You can't always blame the mistress

Katie Byrne

Did you know that in seven states in the US, scorned husbands and wives can sue their estranged partner's bit on the side for what is known as "alienation of affection"? Needless to say, it is generally women who file for it . . . hell hath no fury, and all that.

A North Carolina woman, Cynthia Shackelford, recently used the archaic law to sue her husband's mistress. A jury ordered Anne Lundquist to pay $9m (i7m) in damages for breaking up the Shackelfords' 33-year marriage.

"She set her sights on him . . . she knew he was married," Shackelford said of Lundquist. "You don't go after married men and break up families."

Alas, another case of the mistress being vilified unfairly. Once again, the man is painted as the hapless victim who was just walking around, minding his own business, and the mistress as the evil, beguiling seductress.

The ridiculous law objectifies people and commercialises relationships. It suggests that love, where marriage is concerned, equals ownership. The idea that failed relationships deserve compensation is a fundamental wrong. Love is free -- you can't charge when it fizzles out. The support of children aside, nobody should receive any sort of financial compensation when their relationship deteriorates.

Of course, Shackelford isn't looking for compensation; she's looking for retribution.

Shackelford's statement suggests her marriage would have been rosy if Lundquist hadn't come along, the view of many scorned women.

It should be noted that her husband claims he had "numerous affairs going back to the first two years" of his marriage and the couple had "significant problems in their marriage for years, including three rounds of marital counselling that failed".

Mistresses don't break up marriages. They tend to come along when the cracks have already appeared. Suing the other woman is like blaming the barman for serving the alcoholic.

In most cases, men who have affairs are in moribund marriages. It is nature's unfair way that men tend to leave their wives for younger women, and often at the time of her menopause.

It is rare that a man in a loving relationship will fall into the arms of a conniving wench hellbent on destroying a happy family. That is the stuff of chick-lit novels and "real life stories" in women's magazines in which crosswords feature heavily.

Mostly, people embark on extramarital affairs when they fall in love . . . under the worst possible circumstances. The spider and the fly it is not, though many estranged wives would prefer to see it that way. Suing the mistress is another sorry example of the straitjacketing of relationships. You can't put a time span on love, although most foolishly assume it will last forever.

You can't be assured that the person you marry is the only person you'll ever love again. Unfortunately, or fortunately -- whatever way you look at it -- life doesn't work like that.

Extramarital affairs prove how very rare real love is: Those who are truly, deeply, spiritually in love want their partner to find happiness, whether it's with or without them.