I came across this line (and title of this post) in Sean Geist’s latest book, Twin Betrayals, that really encapsulates one of the themes I’ve wanted to write in a book of my own, but can’t wrangle a way to do it: “A treat for herself.” I’m not going to spoil the book (since you should read it!), but I’ll say that Sean captures this weird paradox that sometimes crops up in the wife-watching genre. We want both the wife to be acting naughty with the husband knowing about it (mutual, non-deceptive, healthy), but also, doing it for herself, not for the husband. Light vs. dark. Sharing vs. cheating.
Prepare for a peek behind the curtain and into the wild space of my mind. It’s a little chaotic back here, and I haven’t had a chance to straighten things up in a while, so be prepared.
I’d like to write a book in which the wife gets caught up in another man for herself, not because she’s fulfilling her husband’s fantasy. In fact, maybe she’s not even nudged in that direction by her husband’s fantasy. They never have The Talk. They never do some kind of accidental roleplay at a bar, where he arrives late, sees her being hit on by another man, and the two then talk about it after and confess their mutual excitement (don’t get me wrong, I love that scenario). This is more of a Ben Boswell/Annual Leave scenario. It’s a treat for herself.
Naturally, this is a story that should be written from the wife’s perspective, right? (I can practically see Kirsten McCurran nodding.) It’s a cheating wife story, a lapse in judgment story, a one-off fling story. And all of that is hot. But it’s not the angle I want to approach it at.
What I’m interested in is the story from the husband’s perspective. A story about a guy with a secret wife-watching fantasy who stumbles upon the beginnings of his wife’s affair, and somehow, for some reason, doesn’t confront her about it. Because it’s hotter that she’s doing it for herself. It’s a more cuckold-slanted book (in that it’s literally about a cuckold) than what I normally write, but in my head, I don’t see the husband as weak or wimpy. His wife isn’t a ball-buster. She isn’t nasty to him. She still loves him, and he knows it, but at the same time, she can’t resist this other temptation.
Thing is, how does that end well? The romantic in me wants it to. The reader in me would want it to. The realist in me struggles with it. The whole book could be a tease, and in the end, ultimately, just before she crosses the final line, they open up to one another and they talk. But that blunts the impact of it. It could all be a misunderstanding—it was never her having the affair, but someone who looked like her. But that’s just deceptive, and would invalidate the rest of the book, IMO.
This one’s all kinds of shades of gray, right? Neither husband nor wife is inherently good or bad. Neither is likeable or unlikeable. They’re human. They make mistakes—big mistakes. I don’t expect most readers to fall in love with her, or come away wishing she was married to them. She’s not Danielle or Katie or even an Erin. But she’s also not a cruel person, as often these wives are in true cuckold books—wives who are going to sleep with who they want to sleep with, and who is the husband to tell them otherwise? I’d like to hit a more subtle note, one where the wife struggles, knows it’s wrong, does it anyway, feels awful about it, but is also energized. And somehow, the two of them make it in the end? Argh. It’s complicated.
So I’m left with the struggle. It’s like a riddle I just can’t solve, but keep trying to every few books I write. Maybe one day, I’ll solve it.
Or maybe someone else will!