Author Archive | Dalma

The Hacking of an Extramarital Affairs Site

Okay, I haven’t weighed in on this, and I’m a week or so late. The Ashley Madison website–of which I’d never heard but exists for millions of eager married folks interested extramarital sex — was hacked. When I first read the story, the hackers were threatening to reveal the names of the prospective wandering wives and husbands.

It got me thinking: Can this marriage– between secret behavior and the worldwide web –be saved? I don’t think so.  Among those millions of cheating hearts lies at least one who’s out for vengeance, either of the web visitors or the website itself.

Many years ago, when I was a guest on Oprah!, women all over the country who were having or who had had affairs were invited on the show to discuss a book I’d written,The Erotic Silence of the American Wife.  In they came,  thrilled to be flown into Chicago for their favorite daytime show.  “Don’t you care that you might be found out?” I asked several excited young women when they arrived in the studio.

“My husband doesn’t watch daytime TV,”  they answered.

But your friends and family?

No worries, they assured me. They would wear disguises–wigs and sunglasses and hats and other flimsy covers. Really? With a studioful of women in what seemed like fright wigs and groucho noses,we could have been on the set of  I Love Lucy, watching Lucy Ricardo in her endless attempt to try to hide something from Ricky.

So much for secrecy. While secrecy is the engine that fuels affairs, I think these women were ambivalent about keeping their affairs a secret–or they wouldn’t have come onto a national TV show. To tell or not to tell?: That is the question, and mental health experts (like me) disagree wildly. Some advocate telling all; others, going to the grave with your mouth shut.  These women, like those on the hacked website, feel two opposing impulses simultaneously after it’s over : the moral imperative to speak the truth to one’s spouse–being honest–and the moral imperative to hide it, so as not to hurt one’s spouse and jeopardize the marriage–being honorable. (Openness  usually wins, for better or worse: it is the American way. Discretion–the European way–is not popular here. As a nation, we believe “discreet” to be more like “deceit.”) Beyond the guilt that affairs engender, there’s a deep, deep ambivalence about keeping the secret.

Just as the Oprah guests can’t have been entirely psychologically committed to keeping their affairs a secret, so must many visitors to sites like Ashley Madison be ambivalent–and in denial–about the security and privacy of any such site, no matter how impenetrable they imagine them to be.  I have to believe that the millions of people willing to open their pocketbooks, fantasies and libidos to website managers and anonymous potential lovers are ambivalent–hoping subconsciously as much to reveal their secret desires for love and sex as to keep them.  It is a push-pull toward and away from safety, toward and away from freedom, toward and away from moral rectitude. And it’s an ambivalence as old as marriage itself.

Tell me your thoughts. (But please, no moralizing! This isn’t about good people vs bad people!)



NOT Covering Birth Control: Don’t Blame Obamacare

So we read once again that women of childbearing age are not getting the care and coverage they need to remain healthy and to avoid pregnancy (“Insurers Flout Rule Covering Birth Control, Studies Find,” NYTimes. National section, this morning). Seems the federal requirement that insurance companies cover all approved methods of birth control for women–without co-payments or any other charges–is largely being disregarded. So is the free education to all women–many of whom truly need it because they are so young.

Young? Very. Whether politicians approve–whether WE approve–young girls have entered a never-before world of casual sex. Sex without marriage, without commitment, without promises, without exclusivity, without intimacy, without love, without strings: sex just for fun. You know, the sex young boys have had forever, and without censure. Unthinkable? The most recent Kinsey report says that ten percent of 13-year-old girls are having sex. Twenty-five percent of boys and twenty-six percent of girls have sex by the time they’re 15. By 17, that number doubles.

This isn’t about what we want or what we believe or what our particular church advocates. These are the real numbers from real, legitimate, national studies, and so this is about caring for our girls, among other things. Not lecturing, punishing or shunning them–caring for them. So when we form the various committees to figure out why this piece of Obamacare is falling through the cracks (a “disappointed” Senator Patty Murray of Washington has asked Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of health and human services to investigate….so you can well imagine how long this will take, and how many people will be “looking into it”–and how Obamacare will take the blame for the problem.

Besides the truth of what girls and women are experiencing, there is another truth: We as a culture seem unable face the fact that all women need good medical, gynecological preventive care. All women need protection against having unwanted babies. It’s at this point that I wonder why there isn’t a bill that requires men to raise and take care of all babies born by the women they impregnate, if those women don’t want those babies. I’ve never seen anything that remotely approaches such a  radical bill. Or such a radical thought. Because on some level we believe two things, deep in our cultural bone marrow: That young girls and women who have sex should have babies, and that women who don’t want babies shouldn’t have sex.

If we believed otherwise, insurers would be honoring the law. But they know, on some level, we kinda approve of their disregard for it.




“I Have Your Back!”

It’s Women’s History Month, and while that sounds like a stroll down Feminist Lane (“Oh no, we’re going to hear unexpected hard-hitting news about Anne Bradstreet“), I want to talk about some women who are making women’s history. Women committed to women’s evolution–they have taught me a lot about the ways in which we must support one other–and how we’ve been raised not to. My friend Elizabeth Debold (Dr. Elizabeth Debold, for those who care), a brilliant thinker who talks a lot about the importance of not turning on one another; of being there for each other when we succeed or when we fail. It sounds obvious, but think about it: When Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook came out with her “Lean In” idea–exhorting executive women to sit at the table; to NOT sit on the sidelines–what was the first thing we heard from women? “Oh, easy for HER to say! She’s already rich and famous! Easy for HER to ‘lean in’. What about those of us who will never be executives?” And so forth.

Who needs men to ridicule and demean executive women when women will do it for them?

When my mother wrote a humor column , “The Wit Parade,” in the Journal of The American Medical Association (JAMA), she wrote it under the byline, “E.E. Kenyon.” The initials suggested that she might well be a man. Why not claim her gender and put her real name (Ethel Elizabeth Kenyon)?– Because, she told me, “No one thinks women are funny. No one wants to see jokes picked out by a woman. No one would pay attention.” Granted, she wrote a hundred-plus years after George Eliot made a similar decision, but her point–that no one would have her back at JAMA if readers found out she was a woman and rejected the column, was well-taken. (When I had my first magazine column in Mademoiselle, under my own name, my mother said “Well, lucky for you to have the name Dalma. It could be a man.”)

“She’s right,” says the wonderful master improvisation performer and teacher, Holly Mandel. Holly, like Elizabeth (above) cares deeply about women’s evolution–hence, the name of her program, “Improvolution.” She insists that everyone in her classes go to the mat for each other–no matter how disastrously they may fail. In fact she wants them to fail–in a safe, caring, collaborative setting. “Women risk everything when they do stand-up, and the last thing they need is to take the huge risks they have to take, fall flat on their faces–as male comedians have long said they would–and then have other women turn away from them. I tell them, While you’re here, we have each others’ backs completely–or don’t be in my class.”

Look, we’re trained to be wary of each other. We’re trained to think we’re after each other’s men; we’re after each other’s jobs; we’re after each other’s friends, money, lives. Let’s make history. Let’s consciously bury the fear and envy that Patriarchy (yes, I know, but there it is) instilled in us centuries ago, and tell our colleagues and our friends, whether they succeed (and everyone attacks) or fail (and everyone attacks): You did good, sister. And don’t worry, whatever they say about you, I’m here. I have your back.”


In HeynSight #7: The Myth That Breaking up is Easier By Text or Email

In Heynsight: The Myth That Breaking Up by Text is Easier

Thinking of breaking up with someone by text or email because you won’t have to witness or experience pain? Think again. If there’s anything more cowardly, inhumane and just tacky, I don’t know what it is….except possibly breaking up on Facebook. Or leaving a phone message.

Please, ex-lovers: You are not beasts. A person whom you liked well enough to date and make love to deserves more. And by the way, if that’s how you handle your love affairs, your mistreatment will get around fast: and, when someone decides to cast you off, you will surely get treated the same way. So, when you hear that phone message saying “Um, well, hey, it was great, but we’re through. See ya!”, remember: In love as everywhere else, you reap what you sow.

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In HeynSight #6: The Myth That Passion Cannot be Revived

The Myth That Waning Passion Cannot Be Revived

Has there ever been a magazine cover that doesn’t promise to put the “spark” back into your sex life? And do you ever think, after reading the same advice month after month, “What are they talking about? If it were as simple as whispering sweet nothings into his ear, or going out to a cozy dinner, we’d have solved the problem already.”

To know how to get sexual passion back, you have to first know where it went. Desire isn’t a faucet that flows eternally; it is a complicated psychic mechanism as individual as each of us.

Whether it’s temporary anger, hurt feelings, depression, fatigue, or deeper cultural issues that play a profound role in dampening desire, in today’s In HeynSight show, we’ll go past the easy answers and the blame, and look deeply into where desire can get lost–and found. Enjoy the show!

Discussed on today’s show: Marriage Shock: The Transformation of Women Into Wives

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In HeynSight #5: The Myth of Femininity


The “feminine” woman, the theory goes, is good, kind, giving, loving, soft-spoken, pleasing, gentle, soft in voice and character, charming, demure, pretty, delicate, deeply caring of the sick and the elderly, nurturing, a great cook and housekeeper, frugal….and, most of all, selfless. Men love her.

The “unfeminine” woman, the theory goes, is assertive, aggressive, and ambitious; she’s “strident” and “shrill” and selfish. Men don’t love her.

Why do we still worry that without these fake virtues, we won’t be loved? With women flooding the workplace but not getting to the top of any profession; not getting paid the same as men for identical jobs; and barely getting by in a difficult economy; is “femininity” the way to go? Or should we instead whip out all the aggression, ambition and selfishness we can muster?

It’s the topic of this week’s In Heynsight. Listen and let us know your thoughts!


In HeynSight #4: The Myth That True Love Is Unambivalent

In Heynsight Episode 4

Today’s program examines the myth that true love is unambivalent; that if you’re in love, you’ll feel that love consistently and without conflict, and will be happy.

But we shortchange our own emotional natures when we think that our feelings should be constant and unwavering and singular, when in fact they’re always mixed. The coexistence of positive and negative feelings toward someone, or something, simultaneously drawing us in opposite directions, is our psychic makeup.

Whether you find Mr. Right or not has nothing to do with a woman’s complicated yearnings for many things at once. And vice versa. We’re just not simple creatures. We don’t want to be alone, but we don’t want to be invaded. We want to win someone, but when we do, we also long for the time when he was unwinnable.

It’s called being human, and it’s the topic of this week’s In HeynSight. Enjoy!


In HeynSight #3: The Myth of the Divorcing Man


In our cultural consciousness, marriages end because men tire of their wives and marry younger women. In our real world, though, women initiate 65 to 70 percent of divorces. I stated in my book Marriage Shock: The Transformation of Women into Wives, that younger women were leaving; now, older women, in long-term marriages, are leaving as well.

In today’s show my main question is: If over half of all women were leaving college, wouldn’t you ask, “What has to happen to make women want to stay in school?” I’m asking, What has to happen to make wives want to stay in marriage? Tune in….


In HeynSight #2: The Confession Myth: Should Spouses Always Tell The Truth?


We have become a culture of compulsive truth-telling; we spill our feelings and our actions in the name of “complete disclosure” and “being honest.” We announce long-ago affairs to our partners; reveal details of our sexual pasts; confide the deepest reservations we have about our partners to them, as if they will all say, Wow! Awesome! Thanks for sharing!

We have decided that truth, rather than discretion, is the moral way out of everything from a bad thought to bad behavior.

In today’s episode of In Heynsight, Dalma discusses a big myth: That a in “good” relationship, partners should always tell each other the truth.


Dalma Does Liquid Lunch with Tessa Smith McGovern

I was interviewed recently on a new online show about writers, for writers, called Liquid Lunch. The brainchild of Tessa Smith McGovern, founder of eChook digital publishing, and Eileen Winnick, founder of The Winnick Group, this unique show gives writers the chance to speak about their work, and their thoughts and advice about writing, all the while concocting a cocktail in Tessa’s own kitchen and being interviewed by Tessa herself.

Tessa, who teaches at Sarah Lawrence, publishes (and pays for!) short stories (she and her authors just won, respectively, a gold and silver medal in this year’s eLit Awards). When she wears her Liquid Lunch hat, she becomes that rare interviewer, one who knows her guest’s work and audience; and she asks unexpected questions. Did I see a connection, she wondered, between my nonfiction work—three serious books about women —and the more lighthearted novel I co-wrote with my husband? I hadn’t considered any connection, since my nonfiction work starts with surprising facts, unexpected statistics; while the fiction started with a man and woman who might or might not fall in love. But of course they are deeply connected: even if genres are disparate, facts and character are always related. To be asked serious questions like this opened up so much that was fun to share and, best of all, didn’t require me to come armed, as I have on many television and radio interviews, with facts and stats and proof.

I had a wonderful time, made a delicious cocktail, (called, after our ebook, “A GODSEND,”) and hope you’ll take a look at and enjoy both. As always, I welcome feedback.