One of the women who attends my Jazzercise class (yes, Jazzercise – I admit it) is about to go through an ugly divorce. Her husband (a.k.a. The Bastard) confessed to having an affair with his 30-year-old assistant three months ago (my friend is in her 50s). They'd been married 26 years. But his penis got the better of him.
This revelation significantly increased my imaginary punching-bag power during class – I worked up a real sweat being angry at a man who I've never met. Couldn't he see what he was losing? After all, my friend is the type of person I want to be when I grow up: she's uproariously funny, witty and cool (y'know, for a mum), and the type of cynical that makes you laugh, not depressed. She's as close to a real-life version of the mum, Lois, from Malcolm in the Middle I've met. And wasn't she a top sort of chick – in a manic, control-freak kind of way?
At hearing the news, I said how sorry I was and that he should, of course, be shot and publicly shamed. For a tough lady, she's really hurting, though does a good job of looking chipper despite having Her Whole World Collapse Around Her (on that note: Kerrie Armstrong did a fantastic job of portraying a wife betrayed in Lantana, no? Dignity and a side-serving of screw-you.)
My friend and her husband were supposed to grow old together. And he pulled the proverbial life-rug out from under her feet. He also took away their holiday homes (nice problem to have, I know; these are not cash-poor people), given he and his mistress/The Adultress fornicated at both of them (why, oh, why did you have to do it there?!). Listening to her divulge some of the sordid details was like watching an episode of Californication (BTW, I'm no prude, but this show disturbs me much).
Unfortunately, my friend's story is not unique. In an article titled 'Calling it quits: women act early but men take ages' (The Australian, March 1, 2007), demographer Bernard Salt says that after age 50 "baby boomer men finally drag their sorry fat backsides off the couch and into action. In fact, after 30 years of marriage, 55 per cent of single applications for divorce are filed by men." Salt reasons that, unlike women who like to terminate dead-end marriages in the early stages while they are still "young and beautiful", male logic reasons there's "plenty of time to pick up a trophy wife later in life."
Apparently sports cars, ski trips and boys' weekends (not to mention their gorgeous families) aren't enough to satiate Baby Boomer men during their mid-life crises (or mid-life crises #2) – they need trophy girlfriends, too. So they put their insecurity issues on their wives' expense accounts and cheat. Which is not to say women are exempt (the Bureau of Statistics says 40 per cent of divorces are sought by the wife, while 29.5 per cent are sought by the husband – the rest are mutual agreements; and a study of high-earning couples by US firm Prince & Associates, as reported by Susan Maushart in The Weekend Australian Magazine, found that 61 per cent of wealthy wives had taken lovers, compared to 43 per cent of men) but if this were to become a popular and 'normalised' trend, like Californication meets Desperate Housewives in the real world, what hope is there for young marriages? Where is the positive role modelling? Where are the morals? Is monogamy in danger, as Maushart suggests in her column ("there is nothing natural about monogamy")? Sunday Life reported today that French (ah, yes, those liberal-minded Frenchies) company Ibila is in the business of providing alibis for cheating spouses, including receipts from fake restaurants and parking tickets. Cheaters are being marketed to!
During the brief chat with my friend, I said I was grateful my husband is a devout Christian and would rather poke his eyes out with scissors than betray our marriage (and God) – to which she replied she wished their household had had more Christian morals (and no doubt thought, "you have much to learn, honey"). But being 'people of faith' doesn't really mean we're "safe" does it? Husband does have eyes and a willy, after all.
As a newlywed who's not entirely naive, I'm all too aware of how persuasive a newer/younger/sexually charged model can look to a man when his wife's too tired to put out and lives in her chocolate-stained tracksuit. It's exhausting just thinking of the work that goes into keeping your marriage alive/on fire; it makes scoring a bloke look like child's play. But while the feminist in me is all "why should I have to work so hard to please you and get your attention and shave my legs on a semi-regular basis; I have my own thing going on and you should respect that, and if you really had respect for me, you wouldn't be looking to stray anyway...", I do often think there are certain things a wife must do to ensure her husband doesn't stray (as best she can: there is no stopping a real dog of a man from cheating, even on the most gorgeous wife): like grooming, exercising, paying him adequate attention, meeting his needs for sex, bolstering his ego, etc (heck, you've read The Rules). It's pretty much a full-time job – God forbid you should bring caring for children into the equation (Sophie Lee paints an impeccable portrait of those challenges in her Sunday magazine column). But what if you do all this – invest all this energy/money in spousal maintenance – and the bugger does the dirty anyway?
What are the real safeguards? And what about the majority of marriages that do last the distance – what are those people doing so right?
I think the answer has to be something along the lines of selflessness, sacrifice, respect, patience, being kind to one another, two-way communication and honesty. Husband and I have a rule in our marriage that if one of us feels an attraction to someone else, no matter how fleeting it may be, we will voice it (ouch!). Because, as they say, from little things big things grow. Best to nip them in the bud; then make him pay for bruising your ego by taking you shopping for a new handbag/shoes/diamond ring.
It might also help if you keep a check on any hot nannies/assistants/secretaries.
Marriage is a humbling experience.
Girl With a Satchel