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Faithful, happily ever after, right?

by Amy Klein

September 28, 2006 | 8:00 pm

It's 8 p.m., and it's about that time for me to change the topic of conversation.
 
"I know a dozen quality women but really very few men," says some guy named something, I don't catch it.
 
That's because I'm sitting on a couch at a house party with my girlfriend trying to catch up with her and enjoy my crudités when this guy comes over and somehow -- I don't know how it always comes back to this, like bad celery repeating on you -- the topic in question is the dating world.
 
"All the good guys I know are married -- or completely not marriage material," he says, scooting himself next to us on the couch.
 
He, ostensibly, is one of the good guys: taken. The gold band on his fourth finger waves in the air like a "sold" sticker slapped on a piece of real estate. If there's one thing that's more painful than listening to single people lament the lack of good men around, it's a married person commenting on the fact.
 
"Hey, did you ever read Bridget Jones?" I asked.
 
This fast-talking entertainment lawyer hadn't, of course, nor had he seen the movie, and so I enlightened him on the concept of Smug Marrieds, and how Bridget taught us that it's as unacceptable to ask a "Singleton" how her love life is as it is to ask a "Smug Married," about his sex life.
 
Which is exactly what I did. OK, not exactly. But I turned the conversation around to Mr. Lawyer's own marriage. Turns out he wasn't a Smug Married at all. He wasn't even happily married. Not the way it sounded to me.
 
"I'm happily married...compared to most people," he said, therein taking us into a terrain into which I am completely unfamiliar. How happy are married people? What happens after the "'Til Death Do Us Part?"
 
Not what Mr. Lawyer expected. His wife of 10 years was once his "best friend" and also a powerhouse attorney who said she always wanted to work. But after they had kids, she stopped working and now spends her days in the Valley carpooling, housekeeping, lunching and shopping (on an allowance from him). Now they have nothing to talk about, he says, but it's OK, because "she lets me do what I want."
 
What he wants is to stay out working -- or taking meetings -- until midnight, traveling around the world on various projects and throwing himself into his work, which he "loves." "What about real love?" I ask him. "What about companionship?"
 
This, he has, I find out from his raised eyebrows. His is a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," marriage, where as long as the bills are paid, the beds are made, everybody is happy. (By happy he must mean satisfied or some other definition of the word.)
 
"Look, it's better than my best friend," he says, telling me about a guy who seemed to be in love with his wife of a decade, but then announced one day he was leaving her for his mistress.
 
"Big mistake," Lawyer says.
 
Within two months the mistress dumped him, and he went back to his wife to work things out, "but things will never be the same."
 
I'm having so many problems on so many levels with this conversation that I'm not sure where to begin. As I'm mulling it over, my girlfriend returns, and she joins in.
 
"It's really hard to be with the same person for more than four years," she says. She cheated on her boyfriend of six years, even though she still loved him.
 
"Look, everyone does," she says. "Best if you just don't know."
 
Everyone cheats? Surely I've been living in a sheltered world. Where I come from infidelity is the rare exception to the rule; and yet, in the world I live now, the distinction seems to be between people who admit they cheat and people who don't. In the new movie, "The Last Kiss," infidelity is treated as something inevitable to be dealt with, like hair loss or chicken pox.
 
Perhaps now is the time to rail against society's expectations for matrimony. I'm comfortable doing this when it suits my purposes, i.e., when I don't want to be pressured into marriage or ostracized for singledom. But when it comes to society's expectations for monogamy, I'm on board. I believe in "the last kiss," that there will be one person I'll want to spend the rest of my life with, and he with me.
 
Am I an idiot? Am I bourgeoisie and conservative? Na?ve and romantic? Now that I'm older, I'm realistic enough to know that maybe at times it will be hard -- hard to keep the romance alive, hard to find time for love in the midst of kids and bills and work and community obligations, hard not to want to kill the person you're with at least, say, once a week -- but is it really impossible? Is adultery inevitable?
 
I've spent so much time looking for Mr. Right, but what does it matter if Mr. Right is going to be the guy flirting with some single girls at a house party while his wife waits at home thinking he's at a meeting?
 
I look at Mr. Lawyer and think, "Is this what I have to look forward to?" I also think, "Is your hand on my knee?!!"
 
Quickly, I take it off, excuse myself and leave the party, thankfully, this time, alone.
 
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