Dodging The Bullock Bullet: Why Do Women Marry Philanderers?

Philander: Readily or frequently enter into casual sexual relationships with women (Oxford College Dictionary, 2007). Philanderer, informal definition:  Womanizer.

What Were They Thinking? Sandra Bullock and Norris Church Mailer, sixth wife of  Norman Mailer, and author of the newly published Ticket To The Circus reviewed in Sunday’s New York Times both married men with known histories of “philandering”. In the April 12th issue of People Magazine “several sources tell People that James (Bullock’s husband)  had a reputation as a womanizer since his earlier marriages”. And as mentioned in an NPR article Ms Mailer humbling admits that upon discovering that her husband had succumbed to his old habit of cheating “I know people think I’m totally stupid. I mean, I was wife number six, and he had all these girlfriends and was famous for being a philanderer……But when I said to him, ‘Why didn’t I know?’ He said, ‘It’s not hard to fool somebody who loves you and trusts you’ — which is a really kind of devastating thing to say, but it was absolutely true.”

Philandering Starts Young: Distinct from an affair occurring during a marriage which often is complex in origin, philandering behaviors seem to be unrelated to the current relationship and frequently predate it by many years.  Most often, the philandering spouse has a known history of dalliances prior to the wedding. Whether the behavior has been labeled philandering or cheating by the wife to be depends on her need for denial, rationalization or  other techniques to distract from the disturbing fact that her beloved comes with some pretty hefty baggage.

Why The Surprise? I broached the question “WHY? do women marry known philanderers” with a few astute female friends.  In attempting to find an answer, they all began to  question the motivation behind the choice of mates: what factors enable women to marry men with this affliction who then typically go on to “afflict” their wives with their condition. Here are some possibilities raised by these penetrating thinkers:

1. Competition:  Women who like/need competition with other women might be drawn to such a marriage to prove themselves winner against the odds. Even when the women with whom they are competing may fall short of their own talents and skills, as in the case of Sandra Bullock, keeping the man may seem like a prize, a proof of superiority, the Oscar of sorts, though the show is never over and the competitors never dry up.

2. Low Self Esteem: Poor self-worth skews a woman’s sense of her value so that she is willing to forgo loyalty and trust (may even feel undeserving of it)  just to be wanted for a time. Beggars can’t be choosy is more than a cliché and often explains choices and “compromises” in partners that otherwise make little sense.  A skilled seducer knows an easy target, and there is no one easier to seduce than an insecure female.

3. Fame and Fortune: Marriage to a rich, famous, powerful man can be a ticket to stardom by association and the royalties that ensue: fancy clothes and jewels; interesting entertainment; attention. Tiger Woods’ wife may be forgiven for blundering into her marriage to gain access to fame and fortune, but clearly the humiliation and invasion of privacy are high ticket prices for the honor of being Tiger’s Elin.

4. Lack of Self Control:  This is one of my favorites from a cousin with a keen eye for sensible emotions and little patience for wasteful self-indulgence. Philanderers tend to be alluring, charming “hot” guys who can overwhelm a woman with flattery and skillful seduction. They may even be sweet and kind. In other words “Irresistible”. Really?

Self control is needed to curb the urges, allow foresight and challenge fantasy. It may take the form of giving up the “hot guy” because you know you will never be able to trust him, despite the powerful attraction or the long history of attachment. Some women knowingly walk away from such men because the emotional discomfort of “never being sure” and the likelihood of hurts and betrayals to come, make the pain of loss worth it. As in dieting, giving up something delicious is just plain hard. Giving up someone delicious can be excruciating but necessary for self-worth, dignity and sanity.

Sandra, Norris and Elin, just to name a few: Neither Sandra Bullock nor Norris Church Mailer were naive youngsters when they betrothed themselves to their philandering hubbys. Quite the contrary. Bullock, as everyone on earth knows, was one of Hollywood’s biggest box office attractions and Mailer was a previously married beauty queen/ mother  who had brains and abilities.  The biggest difference between these two women is that Bullock had her own international fame and fortune while Norris Mailer fell into a more local celebrity and clearly widened her horizons enormously by marrying the notorious Norman Mailer, a man with the questionable talent of attracting world attention no matter the cost to himself and others. Whatever the draw, many women marry men who have cheated frequently prior to their matrimonial moment, and often these women have advance knowledge that their soon to be has walked on the “cheatin” side of life. Tiger’s Elin may fall into that category as well. Though Tiger was not yet “outed” publicly, information regarding his predilections was available, perhaps even to Elin.

Assessing The Guy: I have observed over the years both as a therapist and a friend, that regardless of generational, educational, or cultural differences, most women do not assess, evaluate or “vet” the men with whom they are dating. Rather then sharpening those skills,  women are more likely perfecting their presentation to him. Polishing up their looks, sharpening their wits, cultivating the expression of one fascinated by the outpourings of the other, are often the dominant preoccupations of the single woman.This career begins in youth and is sponsored by peers, marketing spells and potions, Hollywood, Mom, Dad, and Grandma.  Clearly there is neither time nor permission to question “who is this guy?”  Is he interested in me, what I think, what I feel, and what is his history? What do I know about him, his previous relationships, the way he treats people who are his friends, old girlfriends, his children from a previous marriage? Is he “cheating now” hanging out with me?

Assess the Man And Assess Your Motives! Throughout the world women are struggling with a lopsided value system, one in which they are still the lesser sex. Even in The West, homeland to progressive thinking and equality of sorts, women need to start seeing themselves as consumers in the relationship supermarket of life. Is this a product of quality, well made, authentic and reliable, matching the description on the box?  And do I know the history of this product? Have I checked consumer reports, surfed the web, asked friends for their experiences with the item? And what of my motives? If I sign on to a product without a lifetime warranty, can I handle that or will I be surprised and hurt when the item falls apart? If I can handle that the product has limited warranty, fine. Maybe I like that excitement, the challenge, the competition. But am I being truthful with myself? Do I have another agenda beyond love and infatuation? Could it be to test my appeal, to find fame and fortune, or the fear that no one else will have me? And is the price of betrayal worth it?

Know Your Motives and Know your Partner: Examine both carefully and with the awareness that you deserve to have standards and requirements too. Track your patterns. What are your expectations of men? What has family history taught you that may not be in your best interests? Do you feel safer with someone who fulfills your lowest expectations than someone who may  be better than that? Does a cheating man match the familial formula and one you feel compelled to repeat. Is there some perverse loyalty in not outdoing mom.   Never fall for your rationalizations and wishful thinking. Notice if you shut down a friend who tries to warn you. And if you get stuck, or see a pattern that forecasts trouble, seek out an expert who can work with you towards a better understanding of self and prevention. Prevention against heartbreak is key.

©jill edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2010

7 Responses to “Dodging The Bullock Bullet: Why Do Women Marry Philanderers?”

  1. herestheproblem

    Well said. I especially took interest in the point you made about women who desire competition being subconsciously attracted to men who will put them in that position. I have seen a number of women – friends who I otherwise see as strong, intelligent and “street smart” – fall for men who turn out to be men they would recommend others avoid.

    • jilledelmanlcsw

      It always feels good to connect the dots. I think Anne’s comment below adds to the picture. Another comment via email from a great source, my sister, pointed to the song from Guys and Dolls, marry the man today….. and change him tomorrow (paraphrasing). Women’s fantasties or magical wishes cloud judgement and distort data.

  2. Anne Carpender

    Oh, woe is me. I did all these things. Now thrust into the man market again, I’m taking this article and all it’s information on every date with me.

    In my younger years, I considered myself unique and thought that the cheater wouldn’t cheat on me, out love was “special”. Hopefully now I might be a little wiser. I say hopefully with much in-trepidation.

    Thank you again for a very informative “coupledom” article.

  3. sonia

    I also think many women take the cheaters behavior personally, it isn’t. It’s very revealing of who that man is or really isn’t. My regular comment to men who have deep embedded unfavorable characteristics: polyamorous, addicts of any kind, porn guys, wandering eye guy and guys who don’t follow through is – that doesn’t work for me. And leave. They usually have some long, emotional tug on your heart sob story about their behavior: why they did it, they just hurt, their mother never loved them, etc and I listen patiently and when they finish I ask, “Is that all?” They think and nod, And I still say, “That doesn’t work for me.” And their jaws drop on the floors. So all I can think is they are also very manipulative and expect to be forgiven, perhaps back to the entitlement issue. Narcissism also is at work that you should just put up with it. They are so worth it and obviously in demand, aren’t you lucky they picked you? And the complete lack of how much (though some are sadistic and also use it as control and power in the relationship) pain they cause their partners.

    Many hold a macho attitude toward women and don’t (secretly or overtly) view women as equals. Look to see how they view their mothers. Not,”So how do you feel about your mother?” but “Honey, your mother called.” And listen to his response/s. These men don’t really value women and to the degree is how terrible of a time you’ll have them. Why bother?

    Here’s an interesting tidbit – I dated a guy whose father, he claimed, had over 250 affairs. And even though I’m not a jealous type, this boyfriend went out of his way to try to make me jealous. “A woman hit on me at work today. I didn’t tell her I had a girlfriend.” My response, “”So put it in your self esteem bank and move on.” Later, at his therapists, I was there too, he relays this little story again about the woman hitting on him. Then he turns to me and says, “I’m sorry you were so jealous.” I say, “I wasn’t jealous as much as YOU NEED me to be jealous and those are two very different things.” He got up and walked out of the room.

    These types of men need to constantly pit women against each other to build their sad little egos. They love the drama.
    He was also impotent! So he was continuing his father’s legacy. There were many other things he did and said but the point is I can’t fathom him ever having a lasting deep connected relationship with any woman – even if he marries one.


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