New York magazine's cover story this week promises us a salacious peek inside "The Secret Lives of Married Men." Oooh, ladies, be afraid: This story will rip the veil off your suburban naiveté! It will expose the monster snoring beside you on the Serta! Or, not.
What the story actually offers is a salacious peek inside the lives of the author, Philip Weiss, and a few dozen of his married male friends. It's 11 bleak pages of sexless marriages and Internet porn addictions and sneaking into massage parlors and hitting on waitresses and a lot of macho meandering regarding the impossibility of monogamy even though these men love their wives. (In one cringe-inducing moment, Weiss declares his dependence on his partner by claiming that, among other things, she "manages his social calendar.")
That's not to say that the story isn't an absorbing read. Or that it doesn't have fascinating things to say about the human sex drive, our lingering American moralism and whether men really are genetically programmed to seek more mates. "Women are going to get bored, just like men, but I don't they think have this driving constant need," said one science writer. But another interview subect just doesn't buy that argument. "It's not because men have more desire or are genetically programmed. It's because the social and economic ramifications of [having an affair] are so much more severe for women … Women do these things, too, but they do them completely in secret."
They are less likely, for instance, to write stories in New York magazine about the persistence of their throbbing boner. But the numbers do indicate that more men cheat on their spouses. (An accompanying poll, based on interviews with 400 New Yorkers, claims that 12 percent of women have had affairs compared with 28 percent of men. The study also claims that men have, on average, 35 sexual partners over their lifetime compared with six for women, and all I can say about that statistic is that someone is lying.)
So with these kinds of numbers, Weiss takes time to explore the topic of open marriage and the question of why we don't have a more liberal view when it comes to affairs. As Susan Squire, author of the upcoming book "I Don't," says, "Why does society consider it more moral to break up a marriage, go through a divorce, disrupt your children's lives maybe forever, just to be able to fuck someone with whom the fucking is going to get just as boring as it was with the first person before long?"
Did I mention the story is kind of bleak? And though I'm not married, I don't think it speaks to many of my married male friends, who don't seem nearly as tortured by ennui and the hankering for a few good prostitutes. Maybe they're hiding it inside. Look, monogamy is hard; if it weren't, it wouldn't be worth a damn. But a lot of my married friends seem pretty happy. And last time I watched "The Ice Storm," it was all the wife swapping and key parties that seemed pretty damn pathetic.