An Affair over Lunch

"Affairs do not begin with kisses. They begin with lunch. Or something like it."

That's one of the best line in Andrew Goodwin's February 2003 piece, The New Infidelity, on Salon.com. I stumbled across it when looking for the Newsweek cover story on women and infidelity , which pales when compared to Goodwin's piece.

Goodwin writes about the easy seduction of online cheating from firsthand experience. While he was flirting by email with an old school friend back home in England, his girlfriend was doing the same, only with someone close by. Before too long, he learned she was doing more than flirting.

Here's a snippet of his piece:

when you hide the shared meal and the excitement that came with it, you do so for a reason. Or reasons. You don't want to upset your partner. (Thus you know, in fact, that there is something to get upset about.) You want to keep it to yourself. Why? Because maybe some part of your mind is planning ahead and it doesn't want your partner to know that this lunch gig has started at all. Because one day, you hope, it won't just be lunch that you are hiding.

By these standards, my e-mail flirtation was already a full-blown affair. And when I realized that, I stopped it. Which is to say that I carried on sending Louise e-mails, but much less frequently, and with a new and more measured emotional tone. Most important, I began to think more carefully about sharing intimacies. When you share intimacies with one person, and keep that secret from another, you create distance. It is inevitable.

After reading a series of emails between his girlfriend and her lover, Goodwin confronted here, in a series of calls he made to her cell phone while she was at a mountaintop rendezvous.

Four days later, my girlfriend emerged from the mountains, still on the road, but back within reach of a cell phone signal. She picked up 17 voice-mail messages from me: the angry me, the compassionate me, the enraged me, the understanding me, the baby me, the adult me, the controlling me, the loving me. I had played Buddha and the devil on her message center and hit most of the available slots in between. She called me from the road. She wanted to talk.

In one sentence--the angry me, the compassionate me, the enraged me, the understanding me, the baby me, the adult me, the controlling me, the loving me--Goodwin capture the emotions that a spouse who discovers they been cheated on goes through. I know this from personal experience--I'll spare the gory details.

That's what makes the Newsweek piece, at times it reads like a piece of Chic-lit, complete with a saucy personal trainer who claims to be a "lonely wife's dream, and hubby's worst nightmare."

It also includes this anecdote:
A story currently circulating in Manhattan underscores his point. It seems that a group of 6-year-old girls from an elite private school were at a birthday party, and the conversation turned to their mommies' trainers. As the proud mothers listened nearby, one youngster piped up: "My mommy has a trainer, and every time he comes over, they take a nap." The wicked laughter this story elicits illustrates at least what is dreamed of, if not actually consummated.

There's lots of good reporting in the Newsweek piece, and I don't mean to diss it, but there's something missing--perhaps just a sense of regret or honest discussing of the betrayal involved in an affair.

None of the women who were interviewed for the article wanted their names used, so that shows some troubled conscience. A little more of their consciences would make the women involved more sympathetic. It’s a topic that writer Lorraine Ali said, in a chat with readers, that her sources didn't want to talk about.

New York, NY: How much do these women think about the pain they would feel and how much they will hurt their husbands?

Lorraine Ali: Every unfaithful wife we interviewed was asked if she felt guilty about having an affair. While most admitted they were concerned about the pain they might cause their children if the affair was discovered, it was hard to get any of the women to really discuss the effect it may have on their husbands. Some justified their actions by saying The Other Man made them happy, therefore it kept their marriage and home life happier. Those who'd had affairs in the past said their guilt came rushing in once they were caught, and it was only then that they realized how much pain they'd caused their husbands

Maybe Ali needed a companion piece, with a husband and wife dealing with the aftermath of the affair. If the husband was honest, he'd at least admit to thinking about having an affair.

That's what makes the Goodwin piece so remarkable--he shows the universal nature of the temptation to cheat. When I read back to his "Affairs do not begin with kisses. They begin with lunch. Or something like it" comment, and how true it is. I was out for coffee with a old friend of the opposite sex recently--and thought about how easy it would be for a few more coffee meetings to lead to a whole lot more. If I was an honest man, (which I try to be), I have to admit that sounded appealing for a few minute.

But remembering that having an affair is like setting your house on fire and then heading out, hoping the fire department gets there before it burns completely to the ground, the idea didn't sound so appealing anymore.

The Newsweek piece does close with a great line:

When lunch is over and the wine wears off, most women will admit that if they were the prize in a fantasy duel between an imperfect but loving husband and a handsome stranger, they'd root for the husband every time.


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