To say that “The Other Man” is all about infidelity is short-changing the subject and defining the concept by very narrow values. While it’s true that for many readers and reviewers, infidelity is a deal breaker, the fact that these essays are all based on actual experiences makes them an intriguing study of this taboo topic.
Each essay shows a different aspect of the picture, making the issue less black and white and much more complex.
Firstly, Jeffrey Ricker details how while young, single and desperate he often found himself hooking up with married men when he used online dating services. This suited both parties as he wasn’t looking for commitment and neither were they. He states that according to the Kinsey Institute, between 20 and 25 percent of men engage in extramarital sex at least once during their marriage. Other studies put the number between 30 and 60 percent. Yet, during his summer of sin, the author never once saw himself as a home wrecker. In fact, he often felt he was the only one who saw anything wrong with what he was doing. Finally, he realized that there was a difference between fun and happiness and he wasn’t going to find the latter with someone whose heart was already spoken for. When he finally settled down, his relationship “wasn’t in the least bit open.” He was too selfish for that.
While living in a country where gay men were forced to remain in the closet, Glen Retief’s discovered that his rival was not a single person but many. His partner believed in monogamy but “had problems with truthfulness” and because sex had always been done on the sly, it had become a habit that his lover found impossible to break.
The more traditional concept is explored in the next story. After being cuckolded by his last boyfriend Jason Schneiderman had been determined to ease his way into his next relationship: “no longer falling into bed on first dates” only to discover that the man he is platonically dating already has a boyfriend who lives in another city. Unwittingly, he has become “The Other Man.” They decide to make it “just sex” and the person he is with is candid about their relationship with his current boyfriend. The strange thing is, that by eliminating the pressure of forming a committed relationship and worrying about love, the author relaxes and finds he really enjoys the time they spend together as well as the great sex. Time doesn’t stand still though and gradually things change.
The next story, by Austin Bunn, also involves straying husbands. In the essay, he describes the pro’s and con’s both for himself and them. According to him, married men have been trained by their wives to seduce and weren’t beyond using these wiles to catch available gay men. “They knew the triggers, the lingo, their niche in the market.” Inevitably a lot of the men he met were conflicted between their competing thoughts: heterosexual self image and homosexual desire. Denial predominates as they resist what they don’t want to think about. He thinks that the forbidden nature of these encounters might also explain why sex with straight men is such a common attraction for many gay men. What could have been a sordid story turns into an interesting look into this very common situation as it explores the possible motives for both types of men. For a time, “Married men validated my freedom without threatening my loyalty, just as I did for them.”
Another married man features in the next story by R.W.Clinger but this time the man is emotionally paired to the author and bleeds for him, literally, when he gets the guilts for being unfaithful. This is the viewpoint of the man betrayed. In highly charged prose we are led to feel the torment and jealousy after the confession. Then the mental breakdown of both parties as they try to come to terms with the infidelity. Intense emotions matched by intense, disturbing writing.
Tom Mendicino’s essay recounts an episode which later inspired his novel, “Probation” about a married man with unfulfilled homosexual cravings.
Some of the contributors to the anthology are authors, others have blogs. One of these is Mark Canavera who writes for the Huffington Post and worked for a time as a humanitarian aid and development worker in West Africa. While in a relationship with a local man he intercepted emails from his lover to someone who was described as “the only one who loves me.” However, earlier the author was himself discovered cheating, so the story revolves around the justification for doing so and the way infidelities eventually have to be laid to rest. “The parties must declare a truce; they must lay down their weapons. There is not any other way to cure them.” Forgiveness, yet another side to the concept of “The Other Man”.
A chance hook-up in an airport toilet kicks off the next story by Chuck Willman. This finds another angle, the hurt that can be caused to “The Other Man” who can be totally oblivious that he fills that position.
I really enjoyed “Just Wally and Me” by Allen Mack. In this case, “The Other Man” scenario covers how they, as a committed couple were affected by stories of their friends breaking up because of infidelity and resolved to set rules to live by when they were apart. “Neither of us expected the other would or should remain celibate.” “Outside sex was, to us, simply an adventure, not affection.” They were open about these encounters which sometimes even led to threesomes. However, on one occasion the rules were broken. Once was enough. An ultimatum was issued.
In “Way Off”, David Pratt, (author of “Bob the Book”) discovers that the threat to the committed relationship wasn’t another person but another thing. In this case, his boyfriend’s dream of becoming an actor. Infidelities were forgiven as they were caught up in a belief that if things were different they could be up on stage and become something they felt they were always meant to be.
Success was something the next author, Perry Brass had, in the guise of a book called “How to Survive You Own Gay Life: An Adult Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships.” The success of the book resulted in fan letters and many were from one persistent man. Despite being in a committed relationship for twenty years and the fan recently being divorced they have an affair. When it finally ends, we hear of the anguish this caused the author and the painful recovery process as he honestly bares his soul. Sometimes, the one who bears the brunt of the pain is the one who strays.
Many of those who contributed stories write now from the comfort and security of long term relationships. Thirty-seven years in the case of the editor of the anthology, Paul Alan Fahey. But before he found his soul-mate, he too had an early relationship “based on movie fantasies of romantic love.” As the romance waned and they drifted apart, he was picked up, almost literally, by a guy he thought of as a real jerk, but he was desperate. Even as he drives off with him, he’s mentally making excuses and imagining what is going to happen if his boyfriend finds out. It’s only when he’s listening to a particular song in the car that he realizes that there will be no going back. In other words even if nothing ever comes of it, sometimes it needs an encounter with “Another Man” to make it clear that the current relationship isn’t working.
Jeff Mann’s touching story chronicles the hurt felt by the “Other Man” when the furtive affair finishes, especially when the intensity of feelings was never reciprocated. Even twenty years later and in a happy relationship for the last fourteen years he recalls the way he was totally besotted even knowing that the end was inevitable. “Somehow I sensed that I’d never encounter such passion again, and I was determined to live it to the hilt as long as I could, despite the guilt I felt in deceiving Dick, despite the looming loneliness bound to come.” Poem after poem was written. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime ardor and inspiration, I thought. I was right.”
“Ballad Echoes” revolves around Spanish songs the author learned in Mexico from his lovers. The lyrics often expressed what he was feeling. In this case, feeling he was responsible for looking after his HIV infected lover and keeping the relationship going despite the fact love was no longer present and he’d fallen for another man. Ultimately both affairs ended but they taught him valuable lessons to take into a more lasting relationship.
Philip Dean Walker’s essay focuses on what happened when the Other Man was someone lusted after for some time. What should he do when this demi-God asks him out even though he knows he has a conveniently absent boyfriend. “It was easier just to hop into bed without a second thought….” Later he comments that: “The other man can pretend he has his man’s heart, and can even fool himself that he’ll leave his partner one day.” Inevitably he has to endure the “emotional jet lag one experiences in going from such a high to such an unfathomable low in a short amount of time.” After the demi-God goes back to his boyfriend, the author bemoans the fact that he can’t let go.
In Wes Hartley’s story, he outlines how he met his current boyfriend while going out with the young man’s uncle. We are assured that this is purely in an avuncular mentoring way as, like all teenagers, the kid needed a lot of head. The fact that the younger man hooks up with another even younger man, doesn’t faze anyone. As Wes says, “Three’s a Charm.”
In “Last Tango in Cambridge” Lewis DeSimone starts by relating how he was pulled out of the closet by suddenly falling in love with someone who was already taken. But when they eventually fell into bed together, it was sex in its rawest form. “It wasn’t sex we were afraid of; it was love.” He is told in surprise that “it was possible to love two people at once.” He states that he wasn’t “so oblivious as to believe our affair was innocent.” Yet he was romantic enough to believe that “Love is stronger than ethics.” He blamed it on reading too many novels, telling himself that great love requires great pain. In hindsight he believes it was the type of relationship that he needed at that stage of his life. His stolen lover became his mentor and taught him about literature, music, but being “in love” didn’t mean the same thing to them both. It was a perpetual romance, and they didn’t spend enough time together to grow tired of each other. The tedious aspects of life never cropping up to spoil the fantasy. Ultimately, the author realized it would never be enough, but he remembers his first lover as he was, “a creature caught in amber. Something beautiful I can pick up now and then…” and he wants to keep him preserved like that to remind him of a time when he it seemed possible that “romance would never end.”
“You Without Me” by William Henderson once again involves a married man having sex with a male, but this time, the narrator is the married man, finally getting to the point when he can admit that he is gay and is no longer interested in being married to his wife of a dozen years. For once, the present tense suits the tale perfectly, with the action unfolding for both the writer and the reader at the same time, just as mystifying to both because it is such new ground.
Rodney Ross, author of "The Cool Part of His Pillow” amusingly relates how he and his partner are The Other Couple. The college sweethearts who are still together thirty years later. As such they have become the sounding board for less fortunate couples who break up. Over the years, they witness the redrawn dinner lists, the battle over custody of the dog, and worst of all are often forced to take sides, sticking by their friends, or at least the one who ends up using the third plate at their dinner table when the relationship breaks down.
“The Child” by Felice Picano draws a picture of another type of third wheel. In this case, an open relationship that spanned sixteen years ended up with a body-builder being mentored by his partner. Unfortunately, that partner died and Felice was forced to pick up the burden of keeping an eye on an adult who couldn’t look after himself.
The final essay relates how the author stubbornly continued to hold a prior arranged party after being jilted by his partner of ten years. The fiasco became known as The Divorce Party and the entertainment wasn’t what the guests expected.
The strength of the anthology rests in the variety of slants each author contributes to the topic. The writing style is varied and the prose flows smoothly. No single story stands out or drags the others down by being inferior. I only found one typo: palette for palate.