It was a thoroughly modern fairy tale — the brainy blonde marrying the billionaire, becoming wife number four. With two young boys and homes at 740 Park Avenue, in Southampton, and in Sun Valley, they seemed to be living happily ever.
Until the next partner showed up.
Even at a social distance, the pending divorce between Charles P. Stevenson Jr. and Alex Kuczynski has been the talk of the town. The New York Post reported he “blindsided” her with papers six days before Christmas. Kuczynski herself had disclosed the couple were in marriage counseling (in a 2019 book review she wrote for the New York Times), suggesting hopes for reconciliation.
But when a third party entered the picture, divorce papers followed. A source told the Post that Stevenson is now keeping company with his new flame, a “family friend,” at the isolated (and luxurious) Middle Fork Lodge in the wilderness of Idaho. But while this story is still unfolding, it’s far from new. (Attorneys for neither Stevenson nor Kuczynski answered requests for comment.)
The Next Wife is a well-known character around Palm Beach, the Hamptons, and the Upper East Side. She (or he) is an attractive free agent looking for what you’ve got: specifically, your partner.
“Here’s the golden rule of relationships everywhere: he who has the gold rules,” explains Wednesday Martin, PhD, who has observed the populace of Manhattan’s Upper East Side from an anthropological perspective for her book, Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir. That environment, she says, is ideal for a Next Wife on the prowl.
“On the Upper East Side, there are two women of reproductive age for every one man. This makes men on the UES what field biologists called ‘the limiting sex’ and gives them a lot of power. They get to be choosy. They are the prize,” she says.
Such a dynamic brings gender inequality into stark relief. And the privileged lifestyle makes it easy for a Next Wife to move in on men of means, says Paul Wilmot, a retired publicist and man-about-town who was himself a third husband to the late heiress Mollie Wilmot.
“This type of guy is on his own a lot of the time,” he says — whether in the city during the summer while the family is in the country, or out at business dinners that the wife, busy with kids, schools, and her life, can’t be bothered to attend.
“Once he’s been married a long time, he’s not the same guy as he was before,” Wilmot adds, and neither is his wife the same woman.
Look at the relationship that rocked the real estate and art worlds. Out of nowhere, Harry Macklowe, 83, took up with Next Wife Patricia Landeau, 66, after being married to wife Linda Macklowe, 82, for more than 50 years.
If he were younger, conventional wisdom would scream “midlife crisis,” Wilmot says, “but what is this?”
Macklowe, whom the Post says fell asleep on one of his first dates with Landeau, handed over a portion of his reported $2 billion fortune (which included a $700 million art collection) with Linda to be with the French businesswoman. To celebrate his new boo, he had a 42-foot banner photo of them both hung on 432 Park Avenue, the tallest residential building in New York, which he built. The New York Times called the move a “taunt.”
Landeau, president of the French Friends of the Israel Museum and a former fashion executive, is among the new breed of Next Wife who is far more than just a pretty face. She’s often someone who comes to the relationship with something different than the incumbent she unseats — a career, a business, or simply the idea for a business that needs to be funded.
Not all unions, however, take place between equals. And when social climbing is part of the equation, some Next Wives have to get creative with their tactics — like playing to the ego of their target.
One uptown woman who has brought about two divorces explains how she snagged her first husband, an entertainment executive.
“I made him feel like he was the center of my world and I became indispensable,” she says. “I introduced him to my crowd — people who could help him or were interesting.”
She adds, “I don’t think his (now ex-) wife ever did anything to help him professionally but add her family members to the payroll. I actually made an introduction that resulted in a big deal for him.”
“And I expected things in return — especially invitations to prominent events as his date, letting everyone know I was the important one, not his wife. And, you know, jewelry, first-class or private travel, clothes, trinkets to accumulate. That sent the message that I was serious.”
As Jennifer Aniston may have thought when she first saw Angelina Jolie: “Yikes.”
So, if a Next Wife is coming for your husband, what can you do to fend her off? The answer: take control of the situation.
“There’s an old saying — nobody ever left anybody out of a warm bed,” Wilmot says, urging vulnerable spouses to step up their vigilance. “When you stop communicating and stop appreciating each other, of course someone can come in.”
Short of hiring a private detective to tail your husband’s every move, there are a few signs to be on the lookout for. These may include new hobbies or workout regimes he suddenly becomes devoted to (a SoulCycle or barre instructor is quite a catch), new friends you don’t know (and he doesn’t introduce you to), or simply a lack of interest in physical intimacy.
Martin, whose current book is Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free, says more drastic measures are called for: ask for an open marriage.
She argues: “We know that other mate-guarding strategies commonly used by women on the Upper East Side tend not to work. If your husband is having sex with someone new, why shouldn’t you be able to as well?
“For some husbands, being with a woman on the DL might be a lot less erotic and interesting if it were permitted. They might also find their wife a lot more interesting if she too was having sex with a new partner.”
Martin adds: “Women have evolved as extremely canny sexual and social strategists. It’s one of the reasons we’re here as a species.”