The Other Woman: Advice From A Mistress

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A former mistress offers hard-learned advice to new wives.

The following is an excerpt from Advice To A Young Wife From An Old Mistress, by Michael Drury.

I am more like you than you might suppose. A mistress shares a secret with a newly wedded wife: that love is a kind of glorious grief, equidistant from happiness and tears. Read: Newlywed Cheating And The Uncertainty Principle

I am apt to be more like you than your mother, who long ago determined the shape all love must take, and has forgotten that each day's choices, even now, have anything to do with it. Nor is she wholly wrong. Love lived from day to day takes on a momentum of its own, but that is not the all of it. If a mistress knows more of romance and a wife more of practicalities, is there not some wholeness implied here worthwhile to explore? Read: Why "Wife" Is A Dirty Word

It is not my intention to set wives against mistresses any more than is inherent in their situation, or to try to prove one better than the other. Rather, I would show that they have much in common as women. I write from a long road of years—years of living and dying a little; of humbling and exaltation; of slow coming to know myself and thus other people more completely. That is one advantage a mistress has, simply as a human being, over a wife: She is in the nature of things more exposed to the contrary currents of living. She must master them, or perish; grow all the way up to whatever powers she was born with and ride them as a man rides a surfboard standing up, or drown. She is made to be a realist; that is to say, to realize herself. It is one of the richest blessings life can bestow.

I too was once a wife, and in love, and in earnest—and suddenly was faced with the fact of another woman in my husband’s life. I had been married quite a while and was the mother of one son. What followed was divorce, against my wishes it seemed at first, although the marriage was a shell and I soon realized its termination was the more honorable outcome, and was at peace. Read: How an Affair Saved My Marriage

In two years' time I met a man who was at once a walking image taken from my mind and almost aloof in his self-possession.

The strongest thing I felt was recognition, as if I had known this man very long ago. I knew he was married and, for reasons not mine to disclose, would never of his own accord undo it. You may say that what I did was selfish and that, I think, is true, but not in the way that word is commonly construed. Very little of any moment happens until self-interest is aroused—no wealth or power or art or faith or government; what men and nations desire rules the world. Right and wrong are absolutes, and human beings seldom have the luxury of absolute choice between them. Given the forces that were released simply by our encounter—and that much was not our doing—was it more or less brave to yield to them, along with their concomitants of taste, restraint, the abrasion of disapproval from ourselves and others? One thing I learned was that human beings make decisions as wisely as they can, and then make them right or wrong by the terms on which they live with those decisions.

Being in love does not demand mental censorship, but it requires a certain pruning of one’s thoughts. Second-guessing, agonizing, leaping to unwarranted conclusions are killers of the dream. A mistress who would let her mind run riot on such fripperies would be dispossessed next week. She does not torture the relationship by constant scrutiny. There are a dozen valid reasons why any love affair should not exist, so that reasoning about it, pro or con, is at least contradictory. But all love is a lingua franca not reducible to grammar, married love included.

Have care for the loose talk inside your head. It reflects in a hundred subtle ways: a tone of voice, a glance, a gesture, the things you choose to laugh at, the quickness or slowness of response. All this in turn governs the quality and amount of love you will allow, and thus the kind you get. I do not say a mistress is above these same mistakes, only that she does not keep making them over and over; she doesn't get the chance.

It is critical to understand that intelligence and love do not blockade one another. I have known men and women, both married and not, who all their lifetime have borne the grief of not knowing real love, and yet they keep the word abstract. They expect love to be a mystical magical something unrelated to whatever other powers they may have. They carry in their heads a line from bad novels: "If you have to think about it, it isn't love." Nonsense.

That is like saying if you have to study, it is not talent.

Intelligence is necessary for oneself first, and after that for love to come alive in. Any man who is drawn solely to surfaces and youthful charm is eventually not going to be enough of a man for the woman you shall have become, if you grow at all. It is just that simple. Love is vastly more than sex and family life, a social unit, an economic cog, no matter how superbly marriage fills these niches.

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