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The secrets of a successful affair

I have noticed lately that people seem to be failing at having affairs. Well, they are succeeding spectacularly in the having-affairs part.

It’s the not-getting-caught part that needs work.

For those contemplating this course of action, here are a few tips.

First, ask yourself: Am I important?

Be honest. You may think you are important, like anyone reared during the era of self-esteem parenting. And sure, you’re important, in the sense that we’re all important and the cosmos sings a great song using thousands of voices. But, seriously, are you a national figure?

If you have doubts about this, check your trophy room. If the trophies are covered in dust and mainly say things like “participated in soccer” and “ate far fewer crayons this year and inserted only one of them into his nose, which we can all agree is a major improvement,” you might be safe.

If, on the other hand, you don’t have a trophy room because you are in charge of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, you definitely are not safe.

If you are an important national figure, I strongly advise against an affair, if only for practical reasons. Given that this list is titled “How to have a secret affair,” moral reasons clearly got off the bus six or eight stops ago. But, look, the secret to not getting caught is to be unimportant enough that no one pays attention. And even then you might leave your Gmail open.

Are you still set on this?

Fine. Here goes:

•Do not send anything that can be described as “20,000 pages of flirtatious e-mails.” Frankly, I do not know how this could happen. I once sent someone what could be described as “six pages of not even really that flirtatious emails,” and now George Lucas won’t let me close enough to throw my spec script for “Star Wars VII” at his new Disney successors.

•Never send an email or message that requires you to remove an article of clothing first. Think what Anthony Weiner could have been spared! This rule handily forestalls both topless pictures and, er, weird photos of your feet without shoes. A corollary of this rule: Never email when undressed.

•In fact, do not send emails of any kind. Every time you are about to send the other party an email, imagine an FBI employee named Carl who, because of the investigation, has not bathed or slept for days, has a long beard and is “frankly, getting sick of these shenanigans” reading it to himself in his office, occasionally aloud, and sighing heavily. Communicate only by passenger pigeon or letter, transmitted to the other person without use of a middleman, and then burn it while the other person watches.

•Think of the headlines. Do you have a funny last name? Are the verbs linking you and your paramour verbs like “embedded with”? If so, rethink.

•Never meet where you might be seen together in public. There may be cameras. Later, there will be pictures, and everyone will point knowingly at them and say they always suspected.

•Never meet anywhere you might be seen together in private. Cellphones are everywhere! You could wind up in a casual snap. And think of the closed-circuit TVs. Meet only in places miles away from technology – say, the Appalachian Trail. Except not the Appalachian Trail, because that is freighted with associations.

•To be safe, never send each other any electronic messages whatsoever. Messages are liable to be traced and read. There is no security online! Don’t be fooled by hubris!

If you really want to have a secure affair with no chance of being caught, there is just one thing to do: Do not have an affair. This, frankly, is the simplest solution, and in addition to avoiding a lot of inconvenience, you will retain everyone’s respect.

But it’s easier said than done.

Alexandra Petri is a member the Washington Post’s editorial staff.

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