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I consider myself a decent man, but for the past year I have been cheating on my wife about twice a month with prostitutes. We’ve been married for more than a decade and have three young children. Since the beginning of our relationship, my libido has exceeded hers and she frequently refused my overtures. Now we have sex about once a month, only when initiated by her, because I became so resentful about being rebuffed constantly. It’s mutually satisfying (she has an orgasm and is not the type to fake it) but bland. Over the years, to increase the likelihood that my wife would be in the mood, I cooked, did chores, and helped as much as possible with child care. She would frequently say she was too tired for sex, although she would not be too tired to stay up late reading or watching TV. We get along reasonably well, and our children are our chief priority, but we are emotionally disconnected. Out of despair and frustration, I saw an escort last year. The thrill of seeing prostitutes and the variation from my usual sex life made me feel better, and I think it’s more honorable than an affair, but it is the worst thing I’ve ever done. If my wife found out it would lead to the immediate dissolution of our marriage. We have talked about counseling, but she’s not very interested. If we divorced it would devastate my children and would deprive me of seeing them every day. My plan right now is to continue what I’m doing until the children are in high school and college, then get a divorce. Is there another way out of my dilemma?
—A Decent Adulterer
Young couples with mismatched libidos, please consider this testimony of how physical frustration can kill affection. What a terrible dynamic you two have always had, with your wife constantly swatting you away like a mosquito. But you went ahead and married someone who you knew wouldn’t meet your sexual needs. From her perspective she probably feels you’re pretty lucky. She initiates sex, and when you have it she’s among the minority of women who easily have an orgasm. Meanwhile, your wife does the domestic duties because they need to be done while you do them for barter. That is not a turn on. Try to understand that at the end of a day of attending to the emotional and bodily needs of three little people, for her the best release is a few blessed hours to herself. It’s good that you stopped begging for sex, but it’s bad that your withdrawal has led to the end of all intimate communication. You two are partners in a child-rearing enterprise, not partners in life and love. I agree a divorce would be a terrible for thing for your family. But as bad as your patterns are, I don’t think your marriage is hopeless. To change, you need to have some difficult conversations with your wife about your desire to reconnect. Sure, you want more in bed, but you also need affection and emotional intimacy. You must tell your wife that while your relationship has a placid exterior, you feel desperately lonely. Say you don’t want to plead with her about anything, but you would like her to join you in seeing a counselor to help you two restore your connection. If your wife won’t respond to a heartfelt attempt to make your marriage better, then she’s tacitly saying she doesn’t want to know what’s really going on with you. Only you can decide how to handle that dilemma. And while I am making the case for more honesty, I think you should keep quiet about your extracurricular activities, which are a symptom of your problem, not the cause. The sex may be exciting, all the more so for it being illicit, but think of the risks you run. You could be arrested or robbed, and even if you use protection, you could contract an STD. You repeatedly note what a decent man you are, but you’re just another tawdry encounter for the strangers you hire.
Dear Prudence: I Married a Peeping Tom?
I am in my late 70s and feel uncomfortable with the fact that my high-school class of about 400 students voted me "most likely to succeed." If success is defined by "wealth," then I am not successful. I was a professor at a small liberal arts college. My wife and I are leading a comfortable life in retirement, but we are by no means successful moneywise. Next year my high school class will hold its 60th reunion. I have been to only three reunions in the past, and those were a very long time ago. How do I overcome my feelings of inadequacy because I am not "successful"?
—Not in the 1 Percent
By the time of one’s 60th high school reunion most people would agree that success could be defined by simply being able to show up. Think about what you’re saying here: You have been haunted for six decades by a stupid photo caption in your high-school year book. I assume, professor, that over the years you have counseled many despondent young people. Surely you have told them that whatever crisis they are experiencing (a bad grade, rejection from a graduate program), in time they won’t even remember this small failure, let alone be gripped by it. But you were lying because in the back of your head you were thinking, “But I’m supposed to be ‘the most likely to succeed,’ and they’re all going to laugh at me at the next high-school reunion!” You had a long, satisfying career as a teacher. You didn’t invest your pension with Bernie Madoff or take out a home equity loan that has ruined you. You and your wife are still game and enjoying life. That sounds pretty successful. Do you really think anyone else who manages to make it to the bash is going to pounce and say, “I guess when it came to you, the yearbook people really blew their prediction”? However, if you went to high school with Warren Buffett, think of the yearbook as a cosmic joke.
My wife died when my youngest son was 10. He’s now 30. I visit him three to four times a year, and he comes to see me about as often. We have a good relationship, except he is sometimes less than responsive to my weekly calls. In planning my most recent visit, I checked to make sure it was convenient before I made reservations. The evening that I was to fly out, we talked. After hanging up, I got a misdirected email meant for his girlfriend stating: "F--k , my dad arrives tomorrow morning. Arg. Arg. I am sorry baby." I was stunned and upset. I sent the email back with a reply that I had canceled the trip. He left me a phone message saying the only problem was that I was arriving a day earlier than he had realized and that I should have called him when I got the email. We haven’t spoken since. Did I overreact, and if so, what should I have done? But more importantly, what should I do next?
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