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12.08.09

How Not to Manage a Harem

Are Tiger’s mistresses merely cashing in—or did his cheating style spur them to seek revenge? Tracy Quan on clues that the golf star broke the rules of adultery and sealed his own fate.

You may wonder how Rachel Uchitel could be angry with Tiger Woods for playing around with other women, especially when her friends say she's savvy enough to be seeing other men herself. People magazine reports that the golf pro's alleged mistress was "none too happy" about other women he may have been seeing. This isn't as daft as it sounds.

Any man who successfully manages a harem knows he must be on the lookout for such resentments, and prevent them from flaring up. But Rachel's dismay—reports of which may seem odd in light of news that her main function for Tiger was to provide him with other women—looks like part of a pattern. Maybe the problem is Tiger's inability to navigate the choppy waters of erotic attachment. Another alleged mistress, Mindy Lawton, has called Tiger "selfish" and "heartless." If you view all cheating husbands as subhuman, her assessment is to be expected, but I found the comment startling. I don't believe Tiger is truly heartless. If he cultivates a harem without taking responsibility for it, he is, however, careless.

The skills required to maintain a happy harem take practice, patience, and a bit of internal discipline, not unlike perfecting one’s golf game.

Pasha, playboy, or paying customer? A man with an appetite for more than one woman must decide what he wants to be. Philandering men—even celebs—are not uniformly arrogant jerks. Those with a gift for harem management can leave a woman with warm, nostalgic feelings, an afterglow of romantic gratitude. An essential skill for men who choose to cheat, which some are lucky to be born with, is the ability to conduct a love affair without turning the "other woman" into a potential enemy.

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Not every woman spending time with a married man has the urge to destroy his image, embarrass him, or take him to the cleaners. Contrary to the stereotype, a mistress (or friend with benefits) is not always jealous of her lover’s wife and children. But her goodwill is not unconditional. It depends on him knowing how to make his multiple women feel appreciated. Some men will never have this talent, while others just need time to develop it. Let's hope Tiger belongs to the latter camp because, if the allegations about his behavior are even 50 percent true, he desperately needs to learn some harem-management skills.

You don't have to be rich or famous to learn these, and it might even be easier if you're not. For one thing, being in the public eye like Tiger means your blunders are never fully private. Most accomplished philanderers make mistakes when they're starting out in life. If the entire world doesn't hear about it, you have a chance to refine your harem etiquette.

The parade of women allegedly cashing in on a relationship with Tiger begs the question: Are these ladies just opportunistic? Or do they seek symbolic compensation for something he didn't deliver? What was missing? Warmth? Affection? Sexual pampering? Maybe he wasn't generous enough.

To be wealthy, married, unfaithful, and ungenerous is to insult a woman's basic intelligence, as well as her pride. This, for a man in Tiger's position, is the first and most obvious rule of harem etiquette. But it's not just about presents and cash. Even men with normal incomes have multiple affairs without causing their ex-lovers to turn on them. In fact, more men get away with it than the tabloid headlines would suggest. We hear about the infidelity train wrecks ad nauseam—there’s a new one every week—while successful infidelities are quietly swept under the rug.

Here are some things I've learned from men who have practiced good harem etiquette.

It's not clever to provoke a woman's jealousy or insecurity. Flattering though it may be to a man's ego, her damaged vanity can brew silently and turn into a very effective form of hatred that will come back to bite you. A man who uses a woman's sexual jealousy to reassure himself doesn't belong in a harem. If you enjoy feeling clever, take some pride in preventing jealousy by making each woman you're involved with feel uniquely attractive. Stay on message.

If a woman ends up feeling like a married man's plaything rather than his playmate, she's like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off on the doorstep of his home. Don't make absurd, unrealistic promises. To anyone. Including your wife.

Here's what Tiger may not realize: Being kind to your mistress is not a betrayal of your marriage. It's actually kinder to your wife. You can treat your wife like an angel, while her children rise up and call her blessed, but if you're not also treating your extramarital partners decently, philandering puts your marriage at higher risk.

Many a dissatisfied, insulted sex partner becomes the obsessed enemy of a woman who remains totally unaware of her rival's existence. If you must play around, it's your job to prevent this happening between the women you're involved with—and if you don't care about your role in this, you really have no business cheating. Girl-on-girl vendettas are no joke.

Treating a woman decently right up to the end of your association with her is the best way to prevent relationship blowback. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts by acting like a jerk in the final critical stages. This isn’t the solution it appears to be.

It's also sheer folly to think you can demonstrate respect for one woman by trashing another. When will some guys learn to stop telling all the women they shag that the other encounters "don't mean anything”? It's not just in poor taste, it's dumb! Never say it! This short-sighted maneuver may bring temporary rewards, but when the relationship ends, her long-term memories come back to haunt him: "I, too, meant nothing, and therefore owe him nothing in terms of courtesy or secrecy."

Another tip: If you're into rough sex, as has been alleged about Tiger, it's important for your companion to feel that this occurs in a tender, emotional context. Don't be fooled by orgasmic evidence. Just because a woman is genuinely turned on by defilement doesn’t mean that she won’t be genuinely disturbed by rough treatment of her heart.

Though successful cheaters tend to be more emotionally aware than the average man, relax, this isn’t about engineering a new race of hyper-sensitive males. It's very much in a guy’s politically incorrect self-interest to respect the power of women's conventional-yet-unpredictable emotions, as Tiger's predicament shows. His immaturity is understandable: The skills required to maintain a happy harem take practice, patience, and a bit of internal discipline, not unlike perfecting one’s golf game. Could we really expect Tiger's relationship skills to match his golfing skills a decade or so into his professional career? He will need to do some catching up.

Tracy Quan's latest novel is Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl, set in Provence and praised in The Nation as a "deft account of occupational rigors and anxieties before the crash." Tracy's debut, Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl, and the sequel, Diary of a Married Call Girl, are international bestsellers. A regular columnist for The Guardian, she has written for many publications including Cosmopolitan, The Financial Times, and The New York Times.