It Turns Out, Sleeping With Someone's Husband Is Not The Answer
An assessment of modern marriage by way of an illicit affair that didn't solve anything.
By Erin Party
Will Anybody Love Me (After I Say This)? is a monthly column on sex, love, and dating in New York.
Having sex with somebody else’s husband is a bad thing to do, but like Carrie Bradshaw says after she gets caught having an affair with Big while he’s married to Natasha, “It was a force bigger than me, like Niagra Falls, you know?”
After my ex-non-monogamous-non-partner broke my heart, I had a few months of exhausting depression that taxed my close relationships, then a few weeks of inner self-work in therapy, a few weeks of outer self-work at the gym, I got fresh highlights, and I got a new job with a new salary, and then it was finally time to send out the official signal that I was no longer somebody people needed to worry about. I started rewatching Sex and the City. And I started dating again, hopeful about my chances of finding someone better.
Well, the wider I cast my net in search of better (ages 23-42, all genders, North Brooklyn), the less I could envision what better even looked like for me. I tried Hinge (he auditioned for Love Island), I followed up on a meet-cute (she loves hiking and hates New York), and I went on a blind date (he literally talked about maggots he found in dog’s asshole that morning*). I tried to remain optimistic and justify the time spent on bad dates as the kind of important life experience I never would have had if my ex-non-monogamous-non-partner had just loved and married me. That would have been so boring.
By the time I got through season three when Carrie is settling in with Aiden, my life felt like the first act of a bad romantic comedy. Between montages of wine bars and small talk and red flags, I could feel the camera watching me sit on my couch eating ice cream looking pouty, unglamorous, and unlucky in love. And then just when Carrie saw Big at Aiden’s furniture show, my friend texted me to meet her at an after-party at somebody’s studio in Bushwick. “A lot of guys in their 30s are here. Commmeeee”.
She wasn’t answering her phone so I was yelling outside the address she sent me when a guy in his 30s walked up with a case of beer. He put his hand on the small of my back while he ushered me in and I thought, “We are going to have hot, violent sex later.” I have a nose for that sort of thing. I must not have very good eyes, though, because I didn’t notice his ring. Apparently, he was somebody else’s husband. When he showed me a photo of his wife, I was shocked in a bad way. But when he scrolled left to photo of his cock and zoomed in, I was shocked in a good way. A little prolonged eye contact, the touch of a hand, and a brush up my thigh later, he passed me his phone with Notes app open to a message that read, “Can we go to your place?” I wrote, “Meet me outside in 10."
Infidelity is the cause of 20-40% of all divorces including but not limited to my mom, aunt, cousins, family friends, friends’ families, and co-workers. I felt fairly familiar with the role of the scorned wife, but this was my first opportunity to acquaint myself with the role of the other woman. There are no small parts, only small actors and I put on my best performance, though admittedly it wasn’t my first time playing a submissive blonde who likes to get in the . When we finished our sloppy passionate love-making, we smoked a cigarette out the window to “Nobody Gets Me” by SZA. Somebody Else’s Husband threw his head back and sighed, “You don’t even care that I have a wife.” to which I replied, “No, you don’t care that you have a wife.”
The truth was that we both cared that he had a wife. In fact, that was the only thing we knew about each other: he had a wife, and I was not her.
“Not knowing” is a state of enlightenment in Zenn Buddhism, where intimacy is synonymous with wisdom. Not knowing anything about him beyond his marital status allowed me to enter a “beginner’s mind” in which any outcome was possible. In my flow state of infinite possibility, I wondered: Would we start an affair? Would we get caught? Would he promise to leave her? Would I tell his wife about us to spite him when he doesn’t actually leave her? Would she be heartbroken? Would I ride off into the sunset as his second wife? After 48 hours of imagining all the ways this plot could unfold, I realized I hadn’t thought about my ex-non-monogamous-non-partner once. After all of the inner child work, reparenting, yoga, meditation, and bilateral stimulation therapy, it was the affair with a married man that was healing me.
I thought about his wife, obviously. I’m a girl’s girl. I sent my friends screenshots of wedding pictures on her Instagram. I kept anticipating that guilt would at some point overcome the novelty, but it never did. Keikegaard believed that guilt is precondition of being a good person, but Neitchze said, “guilt is an invention for the weak”.
And I came up with all kinds of my own logic to explain why I shouldn’t feel guilty. I’m not married. The only people responsible for a marriage are the people in it. If it weren’t me that night, it would have been someone else some other night. And like Drew Barrymore said in the seminal text He’s Just Not That Into You, “What if you meet the love of your life but you’re already married to someone else? Are you supposed to let them pass you by?”
A few days later, Somebody Else’s Husband called me an Uber to his apartment while his wife went out of town. I arrived at a brownstone in Clinton Hill that cost at least a few million. When I asked how he afforded it, he lamented that his wife doesn’t work, and he admitted he doesn’t really either. The money is all just “luck” i.e., trust fund. He complained of her lack in ambition and that she smokes weed all day. She once dreamed of being an interior designer but gave up and he admired that I had worked hard in my career. I looked at the unhung portraits leaning against the ugliest wallpaper I’d ever seen in my life and told him that if I’d married into a trust fund, I’d smoke weed all day, too.
He showed me the “patronizing” note his wife had left him with reminders to walk the dogs, take out the trash, turn off all the lights, and unload the dishwasher and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the main character of this drama. Maybe I was just a series of final straws before she leaves him to start a new career as a photojournalist and meets the true love of her life in a bookshop. Maybe I was just a part of his character development as an early-season Roman Roy, too troubled to be taken seriously at his father’s company in Succession. Or maybe this wasn’t a drama at all. It was just the mundane reality of marriage: a man who needs his ego stroked and a woman willing to look the other way in return for economic stability and the emotional life raft of partnership in the lonely sea of the human experience.
I asked him if his wife suspected him of cheating, and he asked me if I had seen The White Lotus season 2. He liked to think their relationship was like Meghan Fahye’s, a mutually beneficial unspoken agreement in which they both get to cheat on each other and maintain outward appearances, and bonus– they love each other and are best friends!
In 1869, back when people sold their daughters for a cow, John Stuart Mills argued in The Subjugation of Women that society as a whole would progress when marriage became “a school of genuine moral sentiment." Today, everybody marries their best friend. But sex with your best friend gets old as decades pass, and cheating has become the norm. My friend stayed behind at that party in Bushwick where I met Somebody Else’s Husband, and reported how all the married man discussed cheating not as some ultimate betrayal, but as a semi-shameful activity one is or isn’t engaging in at any time: “I haven’t cheated in 6 months.” “I haven’t cheated in 2 years.”
The boringness of the situation washed over me like end credits as I understood that these characters, Somebody Else’s Husband and His Wife, would not make it into the next season of my life. They were in a standard, transactional relationship, and I was still alone convincing myself that sleeping with a married man was an interesting thing to do. Marriage is an economic institution, not a romantic one. It’s rooted in the trade of women into forced childbirth, and yet we’ve somehow all been conned to thinking that we inherently desire contractual monogamy.
Marriage is one way that the state entrenches patriarchy by allowing married people increased access to housing and employment as well as tax benefits, while unmarried people are further disenfranchised, especially poor people, black people, and queer people. As a culture, we widely accept that a lot of married couples, if not most married couples, cheat. We are casually aware that two-thirds of marriages end in divorce. But rarely are any of us brave enough to actually stop desiring marriage as a means to give our lives some narrative timeline, some drama, some meaning and to stop participating in an oppressive institution.
TV is the only reason people get married anymore anyway. Weddings ground television series arcs in major events where all the plotlines can come to a head and betrayals, alliances, and affairs can come to light. We believe our lives require similar familiar narrative forms to feel like we’re really living life in a way that is as colorful and vibrant as the ones on our tv screen. David Foster Wallace explained in an essay on television that “If we want to know what American normality is– what Americans want to regard as normal— we can trust television”, which at this point in history is influencing us as much if not more than we influence it. He continues, “we receive unconscious reinforcement of the deep thesis that the most significant feature of truly alive persons is watchableness.”
The force bigger than me that led me to engage in this affair, like Carrie’s Niagra Falls, was really my desire for watchableness. It took becoming the character of the other woman and finding it unfulfilling to remember that Carrie isn’t Carrie. She’s Sarah Jessica Parker, an actress. Here I was just letting my performance float away into the stream collective consciousness as if that would satisfy my desire to be seen. Never again. This August, I’m signed up for a method acting class. My inbox is open for representation (once the SAG-AFTRA strike is over). If neither my ex-non-monogamous-non-partner or Somebody Else’s Husband will love me, maybe the camera will.
If you think you might love me after I’ve said this, find me online.
*He’s a veterinarian.