If any good has come from feminism it is a dawning appreciation of female sexual desire and its potential to destroy. The monogamous instincts of women have been vastly exaggerated in the popular imagination, even by Darwinian realists who pride themselves on their clear-eyed appraisals of human nature. Sexual liberation has revealed the full extent of feminine waywardness and disloyalty.
At least two-thirds of divorces in this country are initiated by women. Women are more eager than men to get married; once married they are more eager to get out of marriage. In many of these divorces, women act as if their husbands have disappointed or offended them when the truth is these women desire another man or the possibility of new romance. Economic power for women and divorce laws that guarantee maternal custody or joint custody have unmasked the truth about female sex drives: Women are not innately faithful nor do all women naturally put the interests of their children above their own. They express their sexual restlessness in entirely different ways than men and in often confusing forms.
For centuries, women have consoled themselves when their husbands were unfaithful with the thought that men are naturally promiscuous. This commonly reinforced idea has allowed a woman to feel that a husband’s adulteries are not necessarily a reflection upon her. The same is not true with feminine betrayal. Women are viewed as naturally monogamous and so their infidelities cause more despair and may lead women themselves to give more weight to passing infatuations.
When I was 14 years old, my family lived across the street from a handsome couple and their five children. I used to babysit for them, sitting up late at night in their living room listening to the clock tick. I remember seeing Mr. Minder one spring night mowing his lawn. I was struck by something strange in his expression. It was one of complete detachment, as if the mower was pulling him on a leash.
Two days later, my father woke me early in the morning. “Get up, get up,” he said. “Something terrible has happened.” Mr. Minder was dead. He had gone the night before into his garage, sealed the doors and turned on the car. It was a devastating event. He was a kind and gentle man. I cannot help but think that he was a victim of his own innocence. For when he learned that his wife was having an affair with a neighbor, he was overcome by hopelessness. He was entirely unprepared for such a thing.
I have known many women who have left decent, loving husbands. To me, it is the saddest trend at a time of many sad and disturbing cultural trends. Some of these women have left their husbands with other men in mind and others have left for the simple joy of living a life of romantic possibility. Indeed, their divorces seem to be the most romantic acts of their lives. By divorcing, they see themselves as moving toward good, not simply away from a marriage that has disappointed them (and having such high expectations of marriage, women are so easily disappointed.) Many of these women remind me in some ways of Mrs. Minder. She was pleasant and good-natured, not at all the sort of person you would suspect of treachery. I will never forget the memory of her walking up the aisle of the church on the day of her husband’s funeral with all her children weeping and clutching at her knees. It was a terrible sight. She too seemed a victim of her own innocence, someone entirely unprepared for her own illicit impulses. She was dramatically different in one respect from many women today. If Mr. Minder had lived, I am confident she never would have left him and the affair would have ended.
Michelle Langley in her book Women’s Infidelity takes a long look at the phenomenon at a time when women, unlike Mrs. Minder, readily divorce. She believes many of these divorces are caused by a combination of guilt, insensitivity and ignorance on the part of women. She writes:
…. young females are conditioned to believe that they are naturally monogamous and they carry this belief with them throughout their lifetimes. So when women experience feelings that deviate from this belief, particularly after they are married, those feelings can cause enormous internal conflict. Many women resolve the dilemma by dissolving their marriages.
Some women find it easier to think they married the wrong guy than to see themselves as some sort of shameful freak of nature. Their erroneous belief in a monogamous predisposition prevents them from becoming aware of their natural sexual tendencies in the first place. This unawareness can cause a chain reaction that ultimately destroys their marriages.
Langley makes many keen observations on the subject. She is a feminist with sympathies toward the enemy. I don’t agree with many of her points and was offended by her crude language. She also seems oblivious to the effect of adultery on children and has a casual attitude toward divorce. But, she makes some stunningly on-target observations about how women have become free to express their basest instincts:
As with men’s behavior, women’s behavior can be good, bad, and everything in between. Women are just as capable as men of abusing power. Males may grow up feeling powerful and superior to females, using them to get what they want and then discarding them, but when women get what they want from men, they are equally inclined to discard men, because in today’s world they can. Women are now free to express this human trait.
Langley interviewed dozens of men and women about their intimate lives. She concluded that women often manipulate their spouses to try to dodge responsibility for their own wrongdoing or desires. Her observations remind me of a couple I know currently in the process of a divorce. The wife left with the pettiest of complaints against her husband, probably purely in pursuit of some vague excitement. She and her husband were recently discussing their financial affairs when she made an off-hand reference to their separation as something “we had decided to do.” The husband had to stop and say to her, “Look, we didn’t decide to do this. You did.” In the woman’s imagination, distorted by self-pity, wishful thinking and the vague excitement of a new life, the divorce was a mutual undertaking. Langley says women often deceive themselves in this way. She is optimistic that once the image of women as naturally faitfhful is punctured for good, women will be able to get away with less of this self-deception. She writes:
Once women realize that they often chase after commitment in the same way that men chase after sex—pursue and discard—women will stop seeing themselves as victims and will start taking responsibility for their choices.
She has some good advice for men, advising the man who suddenly faces a wife who complains of vague unhappiness and the desire for change to refuse responsibility for her restlessness. The worse thing he can do is blame himself if she does not have a specific complaint.
I know one woman who is on her fourth husband. Actually, she’s not married to this last one, but essentially he’s another husband. ”I like being married,” she says. “I’m just not very good at it.” She looks upon the destruction she has caused in the lives of four children and three men as if it were something unfortunate that happened to her.