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Advice for Lovers

A Survival Guide for men in illicit relationships


Author’s Note: This article was written in response to (but, in the first instance, without direct reference to) a piece by novelist Judy Astley in which she offers advice to prospective mistresses on how to comport themselves. There’s a fascinating and delightful ambiguity in her stance – is she viewing the situation from the wife's perspective or that of the mistress? At times it seems as if it might be both.


I’m a man of the world and have been on the planet for 64 years. I’m not about to confide intimate details about my personal affairs but, in most cases, the following observations are based on personal experience and occasionally first-hand observations of friends’ situations. I’m currently married.


Lovers fall into three categories:

Scenario A: You’re an unattached male and are dating (i.e. sleeping with) a married woman.

Scenario B: You’re married but are seeing an unattached woman on the side.

Scenario C: You’re married and having an affair with a married woman.


In all three instances life will be eventful and exciting, and at times unbelievably fun. But it’s not all plain sailing and there are a few things to bear in mind…


Whatever the scenario, you’ll be dealing with a lot of admin such as booking hotel rooms and trips away. Remember to hide and destroy all those incriminating receipts and parking tickets, and use a private online account for mistress-related expenses. Be discreet – learn to read texts and messages in private so as to keep everything hush-hush. This all comes more easily with time.  


Now for the scenario-specific advice:


Scenario A:  If discovered, (hopefully) the worst you can expect is a black eye from an enraged husband and damaged pride, possibly your own Mum’s disapproval if the news reaches her too (the bush telegraph is surprisingly efficient) and some judgmental comments from ‘friends’ who are probably jealous and don’t have the bottle to follow your example.


Your mistress (a cheating married woman) is risking more – she could be chucked out of her home, so be considerate. Cover your tracks and do all you can to minimise suspicion. Don’t brag about your affair to others, although you’ll probably be cursed with ‘mentionitis’, a disease that compels you to confide your thrilling secret to someone. Choose your confidants carefully.


Scenario B: You're married and playing away. Life-as-you-know-it depends on your material security, like your lovely home. We've all witnessed the consequences of marital break-up. For your average married Joe and Joanna there's going to be a massive drop in living standards as resources cease to be pooled.


Post-marriage you could be worth a lot less than 50% of what you were before. Pop stars and billionaires can afford the fancy lawyers and accountants to manage all this without it impinging too much. But the rest of us know SO MANY divorced men who’ve had to move out of the palatial 3-storey gaff in Richmond or Barnes and are now in a shitty studio flat in a council block, with a patterned carpet and unpleasant cooking smells permeating the communal corridors.


In other words, for you discovery is an unthinkable option. You may be thrown out but even if you’re forgiven, you’ll have handed your wife a loaded shotgun which she can now unload in your direction at any time. Any slight misdemeanour is now punishable, and you often won't know you've committed one until it's too late. Recrimination is unpleasant, silences worse.


Post-discovery, any trigger (such as a parallel situation in a soap opera you’re watching together on TV) might so easily result in a frosty couple of hours and some choice character assassination. Your sofa will feel like a prison and you won’t dare look up for ten minutes in case you set her off. She’ll find other ways of punishing you too, so that your life becomes a continuing living hell.


You’ll have to learn how to lie on the hoof: Be able to construct alternative versions of where you were and what you were doing at any given moment, and build a repertoire of alibis and McGuffins. Lying is a skill and if you're inept at it, you’ll be seen through straight away. It’s important to introduce some variety and not repeat yourself too often. Keep it simple and season it with a grain of truth if possible. Beware also of invoking fictitious arrangements with people she might meet soon: you don’t want to be in a situation in which she says, “How nice of you to take David to lunch at the Royal Oak the other day” and your friend looks baffled or, worse, like a deer caught in headlights.  


In any case, flaunting your affair, or even mistress, in front of your friends is both dangerous and extremely bad manners: it makes them complicit in deceiving your wife and they might begin to 'pity' her – something most wives will pick up on quite fast!


Scenario C: You're both cheating. All of the above applies – and there's more. In one way, the symmetry of your situations should make you more empathetic to each other. She may experience pangs of jealousy when you go off to a party with your wife and equally you may be less than overjoyed when she buggers off on holiday with her husband. Your need for mutual discretion is a given.


What may also be frustrating is how constrained your life will be, as your social lives will have to be quite separate. Meeting up will be confined mostly to bars, restaurants, an occasional gig or evening out and, of course, the hotel room.


Much of the thrill of an affair is in the intrigue, the danger and the romance of it; the clandestine meetings, the elaborate plans and subterfuges. When you’re together, talking about your creative life or cultural stuff is fine, but eventually the mundane and commonplace will seep into your conversation: her kids, your kids, the mortgage etc. Remember, you really don't want to create another tier of domestic and ordinary, of control, of drudgery, of squabbles and recrimination. That’s what you were seeking to escape in the first place! Are you mad?


So where do you draw the line? What can you say to each other in conversation and what should remain under wraps? Be discreet and tactful in your discussion of plans and exploits that belong in your ‘other life’. It might be best to avoid crowing about the details of the fabulous holiday you're planning with your significant other; instead just warn them delicately of your imminent absence. But these sensitivities are different in every case – and to make one rule for all would be ridiculous...


And, finally, here’s the fun stuff:

  • Always wash and scrub up: deodorant and a bit of expensive cologne if you like.  
  • Dress smartly or – if you can – alluringly... But not too much poncing.  
  • Buy her presents.
  • Foot the bill. Occasionally go Dutch.
  • Have a few proper ‘dates’ beyond the hotel room.
  • Get your act together in the bedroom. You’re there partly because the spark has gone out of that bit of your life. Hopefully you’ve discovered a kindred spirit too!
  • Compliment her.
  • Listen to her. It’s not all about YOU.  
  • You may find this hard, but try to be amusing in conversation. Remember brevity is the soul of wit.  
  • Never be late. Because lateness is rude in ANY situation.
  • Never be judgmental or critical.
  • Smile.
  • Keep it fun!
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