I am a reasonably attractive, mid-30s, married mother of two young kids. My marriage is strong. We have our issues but we have the tools to manage them and I think we both are relieved to be in a solid partnership as we raise our kids. I’m writing because in the last year or so I have been propositioned by three different male friends. These are families with which we spend our time. We have taken vacations together and I am close with their wives. I am not being overly dramatic when I say propositioned — this is more than just flirting. I have no interest in participating and I am at peace with keeping these events to myself (in other words, save your advice about me telling the wives, I’m not doing it).
My question for you is, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? Are 40-year-old men so depressed by their choices in life that they seek affairs? And are they so convinced that everyone in their cohort feels the same way that they are not even slightly concerned about scamming on their friends’ wives? Just looking for some clarification.
— Not interested*
Dear Not Interested:
Assuming you are forthright about not doing anything specific to encourage these come-ons, I think this is a great question. Esther Perel, author and famous couples therapist, has an intriguing take on this subject (you might like her TED Talk). Perel has worked with self-identified “happy couples,” in which at least one partner has had an affair. She describes such partners as being long-term monogamists who just one day cross a line. They maintain that they are monogamist in their beliefs, but their actions tell another story. That story is not that one person morphed into an untrustworthy jerk overnight, but rather that they are wondering what it would be like to be another version of themselves.
Perel would look at your Propositioners as people who made certain decisions to create a certain type of life. They are reasonably happy in that life, but wonder what it would be like to have made a different choice. I find her perspective to be pretty interesting, particularly when she points to research that, despite the prevalence and acceptance of divorce, infidelity rates (which are very difficult to quantify, to be sure) have increased. In other words, the marriages are happy enough to maintain, but something else drives the affairs.
Her conclusion is that infidelity is a way for people to feel alive again, not to bond to another person. Not to burst any self-esteem boost that these Propositioners may have given you, but their efforts likely are more about them than they are about you.
*Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at stacymurphyLPC.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacymurphyLPC@gmail.com.*