Secrets and lies: the truth about conjugal discretion

I was unfaithful to my husband with an astrologer last winter. I made the appointment with the famous man to find out if I’d ever crack my writer’s block. I believe the secrets of the universe are everywhere. Why wouldn’t the planets be holding a few?

“You don’t seem married,” the astrologer said after I’d made a few introductory comments: full disclosure of my husband’s Virgo-ish view of both astrology and credit card debt, along with the irony that I was spending $150 to find out if I had a hope in hell of paying my AmEx bill before I was forced to fess up and create a crisis in my marriage – at which point I definitely wouldn’t be able to write, because I could be living on the street. I threw in some stuff about the money issues in my husband’s first marriage as well as a few gory details about the affair he’d had that brought his former life crashing down.

The astrologist’s non sequitur of an observation shut me up. And not in a good way. Was not seeming married a compliment? An insult? Something else? I began to feel unmoored.

“You seem up for anything,” he continued. “Like you’re ready to give up your phone number to whoever asks.”

Okay. It was an insult. I knew because my cheeks burned. And it’s true! I am up for anything! On the other hand, no one has proposed much of anything. What a perfectly Libran predicament.

“If you’re not writing by May, I’d begin to worry,” the astrologer concluded.

I tore off a check and walked out. Then I got mad. What was it about me that said “not married”? What does “married” look like? For that matter, what does “up for anything” look like? That astrologer pulled me back down to earth. (He also forgot to give me my chart.) I hated that I’d offered him even innocuous details about my marriage. How dare he? It

got me thinking about marriage and privacy. When is it okay to talk about your marriage, when isn’t it, and who decides? Is privacy a trust issue, a loyalty issue, or more about context and intention – invasion of marital privacy versus lunch with your best friend?

I’m not the kind of woman who blabs marital intimacies to a stranger on a plane out of some deranged need for attention, coupled with a moronic ignorance of where I leave off and another person begins. I’m hyperaware of boundaries, no doubt because I had a childhood in which some crucial ones were crossed. I know my own fault lines. They lead me to worry that at any moment I could turn into the devil in my marriage. Philosophy professor Robert Solomon, in his book About Love, says one characteristic of a good marriage is the belief that your partner is a better person than you are. By Solomon’s standard, my marriage qualifies. Except my husband really is a better person than I am. He’s modest, loyal, slow to judge, forgiving, and honest. He doesn’t have to think about boundaries, he just gets them, in his bones. I think of myself as a good-enough person. So let’s just say I’m better acquainted with the dark side of my husband’s exemplary qualities.

I’m promiscuous, for one thing. Not sexually. At least not to date. When my husband was out of work for a time, spending his days much like I spend mine – i. e., at home engaged in what looks an awful lot like vague, unproductive activity – I had to stifle a growing impatience. Get a job, already! I found myself thinking. What if I want to have an affair? That’s what I mean. I’ve been married for 16 years, but I’m ambivalent about the institution.

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Secrets and lies: the truth about conjugal discretion