Guest Post: Revisiting Shame and the Mistress

A regular contributor of comments to this blog, MPM, shared with me the rumination below in context of an ongoing discussion about the historical and modern day role and conceptualization of the mistress. It bears reproduction here in its entirety for another perspective and invitation for response.

Ruminations on “King Charles II of England and His Mistresses
Everyone – and I mean everyone, including me – should have a mistress or be one. You can tell a mistress things that you can’t tell your so called life partner and vice-versa. For some it provides emotional stability. For others perhaps an emotional release. It’s obvious that the need for mistresses (and ‘misters’) has endured throughout human time, perhaps as long as the oldest profession. That is not to equate the two, but to state that the need for one or the other seems to be intrinsic. Perhaps even those who do not participate in such activity at least have the thought of taking on one or the other, if only in passing sometimes. The human mind is probably too complicated for some to burden a single person with all that it contains. Perhaps engaging with one or the other relieves a partner of a burden too heavy to endure.
But then again, perhaps I am wrong.

Earlier I posted this comment to the blogger’s article, “King Charles II of England and His Mistresses”. That the comment is full of “perhaps-es” is a clear indication of my own self-doubt regarding the certainty – no, the validity – of what I was stating. After rereading my reply I felt compelled to expand upon it in an attempt to answer, for myself, the questions I openly asked.
So that the reader may better understand the questions I raised in my initial reply I will share with you my current situation.
I am currently a “mister” to a married woman who is herself a mistress to a married woman. I have met her husband and we appear to get along fine. I only use the word ‘appear’ because I am ‘fine’ with it, but obviously I cannot vouch for nor ascertain his true hidden feelings. Indeed, no one else can be aware of the feelings all of us have decided to keep secret. The circumstances of their marriage allow each to have this type of open relationship. I will not divulge why this is so to protect their privacy, although admittedly this certainly opens the door for one to peer into. Why I chose this particular woman knowing about the circumstances she was in shall also remain private except to say that we genuinely are compatible. Interestingly, each of us has been involved in non-monogamous relationships in our pasts and are so now. When I asked her how she felt about the wife in those circumstances she provided different answers for each situation. Some were because the wife no longer desired to have sexual relations with her spouse. Others were for more personal reasons. However, the answer to one of those situations surprised me a bit. Although the initial intent of involving herself in this relationship was not to do so, she stated that she was certain that doing so saved his marriage. He is in fact still married to his wife yet maintains a fond and friendly bond with his one-time tryst mate. I have not been as fortunate. Each of my circumstances has ended with a bang or a whimper and I have “lost” all – partners and mistresses – I have been involved with except one. I’ll conclude this backstory by stating (admitting?) that, going back some 40 odd years to junior high school days, I have never had a completely monogamous relationship. In some it took me longer to stray than others. But the constant has been that I always have strayed.
In my original comment in reply to the article I declared that, “everyone … should have a mistress or be one”, and I gave my reasons why I believe this. But upon reflection I decided to take a step back to observe the issue with more focus from a distance. I realized I was only speaking for my narcissistic self. My grandparents had been married for over 67 years and neither of them ever strayed. Ironically, I always set my sights on finding someone with whom I could strive to match their record of monogamous longevity. Why then have I never been able to commit to a single partner? Why does anyone allow themselves to play this way or even stray but once? Is it really an intrinsic need as I suggested in my reply or is it more than that? Perhaps (there’s that word again) the “intrinsic need” idea is a vain and selfish rationalization proffered to attempt to assuage feelings of guilt and shame (see this blogger’s article “Shame, Shame on You–and Me” for more on this topic) for branching outside of society’s accepted standards. After all, if the hidden relationship is discovered there are always feelings of hurt, anguish, and betrayal felt by the one who has been deceived, and we are the reason, and suffer the burden of destroying or altering the course of another’s life, as well as our own.
But then I took a further step back and was faced with examining the reality that some of the world’s best known and most followed religions now have, or once had, traditions of allowing plural marriages. Although it was never an original part of Western culture, Islam is the most obvious example as polygamy is still practiced today. And even though it has been outlawed (and to be fair discredited by), the Mormon Church also preached and encouraged polygamy. And is it more than simply interesting to note that both Islam and Mormon allowed the male to have wives younger than what (our) society has deemed to be a legal age for such unions? Doesn’t our society and culture view these versions of polygamy to be child abuse and rape? I’ll save the reader the tedium of reviewing every instance of child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and simply go straight to the top – the Pope – and cite but a few that have been historically documented to not only have had mistresses but children they fathered with these concubines: Pope John X; Pope John XII; Pope Benedict IX; Pope Paul II. And Pope Leo X had a homosexual mistress relationship.
There is also the circumstances of hut dwelling tribal cultures still extant throughout remote areas of the world today. Their communities of miniscule populations probably, in some cases we can at least speculate, allow for not only polygamy but also a fair degree of incest simply to keep the tribe alive.
With these examples in mind it seems logical to question why our culture decries the mistress. It appears it could be argued that our culture is actually an aberration for doing so.
Then I began walking backwards to take a closer look at and examination of “our culture”. In keeping with the blogger’s theme of political figures with mistresses, most historians now accept that Thomas Jefferson, our third president, had as his mistress a slave he owned named Sally Hemings. This fact was established in 1998 with DNA evidence. It immediately discredited all the historians who had denied it for the previous 200 years. In modern times we now know that JFK had Marilyn Monroe as his mistress. We know that William Jefferson Clinton had Monica Lewinsky as his, and before that Jennifer Flowers. We also know that presidential aspirant John Edwards fathered a child out of wedlock.
Turning now to sports figures, no one can provide an accurate account of the number of athletes who have had or still have a mistress in every town their team visits, and let’s not even try to imagine the number of children born of these couplings.
At this point I felt I no longer had to seek or cite examples of the mistress in culture, politics, religion, or in any aspect of man’s contrivance. It is indisputably obvious that mistresses have been around “forever” and will continue to be a part of being human. Although my own grandparents demonstrate that there may not be an intrinsic need for everyone to have or be a mistress, history demonstrates that the opposite is equally true; which, I feel, at least partially validates my declaration that everyone should have or be a mistress.
What to do, then, with the guilt and shame?

One Reply to “Guest Post: Revisiting Shame and the Mistress”

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