Part 1 of 2
Women’s Infidelity: Living In Limbo
St. Louis: McCarlan Publishing, 2005
Michelle Langley’s Women’s Infidelity is probably the first book ever reviewed in The Occidental Quarterly advertised as “shipped in a plain envelope without any mention of the contents on the package.” But even if you are not an adulterous wife yourself, there are good reasons for paying attention to Langley’s documentation of social dissolution. An advanced civilization requires high-investment parenting to maintain itself. The greatest threat to proper parenting in our time is divorce, overwhelmingly initiated by the wife (70–75 percent of the time, according to Langley).
Her book’s central thesis is an unpopular one previously set forth in this journal by the present reviewer: women are no more “naturally” monogamous than men.
Biochemical research points to a natural four-year sexual cycle for the human female. This apparently allows enough time after childbirth for the average mother in a state of savagery to regain her ability to survive without male provisioning. In the absence of any system of marriage, a woman’s natural tendency is to “liberate” herself from her mate after that point. When her hormones prompt her to reproduce again, she simply takes a new mate.
Langley cites Helen Fisher’s Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray and Burnham and Phelan’s Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts in support of this account. According to the latter, separation and divorce are most likely to occur in the fourth year of marriage “across more than sixty radically different cultures.”
Feral female sexual behavior is governed by a number of chemicals. The euphoria of infatuation is associated with the stimulant pheylethylamine, naturally produced in the body by erotic attraction. As with other drugs, it is addictive, and people gradually build up a tolerance to it, requiring ever-greater levels to achieve the same effect. Over time, it loses its power over us, and infatuation is replaced by a calm feeling of attachment to our mates. There are neurochemical factors at work here as well. But the feeling of attachment or bondedness is akin to the effect of a sedative or narcotic rather than a stimulant.
Next there are hormones to consider. The sex drive, in both men and women, is linked to testosterone levels. These are, of course, always higher in men; but the difference is greatest in early adulthood when people have traditionally taken their mates. As men age, their testosterone levels gradually decrease; women’s levels rise. Going into their thirties, women get hairier, their voices deepen, and they behave more assertively. And, in the author’s words, “it’s also quite common for them to experience a dramatic increase in their desire for other men.” (Langley cites Theresa Crenshaw’s The Alchemy of Love and Lust and Michael Liebowitz’s The Chemistry of Love on these matters.)
The author is not a professional researcher in any of these fields herself. She relates that, after four years of happy marriage and shortly after her 27th birthday, she began to feel bored and unhappy for no apparent reason. She turned to a number of books and professionals, all of whom agreed that the fault lay with her husband; she adopted this now conventional view for a time herself. Fortunately—and unlike most women—she kept digging for answers. She met women, at first accidentally, who described similar experiences, and questioned them. Later she began seeking women out for lengthy interviews. She eventually interviewed men as well. It is worth noting that she managed to devote several hours a week to this research without any degree in sociology or taxpayer-funded grants. Gradually, consistent patterns began to emerge from the stories she was hearing. “By the time I stopped counting, I had interviewed 123 women and 72 men. . . . I found it fascinating that something so prevalent could be kept so secret.”
What, then, did she learn? First, women are more likely than men to confuse sexual attraction with love. The sexes speak differently of the feelings associated with the early stages of a romantic affair:
Most men I have talked to call it infatuation, but most of the women I have talked to call it being in love. . . . Women in particular may believe that, if they find the right person, intense feelings can last. They’ve been taught to believe that they should only want sex with someone they love. So when a woman desires a man, she thinks she is in love, and when the desire fades she thinks she is out of love.
Women often speak of seeking “commitment” from men, but this would seem to imply a preference for marriage-minded men over others. Langley observed the very opposite tendency in her interviewees:
They often form relationships with men who are emotionally inaccessible. Instead of choosing men who are interested in developing a relationship, these women choose men who make them feel insecure. Insecurity can create motivation and excitement. Women who seek excitement in their marriages (and many do) will often forego the possibility of real relationships for the excitement of fantasy relationships. . . . It’s not uncommon for women to pine for men who shy away from commitment, while they shun the attention given to them by men who are willing and ready to make a commitment.
Much uninformed and superficial commentary on the sexual revolution assumes that “men want sex while women want marriage.” Langley draws a valid distinction: women want to get married, not to be married. They often love not so much their husbands as their bridal-fantasy in which the man serves as a necessary prop.
Females want to wear the dress and have the wedding. Many women have looked forward to that day their whole lives, which ultimately sets them up for a huge crash.
Most women are happiest when focused on fulfilling some part of the get-married-and-live-happily-ever-after fantasy. They are content, even in relatively unfulfilling relationships, as long as some part of the fantasy is left to play out. . . .
When a woman wants to get married, she will usually overlook a lot, and at times allow herself to be treated pretty badly. After she gets married, not only is the excitement of pursuit over, after a few years of marriage the attraction buzz has dissipated too. At that point, many women may find that marriage hasn’t even come close to meeting their expectations. Some women feel stupid for having wanted it so badly in the first place.
Men being pressured for “commitment” sometimes attempt to point this out: “Why is it such a big deal? What is going to be different after we’re married?” The men are right, of course: a wedding ceremony has no magical power to produce lifelong happiness. Unfortunately, this seems to be something women only learn from experience.
One thing that usually does change after the wedding is the woman’s willingness to overlook her man’s faults. Many men will tell you: “when my wife and I were dating, I could do no wrong; now that we are married, I can do no right.” Indeed, says our author, women who have tolerated their men’s shortcomings and tried to please them only in pursuit of their own fantasy often enter marriage carrying a great deal of repressed anger, which usually emerges in time. The husband, for his part, feels like the victim of a “bait and switch” sales tactic. One wonders what would become of the human race if women told their boyfriends flat out: “you must marry me so I can stop pretending to love you as you are, and start complaining about all the ways you disappoint me.”
Langley distinguishes, based upon her interviews, four typical stages in marital breakdown.
(1) The wives begin to feel vaguely that “something is missing in their lives.” Then they experience a loss of interest in sexual relations with their husbands. The author is clear that her interviewees were not being “abused” or mistreated in any way. Nevertheless, in some cases “the women claimed that when their husbands touched them, they felt violated; they said their bodies would freeze up and they would feel tightness in their chest and/or a sick feeling in their stomach.”
(2) After a certain interval, they experience an unexpected reawakening of sexual desire—but not, alas, for their lawful husbands. In many cases, the women did not act upon their new desires quickly. Usually they would go through a period of feeling guilty, and sometimes try to assuage these feelings by increased attentiveness toward their husbands.
Women, says Langley, enter marriage assuming they are naturally monogamous. “Trying to be faithful doesn’t seem natural to them.” They recite the wedding vow in much the same spirit as they wear “something borrowed, something blue”—it is simply what one does at a wedding. Of course, a vow is no very serious undertaking to one who assumes she will never feel any temptation to break it.
Accordingly, over time, most women begin to rationalize their extramarital erotic interests. If women simply want to be married and are not naturally inclined to be attracted to other men, “any unhappiness or infidelity on the part of the women is assumed to be due to the men they married.” This seems to me a critically important and easily overlooked finding: the widely propagated notion that women are naturally monogamous is helping to nourish the contemporary “blame the man for everything” mentality. Hence, odd as this sounds, in order to reestablish the actual practice of monogamy, it may be necessary to discredit the notion that woman are naturally inclined to it.
Once women start believing their wayward desires can be blamed upon their husbands’ failures, they become “negative and sarcastic when speaking about their husbands and their marriages.” It is then usually just a matter of time and opportunity before the wives proceed to actual adultery.
(3) Women involved in extramarital affairs speak of “feelings unlike anything they’d experienced before. They felt ‘alive’ again.” This euphoria was, however, combined with pain and guilt. Often before a tryst, they would vow that ‘this would be the last time,’ but were unable to keep their resolutions. The author interprets this as addictive behavior related to the brain chemistry of erotic attachment. She conjectures that the “high” produced by adultery is more intense than that of lawful courtship because of its association with shame, guilt and secrecy: a plausible hypothesis, and possible topic for future research.
Usually the women did not act decisively to end their marriages, which gave them a sense of security in spite of everything. Divorce produces separation anxiety, which is a sort of chemical withdrawal. Habitual attachments produce a safe, comfortable feeling, like a sedative; and loss of a person to whom we are bonded produces a panicky feeling like that of a child lost in a department store, Langley writes. So these women often lived in a “state of limbo” for years, unable to decide whether to remain married or seek a divorce. Most expected they would eventually achieve clarity about their own desires, but this seldom happened. The author’s hypothesis is that “clarity never comes, because what they are really trying to do is avoid pain. They are hoping that one day it won’t hurt to leave their spouse, or that one day they’ll no longer desire to be with someone else and will want to return to their spouse.” (She neglects to mention that it may “hurt” many women to renounce their husbands’ financial support as well.)
Sometimes the paramour breaks off relations with the adulterous wife, for any number of reasons. In these cases, the women “experienced extreme grief, became deeply depressed and expressed tremendous anger toward their husbands” (my emphasis). In fact, according to Langley’s hypothesis, they were experiencing another form of withdrawal—they were stimulant addicts forced to go “cold turkey.” These women “placed the utmost importance on finding a relationship that gave them the feeling they experienced in their affairs. In the meantime, “some women resumed sporadic sexual relations with their husbands in an effort to safeguard the marriage.” Though no longer attracted to their husbands, “desire was temporarily rekindled when they suspected their husbands were unfaithful [or] showed signs of moving on.” In other words, even wives who have been unfaithful for years want to keep their husbands hanging on—they do not want him to leave them.
(4) Finally some women do reach a sort of resolution. This may mean divorce or a decision to remain married and continue their affairs indefinitely. Langley does not mention a single case in which an adulterous wife returned to her husband unreservedly and sincerely. Those who divorced and remarried sometimes expressed “regret for having hurt their children and ex-spouses only to find themselves experiencing similar feelings in the new relationship.” In other words, they had reached the end of a second feral sexual cycle, and boredom had returned. The “natural” female sex drive results in rotating polyandry. Langley even entitles one chapter “The Commitment Game: Female Version of Pursue and Discard.” One can hardly avoid the thought that these women might have saved everyone a lot of trouble by simply keeping their original marriage vow.
Like other observers of the contemporary scene, the author notes the pervasiveness of female anger. “It’s impossible . . . to understand anything about women in this country today, unless you understand that a) they’re angry, and b) their anger is directed at men. Women today aren’t seeking equality. They want retribution—revenge.”
Much of this is due to feminist indoctrination. An ideological regime (and feminism may now, I think, legitimately be called a regime) paints the past in the darkest colors possible in order to camouflage its own failures. According to official “herstory,” women’s lives were a virtual hell on earth before the glorious dawn of feminism. They were beaten and brutalized, burned as witches, forcibly prevented from acquiring the education for which they were supposedly thirsting. Theologians allegedly taught that they had no souls. Unfortunately, Langley appears to accept at least some of this balderdash: “When women decide to leave their husbands, all the pain from their past together with all the pain women have suffered at the hands of men throughout history is unleashed on their husbands in the form of anger, regardless of whether or not their husbands have treated them badly” (my emphasis).
Langley is on firmer ground when she suggests women actually enjoy being angry because it gives them a kind of power: “Angry people not only spur those around them to walk on eggshells, they motivate them to do exactly what the angry person wants them to do. Some women stay angry long after divorcing their husbands because, as long as they’re angry and their ex-husbands feel guilty, they’ve got power over them.”
A third factor is the unrealistic expectations women now have about marriage: “their not getting the expected payoff [of] continued excitement over getting and being married.”
It should also be pointed out that the very terms “retribution” and “revenge” imply that husbands have wronged their wives somehow. If this is not the case, and Langley admits that today it mostly is not, the proper terms for the women’s behavior would be “wanton cruelty” or “sadism.” This supposition is strengthened by some of the author’s own observations: “I’ve noticed that once a woman reaches a certain point, not only does her anger persist, she wants to continually punish and inflict pain on whomever has angered her. . . . The men that I talked to often used the word evil to describe the behavior of their wives.”
Let us consider the author’s male interviewees and their reactions to these patterns of female behavior. Langley lists three obstacles to male recognition of the reality of female infidelity: (1) a kind of high-minded attitude that “my wife simply isn’t ‘that kind’ of woman,” which usually amounts to wishful thinking; (2) an invalid inference from the wife’s lack of interest in sexual relations with them to a lack of sexual interests generally; and (3) a failure to discuss and compare notes on marital problems with other men, as women routinely do with one another.
The author emphasizes the gullibility of the men she interviewed. One man’s wife had walked out on him and rented an apartment; three years later, he still had no suspicions that she might be with another man. Often the wives who took advantage of their husbands’ credulousness were highly jealous themselves: “Some of the husbands learned to look down in restaurants and other public places, because they feared their wife would accuse them of looking at another woman. Some claimed that their wife didn’t want them to watch certain television programs.” Psychologists call this projection: the automatic attribution of one’s own thoughts and motivations to others. Thus, dishonorable women tend to be suspicious; faithful husbands are trusting.
In the author’s experience, however, men do not get much credit with their wives for placing so much trust in them:
Some of the women resented their husbands’ lack of suspicion. . . . Although females never give males any indication that they are anything less than 100 percent faithful, [they] seem to think men are stupid for believing them. Females just think males should know that when they say “I would never cheat on you,” what they really mean is “I would never cheat on you . . . as long as you make me happy and I don’t get bored.”
Of course, if men did know this, it is unlikely many of them would want to get married.
Women may want men to make them happy, but they do not say, and probably do not know themselves, how this might be accomplished. “Women want men to read their minds—or, more accurately, their emotions—because it’s what they do, easily. . . . Females want males to anticipate their needs and desires.” (Obeying their every command is not enough.) Women do in fact have a greater ability to perceive the needs and feelings of others without verbal communication, an evolved adaptation to the requirements of successfully nurturing infants. When they expect their husbands to have this same ability, they are in effect upset that their husbands are not women.
Eventually, women do come out and tell their husbands they are “unhappy.” But this does not mean they have any intention of working on improving the marriage; women ordinarily make no overt, specific complaints until they are
100 percent done with the relationship—meaning [they] have lost all feeling. . . . It’s not uncommon for women to eventually feel less for their husbands than they would for a stranger on the street. . . . When women start being specific to men about their needs, it’s usually only to let their husbands know all the many areas in which they have failed. In other words, their husbands have already been fired; their wives are just giving them the reasons for the termination. . . . She already has another “Mr. Right” picked out or is eager to find one. She is looking for the feeling of excitement again.
Men rarely understand this. The author found that most men blamed themselves and “beat themselves up” for the things they thought they had done wrong in the marriage. Their initial response to their wives’ stated unhappiness was to try to make them happy. “In most cases, their husbands launched futile attempts to make their wives happy by being more attentive, spending more time at home and helping out around the house. Regardless of these women’s past and present complaints, the last thing they wanted was to spend more time with their husbands.” (Langley notes that wives do often complain that “my spouse doesn’t pay attention to me,” but calls this code for “I want another man.”) In fact, wives often became angry precisely over their husbands’ efforts to please them, because this increased their own feelings of guilt for infidelity. Some also perceived the similarity between this behavior and their own earlier efforts to get their husbands to “commit”; women know better than anyone that efforts to please can be a form of manipulation.
The women sometimes responded with a kind of countermanipulation: “they thought if they were cold and treated their husbands terribly, the men would leave, or ask them to leave.” Sometimes this happens—which, incidentally, explains why divorce initiation statistics can be misleading. A significant portion of the roughly thirty percent of divorces which are formally male-initiated result from the wife deliberately maneuvering her husband into taking the step.
But it is not always easy for women to obtain a divorce in this manner: “Some of the women couldn’t believe the things their husbands were willing to put up with.” (So much for men not being committed.) The author recounts cases where women deliberately tried to provoke their husbands into striking them because they calculated it would be to their advantage in the looming child-custody dispute. One reason husbands may be so difficult to provoke today is that they realize the only result will be a jail term for “domestic abuse” or a restraining order preventing them from seeing their children.
Most of the men didn’t have anyone to talk to other than their wives, which is why I believe they tried so desperately to hold on to them. . . . Some of the men were so dependent on their wives, they didn’t think they could live without them, but one thing all the men shared was a fear of losing their children.
The men I interviewed feared losing their family, but the women didn’t seem to have that fear. The women thought of it as losing their husbands, not their family. More often than not, the men were forced to move out of their homes and away from their kids. They lost all of their attachment bonds and felt as though they were losing their whole identity.
Many of the men became suicidal when their wife left and remained so for a long time afterwards. A few of the men said that they felt homicidal.
On the other hand, “the word used by the majority of women I interviewed to describe their husbands [was] ‘pathetic.’” When the full extent of their husband’s emotional dependence upon them comes out, women are not moved or gratified; they feel contempt for what they see as weakness.
Sometimes another woman entered the abandoned husband’s life:
but the affairs were usually mired in the man’s grief. In a few cases, the man was unable to have sexual relationships with the woman he started seeing. . . . To say they were in pain would be an understatement. . . . The men developed these relationships so they could have someone to talk to. Most said that having an affair was the last thing on their minds at the time, but they didn’t know what else to do. They felt lonely and isolated. Many men credited the woman who helped them with saving their lives, which may be a literal truth.
What are we to make of all this?
Men have an inherent reluctance about joining together to defend their interests in the manner of feminists. One reason, I believe, is they fear it would seem unmanly. While feminists blather about “uncomfortable environments” like princesses fussing over peas, men learn early to swallow large amounts of pain and disappointment: this is simply part of what it means to be a man. The toughening they receive from their fathers and peer groups usually stands them in good stead. They must, after all, learn to make their own way in an unfair world that does not care about their feelings.
But all men have their limits. I do not see how any society can expect men to endure from their women the abhorrent behavior Michelle Langley describes. Reports of suicides and other violent behavior on the part of abandoned husbands denied access to their children are getting onto the internet. Despite the powerful presence of feminist gatekeepers, even the “old” news media will not be able to maintain a complete blackout forever. The “backlash” feminists have long talked about is just beginning.
The reader has probably gathered by now that Women’s Infidelity is not the sort of book that would inspire a young man to go out and fall in love. Concerned as all of us must be about declining birthrates, I could not in good conscience urge any young man coming of age in America today to marry, or even to date. There is simply no point in continuing to play by the old rules with women who openly despise those rules. Instead, I would recommend working hard, saving money, refusing to socialize with spoiled women, and reading Michelle Langley if you want to learn what kinds of things you are missing out on. If you still cannot rid yourself of the desire to marry, learning an Eastern European language might not be a bad investment.
The reality of marriage in any age is indeed such that it has never been easy to make it a sensible choice for a man from a purely self-interested point of view. The sexual instinct and romantic illusions can only do so much. This is why it has often been necessary to exhort contented bachelors that it would be “immature and irresponsible” of them not to take a wife. Above and beyond this, dowries often used to be offered with brides to sweeten the deal. Our author’s description of this ancient custom is delightful: “females are considered a worthless burden so families pay men to marry them.”
Langley reports that she interviewed just two men who responded effectively to the challenge of their wives’ disloyalty.
The first man took the initiative and filed for divorce after his wife expressed on several occasions that she was unhappy and considering a separation. Before the divorce was final, his wife was trying to reconcile, but he chose not to because of her [lack of interest] in working on the marriage prior to his filing for divorce.
The second case was a man in a second marriage who had made all the usual mistakes the first time around but, unlike most husbands, managed to learn from the experience. As soon as his second wife started talking about a vague “unhappiness,” he inferred that she had met another man. He put down in writing clear conditions for remaining married to her and refused to agree to any separation, knowing it would only be a prelude to divorce. Insisting she break off her extramarital affair at once, he wrote: “I will not allow my spirit to deteriorate because of your indecision.” Rather than attempting to remove all possible grounds for his wife’s discontent, he simply told her: “complaining is no longer acceptable. If you want me to do or not do something, you must tell me what it is. I do not expect you to read my mind and I will no longer try to read yours.” This worked.
A man cannot force his wife to be faithful, but he can force her to make a clear choice; he can refuse to allow her the opportunity of having both a marriage and an affair, of continuing in a “limbo” of indecisiveness. Langley even reports that some unfaithful wives themselves “wanted their husband to give them an ultimatum—a kick in the ass, so to speak.”
Delivering an ultimatum, be it noted, is incompatible with such sacred bromides as “commitment” and “unconditional love.” One lesson to be drawn from Women’s Infidelity is that husbands need to be less committed to their wives rather than more. Without legal enforcement of the marriage contract, the threat of abandonment seems to be the only thing that sometimes keeps women in line. Rather than fulminating against men who “love ’em and leave ’em,” we might do better to hold ticker-tape parades in honor of husbands who say “enough is enough” and walk out; at least wives would have an incentive to keep their men happy. In any case, the women Langley describes hardly seem to deserve undying loyalty.
The conservative commentariat is clueless as usual about these realities. All they have to offer is empty sermonizing about the sacredness of the marriage vow and sanctimonious rubbish about men “preying upon” and abandoning supposedly weak and helpless women. This is of no help to a husband faced with the reality of an unfaithful wife and the prospect of losing his family through no fault of his own. As long as men do nothing more than keep their marriage vows to women who are trampling upon their own and abusing their husbands’ trust, the situation can only continue to deteriorate.
When you destroy a fundamental social institution—and none is more fundamental than marriage—the usual result is a powerful lesson in why the institution was established in the first place. Never before have we actually been able to observe how women behave when unrestrained by honor, shame, religious instruction, or fear of social disgrace and financial ruin. In our author’s words, “We are just starting to see glimpses of women’s natural sexual behavior.” If her stories provide the glimpses, one shudders to imagine what the full-length view will look like.
Langley is better at describing and diagnosing than at prescribing remedies. She actually concludes with the hope that her work might serve to “reduce the use of shame as a sexual deterrent for females.” In other words, women are not yet shameless enough. In her view, the only justification for shaming women into marital fidelity in the past was to ease husbands’ paternity anxiety. She believes the advent of DNA testing has rendered this aspect of traditional sexual morality obsolete. She thereby joins a long line of persons who have imagined that some technical advance—pills, latex, new abortion procedures—will allow men and women to dispense with self-control and fidelity. But this will require the cooperation of men.
How does she imagine a husband will react when his wife tells him “I am going to sleep with another man, but don’t worry: we’ll just have the baby DNA tested to determine the financial obligations.” My guess is that husbands will be about as happy with this arrangement as wives would be with men who said “I’m going to bed with my secretary, but don’t worry: I’ll use a condom, so nobody will catch a disease and all my income will still go to support our children.” Sexual jealousy is an evolved irrational drive inexplicable in merely prudential or economically rational terms.
Like many contemporary writers, Langley discusses sex at great length without much considering the most obvious thing about it, viz., that it is where babies come from. She is childless herself and nowhere considers the possibility that the vague “something missing” from the lives of bored, unhappy matrons is children.
My great-grandmother raised nine children to adulthood in a world without supermarkets, refrigerators, or washing machines. She did not have much time to search for “unconditional love” or “commitment,” because she was too busy practicing it herself. Most of her life was taken up with the unceasing procurement and preparation of food for her husband and children. Yet she got along fine without romance novels, child custody gamesmanship, or psychotherapy; she was, I am told, always cheerful and contented. This is something beyond the imagination of barren, resentful feminists. It is the satisfaction which results from knowing that one is carrying out a worthwhile task to the best of one’s abilities, a satisfaction nothing else in life can give. We are here today because this is the way women used to behave; we cannot continue long under the present system of rotating polyandry.
TOQ, vol. 7, no. 2 (Summer 2007)