliy married for over forty years, I had two relationships of a long term nature, one with a plankton and the other with an unhappily married woman. Both relationships were very fulfilling at the time and I would love to have one as good now. So my view is don’t knock the relationship, if it is a good one. But make sure, as we did all those ten or so years ago, that you don’t destroy the marriage of the partner, who has one. Incidentally, the married lady is still a platonic friend of mine. She;s also still married and her marriage is a whole lot happier.

  • meadowmaker says:

    I write as a married person who has dated extraneously. Setting aside the moral judgements (they are well established!) I think your position is correct, the main reason being self preservation. Married and single do not mix for numerous reasons, but most of all because of (a) weekends and (b) evenings! The intimacy is exciting (and new, of course), but the immediate solitude is always tricky..

  • James B says:

    It’s a simple fact that married men will tend to be more attractive to many women over the age of 40 because: (1) They were attractive enough to entice a woman in the first place, (2) They have been civilised by the love of (or at least the involvement with) a decent woman, (3) they know how to talk to a woman as they have had plenty of practice, (4) They are a scare resource – we are all attracted to unavailable assets and, finally (5) Their married status subconsciously vindicates and affirms your taste – after all if one attractive woman likes this man then perhaps he is indeed (socially/physically/emotionally) an attractive and desirable man.

    Same goes for men for married women really, although in my experience the social antenna is sharper and more prominent among females. Males wander around blinded by initial sexual appeal before their emotional substructures kick in.

    One thing has always puzzled me though. I know it is a foul thing to steal someone else’s partner, but in business and sport we condone and almost encourage competitive behaviour. So, if you were to find the man of your dreams in an unhappy marriage (let’s assume there are no kids in this example) – would it be morally acceptable to make your feelings known to this guy? A lifetime’s happiness for both of you could be at stake here. I know this is controversial thinking, but still …

    I know a lot of married men trapped in unhappy marriages who would love to know they were still attractive. What a complicated world we live in…

  • Elle says:

    I understand exactly what you mean P, but please don’t go over to the dark side.

  • Roger Murphy says:

    I was/am one of those men in an unhappy marriage and recently asked for a serparation which occured last weekend – that of course did not go down too well but (selfishly) I thought it was the best route to go especially as I really want a relationship with someone who still has romance and love in their souls!

    I do not think i am a bad person for this and as I am almost past the sell by date think if i dont do it now I never will – I have found the most captivating older woman in her mid forties (so ladies never mind your ages please) who makes me feel that way. Nothing has happened as she did not want to (1) be the OW (2) get in the middle of a martial breakup (3) been divorced for 4 years and says she does not want a ‘relationship’ any more.

    But pathetically perhaps I believe all that can change – Still we are all different, i dont judge others as you make your own way in this world and it is only too short a time anyway.

    Good Luck

  • Shy P. says:

    Having been on the receiving end of an adulterous wife, felt the terrible personal hurt and seen the damage to my children I now understand why it’s one of the ten commandments, up there with the other big bad things; the damage and pain is huge. Marriages end. That’s understandable, but wait till they end. Perhaps for no better reason than what goes around comes around.

    Ps got snapped up really quickly after I decided to risk a relationship, so there is hope.

    • Elle says:

      Of course you got snapped up really quickly, Shy P, men do! This has been the topic of many of Plankton’s blogs over the last year.

      • Shy P. says:

        Sure, I have been reading it a while and i suppose it’s not necessarily obvious that my partner is a divorced woman, but she is, and the snapping up and time frames was two way.

      • The Plankton says:

        Ah, so you mean HER being snapped up by you should give us plankton hope as opposed to the other way round? In which case, you are more on the money and I accept your point. Thank you. Pxx

      • The Plankton says:

        I hadn’t read your comment, Elle, when I replied to Shy P. My words almost precisely! Pxx

    • The Plankton says:

      Shy P, thanks for this but with respect, of course YOU got snapped up really quickly. You are a man. I was with some girlfriends last night and they were saying even real toads, if available (and often even if not officially available), have women (young and old) throwing themselves at them (esp. if the men are rich and successful, but not necessarily so). I am not suggesting in any way you are a toad, but this is the way of the world. Available men are in a buyer’s market. Pxx

      • Steve says:

        With respect, Dear P, this is a myth.

        Being a man is no guarantee of being snapped up. My alleged wife walked out on me almost six years ago and I have been single ever since.

        By definition, I am therefore (a) a real toad or (b) your theory is nonsense. Obviously, I will claim (b) as the truth, but I will admit to being somewhat biased…


      • The Plankton says:

        Point taken, Steve. I am sure you are not a toad. pxx

  • MissBates says:

    Well, when “anguished resignation” (to quote my shrink) is what one has left, it can be beguiling when a man (even a married one) actually pays ANY attention to you, if only for a pleasant, perfectly innocent conversation. I can easily see how people get carried away and I make no judgments. However, as a divorce lawyer I see the train wreck that people make of their and their family’s lives with infidelity, and thus far having that constant example before my eyes has been sufficient detriment for me to follow suit.

    • Elle says:

      “Follow suit” 🙂 Terrible choice of words for a lawyer, Miss Bates, but I agree with what you say. I haven’t quite reached anguished resignation, but have reached a sort of resignation where I’m happy to accept any sort of legitimate attention, even if it only short-term or time-share (with other single women)! I’m no less anguished when things end, but it’s better to love and lose rather than never love at all when the chance is still ther

      • The Plankton says:

        Time-sharing available men with a host of other women. I have heard about this a LOT. Only last night a girlfriend told me about a friend of her husband’s who isn’t all that attractive but he’s free and his mobile is short-circuiting with texts from reams of women, and he’s fucking them all. Infinitely depressing. Pxx

    • The Plankton says:

      I am not a divorce lawyer, but I agree and a divorce lawyer friend – who is unhappily married to a complete cow – says that after what he sees day in, day out, he will never go there himself. Px

      • MissBates says:

        I confess my profession has influenced my decision to Give Up. Had to laugh when I read your comment. I was in London last week giving a presentation to a group of U.K. divorce lawyers — wonder if your friend was among them!

      • The Plankton says:

        Ooh, I wonder? Pxx

  • Elle says:

    I know this is a bit off topic, but I saw this article in the Guardian and couldn’t resist sharing it.

    • The Plankton says:

      Thank you, Elle! I enjoyed that a lot. Perhaps I should’ve done more research and called myself and this column, The Whiptail Lizard Life: very appropriate, but I am not sure it has quite the same ring? Pxx

  • Lydia says:

    Lots of married people stray. Some find the lvoe of their life anf leave their marriage,. Others never get found out. Some get found out and get kicked out and others stay together. There are too many combinations to write about them all.

    There are certainly plenty of single men around seeking solace with those who are not available. Most married men and women don’t leave their partner for their lover so it’s risky to get embroiled. Some do but often that rebound relationship ends and their second marriage is to someone else again so you were just used as their temporary staging post as it were.

    I avoid married men all the time as I am not interested in that kind of thing and am quite happy anyway.

  • anniebub says:

    Marriage is an institution that provides a framework of security and stability for the family, and it is supposed to last a lifetime. It starts with mutual attraction, leads to deep passion and commitment, and the joy, if one is lucky, of sharing one’s children. But, when we contemplate the state of our society, it seems it is a tough one to stick with through an entire lifetime, even with the best will in the world. People often marry when they are very young, and by the middle of their lives they have become very different. Alternatively, they may marry late, and have become so independent that they can never give all of themselves to the other. For whatever reason, I think we would be hard-pressed to find any marriage that is utterly perfect, and that the norm is far nearer to about 75%/25% functioning. Passion fades, and is replaced with companionship, and for a great many people, that is enough. But there will always be those whose hearts are stirred and who cannot resist the undeniable thrill of feeling again the same feelings that they had many years ago, now intensified because they have found it second time around, and far less black and white than it was in their youth. Married men and women are not immune to this, just because they are married. At the same time, they have great respect for the institution they have invested in for so long. So, what are they to do? Deny the feelings that they know are true, and carry on living parrallel lives in sterile relationships? Or succumb, put up the white flag and find themselves embroiled in bitter breakdown,recrimination and damaged children. No wonder so many settle for conducting discreet affairs, while continuing in their marriages, in order to try to make sure everyone, including themselves may have a measure of happiness. These affairs involve enormous sacrifice,great care and denial, but can also bring great joy. Life is one huge compromise, and taking a finite view is not the answer. It avoids the question. It could happen to you, and it might not me a disaster.

    • The Plankton says:

      I take your points and thank you, anniebub, but I think I prefer Angela Neustatter’s solution, as laid out in a piece in the Guardian Magazine last Saturday. Not straight-forward and not for everyone (in a nutshell: after 40 years and facing separation, deciding instead to live apart from her husband in the same house and meeting for “dates”; and now the grown-up son, daughter-in-law and grand-child have moved in), but imaginative and original and surely better than the invariable bitter breakdown, recrimination and damaged children to which you refer? Pxx

      • anniebub says:

        Totally agree. If only more people could work things out like this and live amicably ever afterwards. xx

  • kathy says:

    after you went on that “date” with a friends husband (the walker) it seemed at that point you stopped posting for a stretch and i wondered whether you had subconsciously hoped that he was interested in you? And now this post. It seems like you have got a lot more angry at the world (about being a plankton) since that date with him?

    Did you secretly hope something woudl happen with him?

    • The Plankton says:

      No, no, Kathy, I promise no. I did get more angry at the world, but that was to do with making a monstrous tit of myself (luckily only to myself and my friends and never badly to him) over Surprise Twinkle and vowing to myself not to care that much again about anyone who doesn’t care about me, or indeed anyone I don’t know well enough to care about! I went all teenage – didn’t eat or sleep – and it was SO not the way forward. I promise you, I haven’t given my married friend another thought. Pxx

      • kathy says:

        ok thats good! I am glad too that i would never fall for a maried man. I mean its just too hard. I have met several that i have definatley felt attracted too, but would never pursue it

  • EmGee says:

    Friend (I do not know her) of a dear friend sent df a scathing email the other day, calling her all sorts of horrible things, what a mystery. It took 3 messages back and forth for her to finally tell my friend what crime she supposedly committed.

    The woman found out *6 months ago* that her husband had had an affair with another friend of theirs several years ago while she was pregnant, and assumed that my friend knew about it all along. DF had no idea, and asked her friend why she waited 6 months anyway? Her friend replied that it took 6 months to screw up the courage to ‘ask’ her about it. Excuse me, but ‘ask’? She sent a blistering, accusatory message with no explanation for the cause of her anger. She decided to be judge, jury, executioner.

    Bless her heart, my friend has taken the wronged woman’s side and is angry at the husband for what he did, but if this is how she deals with a friend who she *thinks* has betrayed her by withholding information with no evidence, exactly how does she deal with other people?

    I think this is a case where she is had the misfortune of a cheating husband, and he has the misfortune to be married to a vicious rage-a-holic. And I am sure both side are convinced they are the ‘wronged’ party.

  • rosie says:

    Oh god, I think I might have to slash my wrists! On a ‘cheerier’ note and apropos the Robert Graves post, I went to visit his grave once, a long time ago. It’s in a beautiful village called Deia in Majorca and someone had laid a single red rose on it.

  • rosie says:

    I hope I never do, but I couldn’t guarantee that I’d never fall in love with a married man (what if it was like some kind of thunderbolt?). But these women who ‘time share’, how can they do that to themselves? Apart from the issue of pride, surely the bit where he goes off with one of his other floozies would make you feel so unutterably shit you wouldn’t/couldn’t go there again.

    • Elle says:

      Rosie, “time-share” is easy. Hypothetical speaking, I might meet a single man on Friday nights and as we are not “exclusive”, he can meet as many woman as he likes the rest of the time. The American model of dating is based on time-share which may go on indefinitely, depending on the people concerned.

      Men are always looking for something better and despite being reasonably attractive and hopefully intelligent, at 40 I am past my dating premium. I have to be realistic about my options and make the most of what’s out there, even if it is only time-share. If all concerned are single, honest and safe there’s no problem and it’s less hypocritical than someone cheating on you or leading you to believe you’re exclusive while he’s slagging all and sundry behind your back.

      It’s like this, tough situations call for tough solutions. The world is not ideal and boy-meets-girl-happy-ever-after is for fairytales.

  • rosie says:

    I’ve never expected fairy tales but if I’m seeing someone I need it to be exclusive. The American model makes me shudder. Maybe if you’re young and hot and in demand it’s a barrel of laughs but as a plankton – waiting around to find out if you’re good enough (or not) to be the one he finally chooses – I’d find it excruciating. Good on you if you can do it though, each to their own!

    • MissBates says:

      The “American model”? Erm…..I hate to break it to you, but I don’t know ANY women in NY who are looking to be just someone’s Friday night date, while he’s off with other women on the other six nights of the week. Yes, certainly, men have the option — fostered by the internet — of doing just that, but is that really a specifically American thing? I’ve gotten the impression from the commenters here that that’s a pretty universal phenomenon. (And yes, theoretically women could do the same — i.e., have a date with a different man every night of the week — but again, it’s my experience as well as my impression from this blog that it’s difficult finding a man to go out with once every six MONTHS, much less several times a week!) : )

      • SteveH says:

        I’d always had the impression(certainly amongst the “young” ) in the States that people dated for far longer on a non-exclusive basis than they do here.

        And when you’re young , that would appear to be sensible – get to know several men/women before “settling down” with one.

        Here, you have a couple of dates and oen or other is planning a wedding 😉

      • Emgee says:

        Thank you, MissBates. I was about to take umbrage with rosie. Broad brush, and that. 🙂
        I live in an artistic community in the california desert, which makes it inherently open minded, and no one I know has what I would call an ‘open’ relationship. I am sure it exists, but it is hardly the norm

      • J says:

        It’s actually not that difficult to have a date with a different man every night of the week in London – certainly 4 or 5 would be possible. Theoretically, if I were to list myself on as many dating sites as possible, plus in newspapers and magazines like Time Out, I’m sure that I would get guys pressing for a date very quickly, but that’s not because I’m hot stuff! The problem isn’t finding men who are out there looking for women, it’s finding nice men who are out there looking for someone nice with whom to perhaps have a relationship. I think that that is one of the great sadnesses of planktonhood and speaking personally, one thing I have found difficult is maintaining my self esteem when faced with the knowledge that I seem to have cornered the market in married men who fancy a little something before they commute homewards to a lovely and completely unwitting wife and reckon they are doing me a favour anyway, single Lotharios who were really hoping for Elle MacPherson and make it clear to me how far away from the desirable standard I am and my special field, the frankly creepy. I was waiting for a bus a couple of weeks ago and a guy moved closer to me and said “A walk by the river with you would be very nice ….”. I just carried on reading the paper, but when the bus came, he got on with me and sat opposite me and stared at me. I felt very uncomfortable and was glad when he got off. I regularly get ones like that and I have no idea why. The bizarre thing is that when I lived with my partner, weirdos didn’t come on to me, but once I became a London plankton, their radar picked me up straightaway.

        I think that it is particularly difficult in London if you have professional/academic type interests. I like things like foreign films and talks on art and architecture; I’ve also spent quite some time studying, which means that I’ve come to really like that kind of thing. The problem is that once you start looking for men who have similar interests, the market shrinks in a big way. It would be nice to have someone who would go to the Barbican’s Bauhaus exhibition and then have a glass of wine by the lake, but there are probably about 100,000 women in Central London hoping for the same and about 5 men who would go!

        I was talking to my Probate solicitor the other day and was aware of his wedding ring – he’s in his thirties and very nice – and afterwards, I had to work quite hard on myself to shake off the feeling that his wife had a decent guy, as do many women, yet I seem to be the plat du jour for men looking for a quick, inherently meaningless something or for the creepy and often frightening.

        I’ve often felt, to be honest, that London’s planktons and the men available to them are very different. I do know men who are unmarried and I know women who are unmarried, but they seem to be cut from very different cloth. When a man does become available who ticks the plankton boxes, he’s there and gone in a flash. London’s full of women of my age looking for someone nice and as soon as a man becomes available …. he’s gone again!

      • The Plankton says:

        Last night I sat next to a charming American poet and intellectual and he was fantastic; low-key, funny, engaging. I like American men. If only this one hadn’t been married. What a surprise. Pxx

  • rosie says:

    MissBates, I agree, I can’t see how any woman would be happy to put with that crap. Thing is, the way the ‘American’ (ie NYC) model is reported this side of the pond leads you to believe that dating your side of it is a gladiatorial sport and people are more or less armed with clipboards!

    • Margaux says:

      To support Rosie – that is true. A diet of US dramas ( Sex & the City anyone?) + the internet leads us to believe that ‘dating’ is very much a ‘category of engagement’ in the US which means both sides are also open to date others and that at some point both parties agree to go ‘mutual’ and so it moves to a different level.

      It’s a bit more hazy and woolly over here – but then we Brits are a bit hazy about these things generally! ( as this blog shows!)

      • Emgee says:

        😀 Having grown up with a sready diet of British tv consisting of Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, East Enders, All Things Great and Small, Keeping Up Appearances, and now Downton Abbey, it’s clear why none of you Brits can carry on a sane relationship. That, and you are all starkers. I loved the Mighty Boosh, but I am pretty certain that was make believe. And Marmite.

  • rosie says:

    Ji, I lived in London for 22 years and now live in another big city in the UK and can vouch that a plankton’s lot is not a happy one here either.

    Why not go to one of the films/talks on your own? On the wafer thin offchance there is someone there who you fancy and who fancies you, and presuming there are no other plankton hovering around (which is probably wishful thinking but anyway), at least you’ll have a captive audience.

    It was a while ago but P and other commenters have already written about ‘going to talks and lectures’…

  • rosie says:

    that should have been J, not Ji…

  • kathypan says:

    J, loved reading your piece there. I just feel that men over about 38, even though they would be most compatible with the educated, artistic, 40 and up plankton, really unfortunately trade that for the 20 something with no life experience or culture, simply because she is, well 20 something.

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