My post yesterday prompted some interesting responses. Francesca provided a link to an article written some time ago by “Microwave Man” for The Times. Here is his article in full – some harsh words but no doubt some truth in what he says (and I think I’d better get rid of my cats ASAP):-
“Single, older women spell trouble for a man. In an extract from his new book, times2’s Microwave Man explains why.
The chances are that if a reasonably attractive woman is single by her late thirties/early forties, then it is because at some point in the past she has hitched herself to a married man. It is quite amazing just how many otherwise sane, intelligent and self-aware women fall into this trap. What’s even more amazing is that they are then capable of maintaining the most extreme self-deception for years and years on end.
(Of course, once you have the cats, you really are in trouble, caught in a Catch-22. You can’t get rid of them just because your love life picks up, but your love life is never going to pick up if you smell of cat wee. And, trust me, you will smell of cat wee.) Women who go through this process are ruined. No other man will want them because it will have reduced them to pitiful, bitter, angry, depressed, shrunken versions of the woman they once were, and could still have been. Besides, they won’t want other men: some part of them never quite lets go of the hope — the belief — that, one day, he will come back to her (and stay longer than one night and some of the next morning).
The fact that this happens to so many women surely gives the lie to all that bullshit about women being the superior, smarter, multi-tasking version of men. And the smarter the woman, the more likely she is to fall into the trap. It’s not just women’s sensitivity and innate romantic inclination that is their undoing. She believes in herself so firmly that she finds it impossible to see how any man in his right mind couldn’t fall for her.
And it’s about competition. Women, by and large, don’t have football, or darts, or video games to help them to blow off steam. As a result, they can’t just shag somebody else’s husband; they have to try to take him away from her. How many men do you know who have put their lives on hold in the hope that a married woman they are shagging will give up her hearth and home to be with them? That’s right, none. Because men, generally, have PlayStations.
Men will never do this. They don’t have the patience, or the attention span (except for video games). A woman, on the other hand, is prepared to wait it out, to lay siege. She knows it won’t happen overnight so she gets in emotional supplies, a pile of weepy movies and microwave popcorn (and perhaps a self-help book or two) and digs in on the perimeter of the chosen man’s life. She has her friends to support her, but soon they get put off by the whiff of self-pity and the endless self-deception — not to mention the tedious, one-track conversations.
The man’s not innocent, of course. He leads her on, of course; throws her scraps to feed the fantasy. He likes that when he turns up she is never up to her elbows in dirty dishes, never exhausted after a hard day and half asleep on the sofa, never in the middle of changing the bag in the Hoover or helping one of the kids with their bloody homework and never handing him the dog’s lead as he walks in. He likes that he can walk in and, if he feels like it (and he almost always does feel like it, because, let’s face it, that’s why he is there in the first place), lift her dress, pull her sexy panties to one side and do it hard and fast right there in the hallway, up against the wall, without any libido-sapping bikes or school bags or bloody dogs in his line of sight to put him off his stroke. And then, if he wants to rush away immediately afterwards, leaving her flushed and panting, to run back, wracked by guilt and self-loathing, to his wife and family, he can. He likes that too.
And she, refusing to understand or recognise the guilt and self-loathing that rises in him even faster than the sap he has just expended, likes it too, because this is what she insists — to her own ruin — on mistakenly identifying as his unrestrainedly animal passion for her. And if you are one of these women, here’s a flash that (who knows?) might even be vivid enough to shock you out of your sleep-walking state. Are you ready? Are you sitting down? Got enough biscuits? Okay, here it is: he will happily screw you but that doesn’t mean that he likes you very much. Physically, he probably doesn’t even find you that attractive (this won’t stop him wanting to shag you). He might even be embarrassed to be seen in public with you. Mentally, ditto. Personality, likewise. Well, I’m sorry, but I thought it best that you knew.
For such a man, almost the worst aspect of his fear of being found out is the moment his wife claps eyes on her non-rival — and the extreme, weird depth of his perverse extramarital excursion is exposed in all its plain-Jane entirety. Most women would breathe a sigh of relief if they could see their “competitors”, and realise they are no more a rival than a blow-up doll would be. Perhaps less.
But, actually, they wouldn’t. Like the women who are being screwed and who convince themselves that they are irresistible, the cheated-upon wives insist, perversely, on being convinced that there is something about the other woman that sets her above them, something that she has or does that makes her more attractive to their man than them. There isn’t. If there was, he would leave his wife for her. All the other woman has that the wife can never have is that she isn ’t his wife, his symbol of containment and of a closed-off, finished life. The other woman is, simply and crudely, a door left ajar, through which he almost certainly has no intention of passing. She is somebody different to shag, where the need to do so is driven not by an uncontrollably rampant libido but by a deeply located fear that This Is All There Is, the end of the line, and that the next stop can be only death.
A woman has childbirth to sustain her. This, or even the notion of this, links her, mentally and physically, to the future. The child in her mind, in her womb, at her breast, at her feet, blocks the very possibility of the one question that sets men and women apart: what’s it all for? For a man committed emotionally and intellectually to one woman, that single question starts to bang away like a drum — softly at first but gradually louder and louder.
Sex with other women, he comes to feel, is all that stands between him and the grave and the general and widely ignored futility of the human condition. Men see this futility clearer than women because their lives are more obviously futile. That’s why so many of them top themselves, for no apparent reason. For a man, an affair is, almost always, nothing to do with the woman involved. It’s not really anything to do with sex, either. It ’s about life and death. And that’s it, nothing more or less.
I do hope we’re buying this.
It’s regarded as a terribly empty and insulting platitude, but when a man utters the cliche “it meant nothing to me”, he means it, completely. Women refuse to accept this, perhaps because they can’t imagine being in that situation themselves without some form of emotional attachment, but a man is more than capable of having repeated, regular, illicit sex — risking losing the woman he loves and the family they have spawned — with someone he can, quite possibly, barely stand to be around.
And you, sitting at home waiting for the call, keeping your weekends free in case he manages to escape one Saturday like he always promises he will but never quite manages to, you should know this: that it is quite probable that he doesn’t even like you very much. I mean, would you treat a friend the way he’s treated you? What turns him on is the power he has over you, the illicit nature of the relationship and the way it has of stopping him thinking about tomorrow.
What sustains you through all those long, lonely, anxious, jealousy-riddled nights is the thought of the future you might, one day, have together. But can’t you see now how that’s never going to work? If he really cared about you, do you think he could bear to see you suffer? That’s why he always goes back to his wife. He loves her, and he couldn’t bear to see her suffer.
Your suffering, however — no problem.
He doesn’t set out to be cruel, but sooner or later he will tell her he loves her (because, after a while, it just gets embarrassing if you don’t) and, once she starts putting on the pressure, he will say almost anything to forestall the dawning of reality. He is torn because although he can see that he is becoming everything to this woman (and he, of course, has absolutely no intention of leaving his wife and family), part of him has become addicted to the snatched, sordid, heavy-breathing sex and the endless, filthy e-mails and text messages that bring him to the boil when he is sitting at his desk and should be concentrating on whatever it is someone is paying him to concentrate on. And he is attracted to the danger because it makes him feel alive.
The Other Woman is, of course, always a willing co-conspirator in her own downfall. Tough, grown-up, educated, discerning and smart in every other area of her life, she becomes a helpless, malleable, gullible dunderhead who will believe any transparent lie rather than accept that the world view she has constructed is nothing more than a fantasy, and that she, to her married man, is nothing more than a fantasy. And so on and on she drones to her friends . .
How do I know all this? How do you think? And let me take this opportunity right now to say . . . sorry, but what the hell did you expect? Men know women like this on sight. They can recognise them. At work, in bars, passing on the street, reading self-help books on the Tube and hanging around wistfully in the tumbleweed-blown sections of bookshops everywhere. The bitter aura of their disappointment clings to them like a noxious gas; the underlying fairytale that, despite all she has suffered and should have learnt from, there will be a happy ending, clanks at her feet like a rusty ball and chain. Men can smell it and hear it and they avoid them like the walking dead because there is nothing less attractive than a woman who has so utterly and obsessively surrendered herself.
What a sad sight is the Other Woman. At times (usually the times when she’s hit the Pernod and cranked up the Dido) it seems that her only friend is the cat.
And then, just the other day, as I glanced in irritation at my mobile phone, and the text message telling me that my expected Saturday morning dalliance was off, it suddenly occurred to me. I am the Other Woman.
Well, the Other Man, obviously. But it got me thinking. What is the difference between me and the popular stereotype above, and should I start reading self-help books with such titles as Why All Women Are Bastards — and How to Get One of Your Own? The first thing, I suppose, is a question of quantity over quality. I have had one or two (OK, four or five) relationships with happily married/boyfriended women (occasionally, more or less simultaneously), and I suppose the effect of this has been to dilute my emotional and/or physical reliance on any one of them. And then I haven’t exactly been moping around, polishing my nails and preening my bikini line, waiting for any of them to leave their partners.
One of the drawbacks of being the male equivalent of The Other Woman is that one doesn’t get showered with chocolates, jewellery and flowers. On the other hand, there are no empty promises sought, or given, about her leaving him once the kids are grown up. (And a heads-up for the sisters here: it should be a red light with klaxons, bells and slaps around the face for any woman whose lover claims to be staying with his wife solely for the kids. It is almost certainly rubbish and you are, as the rest of us already know, merely a bit on the side. And if it is true, then he’s not right in the head. Anyone that dependent on his children for his own happiness is heading for disillusion. Don’t go there with him.)
Love, as the great and tragically under-rated psychosexual philosopher and poet-balladeer Belinda Carlisle once observed, is a big scary animal. How very true. And it’s a big scary animal that requires constant feeding. Rather like Tiddles. If you insist on climbing into the cage with the beast, be prepared to feed it often, or it will start feeding on you. And if love doesn’t get you, Tiddles surely will. Lose the cat. And the wee-soaked litter tray.
© Jonathan Gornall 2006
Extracted from Microwave Man, to be published by Penguin on January 26 at £7.99. Available from Time Books First for £7.59 with free p&p, 0870 1608080.