Though a seeming condemnation of the mistress, Pamela Haag’s “Chicken Soup for the Mistress’ Soul” is a balanced examination of the role and plight of the mistress. As the title suggests, she offers medicine and comfort to the much maligned mistress, noting her significance in unsuspected ways: they are the scaffolding of important contributors to culture and society such as Martin Luther King, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Franz Liszt, as well as they are marriage savers for the everyday people.
The article is a few years old but is an entertaining and informative read with a creative approach. She begins: “Dear Mistress or Lover: Let’s face it. No one’s making chicken soup for your cheating soul.” She reproaches the addressed mistress or lover in the voice of the normative current (and historically recent) attitude that mistresses are immoral and unethical, thieves and masochists. However, aside from attaching them to historical greats such as those mentioned above, she also makes a simple but significant (and counterintuitive) assertion that lovers may also be marriage savers. Due to the clandestine nature of the relationship, this fact is rarely acknowledged, though certainly true, at least anecdotally to my experience and others who have confessed their stories.
I particularly like Haag’s explanation of the marriage saving function here:
Sometimes you help an ambivalent spouse escape marriage without escaping.
You help them run away without running away from the marriage entirely. You
help them manage loyalty to a marriage or to their children and parenthood
without wrecking the marriage wholesale on a serial monogamist’s dream of
romantic fulfillment elsewhere, or growing bitter on the brine of their
resentment at being “trapped” in an unfulfilling life.
In these cases, you’re not the home wrecker so much as the home’s flying
buttress: You hold it together through an ingenious force of design and
gravity, from the outside.
You create sustaining oases of pleasure and happiness in a duty-driven
marriage, or life.
The children dreamed about, planned for, often if not always, add overwhelmingly unaccountable stress that tests the marriages of the sagest most circumspect couples in their measured choice of marital partners, let alone those great numbers who lurch into the institution for good, bad or indifferent reasons in less than optimal circumstances, financially, emotionally or situationally. Many a good man or woman, untold numbers, have patched their marriages through those betwixing times with the love and support of an-other, one detached from the toils of the quotidien and strains of the impossible: lover, mother, father, provider, worker, son, daughter and friend, all at once. That resonates true. Neither a hero(ine) or villain, the mistress (and mister) supply the glue sometimes. Leave her be.