The Disadvantages of Having a Mistress

Also the “One man, one mistress” rule.

A number of animals—gorillas, for example—have family groups that consist of a dominant male and a “harem,” that is a number of females.  Other male animals—the rat, for example—will have sex with any female within reach, including relatives. These male animals tend to follow a rule in mating with females. “The more, the better,” is the rule. Although it is expected that male human beings—men, that is– are less tied to biological imperatives, one may wonder if deep down they have similar inclinations. And, if so, is it still true that “the more the better”?

History suggests that men in power tend to reserve for themselves great numbers of women. King Solomon, for example, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. These are figures that give one pause.   Even assuming that Solomon was a man of great sexual energy, I feel that inevitably some of these wives and concubines must have suffered from neglect. The concubines may have been affected disproportionately since they were of lower status than the wives, many of whom were of royal blood. In any case, given these high numbers it is plain that Solomon exceeded even the typical rat in terms of his sexual appetites. (Rat testicles are about 25% of their body weight, which shows you where things stand with rats.)

Compared to Genghis Khan, however, King Solomon was a piker. What Genghis Khan enjoyed most in pillaging and raping was the raping; and his descendants, it is said by anthropologists and people in the know, constitute a significant percentage of those currently living in Europe and Asia Minor. His sexual desires may have been an example of “too much,” however, since it is rumored that he died at the hands of the last woman he raped.

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, married at least forty women, some of whom were already married to other men. This is fewer than King Solomon, but still a lot by current standards.  He was commanded by angels to marry all these women. Otherwise, he might not of his own volition taken on such a burden. That it was a burden and an inconvenience to Joseph Smith cannot be questioned. There is a historical record indicating that some of these women, especially Emma, his first wife, sulked and bickered with the others, most of whom were not used to angels taking a direct interest in their sexual lives and were, therefore, inclined to be irritable. This situation is my idea of a major headache. Since Joseph Smith’s time, though, the Mormons have recognized these difficulties and given up the practice– most of them– of polygamy. Having weighed all these problems, most of the popular religions these days limit men to only a few wives simultaneously, or even just one, although still any number one after the other.

However regrettable, it must be admitted that even among those who have sworn to monogamy, there are some men who violate their vows and take mistresses. Others do not trouble themselves with such formal arrangements and simply “sleep around.” A clinician who studies these matters will soon become aware of certain problems. In this discussion I do not distinguish between having a mistress and having multiple wives. I think the problems are the same:

  1. Mistresses can be expensive. Also wives. Maybe especially wives. I know of a number of young people who discovered on their fathers’ deaths that these men had other families living across town, or out of town. Consequently, their own upbringing was marked by privation. One of my patients was particularly upset to learn that she had to work her way through college when her corresponding half-sister did not.

Even a part-time mistress will want to be taken out to expensive restaurants from time to time. Some mistresses are so profligate that they are out of reach of many blue-collar workers. These women are referred to in chatrooms as “high maintenance mistresses.” A low maintenance mistress might be satisfied with McDonald’s, but then she is likely to linger over the French fries in order to make the most of the experience. I will not even mention the need to purchase a gift from time to time. Really cheap gifts are worse than none at all. Some mistresses will be satisfied by long meaningful conversations, instead of gifts.

  1. Which brings up a second disadvantage. Having a mistress is time consuming. I know that many young men contemplating their first mistress imagine that they can squeeze her in during an extended lunch; and such things do happen, of course. But the optimistic young man soon discovers that it takes time to pick up his date and find a suitable hotel and check in under somebody’s name, and roll down the bed-covers, etc. No matter how quickly the man can perform, inevitably women expect more. At least an hour and probably more.

For most men, fitting a mistress in between picking up groceries, taking the children to soccer,

going to the bank, and watching Monday night football is simply too much.

  1. Some men do not like sneaking around. I take as a given that most wives are likely to object to the fact of their husbands having a mistress. At least, that is the way of it in Westchester County. Consequently, the errant husbands have to skulk about on overcast days and hope to avoid being seen by in-laws or envious friends who may be inclined to make trouble. There are men who successfully (secretly) conduct affairs over a period of many years; but most men, probably out of  an unconscious need to make trouble for themselves, manage to get caught the first time out. These are some of their indiscretions: hotel records on the credit card bill, jewelry that seems never to have reached the wife, strange phone calls late in the evening, etc. I could write a book.
  2. Having a mistress, especially a young mistress, can be enervating, particularly for an older man. A wife may forgive a husband for falling asleep right after dinner, but his mistress is likely to take it personally. I have known a man who was prodded with a fork. Of course, having more than one mistress simultaneously leads to a condition sometimes called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” which some clinicians think is psychological, but which, I can assure you,  is real. I mention in this context the “one man, one mistress” rule, which I first heard about from a man I will call Ivan.

Ivan was an urbane middle-aged man, although slightly balding, who seemed to have a way with women, (excepting his wife, who went off on business trips frequently, even though she was not in business.) I don’t remember much now about the particular affairs he had. He seemed to like all sorts of women, especially in bunches. When we first discussed these matters, I expressed my concern—the usual concerns a therapist might have. I pointed out the possible effects such betrayals might have on his spouse and on their children and on his own future—and on the kind of person he might become. And divorce is always more expensive than you think ahead of time. These conjectures were not enough to deter him. I didn’t really expect him to listen to me. No one ever listens to me. But there came a time when he told me he had, in fact, been thinking about what I had said and decided there was, indeed, the possibility of awful things happening. So, from then on, instead of dangling a number of women all at once, he would follow the “one man, one mistress” rule in order to minimize the risk. His own experience had shown him that in most ways having two women in his life was twice as troublesome as one, and having a third was four times as hard.

Most husbands are probably not inclined in the first place to have a mistress. But those that do usually come to the same conclusion that Ivan did. No matter what their biology seems to be telling them, it is best to have no more than one mistress at a time. Having more than two is out of the question—despite the historical precedents.

(c)   Fredric Neuman