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Commandments for the Unfaithful

A 'guide to infidelity' spells out some rules for carrying on affairs

July 01, 2002|MARNELL JAMESON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Walk into most any bookstore and you'll find scores of books on etiquette. Social etiquette. Wedding etiquette. Etiquette for kids. But the etiquette of having an affair?

"The reality is affairs are wrong and immoral, but if nearly half of all married people end up having an affair, shouldn't someone be out there telling them how to do it right?" asks Judith Brandt, who has written "The 50-Mile Rule: Your Guide to Infidelity and Extramarital Etiquette" (Ten Speed Press).

Certainly, one little dalliance gone wrong can ruin everything. (If the film "Unfaithful" doesn't convince you, watch Michael Douglas squirm in "Fatal Attraction.") But an affair done well, argues Brandt, can be "the spice of life."

Judicious journalism requires us to point out that adultery has been a no-no since Moses came down the mount with those rules carved in stone. But beyond the biblical imperatives and the fact that adultery is illegal in 27 states, extramarital affairs break hearts, wreck homes, cost a bundle (not just in hotels and restaurants, but later in legal fees and alimony), and leave you vulnerable to disease and blackmail. That said, we can responsibly move on.

"A successful affair is one that enhances your life without disturbing it," says Brandt, who works by day as a marketing executive for National Lampoon magazine and writes under a pseudonym to maintain her privacy. To help those inclined to stray to play it safe, or at least safer, Brandt's book, which given her magazine employment one might think is a parody, is quite serious. She posits her 20 rules for affairs, which she's gleaned from private confessions and personal experience. (While not currently "involved," Brandt--who's in her mid-40s, has no children, and lives in South Pasadena with her ex-husband, which shows you how complicated relationships can get--has been the other woman in affairs with married men.)

Chief among her rules: Lovers should live and work at least 50 miles apart, and preferably a state or two away. "People are so lazy," she says. "They go for proximity and don't think about what happens when you dump this person then have to see them at work every day. What happens when your former squeeze sees your wife at the company picnic? Let's not even mention ... sexual harassment."

Some of Brandt's other rules:

* Don't get caught. Phone bills, gift receipts, that extra key on the key ring, a sudden interest in fitness, better grooming, new positions in the bedroom--all are kisses of death.

* If you get caught, deny everything. "Admitting to an affair," notes Brandt, "almost always leads to misery. The spouse really doesn't want to believe it, and a confession only leads to hurt, rage and months--sometimes even a lifetime--of distrust."

* Practice safe sex on both sides; whatever you do, don't make a baby.

* Don't take affairs personally. In other words, don't delude yourself into thinking this will lead to something permanent. (Only 5% of affairs end in marriage, the book asserts, and those mostly end badly as well.)

* Compartmentalize your relationships. Keep the world of your affair completely separate from your married world. The only affair more foolish than the office romance is one with someone in the social circle you share with your spouse, Brandt says. So why risk so much for someone you hardly know? Chemicals.

New love is heady stuff. "Documented chemical changes take place in the brain during the beginning stages of a relationship," says Janis Spring, Yale University clinical psychologist and author of "After the Affair" (Harper Collins), one of the bestselling books on infidelity. "These changes are very powerful. Suddenly, this new person makes the sky seem like a different color."

The unfaithful partner hasn't thought through the consequences an affair will have on a partner or family, Spring says. "Responsible people get swept up in the overpowering chemistry of affairs and do very self-destructive things."

Hence Brandt's book, which she bills as both a warning and a guide. "I'm trying to give people some perspective. People tend to look at these relationships as some titanic new love, when the fact is every relationship has a cycle. At first, feelings are extremely intense, but they won't always be. I'm trying to help people make sense of that so they can put affairs in perspective and act appropriately."

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