So pretty much Newland Archer is Ted Mosby. He is in love with one woman for his life but marries someone else because of the complications the first woman would create.
There’s a certain type of man who feels like all emotions are charted along legal terms and therefore, as people who who feel can’t be held accountable if in fact he has not declared his love. This novel takes place in “Old New York” a false aristocratic society in which the sins of society has replaced the sins of morality. Newland Archer is trying to be engaged to May, who is a society man’s dream. At least times in this novel, he describes her a “Diana-like” and this connection between May and the goddess emphasizes the respect he feels for her.
But he wants to bone her cousin, the countess Olenska, who when Newland rebuffed her as young lovers ran off to Europe and married a Count. Now she’s back, trying to get a divorce, clearly a slut according to unwritten rules, and Archer wants some. He becomes infatuated with her, which is not itself a wrong thing, but he continues throughout the novel to pursue her with his heart, if not with his junk. But because he’s a lawyer, and because his feelings are never explicit (except to the Countess), he feels like he’s never done anything wrong. In fact, when his fiance can tell he is having doubts and confronts him about them, what does he do? Suggests they should get married immediately instead of waiting.
Like many men who cheat in this way, he refuses to see his behavior regarding the countess as perfectly ok. But again, he is a married man, and having an unhealthy obsession with a woman you almost married, well you get it.
There’s an implication at the end that had he only been alive decades later, he could have had whatever he wanted.