WASHINGTON — Six years go, Audrey Chapman, a therapist specializing in male-female relationships, asked a man she had been dating if she could park a suitcase in his apartment.
"He started hedging, giving me all these strange stories," she remembers. Finally he said, 'Look, I've had a friend here all weekend. It would just not be comfortable for you to do that, and I'm sorry.' "
It wasn't her first encounter with man-sharing, but she was "shocked . . . frustrated and then angered. I should have known. But in those days I wasn't picking up on a lot of man-speak."
Now Chapman has a rule to drop a relationship with "anyone who starts out lying to you directly or indirectly."
Years of listening to men and women discuss the hazards and advantages of non-exclusive relationships prompted Chapman to put her guidelines into a new book, "Mansharing: Dilemma or Choice?" For the past few months, Chapman has been calling for more openness about what used to be looked on as plain infidelity and hearing more and more women say man-sharing--both voluntary and involuntary--is a routine part of their lives.
"Unfortunately, I have been misunderstood. Many people believe I am suggesting people should share," said Chapman during a break from the sexual front lines of the "Donahue" show and other forums. "In fact, I am telling women that if they don't recognize the fact that they are sharing, they simply continue to set themselves up in helpless, powerless situations with men. My sole purpose for writing about man-sharing is to empower women to make effective decisions."
Single Women Prefer
Chapman discovered through her work at the Howard University Counseling Service, her bi-monthly radio show and her coping workshops across the country that some single women prefer having multiple lovers, and others are committed to one man but want answers on how to deal with his other alliances.
"Most women define man-sharing as a relationship where they are being monogamous and where the man has a harem of women in the background," Chapman said. "The newer notion is the single woman with several men."
Women of the 1980s, she says, "are not only choosing several sexual partners" but see other men as well "to provide different aspects of friendship." Despite all the emphasis on sexuality in recent years, she says, "a lot of people are finding non-sexual relationships to be a pleasure because there is no stress there, no pressure to perform."
Though indiscretion and misunderstanding have marked couples forever, Chapman appears to have disturbed a rather curious sexual seismograph. "One woman said it was frightening for her to read the book because it reminded her of how vulnerable she would be," the author says. Others have termed her "gutsy" to open herself up for criticism, she says.
That criticism has ranged from accusations that she is publicly advocating polygamy to charges that she is speeding the disintegration of the American family.
Chapman, 40, who was divorced seven years ago after her husband disclosed his sharing habits on their 10th anniversary, doesn't look like a threat to family stability. She has a controlled, almost prim smile that gives her oval face the calmness of a portrait. In appearance as well as attitude, she looks very much the image of the career women described in her book, conservatively dressed in a designer navy suit with boxy shoulders and a silk print blouse.
So when she was called "the most dangerous woman in D.C," Chapman was amused.
A few months ago, she said, she was dancing at a Washington disco and heard a woman nearby tell her partner, "That's Audrey Chapman."
"The gentleman with her said, 'Oh, that woman, she is terrible! My girlfriend starting listening to her show. She started thinking about things that were going on. The next thing I knew she was aware of certain dynamics, beginning to question me, starting to be more assertive. Before I knew it we were having more conflicts. We ended up breaking up. I think she is the most dangerous woman in D.C.,' " Chapman recounts. "I said 'Hello,' and he said, 'I don't want to know you. I can't imagine anyone wanting to have anything to do with you.' And he left."
Other men, in not-so-fiery outpourings, have told her man-sharing is an individual interpretation. "Many of the men who were married did not believe they were really having affairs. If the affair went on beyond three months, then they would consider it serious if they also invested by taking her out. The single man defines sharing as an open relationship where the woman knows he sees other people and he knows she sees other people."
Men, Chapman believes, are less likely to "confuse sexuality with emotions. They seem to be very comfortable in separating the two. Women start out saying they are very clear about (things) but somehow it gets emotional. We as women don't take responsibility for our own sexuality. We attach love to it because that makes it more responsible."