As a gender, we women are normally sane. We make rational judgements (we are the ones who stop for directions, you know). Why then, do many of us go weak in our knees at the sight of the blighter who has everything going for him, including the wedding ring and attendant vows that he has taken with his wife? The Married Man has long been coveted, by more than just his wife? Intelligent, successful and absolutely sensible women have found joy in sneaking around with another woman's man, living with the guilt, being hidden for an eternity and essentially keeping their lives on hold till the bloke decides to do the decent thing by them. Which incidentally, in most cases, doesn't ever happen. We shed vast oceans of tears, rant about the injustice of it all, and then quickly reapply our mascara and dive into another affair, with - no prizes for guessing, honey, another married man!
It's a sign of the times that not only do affairs with married men not raise eyebrows, now even books are being written to help the other woman conduct her affair. Like the one written by Sarah Symonds, Having an Affair? A Handbook For The Other Woman. A handbook no less Symonds, who once shared a bed with Jeffrey Archer and has been mistress to others as well, after doling out nuggets like 'liberally apply the strongest smelling perfume all over yourself and everything he touches' to 'try to apply bright-red lipstick on his shirt collar'; now says, "I am reformed. I would rather be alone than ever again have to face the utter loneliness a mistress feels in an affair."
It's not rocket science that an affair with a taken man is likely to cause heartbreak, yet many of us go down that road eyes wide open. So just what is it that makes a married man so hard to resist? Cosmo decoded this fatal attraction.
Remember the over-acquisitive friend from school who only wanted your toys, especially while you were playing with them, and would sneakily snatch them the moment your back was turned? Well, perhaps she grew up believing that men are like toys, found attractive when not meant for her, to be quickly snatched when no one's looking. Sounds simplistic, but the appeal of the married man is, very often, in the age-old dilemma of wanting what cannot be yours.
Says clinical psychologist Shreya Gandhi, "The thrill you derive from doing something you know is wrong is a decisive factor in setting women on the path of having affairs with married men. Initially, it just begins as defiance-parental opposition, friends frowning etc - and then it turns into an 'us against the rest of the world' attitude". To the woman involved, it's never as simple-she will rarely recognise that she wants someone only because she can't have him. But the reality is that we women are often unable to see the appeal of someone who is available precisely because they are!
We know that the man in question has commitment issues−in this case he is over committed: to a wife as well as to a girlfriend. But what we don’t realise that women can be as commitment phobic as men, and the desire to not be caught in the commitment trap can manifest in relationships with men who will never ask for commitment. Voila, enter the married man, who simply isn’t in a position to ask for permanence. According to Dr Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and author of Anatomy Of A Secret Life: The Psychology Of Living A Lie, “If you pick someone clearly unavailable, you never have to struggle with real commitment and its risks and vulnerabilities.” Getting into a long-term loyal relationship means confronting one’s fears about getting hurt, and choosing a guy who can’t offer you that allegiance leaves you free.
We’re contemporary women, used to challenges, adventure, and fighting for what we want. To flouting convention, and rocking the societal boat. Okay, not all of us thrive on complications, but fact is that many women perceive married men as a way to mock society, convention, and all things staid. Explains Gandhi, “ A thrillseeking woman will think she is cocking a snook at the world by doing something out of the ordinary. The usual, common relationship for her is mundane. She seeks the excitement of something she perceives extraordinary”. Equally, it may be the very turbulence of the situation−the lack of stability, the constant upheaval−that keeps her on edge and makes it exciting for her. Confident, who?
This one is an obvious, yet we manage to go through life denying it. Finding validation of one’s attractiveness through involvement with a married man implies a strong depletion of confidence. It’s rarely about how attractive he is; it’s more about how attractive it makes us feel when someone who already has a commitment finds us irresistible. The thought process here: “he has a wife, but he can’t resist me.”
Years of watching soppy romances, listening to endless songs about love and all that jazz and having popular fiction ram heart-shaped balloons down our throats has perhaps resulted in making some women hanker for that particular kind of love. ‘Happily ever after’ has been a term that they have been assaulted with for a major part of their life and now they want to experience the joy themselves. And if that comes in the shape of a married man, so be it. Not to mention the fact that these women somewhere truly believe that they can change the man and his marital status just by their love.
Maybe these women never had a relationship in their younger daysâ€¦ Or maybe it is just a feeling of being in love that they are in love with. Whatever be the reason, some women are exceedingly vulnerable to offers of affection, and even the knowledge that the man is married doesn’t really deter them. Says marriage counsellor Shikha Tiwari, “If they have been deprived of affection in their childhood, which has made them bitter, chances are that they will latch on to the first person who shows some interest in them.”
Sometimes, for women who are insecure about their appeal, it also boils down to “at least someone finds me attractive.” A childhood spent feeling ugly; an adolescence spent feeling dateless; adulthood filled with bitterness if relationships didn’t work out! There are many factors that contribute to low selfesteem. The constant media blitzkrieg about how having ‘a man’ in your life is important also often propels a girl into the arms of a married man. As Tiwari says, “The pressure to be with someone is too great these days. Plus, lack of self-esteem leads to one’s seeking validation from others, especially from romantic relationships. The lack of confidence attracts married men as they get to play the protective partner, which makes the woman feel special.” And, if and when the relationship doesn’t work, it only validates her “I’m not worth it” thought process− which means a bigger risk of getting involved with another man who makes her feel like she is attractive and irresistible.
It’s the simplest way to feel in control− walk into another woman’s territory and take what belongs to her: her man. Not only is it a huge power trip, to feel like you have control over someone to that extent, it also offers an easy escape route: the first sign of an argument, and she can simply say, “You’re the one with a commitmentâ€¦ You have a wife. I need to end this now”. Gandhi validates this feeling. “Staying in control is very important for women who can’t let go. They don’t want to be hurt. Being with a married man gives them the option to walk away when they want, and continue to feel righteous−not an option in a regular relationship.”
Icky about intimacy
Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Why would you be in a relationship if you’re scared of intimacy, you think? That’s the tricky part. Says Dr Saltz, “Discomfort with intimacy often leads one to a relationship with a married man”. This is because there is only a certain amount of intimacy− emotionally−that is possible with a man who is already attached. So for women who are wary of being too involved in a long term relationship, one with a married man is just what the doctor ordered. Relationships gone awry in the past, unresolved conflicts with parents or authority figures that has resulted in love being withheld, poor communication skills and lack of secure friendships are some of the reasons that Gandhi attributes to one’s being afraid of emotional intimacy. She also adds, “In this situation, women crave being part of a twosome. And it is this desperation of theirs that somehow scares away single men as they think the woman will move too fast. That’s when married men become an attractive option.”
Women who have been denied attention from fathers seek it from other men when they are adults.
Yes, we’re going all Freudian on you. Strange to think that the same parents who would angst no end at the thought of their daughter being the ‘other woman’ are, to a certain extent often responsible for her being in the position in the first place. If a girl had to work very hard for her father’s attention as a child−or even if she only perceived it like that−chances are she will repeat the pattern in adulthood and compete with another man’s wife for his affections. In Dr Saltz’ view, “If the Oedipal situation is so intense and never resolved, then the woman may continue trying to find fathers to lure in and mothers to gain victory over. If this is the case, then she may be picking married men in order to beat the competition, even though she doesn’t want the prize. It’s all about competing, not about reaching the finish line”. In the woman’s head, she is only trying to find someone who loves her, but what is actually happening is that she is just looking to punish another woman. There’s a number of reasons why women find married men irresistible−and the man himself is rarely one of them. The fact remains that the ‘grass is greener’ syndrome is nowhere as strong as it is in our love lives−and the fact that someone else has what we find attractive is the biggest red flag of all!