The Thinking Allowed Newsletter: I'll never forget what's her name?
Ed's note: Thinking Allowed is on today on Radio 4 at 4pm and repeated on Sunday. All the listening options are listed at the end of this post - PM.
Whenever I ran into my old friend Anthony, he was always racing between engagements. He was sorry, very sorry, but he simply had to rush or he'd be late for his next important date.
And it was dates which filled Anthony's life. Although he constantly professed to be in love with his long-suffering wife, Alison, he still somehow found the time and energy to conduct passionate liaisons with at least half-a-dozen other women.
Whenever I managed to make him stand still for more than a minute, I'd question him about his way of life. How could he still be in love with Alison and yet spend so much of his life conducting affairs with Charlotte, Maggie, Jane and Gloria?
"It's nothing to do with Alison", he'd protest. "Alison is a wonderful person. The love of my life. I'll never leave her. But she doesn't want me rutting around her like an old stag. She doesn't want all that messy passion. She wants grown-up, careful, considered love. It's a case of horses for courses."
But wasn't he frightened of being found out? Not at all. He told me that he prided himself on what he called his "well organised duplicity". He carefully chose women who lived in different part of London so as to reduce the chance of being seen in the street by the wrong person and kept two mobile phones so as to reduce the chances of his wife discovering revealing text messages.
He'd also taken out membership of his local gym so that he could readily arrive home in a state of exhaustion without arousing Alison's suspicion.
On one occasion, I managed to hold his attention for long enough to ask about his motives for such behaviour. Was it really all about sex? Did he have a more active libido than other men? Or could it be that the real excitement was not sexual at all? Could it be that what kept him running was the thrill of duplicity, the knowledge that not one of the women he spent time with knew anything whatsoever about his other lives?
After all, I told him, there's plenty of evidence that spies aren't primarily motivated by ideology: they simply enjoyed being in possession of secrets, being more in the know that those around them.
Although he nodded encouragingly at my remarks, I could sense that these were not nods of acknowledgement but nods of impatience. It was clear that I was already using up time that he'd intended to devote to Alison or Maggie or Charlotte or Susie.
I hadn't seen or heard from Anthony for nearly a month, when one night my mobile rang and the display announced his name.
"Laurie, my old mate", he said with breathy urgency. "Look, I'm sorry to bother you but I'm just outside Sloane Square station after having seen Marie, remember her? Red hair. Modern jazz. Drinks like a fish?"
"Oh yes", I said. "Good old Marie."
"And that's exactly why I'm ringing. I want to test your memory. You see, I know that I'm due in Highgate Village in about forty minutes to meet up with another woman but the problem is...."
"Yes", I said, helpfully, recognising the distress in his voice.
"The problem is, Laurie, that for some reason or other I simply can't remember her name. I know she wears a lot of Armani and is thinking of writing a novel and has a lesbian sister but somehow her actual name escapes me. Can you help? Highgate? Lesbian? Could it have been Ruth?"
"Yes", I said. "Highgate. Armani. Novelist. That was Ruth all right."
"Cheers mate", he said, ringing off.
I've not heard from him since although I do allow myself the hope that my little piece of duplicity - "Why are you calling me Ruth? That's not my name" might do something to inhibit Anthony's compulsive philandering and send him home more quickly than usual to his loving wife.
Sometimes people like Anthony fulfil a vital function for other married men. They allow them to feel morally righteous.
Men, love, and the reality of cheating. That will be our topic today when I meet the author of a new book devoted to analysing the problem of male monogamy.
That's at four o'clock today or after the midnight news on Sunday or on our podcast.
Also today. Citizens without frontiers with Engin Isin.
Laurie Taylor presents Thinking Allowed
- Thinking Allowed is repeated on Sunday shortly after midnight
- Names used in this article may have been changed.
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