Ask E. Jean: My Husband Is Sleeping with My Mother

Life & Love

Dear E. Jean: My mother is an attractive, interesting woman who reads ELLE and The Economist, dresses fashionably, and maintains a petite size 2 frame. Recently, I found out that my 39-year-old husband (of 14 years) has been having sex with her when he attends conferences at the resort near where she lives. When he told me, I was bothered by the fact that it didn’t bother me.

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He’s a wonderful man—father to our two children and a good provider—and he’s always taken care of me emotionally, sexually, and financially. I know I should be upset; I know I should feel betrayed on so many levels. But I just don’t. He says he enjoys the relationship with her but will stop if it’s what I want.

Honestly, if my mother and husband are happy in their affair, I just can’t seem to find the energy to be angry or jealous. So my question is: Is this normal? Should I be upset? —No Talent for the Conniption Fit

My Dear Miss Conniption: For 20 years, the world’s most attractive idiots, unrequited lovers, and chafing milksops (including myself) have babbled in this column about “unconditional love.” You are—astoundingly—the first to live it.

So…no. I’m not going to advise you to feel “upset.” Instead, I’m popping open a bottle of prosecco and raising my glass to you, Conniption! You’ve found what so many seek: True love, like true joy, comes when you wish your beloved free, and when you get out of your own head.

The difficulty, of course, as Henry James pointed out is that “not only to get out—you must stay out” of your own head. So you wonder if you should feel “angry”? Bah. Being human means feeling spiteful, disgusted, sad, ecstatic, bitter, and terrified, just thinking about changing hairdressers.

Being human also means experiencing deep, spiritual, liberating feelings of unconditional love—and a release from anger. People who say you should be in a rage don’t understand a thing about love. To love, totally and absolutely, means to want your loved ones to be free. No need to turn yourself into a walking Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders just because you question whether or not being angry is “normal.”

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Indeed, what is normal is a man finding his wife’s mother attractive. People just don’t talk about it. In the mid-1980s I trekked across the Star Mountains in Papua New Guinea. Due to falling down a 40-foot-deep sinkhole, tumbling into a 150-foot ravine, crashing off a vine bridge, getting lost, running out of food, being attacked by killer ants, crawling through quicksand, and twisting my ankle so badly that it swelled up to the size of a water bucket, I was forced to stay for a spell in the tranquil Atbalmin village of Munbil. And what I saw there!

Beauty, serenity, boredom, and a couple of mothers-in-law (as elegant as Edith Wharton and both under 4’10”) enjoying the favors of their daughters’ husbands. It was accepted. It was the custom of the country—or at least the custom in this particular paradise. (Papua New Guinea is so violent that more than 820 languages are spoken there.) But we’re not living in the Star Mountains. If you ever do get upset, tell your husband to cease.

P.S. My first inkling that you possess a nirvana-grade freedom from jealousy? You mentioned a fellow woman wearing a “size 2” in your first sentence, then went on to write two more paragraphs—a total of 158 words—without slamming her.

This letter is from the Ask E. Jean Archive, 1993-2017. Send questions to E. Jean at


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