DearPeggy.com


The New York Times Long Island Journal, 12-5-04

High Infidelity

By Marcelle S. Fischler

(Please note: Peggy's comments in red below.)

''My husband just was neglectful of me,'' confided a 34-year-old woman from Huntington who has been married for nine years and first dated him in high school. ''He never paid any attention to me. It became like I could have been a piece of furniture in the house.''

The woman said that when she attempted to tell her husband that he wasn't meeting her needs, he brushed her off, saying ''You watch too many soap operas.''

But her husband's friend knew how to give a woman a compliment, she said. While her husband questioned why she needed to get her hair done, his friend told her she looked beautiful. The woman and her husband's friend started to meet for lunch on her days off from her part-time job.

Soon they were having an affair.

''He made me feel like a woman,'' she said. ''He made me feel special. He made me feel like I mattered. The other guy was everything that my husband wasn't.''

The woman, who like all of the adulterers quoted in this article spoke only on the condition that she not be identified, said that other mothers at her son's preschool had confided that they were also cheating on their husbands.

''Women just are not going to accept being forgotten about,'' she said. ''There were many times I knew it wasn't right, but I just felt like, what about me? I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a worker. I am all these things. When do I get to be a woman?''

Looking for comfort in the arms of another man is neither new nor unique to Long Island. But at a time when ''Desperate Housewives'' is the top-rated series on television, local psychologists, physicians and matrimonial lawyers report that among their clients, the number of married women who say they're having affairs is climbing.

Sara B. Goldman, a psychotherapist with a practice in Great Neck specializing in women's issues, said patients used to come in and complain that their husbands were having affairs. ''Now they are having affairs,'' Ms. Goldman said.

The desire to stray grew out of dissatisfaction with their husbands, Ms. Goldman said. Some of them ''are good husbands as far as helping around the house and being faithful, but they are not making enough money,'' she said, adding that other husbands weren't sensitive enough. ''Women are looking for a friendship in a marriage today,'' Ms. Goldman said. ''It's not like 'Fiddler on the Roof' anymore, where you do the cooking and the cleaning and raise the children and that's it.''

Ms. Goldman's husband is Dr. Benjamin Goldman, an obstetrician-gynecologist associated with the North Shore University-Long Island Jewish Hospital System. He said that more patients, particularly women in their 40's from wealthy North Shore enclaves, were confiding that they were having affairs.

''They say a woman comes into her sexual peak in her mid-to late 30's and a guy is already dead by that point,'' Dr. Goldman said. ''That could have something to do with it.''

Dr. Frances Praver, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, said she has seen an increase in the number of adulterous patients in her Locust Valley practice. She believes the incidence of infidelity may be higher on the Island, where many commuter husbands spend unusually long hours working far from home and a relatively high percentage of wives stay home with too much time on their hands. ''Thirty years ago, housewives drank,'' Dr. Praver said. ''Now they cheat.''

Dr. Praver said she has seen women in their 30's who have left challenging careers in New York City to raise their children in big houses on two-acre Gold Coast plots.

''After dinner, wives may find their hubbies glued to the TV instead of them, or worse still, asleep on the sofa,'' Dr. Praver said. ''These women are itching to go, to feel desirable, to be wooed, responded to and acknowledged as sexy women. Wives want attention, emotional engagement, excitement and romance; husbands want comfort and peace. They are both left feeling dissatisfied and angry.''

While her husband is at work, the stay-at-home wife, Dr. Praver said, feels empty, hopeless and filled with rage.

''Along comes an attentive, emotionally available, sexy admirer,'' she said, ''and bingo! He is the answer to her prayers.''

According to a 2000 report from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, which represents 23,000 counselors, 15 percent of wives and 25 percent of husbands nationwide have had extramarital sex. William F. Northey Jr., the association's research specialist, said the numbers were rising. ''With the mobility of our culture as well as with the number of women working outside the home there are clearly additional opportunities,'' he said.

Peggy Vaughan, author of ''The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering From Affairs'' (Newmarket Press, 2003), estimated that the likelihood a woman will have an affair at some time in some marriage had increased from 40 percent a generation ago to 50 to 60 percent now, nearly the same incidence as men. However, Ms. Vaughan includes ''emotional affairs that haven't yet become sexual'' in her estimates.

Ms. Vaughan said that in the past two years, 75 percent of the queries she gets from telephone consulting and on her Web site, dearpeggy.com, are from men whose wives are having affairs. (Correction: I was misquoted above: while 75 percent of those seeking telephone consulting are men, I have no data on the gender of those who visit my Website.) She attributes the swell to increased opportunities at work and through the Internet.

''Women lose more of themselves in marriage than men do,'' Ms. Vaughan said. ''They give themselves over to the relationship more than men. They inconvenience more. They accommodate more, they sacrifice more and they resent it. When they have an opportunity to feel like themselves again and not just their role of wife and mother, that is a heady experience.''

''It's not just 'Desperate Housewives,''' she continued. ''It's desperate wives. It's desperate mothers. It is like awakening a sleeping giant. They have been going along and when they get this opportunity to feel young and pretty and free and themselves, it is incredibly powerful. I don't think men realize how desperate their wives are.''

A dentist with an office on the South Shore of Nassau County, told of a patient in the examining room who remarked that the picture on the wall, a wintry landscape, was serene and beautiful.

''I wish my own life was so serene,'' the dentist said she replied. She confided in her patient that her husband, with whom she shared her practice, was emotionally distant and having an affair with one of their close friends.

The patient, an accountant who had recently divorced, told the dentist not to worry. He would be her friend.

''Right away there was an attraction to him,'' the dentist recalled. ''We were on this wavelength.''

Guilt was not part of the equation.

''Technically, I was unfaithful as a married woman, but not morally,'' she said, because her husband had philandered first.

''He made me feel beautiful,'' she said of her lover. ''He made me feel sexy. He made me feel smart. All the things that I didn't have and I should have had.''

With her boyfriend's help, she sought a divorce and ended her 25-year-marriage.

Sari M. Friedman, a matrimonial and family-law lawyer in Garden City, noted an increase in men seeking a divorce because their wives had strayed, especially among middle-aged clients.

''Men are coming into the office who are just as hurt as the women about the idea that their spouse has cheated,'' Ms. Friedman said. ''As society keeps progressing and as women become more economically independent, there is more of a willingness on the part of women to do so.'' Ruth Houston of Queens, the author of ''Is He Cheating on You? 829 Telltale Signs'' (Lifestyle Publications, 2003), said that men and women cheated for different reasons and that most cases of female infidelity were preventable.

''The No.1, 2 and 3 reasons for men relate to sex,'' Ms. Houston said. ''A woman cheats for the most part as a last resort. She has tried everything, her complaints have fallen on deaf ears and she feels she has no other alternative.''

Very often the men don't see it coming.

A 64-year-old a lawyer in Hampton Bays said he didn't flinch when his wife, a 43-year-old insurance agent, told him four years ago that she needed a place in Livingston, N.J., so she could help care for her sister, who was dying. The couple had been married for 12 years and had two children. He said he gave her a check to set up an apartment, never questioning why she couldn't just stay in her mother's five-bedroom home nearby.

A week later, he said, he found out that his wife was ''shacked up with a tree trimmer'' six years her junior.

''Maybe the women who married us were expecting more,'' the man said, ticking off the elements of what he thought was a good life: a four-bedroom house with a water view, two vacations a year plus a sailboat. ''Maybe they were expecting us to be rich and famous,'' he said.

The lawyer said that as a married man he never womanized, smoked, drank or gambled or even went out without his wife.

''I am still utterly mystified, but I am comforted by the fact that it seems to be the modern disease,'' he said, noting that he knew of at least 20 men in Southampton whose wives had also flown the nest. ''The women are leaving the husbands, they are leaving the families and they are generally picking younger, socially irresponsible men.''

Dr. Goldman concurred that many of the wives he sees are having flings with men who are not their intellectual or financial equals.

''These are not people they want to spend the rest of their lives with,'' he said. ''It's these young bucks, people in construction, people that are giving them something they are not getting, obviously. They can't carry a conversation on with them, but they don't want to carry a conversation on with them. This is on their terms. They are doing it because it makes them feel good.''

Unlike Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne's ''Scarlet Letter,'' women who wander not only often get away with it, they stay married to keep their high-flying lifestyles. ''They are not stupid,'' Dr. Goldman said.

Lynne Adair Kramer, a lawyer in Commack and former president of the Suffolk County Bar Association, said she knew of marriages in which both spouses ''are conducting relationships outside the marriage but chose to stay in the marriage because neither one wants to split up the pie.'' Until he got married earlier this year, a 40-year-old restaurateur from Bellmore said he spent two decades dating women who were married or in committed relationships with boyfriends.

''For a man who only wants to be single, there is nothing better than the married woman,'' the restaurateur said. ''You don't have to worry about going to the mall and shopping. You don't have to worry about going to the family for the holidays. You don't have to worry about going to Home Depot or soccer practice or any of that stuff. You become the Santa Claus.''

A 24-year-old sales executive from Ronkonkoma said he had a Mrs. Robinson-style affair with a restless 41-year-old woman he met last year at a bar in New York City. She told him she was unhappily married and that her husband was frequently out of town. ''I was looking for an experienced woman and she was looking for a young guy to have a good time with,'' he recalled. ''She has been around the block and she knows what she is doing.''

He said he knew all along that the relationship had no future, but savored their dinner and movie dates. ''She paid most of the time,'' he said.

Eventually, he said, his conscience got in the way and he broke it off.

Victor Galante, a private investigator based in Nassau County, said he has a thriving business doing surveillance work for suspicious spouses. He said women were now doing what men had always done. ''The percentage up with the wives is 40 to 50 percent,'' Mr. Galante said. ''There is an increase not only in having affairs with other men; it's up with having affairs with other women.''

Christine Kistler, the owner of Shibar, a lesbian bar in West Hempstead, said: ''There are certainly women who come to my bar who have long-term relationships with women within their own heterosexual marriages, which are ongoing.''

A lesbian from Freeport said she had a relationship with a married woman she met online, but it ended because the other woman wanted to stay married so as not to embarrass her children. ''You think that this will just be fun,'' the single woman said. ''Usually, it turns into something more and messy.''

Ms. Kramer said online extramarital romance was rampant. ''There is a large amount of infidelity coming from the Internet,'' she said, particularly for women who are lonely or bored. ''It's an easy way to have contact with the outside world.''

Unfaithful Long Island women troll for extracurricular love on cheating-tailored Web sites like marriedsecrets.com and philanderers.com or make their desire to fool around known in chat rooms and with postings on the Long Island section of craigslist.com. Not only do they admit to being married, they even give the times and days they are available.

However they start, most affairs last a few days or weeks or months. Some continue for years.

A 51-year-old artist on the South Shore of Nassau County is getting divorced for the third time. But she said she has had the same lover for the last 34 years, a teacher she fell in love with while in high school.

''Over time, he was the one relationship that was constant in my life,'' she said.

Perhaps the key to the affair's longevity, she said, is that being with her lover always makes her feel like she is still 17. Their rendezvous point is the back of her minivan.

''There are plenty of places to park,'' she said. ''I don't really like hotels.''

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