Femme Infidèle is our series about the extramarital adventures of Paris women. Today’s Femme Infidèle is a 41-year-old married writer.
We have rules. When I broach the tender (Tinder?) topic with friends, I establish that immediately. We have rules:
- No one we mutually know.
- No diseases, no pregnancies.
- No snooping for things we don’t want to find.
- No drama, no falling in love.
- Discretion above all.
The rules make me feel safe, supported. Like our essays into extramarital-ness can be contained within a space of agreement and not knowing. Like the kryptonite they’re supposed to be for relationships can be SuperMaxed away by five simple prescriptions.
I don’t really believe a little something on the side will harm my marriage. Nine years of conjugal life in France have worn down a lifetime of Catholic commandments. My married expat girlfriends seem to agree. What’s so bad about expressing our sexuality with other people post-wedding vows? Are we really going forty, fifty years without ever experiencing a new kiss or an unfamiliar caress? Lest we forget, YOLO.
I married late and I married for love, which means that I had plenty of experience behind me — as had my husband. We weren’t high school or even college sweethearts. We knew what we were and weren’t missing out on as we repeated the traditional words beneath a floral arbor and the setting Mexican sun. Our own relationship started physical and stayed that way, until sometime before baby two’s arrival. Then we became the cliché we never thought we would, that in itself a cliché. Comfy clothes, cuddles with baby instead of each other, bickering over household duties, sleep above all else — including food, entertainment, sex. Not doing it started feeling normal (for me) and bearable (for him). It was a trite punchline for a pair of horndogs who couldn’t go without sex less than twice a day to cheer about doing it twice a month.
There was something else, too. Something that monogamy proponents don’t want to give voice to. It is the crushing boredom of retracing your partner’s skin for the thousandth time. Of knowing what that touch does there and oh, you know I don’t like that, and let’s circle back to Old Reliable because at least we’ll get to the perfunctory, if not fully satisfactory, end. No wonder a glass of wine and a new television series, one with overly attractive actors, seems so much more appealing than pressing our worn body parts together.
Desire doesn’t stay locked away forever, though, and babies get bigger. Yet despite several attempts to reignite the fire — pricey toys, hotel nights away from the kids — we both had to admit that outsourcing sex, like we do the housekeeping, could be the answer to our flagging passions.
Does that sound fucked up? Or just French?
This is a country where Francois Mitterrand’s mistress and illegitimate daughter attended his funeral — at his wife’s invitation. The current president caused only a mild uproar when he was caught cheating on his longterm girlfriend with an actress. (The biggest shocker for me: More than one woman wants to sleep with President Weeble Wobble!) On a more pedestrian level, a friend recently attended a wedding where the bride’s parents each had their lovers in attendance. No wonder the French have perfected the nonchalant shrug.
This is a place where women spend ten percent of their income on lingerie, and not the comfy cotton kind, either. That lingerie isn’t for their husbands, declares another expat, one who’s embroiled in her own love affair à la française. As I contemplate the schematics of undressing for someone who hasn’t seen me give birth, I become more self-conscious of my post-babies body: a stomach gone slack, batty triceps and a general dinner roll softness that’s easy to hide under clothes but won’t stand up to naked scrutiny. I start watching what I eat and order exercise DVDs from Amazon. I put on mascara when I leave the house. I hate that I’m the kind of woman who is motivated by the lure of a man’s attention.
But I am.
My husband has seen all of me and it is not all pretty. I nag. I scream. I stonewall. I wore terrycloth sweatpants for several years after having our first baby. I wasn’t sexy or seductive. I was tired and cranky. He may have gotten the worst of me but then, so did I. Who was this woman, this battle-axe wife and clucking mother? I didn’t know her. And I didn’t much like her.
Oscar Wilde’s Algernon says, “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.” In marriage and parenthood, certainty is what you cling to because everything — identity, freedom, time — has already been tossed with the bathwater. Romance said its goodbye sometime between prenatal perineal massage and blocked milk ducts.
Is it so surprising that a stranger’s attention thrills? I get to be my best self, my fantasy me reflected in a rose-stained mirror. I’m clever, I’m funny, I’m alluring, I’m desirable. I’m in a dreamland where open sock drawers and school pickups don’t exist. I’m never pissed off. Or bloated. I’m no one’s PITA. I don’t have my period. Or if I do, it doesn’t get in the way of body-shaking sex. My clothes are designer with not a drop of baby discharge on them. I don’t cook because I subsist on champagne and bon mots, darling.
I assume my husband feels the same way. He can be heroic and handsome again. A careless fling won’t complain about his snoring or criticize his sloppiness. A new lover won’t turn her back to his overtures.
Maybe I have become more French because I don’t begrudge him that. Or maybe I’m just married. Americans may loudly disapprove of marital infidelity (nearly twice as much the French do), but they’re engaging in it as often or even more (around fifty percent). Cue Ashley Madison hack.
While the conversation around infidelity appears to be shifting slightly in the States, with television shows like “Satisfaction” and “The Affair” taking on the complexity and conundrum of ’til death do you part, there’s still plenty of shame and schadenfreude to go around when it comes to cheating. See Ashley Madison aftermath.
I am looking for a way to allow realism into our relationship. To give a little overhead and in between space. Our marriage is so charged with commitment and resentment, with the commingling of our genes and the unveiling of our worst sides. That we both long for something simpler, sexier, shouldn’t be a crime or a sin. It shouldn’t ruin a decade-long, mostly harmonious partnership; one that, to paraphrase St. Expury, is looking in the same direction.
Even in this.
I wonder why we aren’t one of those couples who can stay together, in love and in sex, until they take their mutual last breaths half a century later in each other’s arms. Everyone seems to know of a married pair like this. Not personally, but friends of friends. Of friends.
Disney couples. I’d like to see one with my very own eyes. They must be somewhere on the other side of the rainbow with a leprechaun, a pot of gold and a killer pair of sparkly red shoes.
Does this mean we’re in an open marriage? I ask.
No. He sounds sure. We’re just being open to a possibility.
We have rules. They may be silly or naive. We have rules. They may not safeguard what we have. We have rules. I’m nervous.
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