Dear Prudence

The Constant Mistress

I’ve been in five relationships with married men, but don’t feel guilty. Am I morally bankrupt, or is everyone else closed-minded?

Emily Yoffe.

Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I have always tried to be a kind person. However, I have lived my adult life in a way many people would disapprove of. During the last 11 years I have been a mistress of five married men. One had a long string of previous affairs. One was a friend for whom I had much tenderness and who told me he would rather have had me. One was a three-year relationship that caused deep feelings and deep distress. I do not regret these or the other adventures. I have not been the initiator of the affairs; the men have pursued me. Apart from one, I would not have wanted to live with these men. I do not know any of the five wives, and I am discreet. When people discuss adultery, the cheater and the other woman are often spoken of harshly as deceivers and egoists. I have never felt like either, and have never felt guilty. Is it possible the rest of the world has a limited emotional imagination and cannot see that such affairs are meetings between two people who don’t want to hurt innocent partners, but who choose to explore their intimacy and chemistry in secret? Or have I somehow become morally crippled since I can so easily do something most people would chastise me for?

—The Other Woman

Dear Other,
Give the rest of the world more credit. Most people’s emotional imagination is able to grasp that affairs are precisely about delivering the kick of clandestine intimacy and chemistry. That they exist in a nether world of pure sex, without all the domestic thrill kills of bills, groceries, kids, and mortgages. Of course it’s silly to say there’s only one way to live and everyone should settle down to a monogamous relationship. (I don’t have to tell you, since your lovers are all people who vowed to do just that and then found it lacking.) But you sound proud of your furtive life—you’ll never be the deluded wife who doesn’t know that the real secret to her devoted marriage is that her husband has a girlfriend. Sure, you can say you were never the initiator. But at least acknowledge how much you enjoy the pursuit, how well-versed you are in sending signals you’re available. You’ve ruminated here about your choices, so I suggest you examine why you so easily have slipped into the role of other woman. Maybe you are afraid of being in a sustained, open relationship. Maybe you’ve become addicted to the narcotic of the illicit. Maybe you like the safety of knowing the affair is bound to end. Imagine that you are writing to me five years from now, and you’ve concluded affair No. 7, or 8. Perhaps in that time you will have started seeing these interludes as not so much tender and deep but tawdry and dishonorable. There are women who spend their whole lives as the other woman—until perhaps they realize that while men are still pursuing, they’re no longer pursuing them. If this is not a place you want to end up, take a long break from this role. Decide not to exchange those glances, or stop at just one drink, and see how it feels to create a different kind of life.


Dear Prudence: Drama in the Break Room

Dear Prudie,
I’m a tremendously lucky woman engaged to a guy who fits basically every requirement that I could possibly want. He’s brilliant, emotionally open, hilarious, gainfully employed, and supportive of me. He has one fault that is making me crazy: He peppers his sentences with “like” more often than a 14-year-old girl. It’s gotten to the point that I have to tune out when he’s explaining or describing something because I find it so irritating. I’ve brought it up to him, but he says that’s the way he gets his thoughts out. I’m not the only one who’s noticed. My mother frequently calls him out for this habit, which embarrasses him deeply. His friends and colleagues have eye-rolled about it to me. Is there any way to break him of this before we get to “Uh, like, I do” at the altar?

—Snarky Speech Police

Dear Snarky,
Let’s say you never do break him of this habit. I’m trying to imagine how your marriage is going to work if for your sanity you must tune him out whenever he is engaged in “explaining or describing something.” Nearly every time he opens his mouth you’ll be saying to yourself, “Like, like, like, like, can’t hear you!” By your own description you are about to marry a paragon. Surely you’re aware of some of your own flaws, ones that he simply accepts. I could argue that you should just love your Valley Boy. And if he had a condition like Tourette’s Syndrome, it would be cruel not to embrace that as just a small part of him. But someone who habitually spews endless verbal filler would drive me crazy, too. This tic is also likely to have a deleterious effect on his career. Caroline Kennedy’s brief bid for the senate was in part derailed by her endless string of “ums” and “you knows.” You’ve had unproductive talks with your fiancé about the way he speaks, so it’s crucial that you change the tenor. First, tell your mother she’s being rude to your fiancé and you won’t stand for it. Don’t return his friends’ eye-rolls. If you’ve been annoyed and abrupt with him, apologize. Then say that you’re concerned this piece of verbal baggage is going to hold him back, and you’d like to help him get rid of it. There are many places on the Web that give practical advice on making one’s speech crisper, so look at some with him. Most of all, I suggest you both sign up for Toastmasters—tell him you could improve your speaking skills, too. Sure, the video on their website is cheesy, but they’re cheap and effective. Each meeting has someone designated as an “Ah Counter” who notes each instance of verbal fluff. Getting feedback from objective strangers should allow your beloved to lower his defenses and leave the Valley-speak behind.


Dear Prudence,
I’ve been married for almost 20 years and my husband and I have two wonderful children. I am also a recovered drug addict. After surgery almost six years ago I became addicted to Vicodin. I lied to my doctor to get refills and stole from my friends and family. I’ve completed rehab and see a therapist two times a week. But no matter how much progress I’ve made—I’m working, my children and marriage are good—my husband’s family still sees me as sick. My husband thinks I should give them time, but it has been almost three years since they last talked to me. I’m not allowed to go to any of their houses and am not invited to holiday and family functions. My children are beginning to resent them and my husband is fed up. I understand that my actions hurt everyone around me, but is it too much to ask they see me as I am now?

—Recovered Drug Addict

Dear Recovered,
You need to devote some therapy sessions—with your husband in attendance—for working out a strategy to deal with his family. Your husband contradictorily says he is fed up and that they should get more time. But it sounds as if their plan is to make you a permanent pariah, no matter how long ago your misdeeds. I’m sure it was shocking that you stole from them, but they had also known you for years before your addiction. Now you are clean and maintaining your recovery, so it’s hard to imagine what else they want. It’s simply unacceptable for your husband and children to be invited to their houses while you are barred. Perhaps a large family meeting is in order in which you apologize for the hurt you’ve caused and explain how dedicated you are to your recovery. Then your husband has to say either his whole family is welcome, or none of you will come. Yes, you betrayed them while in the grip of an addiction, but that is no excuse for their being permanently malicious.


Dear Prudie,
I like to check out VHS movies from my local library. The last one was a Civil War documentary about General Custer’s last stand. But I was appalled to realize that the tape contained nothing of the sort, and was a homemade pornographic film! As if this wasn’t disturbing enough, I noticed that two of the people “acting” on the tape bore a close resemblance to a former co-worker of mine at the local high school and a former student. I didn’t leave the tape in long enough to see what happened between the two of them, but I always thought they had a strange relationship. My former co-worker has passed away and I’m certain the student now has a family of her own. What should I do with the tape?

—Concerned Bibliophile

Dear Concerned,
You probably misread the title of the tape. I bet it’s actually called, “There’s Nothing Little About this Bighorn.” I have to say that upon realizing I was watching an encounter not between Sitting Bull and General Custer but a former colleague and student, I’d be unlikely to press “eject.” (Let’s hope the student was an adult when this film was made.) I also wish I could have seen the look on the face of your late colleague when he realized, after popping his masterpiece, “Teacher’s Pet,” into the VCR for his annual viewing, that he had already mistakenly inserted it into the jacket of a documentary. (One might say “mistaken insertion” is the true subject of a homemade porn involving a teacher and a student.) If you return the tape without saying anything, it’s likely it will be years before anyone rents it. On the other hand, if someone does, you don’t want to be on record as being the last person in possession of it. Hand it to the librarian and say the tape shows a confrontation, but not the kind you expected.


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