The truth behind men's lies
There are things men believe are best kept from their women -- that sneaky cigarette, internet porn, the gambling habit and, of course, the lover (female or male) But why are they so keen to betray the women they insist they love?James Delingpole goes in search of the truth
Wives, here is a fact you definitely don't want to know about your husband: he wants to shag your best friend. Not only does he want to shag your best friend, but also your second and third-best friends. (And fourth, fifth, sixth, etc.)
There's nothing personal about this. In fact, in a strange way, he means it as a compliment. You see, one of the many delightful things he has noticed about women is that they tend to associate with women who are on a roughly similar level of beauty and general hotness. So what he's sorta, kinda saying when he fancies your friends is how much he fancies you.
But he'd never try articulating any of this to you. It's simply one of those many things that Wives Just Don't Understand.
I do wish I hadn't written that paragraph. And I also wish I wasn't about to write the rest of this article either. You see, as a man and a husband myself, I believe there are certain secrets to which the Opposition -- ie, women/wives -- should never be privy.
Yet just because I had a phone call from a female commissioning editor (with the same name as that of a girl I once kissed when I was a teenager, though no relation, apparently), I've decided to sell out the brotherhood for a few pieces of silver.
Sorry, lads. My advice, if you want to get yourselves off the hook, is to look her in the eye and swear it's all lies. Or at least a grotesque distortion of the truth. Remember as you say it to really feel as though what you're saying is true. If you do that, she's much more likely to believe you because women just aren't as basic as men. They are often less interested in what you say than the way you say it. This is why, for example, women are so often smitten by utterly amoral cads who can tell them the beautiful lies they want to hear with total sincerity.
Having studied psychology and counselled numerous couples in failing marriages, neuro-linguistic programming expert Steve Wichett knows about all the naughty things husbands get up to. He also knows the fundamental reason why men lie to their wives: "It's a strategy to avoid pain and punishment."
Today it has an equally important role to play in keeping a marriage together. "Telling the whole truth to your wife is neither realistic nor desirable." Or as Mike, a manager, robustly puts it after 12 years of marriage: "You start out with this stupid, romantic notion of 'Because we're now in a relationship there's nothing we can't share'. Then you realise: 'That's bollocks!'"
And lest you think these are just typically male-chauvinist perspectives, here is sex expert Suzi Godson: "You don't need to share everything in marriage because there are some subjects on which men and women will simply never see eye to eye." She cites everything from expenditure to porn use to sexual fantasies. "Couples fare better when they keep their gender mystique."
The first thing husbands very necessarily keep schtum about is their nagging discomfort at having got married in the first place. It's not that they can't see the benefits of the union -- "Men need it because it gives them a partner with the emotional intelligence they know they lack," says Wichett -- only that they will always consider obedience and perpetual monogamy slightly unnatural states. "I don't know many men who feel truly comfortable with it," says Peter (38), an art dealer. "I think most men see their wives as authority figures that they have to rebel against. Sometimes I'll nip outside for a sneaky fag, not because I'm a smoker, but because of how much my wife hates it.
Many husbands see their relationships as a game of cat and mouse, of bluff and counterbluff, like a -- usually -- more amiable replay of the Cold War. "I'll encourage her to have her friends round for a proper girls' evening, making out like I'm really worried to ensure she has a nice time," says Mike. "But it's not really that, obviously. What I really want is an extra night out with the boys for me. I think that secretly she knows that. She plays along with my lie to please me, which suits me fine."
Not one man I spoke to believed for one second that the best way to deal with your wife was openly, straightforwardly and honestly at all times. "Jesus, how could you?" says Ben (34), a gym instructor.
"What would be the point? They'd only get the wrong end of the stick, as they usually do. And I don't mean that in a nasty way; I mean it in a 'This is what women are like' way. They think differently from how we do. They're from another planet. Giving it to them straight would be an act of wanton cruelty, to both parties."
The area where dishonesty is uniformly considered the best policy is sex -- everything from infidelity to porn to who you do and don't fancy -- which we'll come to in a minute. But it also crops up in less contentious areas such as childcare, as novelist Sam Holden admits.
"I wonder whether my wife has ever noticed that the end of my working day coincides precisely with the moment when the kids have been bathed and are ready for bed, and all daddy has to do is read them a story. Deep down, my wife probably knows I find childcare a bore, and that she does a way better job of it than me. But if we ever tried talking about this openly, I'm sure there'd be a terrible row. So I don't see anything wrong with my dissembling. It's an act of charity."
"I think every dad knows this: work is your friend," says Simon (49). "It's about the only weapon men have got left in these days where husbands and wives are supposed to share all the chores equally. Because of my job I have to work pretty hard. But not nearly as hard as my wife thinks I work. Weekends especially. And it's not that I don't love my kids; I adore them more than anything. It's just that I like them to see me at my best, when I'm doing fun stuff with them, rather than worn down with tedious ferrying duties: recorder concerts, ballet classes, that kind of thing."
Being the main breadwinner has other advantages, too, such as never having to disclose to your wife how much of your earnings you are blowing on your vices. "Sports betting is my fatal addiction," says Simon. "You can lose so much so quickly. This is the sort of detail you don't trouble your wife with."
Kevin (39), a teacher, has managed to run up a large credit card bill that he has resolutely kept secret from his wife. "Amazon 1-Click ordering has been my vice. I'm not sure when I'm going to finally clear my debts but, until then, what the wife doesn't know isn't going to hurt her, is it?"
For Holden, where expenditure is concerned, the "rule of thirds" applies. "Suppose you've blown €600 on a flat-screen TV. When she asks you how much, you tell her €400. It's exactly what they do with us when we ask them how much their new coat cost, so it seems only fair."
According to Wichett, after sex, money is men's biggest area of secrecy in marriage. "So much of their self-esteem is bound up in their financial status that it's more than they can bear to show any weakness," he says. He has known of cases where men have carried on pretending to go off to work for months on end rather than admitting to their wives that they've been sacked.
And with good reason, too, says Liam (51), an entrepreneur. "When wives get together, one of the main things they discuss is the uselessness of their husbands. It's fine when you're bringing home the bacon, but when you're not, woe betide you. You can't really blame them. It's the wives who do all the real work in the marriage; all the thinking, all the forward planning. If you can't give them the lifestyle they want in return, you pay the penalty."
Now, finally, sex, which occupied by far the most important part in all the conversations I had -- largely because, as one husband put it: "It's what we think about more than anything else. The problem is that when you try telling women this, they'll come back with this post-feminist line about how they think about sex just as much as you do. But they don't. Like camels with water, they can go for a long time without it. Men, on the other hand... "
This husband is now on his third marriage. The first two, he admits, were characterised by an outrageous number of affairs. "I was an appalling human being in a perpetual state of infidelity. In fact, it totally defined my life. If it wore knickers, I'd jump on it."
Establishing percentages is difficult because men are very discreet about their affairs. Never once has any friend of mine ever told me about an unfaithful relationship while he's having it, less perhaps because of discretion -- as John Updike puts it, "Affairs beg to be disclosed" -- than shame.
As one man says of the affair that ended his marriage: "I never talked about it, and if any other man talked about his, I'd really disrespect him."
Journalist and author Rod Liddle, himself a reformed roué, says: "I reckon 90pc of married men -- if they could be guaranteed to get away with it -- would have affairs." And as far as desire is concerned, he is probably right. "God, I'd just love to have some completely meaningless sex with some gorgeous girl I'd met on a business trip," admits Simon. "But not at the expense of my marriage."
"It is not natural for a man to be monogamous," says Wichett, who estimates that over a given period, between 35pc and 40pc of husbands will have affairs (though other surveys put the figure as high as 60pc). "Monogamy is an arrangement he makes with himself, either through reasons of fear or lack of opportunity."
Holden tells the story of a group of his thirtysomething married friends who went off on a rugby tour. He was mildly appalled by how many of them had flings. "Out of the team, four ended up bringing lapdancers or hookers back to their hotels. The general view was, 'If it happens abroad, it hasn't happened at all'."
The vice to which married men much more readily confess -- though only to other men -- is internet porn. "It's one of the greatest inventions of the modern age," confesses one husband. "Remember when we were teenagers, and all we had was a tatty old copy of Playboy with half the pages stuck together? The internet's done away with all that. All the porn you want, in every possible variety you want. For free."
"What the internet does is help us to sublimate our desires in a socially acceptable way," says Kevin, who thinks his wife probably is aware of his internet porn use, but would prefer to pretend it didn't happen.
According to Godson, internet porn definitely belongs to the category of things it's best not to mention to your partner. "There are some things you just don't do. Like pooing in front of one another."
Unlike their mostly disapproving partners, men generally view their internet porn habits as a fun, healthy, even laudable vice which keeps them out of worse mischief. And if you're a man, the consensus among my survey group runs, potential worse mischief is everywhere you look.
"I was with one of my clients the other day," says Ben, who isn't really a gym instructor, but I don't want to tell you his real job in case his wife of two years recognises him. "Blonde, rich, late 20s, totally up for it. We got talking about sex and she asked me how I'd respond, being a married man, if we were alone and naked. And I said, 'Obviously, I'd have to shag you'. I mean, any man would, wouldn't he? We're terrible like that.
"Really, the only defence you've got is not to put yourself in any situation where something like that could happen -- like meeting her after work for just the one drink, say. Once you're there, you're finished, aren't you?"
That's the problem with us men. No matter how old or ugly we are, no matter how secure and happy we are in our relationships, there'll always be a small part of us that yearns to answer our atavistic urge to spread our gene pool as widely as we possibly can. This is why I wasn't surprised by any of the above confessions from various male friends and acquaintances.
Well, not that unsurprised: the one about the bridegroom who spent the morning of his wedding in a massage parlour raised an eyebrow. As did the one about the "perfect husband", much cooed over by all the wives in his neighbourhood as the mate they'd most like to have, who, unbeknown to his doting wife, visits a prostitute at least three times a week. But even the extreme cases conform pretty well to what I understand of the male species.
Here's what did surprise me, though: my conversation with Barry, a man who had an eight-year relationship with his wife and two children by her before announcing he couldn't take it any more: he was gay and always had been. "I was a late developer," Barry told me.
"I didn't have sex with a man until I was 34. At the time, my wife was pregnant with our first child. Before that I'd had girlfriends and enjoyed the sex, though not as much as I did with men."
The surprising bit -- and Barry should know -- was just how many married men out there are secretly gay. "And I don't mean bisexual. Hardly any men are. They're just gay men in denial or living a lie," he says. "It happened more times than you'd ever imagine. I'd go out to parties, bars and clubs with my wife, and after a few drinks another of the married men would ask if I was gay. Things used to happen from there."
I tell Barry that my gaydar is pretty good. Surely I'd guess if any of my married friends were living a double life. "Absolutely not," he insists. "Some of those men were straight as straight can be. They reckon that between one in eight and one in 15 men is gay. My experiences with married men bear that out."
I deliberately saved the Barry story until last, by the way, first because it is the weirdest and most interesting, but second because I think it offers a perfect cancelling-out opportunity for all the terrible confessions in this piece that have preceded it.
"Is this really what you bastards are like?" wives across the land will be asking their husbands, as mine, I fear, will be asking me if I'm stupid enough to let her anywhere near this article. And I'll be able to look my wife lovingly and sincerely in the eye, as you'll be able to look lovingly and sincerely at yours, and say: "Darling, I can promise you one thing: I'm not two-timing you with another man."
Well, it will work for seven out of eight of you, at any rate.