“Diary of a 23-year-old Mistress” obviously hit a lot of nerves on this site. Most comments were scathing condemnations of the author, Emily Rozen, ignoring the role of her male suitor and elevating the unknown quantity, the wife, to the level of sainted victim.
As I writer, I felt terrible for Rozen, who is simply trying to communicate her situation, using the written word to sort through the murky confusion of feelings and morals. I applaud her bravery in exploring publicly a very private and tumultuous affair; writing is an excellent tool for delivering self-clarity and breakthrough (as my own posts in the past week have done for me). Yet, readers took Rozen’s article to be written in stone; what was likely an emotional condensation of conflicting feelings appeared, to some, to be a certainty riddled with moral defect.
Furthermore, a writer can only express her direct observations and reactions; she cannot speak for third parties, and, in this case, can only communicate the barest knowledge of her lover’s thoughts, and absolutely none of his wife’s. Still, readers were quick to imbue the wife with the role of a good-natured and innocent bystander. Why? There is no way to know this. Perhaps she is conducting her own affair. Perhaps she hates her husband. Perhaps she’s genuinely naïve and will be hurt when she realizes that her husband is nailing a 23-year-old. But we don’t know any of that.
Whatever the wife’s attitudes and behaviors, they should have little bearing on Rozen’s behavior. The marriage between the her lover and his wife is nobody’s business but their own. Their marriage will be neither saved nor destroyed because of her, and to call her names is to exculpate the marriage itself of its myriad problems. If the marriage collapses, it will be because of a failure to communicate, or mutual resentment, or just plain irreconcilable differences. But we are so focused on automatic jealousy, and rigid images of fidelity, that we forget that sex is only part of the equation.
Rozen’s article came out just last week, when I was struggling to understand the whole of the situation between H, Bridesmaid, and myself, and the truth is that I saw a lot of myself in the author’s circumstances. Though our situations are dissimilar, I wonder: why does everyone believe that Rozen has a responsibility to the wife? What responsibility do I bear to Bridesmaid? Does this responsibility arise from a societally-enforced solidarity within the genders, or is it simply about being honest with other human beings?
The ugly truth is that I feel no responsibility to Bridesmaid whatsoever. I don’t know her, and—from a completely selfish perspective—she cut in on my territory, not the other way around. I had an established relationship with H when she decided that he would be her future One and Only; but her advantage is that he can tell his friends about her.
I resent gender solidarity for its own sake. I feel no more responsibility towards women than I do towards men, and I’m not going to change my behavior just because high school taught me “chicks before dicks” and “bros before hos.” Refusing to sleep with H because I’m supposed to be on Bridesmaid’s side, just because we both have vaginas, is dishonest for me. (Refusing to sleep with H because he’s a selfish prick—that’s a bit more true.) If Bridesmaid knew what was going on, and asked me to stop, that would be a different matter entirely, but I can’t change H, I can’t control what information Bridesmaid receives, and I can’t make their relationship better or worse from where I’m standing. I can only act on my own feelings and my own information, and the same should be true for Emily Rozen.
No one knows what goes on inside a relationship but the two people in it—and even then, I think, that would be lucky.