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The Secret Lives of Suburban Wives


kamurj

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Excerpted from
To Love, Honor and Betray; The Secret Lives of Suburban Wives
By Stephanie Gertler, Adrienne Lopez

To Love, Honor, and Betray was conceived one night as we sat at a local haunt in our Westchester, New York, suburb. We were sipping Cosmopolitans and talking about marriage and how few really good marriages we know-and wondering if the ones that appear to be "good" in fact are. We remarked on how many of the women we know are dissatisfied, disappointed, and disillusioned. And then we wondered how many of them are just sitting there and tolerating their marriages without any sort of diversion, for lack of a better word. Hesitantly at first, we finally acknowledged that each of us knew at least a half-dozen women who have had an affair, are having an affair, or wish they could. Imagine, we thought, if we could get these women to share with one another, to come forth, and comfort one another instead of hiding behind the public front they present to their communities.

Our conversation picked up speed: If this was happening in our insular suburban community, it must be happening across the country. We didn't want to get a sampling just from our area. We wanted to take it from coast to coast. We figured we could network through friends and come up with Mrs. A to Mrs. Z, guaranteeing our alphabetic participants not only complete anonymity but also a forum where they could come clean and explain, and as it turned out in most cases, simply to cry. We decided to focus on suburban women, primarily because it is our social orientation, and the place we two urban transplants have called home for nearly two decades. Additionally, there is an illusion about the suburbs that reeks of both isolation and Utopia. Perhaps there is more scrutiny of our peers and neighbors in the suburbs, where it's more difficult to get lost and maintain our privacy within our small communities, as opposed to the sprawling cities where apartment doors shut without access to views over fences. The truth is, the white picket fences surrounding manicured lawns present a false sense of safety and perfection. The fences are far from protective. In fact, the contrary is true: They ultimately can become prisons for the women who live behind them. This goes right to the heart of the suburban stereotype. Women in the suburbs are not spoiled and not isolated. They are not dissimilar in their hearts and minds to their urban counterparts. They are not willing to become Stepford wives.

We networked through friends and family, and the response was astounding. Roughly sixty-five women were interested in participating in the book, although after vetting them, we narrowed the countdown to thirtyfive, and from those, we arrived at our twenty-six. Although many of the interviewees met us reluctantly at first, by the time the interview was over, there was a palpable sense of relief and catharsis in addition to a strong sense of trust. Ranging in age from thirties to seventies, they are the proverbial "all shapes and sizes." They are stay-at-home mothers, physicians, lawyers, doctors of philosophy, writers, musicians, artists, and businesswomen.

With the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963, a previously undefined female epidemic-termed "the problem that had no name"-was finally diagnosed. Now another of women's unnamed "problems" is out with a lusty twist. Sexual desire among married women is a fact that isn't going away and often isn't satisfied within the bonds of marriage. Women want and yearn and feel justified in doing so. Yet despite the openness of our society, where women's desires are sensationalized in glossy magazine stories, many of the women who confided in us had never confided in either their therapists or their friends. Clearly, for many women, extramarital sex is still the last taboo.

Perhaps some of what is happening in today's marriages is a sociological accident: As decades have passed since publication of The Feminine Mystique, the suburban marriage often has not one but two weary commuters, both of whom suffer arduous days and, often, an equally taxing commute. Additionally, suburban housewives who spend their days driving kids to school and sports, supervising play dates and waiting on supermarket lines, feel justifiably lonely (and perhaps even resentful) as their commuter husbands have cocktails after work and meetings that run late, rarely make it home on time for supper, and generally come home all but drained. The childless marriage needs nurturing as well, since there are no offspring to use as an excuse to stay together. It's been said a hundred times before that marriage takes work-a concept that runs in direct conflict with the romantic premise on which most marriages were formed, begging the question, why should it be so arduous to maintain what once felt so effortless?

The idyllic depiction of the suburban marriage, with the Nelsons, the Cleavers, and the Stones (twin beds notwithstanding), is no longer. It's taken a hit on multiple fronts: The housebound wife and mother needs and wants and feels entitled to the companionship of her husband at the end of her tiresome day, but he's too tired for conversation, let alone sex. He wants to have dinner, read the paper, and go to bed. The working mother suffers the same dismal evening as her stay-at-home counterpart, coupled with a hard day at the office and a day that starts over again with the kids when she walks in the door at six o'clock and the sitter heads for the hills. By the time dinner, baths, and homework are done, does either husband or wife have anything left? Sadly, in so many cases, no. It would be nice to think there could be solace in lovemaking at the end of a day. In other words, as much as many of these twenty-six women want sex, what they want even more is intimacy, both physical and emotional, culminating in sex where orgasm is a comprehensive statement, not merely a perfunctory release.

Emotional, cerebral, and intellectual foreplay is sorely missing from many marriages. Meanwhile, it's something that the women in this book have found with a lover who doesn't carry the same baggage as they and their husbands cart around-where the mortgage, the bills, the kids, and the in-laws don't come to bed with them. For the most part, the marriages depicted here are, in a word, lonely. Romance and hope have gone out the window. Passion is dulled by exhaustion. The once passionate couple has devolved into Mom and Dad. The stereo in the bedroom has been replaced by the baby monitor, and candles have become a fire hazard. The belle of the ball has become the old ball and chain, and the prince has become less charming. In some cases, he's turned back into a frog, and even a kiss can't seem to break the spell; in other cases, the princess no longer wants to kiss the frog because she feels that he has emotionally and intellectually abandoned her. "We don't talk anymore" is a common plaintive cry. There is a sad but rampant conclusion that not all of us grow together as we and our marriages age-some of us grow apart.

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