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Single Women and Married Lovers : San Diego Group Meets Weekly in Effort to Ease 'Pain'

January 12, 1986|GARY LIBMAN

SAN DIEGO — Lisa, 49, who manages a law office, demands monthly payments from her married lover "to make up for the time that he can't be with me." She vows to end the relationship this year if his marriage continues.

Cynthia, 44, a local leader in investment services, accuses her married lover of sitting on the fence about his marriage and angrily gives him tweezers to pull out the splinters. When he responds too slowly to suit her, she leaves him.

Toni, 46, a successful businesswoman, sees her longtime lover only once every five weeks because he lives in another town. She accepts his refusal to leave his wife. "I can't (make him) change his life," she says. "Only he can change it."

Betty, 28, starting her career, deeply loves the married man she recently became involved with, who is 13 years older. She plans to avoid pitfalls by listening to the older women.

Lisa, Cynthia, Toni and Betty, who asked that their real names be withheld, are among eight single women who meet weekly to discuss their experiences with married lovers. Experts say their support group may be the first of its kind in the nation.

Psychologist JoAnn Bitner, who organized the group last September, acknowledges that she has had an affair with a married man.

Bitner, 50, an elder in the Presbyterian church, said she became involved with an old college friend while looking for solace at the end of her 15-year marriage.

A licensed marriage and family counselor and a Ph.D. in psychology from United States International University, Bitner said she reveals her personal situation to "establish my credibility as a sane human being who is responsible, and who has the ability to be non-judgmental."

Bitner said that when she announced plans for the group in a local newspaper, she received 70

phone calls, almost all of them positive. Seven of the calls, she said, came from single men having affairs with married women. She may start a separate group for them.

The psychologist says the response is not surprising. San Diego State sociologist Thomas Gillette says various studies, starting with Dr. Alfred Kinsey, show that among single women 35 to 65, 15% to 20% are involved with married men.

These women, she said, need a place to talk without being judged and to get support for decisions to continue or leave their relationships.

"These are people who are in pain," she said. " . . . They're not a happy group of women gleefully destroying people's marriages."

Interviewed in her Hillcrest office recently, Bitner said the "other woman" may serve an important social purpose.

"(She) often holds the marriage together," Bitner said. " . . . If the man didn't have an emotionally caring person on the outside, he would have to leave the marriage because he couldn't stand the loneliness or the problems."

Bitner said only 25% of the men involved with single women leave their wives for their girlfriends.

"They often do not marry the girlfriends," she said.

" . . . She gets assigned the guilt for having broken up their marriage so he can't like her and then it frees him to marry someone else."

Little research has been done on the taboo relationships between single women and married men, but available data shows a dramatic unavailability of single men for women 35 to 65, the psychologist said.

"I'm sure most women would be much less eager to stay so long in the relationships if they had somewhere else to go," she said.

Bitner said a 1985 study by Ohio State sociologist Laurel Richardson argues that the undersupply of available males results from three factors: the higher mortality rate among men, their greater tendency to remarry after divorce and their preference for younger women.

"In 1985," Richardson wrote, "for every 10 women between 40 and 49 years of age with a college education, there are only three (available) single men who are older and better educated."

Richardson, who extensively interviewed 55 women who had or were having long-term relationships with married men, said the females seldom sought married partners. The relationships developed accidentally and were tender and loving in the initial secret years.

Women busy seeking identity or professional growth often preferred involvement with a married man to a more time-consuming relationship with a single one, she said.

They usually became so emotionally involved, however, that they lost control over the relationships which "end up benefiting the man more than the woman."

Keeping control of their lives is a common theme among the women who hold animated discussions in Bitner's group from 6 to 8 p.m. each Thursday. Paying $50 a month, they meet in a converted medical center just west of Balboa Park.

The group members who were interviewed showed little remorse about hurting their lover's wives.

" . . . Everybody I know kind of comes down to . . . that the marriage is in trouble before you came along, and they're lacking the intimacy or it wouldn't have happened," Bitner said.

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