The XX Factor

Why Women Stay With World-Class Adulterers

It is impossible to come away from Alex Wichtel’s New York Times magazine profile of Norris Church Mailer , the last wife of Norman Mailer, without admiring Norris. Norman Mailer was not the ideal husband by most people’s definition. As Wichtel writes, he was “self-obsessed, self-aggrandizing, [and] perennially womanizing to the point of even his own humiliation.” And yet, Norris stayed with him, and her explanation for why makes complete sense:

Why does somebody stay with somebody who’s not quite good enough? That’s a big question, and I don’t have a pat answer. It’s just the good outweighed the bad, and we loved those kids. I didn’t want to leave them, and I didn’t want to leave him because he was so interesting. If I had, I would have always wondered what he was up to.

Norris tells a revealing story about finding out that Norman was unfaithful with “a small army of women” after he had promised to be true to her and the kids. It is instructive when thinking about Sandra Bullock and whether or not she knew about Jesse James’ adultery and Nazi paraphernalia. Norris says, “After I found out, I kept saying to him, ‘Why didn’t I know?’ And he said, ‘It’s not hard to fool somebody who loves you and trusts you.’ ”

Photograph of Norman Mailer by Carl Van Vechten/Library of Congress.