Sociology of Family: New Era. New Bra. New Rules.

The article I am reviewing was called “The Secret Lives of Wives: Why They Stray” that appeared in the July 12th, 2006 issue of Newsweek Magazine. The article was written by Lorraine Ali and Lisa Miller of Newsweek with assistance from Vanessa Juarez, Holly Peterson, Karen Springen, Claire Sulmers, William Lee Adams and Raina Kelley. The articles description states “with the work place and the Internet, overscheduled lives and inattentive husbands—it’s no wonder more American women are looking for comfort in the arms of another man”.

The article describes the ‘secret lives of women’ who find attention and adoration in the arms of men… men other than their husbands who are absent and unaware. The article goes on to outline the progression of America’s perspective on the morality of the issue. Far from the day of the “Scarlet A”, it mentions Carmella of The Sopranos and Diane Lane’s character in Unfaithful (whose performance in the movie made it one of my favorites despite the difficult subject matter). Women applaud as these character take on lovers, whether out of spite or as a conscious choice ‘just because they can’.

The article also relates how this blasé reaction to affairs was once reserved for husbands who felt they deserved a bit of lovin’ after a hard day’s work… but the tides of changed and the wife has just as much right, and seems to be exercising it.

In yesteryear women stayed home and their encounters with men were relatively few – the milk man, the mail man, the door-to-door salesman and the butcher. Now women are in the workplace, dressed in their best with an attitude to match, and encounter far more men that generations ago would imagine.

While a woman’s adultery in the past would have meant hanging, or later to lose her home, her income and her children in divorce court nowadays we have equitable distribution and no fault divorce.

Plain and simple—the stakes just aren’t as high, and the access is easy.

The course readings actual confirm the findings, or vice versa, in the article I read. The lives of women have changed considerably since the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The seventies brought us into a new sexual era, and women’s liberation opened up a new world of possibilities. This has had an incredible affect on coupling and marriage.

As the text mentioned women used to choose their mates based on their need to find stability in a good provider. Love, passion and attractiveness were not on the top of the list of what they needed in a marriage mate. Men, on the other hand, as those who work and earn money were free to seek a mate with a focus on looks. Now the tables have turned as illustrated in this article as women choose to be with men who are younger and more attractive, and personal trainers seem to be a popular choice.

There is one point in the text, related to coupling, that I think is also really well reflected in the content of this article – that is of the “Disappearance of Romance as Crisis” (Strong, et al). The text asserts that the “search for enduring love is complicated by our contradictory needs”. These contradictory needs are that we want both someone to take care of us and provide for us in a stable environment, but we also want someone who is mysterious, dangerous and on edge. We like the comfort of an old shoe, but want a shiny new pair at the same time. I believe that this article reflects the woman’s response to those conflicting needs as they take on lovers.

The text also mentions “residential propinquity” where locale affects the choices you make in mate selection. I believe that this concepts expands to include the selection of those who women begin affairs with. “Where do married women find their boyfriends? At work, mostly. Nearly 60 percent of American women work outside the home, up from about 40 percent in 1964. Quite simply, women intersect with more people during the day than they used to.” Their marketplace of relationships has significantly expanded as women have moved from the home to the office.

Most poignant I thought was the statement “Now you can get away with it, there’s a social role that fits you.” I found this statement struck me because it directly linked the choice for a woman to have an affair with the social affect that that would have on her. By saying that now “there a social role that fits you” acknowledges the changes that have taken place to make having an affair socially acceptable and nearly commonplace. Now when we hear of a ‘pool boy’, or a personal trainer makes house calls, who doesn’t ‘know’ what’s really going on?

“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.” This is the conclusion after having realized that the movement of women into the office, changes in divorce laws as applicable to divorce, and the easement of the once social taboo has allowed women the same freedom as men to have it all – the husband at home and the boyfriend on the side. Sure they want that husband, they just want all that he isn’t giving them too, and now more than ever it is readily available.

In conclusion I have to say that I found this article as a powerful testament to all that I learned about in this lesson. “They go to more meetings, take more business trips and, presumably, participate more in flirtatious water-cooler chatter. If infidelity is an odds game, then the odds are better now than they used to be that a woman will accidentally bump into someone during the workday who, at least momentarily, interests her more than her husband does.” This article is also a powerful testament to what I’ve experienced in my own life. Though I love my boyfriend Brian very much, I once found myself at a conference bored and lonely. While I sat waiting for him, a man came up to speak with me. I gave him the cold shoulder until he happened to mention the company which he started, and my friend (my boyfriend’s friend, really) went to go work for. This coincidence startled me and my guard was let down. I found him exciting (he had sold his share of the company and is now a Venture Capitalist at Fidelity) and attractive… and he was paying attention to me. My boyfriend arrived and the group made our way to the conference party. My boyfriend did his thing, and again I was left to my own devices, and chatted with this man. By the end of the night I had let him kiss me… and opened my relationship up to a challenge. I find it intriguing how easily we can take baby steps from our morality to a revised perspective. Looking back I knew that I was in dangerous territory early on in the conversation. But as our text relates, I wanted something more that I had. And as a young professional woman living in this decade, that’s my prerogative. From the sexual and women’s liberation we’ve arrived upon a new era, Victoria’s Secret has provided the push-up new bra, and there are new rules. I hope that women will prove to be a bit smarter than men and use their power for good not evil.

“People who have children and marry late in life tend to be less interested in cheating than their contemporaries who married earlier—and more willing to work it out when a woman (or man) does stray. These women have spent a lot of time alone, and they’re wise to the benefits of companionship.” As the text mentions companionate love (intimacy and commitment) “often begins as romantic love, but as the passion diminishes and the intimacy increases, it is transformed. Some couples are satisfied with such love; others are not. Those who are dissatisfied in companionate love relationships may seek extrarelational affairs to maintain passion in their lives.” I recently finished the book “Lipstick Jungle” where a woman dealt with companionate love and her first affair. In the end she ended the affair and I hoped that she tried to renew the spark with her husband. That’s what I did with my boyfriend. We discussed the instance at the conference, and with full awareness of what was at stake decided to put our efforts into reigniting the spark inside our relationship. I hope that other women will choose to do the same, and then men can just follow the leader!

Ali, Lorraine, and Lisa Miller. “The Secret Lives of Wives: Why They Stray” Newsweek 12 July 2006. 03 Jan. 2007


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