You have to be willing to delete. You can’t be a hoarder, keeping every text message he sends, every letter, every napkin from every restaurant where you’ve met. Delete emails, text messages, phone calls, traces of any kind. There can be no evidence a relationship between you existed. Finally you have to be willing to delete yourself. You have to go into your heart and brain and whatever other place in your body you store him and carve out the memories.
You have to know your place and keep to it. Your place is not in the marital bed or the passenger seat of the family car. Your place is outside the family domain. You will not sit in her chair.
You have to know your purpose. You are something extra, supplementary, on the side. You are not supposed to throw the marriage into question or make demands he will not want to meet. Don’t ask him to do more than he’s willing and don’t ask him to delve into the wherefores of why he’s with you and not her. You will never replace her, the mother of their child. And the moment he thinks you might jeopardize what he has, he will cut you out.
Remember to never fall into routine or become predictable. Routine, predictability, monotony—that’s what you aren’t—that’s what marriage is. Dinner at 6; bed at 11. You have to keep him off-balance, on edge. Remember the long married are like old socks—worn in, comfortable, but thin. They no longer keep him warm at night. You exist to turn up his thermostat. But be careful to not overheat him. For all he may complain about the predictability of his marriage, the thinness of its routines, he’ll choose that in a heartbeat over you.
Never talk about your troubles. That’s what wives do. They talk about the awfulness of their day, the petty irritations at work, who cut in front of them in traffic. Your life is trouble-free. No money worries unhinge you, no black mold lurks in your crawl spaces, you haven’t even had a cold in years. And if your life isn’t trouble-free, be sure to present yourself as capable of handling anything life throws at you. You are resilient, independent, tough, and most importantly uncomplaining—you do not need his assistance. You don’t even need him to listen to you. That’s your appeal. Never speak of headaches, your weight, unhappiness with your hair, or a decrease in libidinal drive—that’s what wives complain about. Keep your petty cares to yourself—you know, the rude pharmacist, the erratic copier, the holes in the window screens. Affairs are about grand passion, not the minutia of an ordinary life.
It’s best not to know too much about him—don’t ask him where he gets his hair cut and how often or what he eats for lunch. He’ll tell you more than you care to know and suddenly you’ll be burdened by knowing things like he uses light mayonnaise because he watches his calories and he has his eyebrows tweezed. To stay in touch with your feelings, you need to carefully avoid knowing him too well or ever spending the night together. You made that mistake once, remember? And you found out he fell asleep immediately after and promptly began to snore, a horrible puffing snore that would rise to a crescendo and then descend only to rise again. It was awful. All you could think of during the long hours until morning was never ever spending the night again.
Learn what you need to do to get wet in a second, have your breasts rise to his command. Touch, touch, touch—that’s what you are about.
It’s crucial to see him as he wants to be seen, you reflect back to him what he wants to be: the man who is not done yet, not used up, there’s more inside him, he’s just getting started, he’s not really entered the last act. Please avoid the words decline, diminishment, flaccid. You see his need to be important, and so you attend to his accomplishments, read everything he’s ever written and tell him he’s good, by god, he’s very good. And when he leaves you to go on an exciting vacation with his wife to a place you’ve always wanted to visit, you wish him the smoothest of journeys and don’t betray your sorrow.
That’s what you do for him, but what about you?
You must school yourself to not notice all the ways you don’t match, (he’s a gourmet, reads cooking magazines; you avoid the kitchen, don’t like goat cheese or eating rabbit. You like writing that is raw and funny, slightly abrasive; he likes a highly polished surface, all edges smoothed. You want to live simply, by the water; he wants to live in a grand house inland). You train yourself to not think about the ways he disappoints, the ways he’d disappoint if you were together as a couple, that most dread entity.
You must learn to look away, master the turn of the head, the shoulder shrug. Overlook the paunch, the rounded back, the eyes that are beginning to go a little blurry. It’s all good, remember that—isn’t that what he says like a mantra? Don’t let the mantra wear on you because if you do it will boomerang. This thing that you are—the other woman, the affair—is easy, never awkward, never difficult, he reminds you and you must nod your head in agreement. Look he says, we may not sleep in the same bed or be able to walk in the park, but we don’t fight about money. Learn to laugh when he says that because of course it is true.
Marriage is difficult, remember that. Affairs must be giddy, the anti-marriage, like balloons lifting into the sky, not weighted and shackled. Finally remember that whatever you are and whatever you share can’t be stored and remembered, so enjoy the moment.
You’ll have to work not to notice that he’s not as handsome as your husband. You will catch yourself comparing him unfavorably to your husband and this will be confusing. His hands will strike you as soft compared to your husband’s and unable to touch you in the way you want. He will fumble. You’ll notice that his back is rounded when he walks to the bathroom and he has a little pot belly, and this will make you miss your husband. Look away. Quickly. Up close you’ll see how his hair is thinning and grey. This will make you unbearably sad because you love the thickness of your husband’s hair, how it has lost none of its luster. If you don’t get a grip the comparing will never end—the thin line of his lips, you will think recede, the taste of his tongue, bitter, how his ears look funny right by your face on the pillow, the way he looks away at a distant point when he’s talking as if you were a student in a large lecture hall, his green underpants that look baggy and shapeless on him, washed too many times and lacking a body to fill them. And that’s just half of it. Don’t get upset that you have to explain yourself—he won’t just know what you want or what you mean. He’ll want things from you that you don’t want to give. He’ll want to know about your past, a place you have stopped visiting. Who you slept with, who you loved, why things came to an end. Let me repeat this is a place you no longer visit.
Agreeing to be his other will distress you: why are you stretched out on a bed underneath him if everything about him makes you miss and appreciate your husband, why are you there when being with him reaffirms your marital choice? You feel excited sexually, excited in a way you haven’t felt for a long time—you feel wet and your breasts swell but you don’t know who is making you wet: the lover you don’t care for on top of you or the faraway husband he is making you see anew.
Photo credit: Lara Cores / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)