Being a Witch Part Two: The Paramour

How ironic that a term meant to dishonor, to pin on me a soiled reputation, has such beautiful, even holy origins. It comes as no surprise that the term paramour comes from the French par amour, literally “by or with love”. But bear with me for a minute while I delve into definitions. (We academics, philosophers in particular, love to define our terms).  In 1300, par amour was an adverbial phrase meaning “passionately, with strong love or desire.” The entry continues—“from Anglo-Fr. par amour, from accusative of amor “love,” from amare “to love.” So the noun, a paramour, comes from an adverbial phrase associated with the verb “to love.”

That’s a definition I can get behind. Of course I love passionately. Is there any other way? I hope I conduct my life with love.

In the Middle Ages, a woman would have referred to Christ as a paramour, the object of her love. Similarly, a man would have referred to the Virgin Mary with the same term. Again, here is a definition I can embrace—I hope the people in my life understand that I believe that love far exceeds individual human acts.

Even in the 14th century, the term paramour was synonymous with “my darling” or “my sweetheart.” It wasn’t until the late 14th c. that a paramour came to take on connotations of marginalization, such as a mistress or concubine, a lover whose love is outside socially sanctioned boundaries. This is the definition most closely allied with the modern legal definition of a paramour that has been thrust on me, and with this I take umbrage!!

USLEGAL.COM says, “Paramour is a lover, especially one in an adulterous relationship. In other words an illicit lover.”

I have been blessed in my life to love and be loved by many. I love deeply but not quickly. I have never loved someone who was not free to love, who had made promises to or been legally bound to someone else. The legal system is very practical and much less interested in definitions than I am. I want an officious act which examines the definition, notes it does not apply to me, and forces a retraction.

One final note. Sometime during the past year I came across a quote (that I cannot locate for the life of me) which noted that to deny another person love is the most egregious of acts. I have to agree, especially because we are not talking about having stolen love that belonged to someone else. Love doesn’t work that way. You cannot steal someone else’s love. How laughable the age-old attempts to disgrace another female, cries of defamation—she’s a temptress, someone who took someone else’s man! Oh please, at the very least call me a courtesan (so much more mysterious and powerful) if you must call me names.

How dare you turn “with love” into “illicit love.” I am a paramour in the oldest sense only.  I love in an upright fashion. I have learned love this past year beyond anything I have ever experienced. And I am blessed. There is nothing illicit in loving freely someone who is also free to love in every sense of the word. I’m not splitting hairs here, no gray area, no tawdry beginnings, no premature overtures. And while my day in court may or may not arrive, I will—to draw on another old phrase—have satisfaction.


(For the origins of the term paramour see Online Etymology Dictionary;

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  1. Jenn says:

    Beautiful. Wonderfully written and expertly expressed. Love does far exceed any individual human action. You will continue to witness the power held within real love. In time, this blog will become a published book. Your frustration will become a financial blessing and you will have complete satisfaction.


    • admin says:

      Hi Jenn,
      It will be interesting to see how the blog takes shape. So many directions to go in. . . I was thinking the other day that blogging for me is a bit like writing in the parlor was for women of the 18th and especially 19th centuries, simply because they didn’t have the peace and quiet to write longer works (novels) and neither do I. But if they were able to snatch time here and there for literary endeavors, maybe a blog can sew similar seeds.

  2. philospycho says:

    I love this.
    People are so complex… I know that there are people who can love more than one person, if all are secure in their love for each other. Good on them. I suppose I’m not very complex-or secure, for that matter :) But I think of how the law regarding who can (romantically) love whom is generally a reflection of society’s agreed-upon boundaries (though sometimes those doing the agreeing are the ones in power). So, this, coupled with your post about alimony, adds a layer to my questioning of just how useful the institution of marriage is in today’s world. In what ways is it helpful for drawing boundaries around who can love whom, and in what ways is it oppressive and more about ownership?
    Anyways, I enjoyed this and learned the history of “paramour,” too.

    • Wanda says:

      I agree with you that this nexus of issues raises the question of the role of the law in regulating relationships. I have a particularly hard time with indefinite alimony paid to women just because they have a uterus. At some point, say ten years after the divorce, women and men both should have to stand on their own, or at least begin to do so with incrementally decreasing alimony.

  3. RRT says:

    Anyone may petition a court and seek a remedy and plead their cause and have their day in court or sleep upon their rights. The proverbial throes of love are a perfect fit for the pits of divorce. What forced anyone into a marriage. A paramour is distinguishable from an adulterer, and is usually used officiously to protect children of a failed officious love that resulted in issue from harm. In other words, when a marriage breaks up some states assert that to protect the best interest of children from harm that parents should put their children first and be divorced before exposing the children to either parents’ new romantic relationship. That being said, the general public policy may not reflect the realities. But it’s also notable that those subjectively involved, especially in the throes of new love, may not have the wherewithal to do what is in the best interest of children. At any rate, when it comes to kids, one tries to err on the side of caution. The benefit of the rule of law is that we are generally safe from individuals taking the law into their own hands. Apart from a public policy to protect children, officialdom doesn’t really care whether one is or isn’t a paramour. Maybe it’s sad this beautiful word isn’t used in other contexts. Maybe it’s sad the legal system’s adopted it. Volunteer to be a guardian for someone else’s children and get a taste for why the state may sometime err.

    So it goes to priorities that concern individual liberties. Assert your rights or sleep on them. Certain members of society are not presumed to have that choice, and certain societies endeavor in some measure to protect them. For the rest, suffer the perceived indignities or pony up and put up or own up and come to terms. After all, being true to oneself, why would one care being labelled in love, knowing that this love did no harm. What is the harm in love?
    Without finding an O.E.D., love and harm are not mutually exclusive. To that extent, we suffer love, and make so much of love we suffer the harms that flow from it. Maybe we can’t do much about love, loving, and lovers but perhaps we can do something about harm.

    • Wanda says:

      Dear RRT,
      I appreciate the length and sincerity of your reply. I understand all too well that we all have the right to plead our cause. However, this is an ethics blog (not a legal blog), and we all know that while both are normative disciplines and sometimes overlapping, ethics and the law are not the same thing. One can assert a right that is legal but not ethical. In the same way, I can act in such a manner that I might be behaving ethically but not legally. The difficulty comes in in this instance when the label one is given does not fit, but the burden then falls on the one labelled to thrust off the false term. So, for example, if one is called a drug addict in a custody case, it is simple enough to take a drug test and prove one’s innocence and fitness to be a parent. If, however, one is accused of being an alcholic, considerable time and money goes into proving that this is not the case. There is no simple test. The situation of being labeled a paramour is similar. Theoretically, first a definition would have to be agreed upon, and then there would have to be a day of reckoning, a day when we match up the label with said person. However, this day never comes, because as you mentioned, the law really doesn’t care whether you are a paramour or not; and in our case, there were much more important legal issues involving the childrens’ well-being that exceeded the need to respond to a jealous ex-wife. It is my accuser’s right to call me whatever she wants to, even knowing the term does not apply, but I think we would all agree this is unethical. What annoys me is how often we dismiss or down-play the harm that the name-calling initiates. . .

      Unfortunately, a paramour is not distinguishable from an adulterer. As the terms appear in a legal context, both terms imply that the relationship in and of itself is illicit. Next, the fact that children may be exposed to a paramour is a separate matter. The irony here is that my current husband and I were divorced! The term paramour and the idea of exposing children to one is still a matter of interpretation. My understanding is that usually, as you mention, the idea is to protect children from exposure to a separated parent’s new love interest before a divorce is final. Some, however, lobby for a stricter interpretation which would never allow even two divorced but romantically involved people to spend a night in the same house with children. We bent over backwards not to do this–sometimes even a bit ridiculed by others for our old-fashioned approach, especially after being engaged–and yet not only receieved no credit for our efforts, but were accused of exposing children to an immoral relationship anyway.

      You suggest that one should “suffer the perceived indignities or pony up and put up or own up and come to terms.” Hmmmmm. Well, being called names that don’t fit are not just percieved indignities. I’m not sure what pony up means, unless you mean just live with it, which obviously I can’t do, or I wouldn’t have bothered to create this blog. I can’t own up, because the term doesn’t fit, unless you want to define the phrase “exposure to a paramour” so strictly that you include having the kids stay in the same house with us for a period of one week after we were engaged (because we had both sold our old houses and moved into a new one less than a month before our wedding). Even then, I still take issue with the illicit implications of the term paramour. For the record, my husband had been divorced for 5 years before his ex-wife decided to label me a paramour. I was divorced as well. If you are telling me just to let a bully bully me, then we are of a different opinion as to how to handle bullies.

      I couldn’t agree more that the state should err on the side of caution. I am also well aware of the fact that I am complaining about middle-class woes, and that children can come to real harm in nasty divorces. The reason this blog exists is to channel my experiences into something constructive, rather than confront the childrens’ mother, who is a bully, and thereby cause the children harm. In this case, because the well-being of the children was at stake, I chose not to defend myself directly. However, just putting up shows the children that it is okay for a bully to bully others. That is unacceptable, because I don’t want them to be treated that way in relationships. My “nemesis’s” active approach to slandering and libeling me has had an effect on the children. It changed the way others in close circles perceived us (largely because we just “put up” and took the high road), it allowed doubt to creep in, or at the very least, encouraged others to just avoid us and that tension-filled situation altogether.

      I couldn’t disagree more that love and harm are not mutually exclusive. That is either a darkly romantic way of looking at it (I lived in France for some years; there if you are not suffering, you are not in love) or just a depressing one. Envy causes harm. We may want to protect our love and keep it safe, but there is no reason to see love and harm as innately intertwined.

      So, I hope it’s clear that the harm done here did not grow out of the throes of a fresh divorce, that nothing illicit happened, that envy is the culprit, not love. While no-one was forced into a first marriage, we sometimes marry for the right reasons, and they don’t always have to be love. When we choose love, especially when we do so in good legal standing and ethically, we don’t deserve to be the target of a vicious bully. I strongly believe that you can’t just put up, or you run the risk that the children will become bullies themselves, allow themselves to be bullied, or just not understand how loving relationships work if they have two opposing models of behavior before them. Swallowing one’s pride is sometimes necessary, but to believe that events like this take place in a vacuum and have no real impact (or worse, are just part of the messiness of love or the legal system) is naive.

      Thanks again for your response.

      • RRT says:

        My notion of “put up” or “pony up” was not to endure, but was meant to convey a sense that action-taking is the solution.

  4. RRT says:

    Disparagement injures, so if one adhere’s to a code that harm is wrongful, any disparagement regardless of the terms should be addressed to minimize the injury. In your experience, the harmful act may appear to be directed at you but others are also affected. If someone steps on my toes, I say hey, you’re stepping on my toes, and if I do not, I make myself a pissing post and give license to the conduct. In some facets of life the choices and decisions are clearer than in others, in my experience. For various reasons, I’ve licensed some conduct harmful to myself and in my view not in the best interests of others. I try to not overstep my place and responsibilities to allow others room to do for themselves, believing if I do for someone what they should do for themselves I do them harm. These are tough judgment calls, and blended families pose complex ethical choices. On love, do I love someone or my idea of love … and either way, how broad or how much does this love encompass? Does it take in an ex? Love is gentle, kind, forgiving …. Is forgiveness one of the most difficult forms of love? Assuming it’s ethical to forgive is part of forgiveness change? If love is a creative and beneficial good what act of love doesn’t lessen harm and improve circumstances for health and happiness? All this makes love seem more like a responsibility than a feeling. It feels good to give love to someone for whom I have that desire. It’s another thing to extend that love to extended family or … the ex? Depends on how folks want to practice love, I suppose. Can a paramour’s love thus extend?

    • Wanda says:

      Love and forgiveness can most certainly extend to an ex! But they have to stop pissing on you first (picking up on your metaphor).

      I have written about this in other posts. I can (and in fact do) have love and empathy for another who does me harm. However, as the Dalai Lama says, I still must hold them accountable, so they do not continue to harm me, others, and even themselves. I recognize myself as deeply connected to the other and act from this place. In fact, the not hating but loving part is not as difficult as one might think. Getting the other to stop making a mess, stop spewing harm, and stop tromping on the flowers is another matter.

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