Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Maybe it's just in the jeans?

First of all, I've noticed that my post on journalism got comparatively little readershipsecondary readership in particular (which means that visitors weren't forwarding the link to other parties who might be interested). So for today at least I'm suspending that theme to address something more topical. Now, as you're reading along, some of this will begin to sound in the category of "duh." Keep in mind that if you've heard this before, it's usually in a comedic context or from a group of girlfriends commiserating over the unfairness of it all (usually aided and abetted by several flavored martinis). I think it's important that someone, particularly a guy, went on the record with thisin a more serious veinonce and for all.

Now that John Edwards has finally come clean*
that's John Sweet-Faced-I'll-Stand-By-My-Wife-As-She-Courageously-Battles-Cancer Edwardsyou begin to wonder certain things anew. Well, I do, anyway. I realize that pointing to a bunch of celebrity males, all of whom have "slipped," is not evidence in the scientific sense. But as technology marches on and it becomes increasingly difficult to have a legitimate private life, no less an illicit one, I ask myself: Can it be pure coincidence that more and more high-profile males are "admitting" to infidelity? I put the word in quotes because it's not like their conscience was killing them and they decided to make a clean breast of it, if you will. In just about every case, including this latest one, the media or some especially zealous bloggers were hot on their trails and the whole thing was about to explode into public scandal. And in the few cases not covered by the previous sentence, the ugly behind-the-scenes details made headlines during some bitter divorce action.

There are several possible inferences to be drawn. The most obvious is that "famous men will cheat." And it's true that just by the nature of things, male celebrities tend to be better-looking than the average guy
certainly Edwards isand they also tend to move in circles of (a) equally attractive, powerful women who are used to having their needs met and (b) not-necessarily-attractive-but-ever-available groupie types who get off on bedding celebs. (As Kissinger famously put it, "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.") Consider, however, that at the upper echelons of celebrity, your movements are always being tracked and recorded by hordes of bottom-feeding paparazzi as well as random Average Joes and Janes with cell-phone cameras. Plus, the public-image risks of being outed can be pretty severe (like, for an erstwhile squeaky-clean, oh-so-earnest politician whose dowdy wife has incurable cancer). This would almost suggest that high-powered celebs, if anything, are less likely to cheat than other guys. The odds of being caught are higher and the penalties are worse. I think it's safe to say that John Edwards won't be giving any keynote addresses in Denver, and that right now his White House ambitions look as fragile and wispy as, say, individual strands of blond hair.

It's always dangerous to use a single human being as an object lesson of anything. But let's look a little bit more closely at John Edwards. What we have here, clearly, is a very intelligent man. He also knows he's in the public eye....running for president, for God's sake! And he knows that so far, he's been a secondary beneficiary of the sympathy that's accrued to his wife, Elizabeth. Not just that, but the life lessons of what his ol' pal, Bill Clinton, went through remain fresh in his mind. As if that's not enough, the dude is a lawyer, and though he doesn't handle divorce cases, surely he's no stranger to the realm. In short, this is not someone you'd expect to take foolish chances. This is not someone you'd expect to do something like Edwards did if he could control it. Put aside all of Edwards' self-serving mea culpas on Nightline about his narcissism and his growing notion that the rules "didn't apply" to him. He had to know that he was playing with fire. To do what he did makes no sense unless he did it because he couldn't help himself. Same with Clinton. Same with Hugh Grant. Same with David Patterson, the new governor of New York, and Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced governor he replaced. Same with [fill in the blank from your own frame of reference].

So maybe the conclusion to be drawn here isn't that powerful men cheat. Maybe the conclusion is that almost all men cheat
not just the 30 to 50 percent who own up to it in surveysand further, that they pretty much have to. Regardless of how much they deny it when around (a) a woman or (b) a man they don't trust or whom they worry may be less horny/more upstanding than they are. Maybe the impulse to spread the seed is so strong that theyor really, we, as I cannot exclude myselfwill risk almost anything, be it power, position, money, respect, stability, physical freedom, even sanity, to satisfy that singular loin-lust. (Younger readers: You think all this stuff started with Hugh Grant and Slick Willie C? You think it wasn't rampant until YouTube and Cheaters were there to chronicle it? What you hear about is only the tip of the iceberg. And I'm betting that's true in your immediate circle of friends, too.)

So I'm thinking that monogamy isn't our thing. Maybe it's not even what Mother Nature (who is, after all, a woman) intended. And please, I don't want to hear, "Hey, that's just not so! Why, I know a bunch of guys from church who are totally wrapped up in their wives and families, and wouldn't even think of...." Spare me the talk about nice, church-going guys. Have you not noticed what so many of the actual leaders of the Christian Right were caught doing with female (and male) administrators and garden-variety hookers? Were you not paying attention when all those Catholic priests were hauled away in handcuffs? And if you take Catholic liturgy on its face, those priests were cheating on God. That's one angry spouse you don't want to have.

I could be wrong, but I have a high degree of confidence in the truth of the following statement: If men aren't cheating, they're thinking about cheating. Or if circumstances for whatever reason make it almost impossible for them to cheat, they're wishing they were cheating, and quite likely cheating "in their hearts" (as Jimmy Carter, of all people, once put it), even as they make love to their partners of record. Or maybe they're emerging from a lengthy period of their lives where they devoted about 98 percent of their mental energy to cheating and now they've finally burned out on it. Or their sexual apparatus is failing them...but even that's less likely in this, the age of the pharmacologically induced four-hour hard-on.

I'm not proposing this as blanket immunity from tacky, hurtful behavior. As I've said before in other contexts, just because we're animals at the core doesn't mean we shouldn't aim for higher standards than mere animal behavior. So I'm not "asking for permission," here, on behalf of my gender. And relax, guy readers, I don'
t expect a lot of support from you on-blogespecially if you're in a serene, happy relationship and would like to avoid being Bobbitted. I'm simply asking whether, in our cultural expectation of male fidelity, we're not only taxing guys in a moral sense but in the anthropological and biological senses as well. We may be asking something of men that's on the order of asking the average woman who just became a mother to toss her newborn out the window.

Yes, I think the instinct is that strong. Just ask our Johnny-boy.

* And "come clean" may be a relative term in this context. Look, one hates to be a cynic, but do you really think there was just one affair
the one that the enterprising campaign-trail reporters were "lucky enough" to stumble on? And remember, for the moment Edwards continues to deny that he fathered a child in the course of all this, just as he once dismissed the rumors of the affair itself as "tabloid sleaze." So there may be further admissions from him in time.
** This assumes some minimal level of opportunity and attractiveness. But then...Henry Kissinger?


Anonymous said...

Steve: Wow.

("a guy")

Anonymous said...

Steve, there may be something else:

The kind of guy who runs for high political office is someone who thrives on publicity, is energized by being 'in battle' campaigning, and perhaps likes high risk situations.

Someone with the kind of personality profile that draws him toward the hectic, energetic stressful life of politics and political campaigning might get off on high risk sex.

There are other men who are quite willing to look and fantasize about ladies they are not married to, but dont want the risk of having a long term secret affair.

In short, some men might be energized by risk, by sneaking around, possibly even enjoy the complex logistics of managing a thrilling secret affair...and that might well mean they are also likely to be energized by running for high political office.

Over 20 years ago in the LA times, a male member of the California State Assembly admitted to a reporter, that his family and most of his colleague's families lived out of town, far away.

Here is a paraphrase of what he said:

'When you have the thrill of fighting like hell to pass a measure, and it passes, you want to get out there and celebrate. You dont want to just go back to your hotel room and eat a TV dinner.

You want to get laid."

Note: for fun, go and Google Rielle Hunter in the exact phrase slot, and put 'Eckhart Tolle' in the all words slot.

See what you get. She's apparently quite taken with The Power of Now.

Anonymous said...

PS: I forgot to mention in writing the above comment (about risk taking personality perhaps going hand in hand with a desire for political office)...I'm a girl.

And I dont think it excuses what Edwards did.

Even if you're a risk taker, the rule should be, if you know you have enemies (as Bill Clinton did)...do NOT make it easy for them to destroy you.

Problem is, chronic risk takers get off on playing with fire.

Someone once said, concering risk taking types:

"Some men are just not happy unless they can f**ck the precinct sergeants wife on the front steps of the police station."

quoted from Allen Sherman's

The Rape of the A*P*E*

RevRon's Rants said...

I don't agree that we males are pretty much doomed to straying by our biological drives, Steve. I think the primary motivation for seeking multiple partners is a desire for ego-validation. It's not so much that we want to "do" other women as that we want to know that other women want - or are at least willing to - "do" us.

When I was younger, I fit the stereotype of the guy who would "f**k a woodpile, on the chance there was a snake at the bottom." It was more about convincing myself that I was desirable (read: worthy) than about actually wanting so many partners. And it took me some time to realize that no matter how many "conquests" there were, there was always a need for more.

In my marriage, while I often fantasized about other women, I never did anything about it, albeit out of some faux sense of nobility... "I was the honorable one."

I won't say that I never fantasize about other women nowadays, though the fantasy always includes the Cosmic Bombshell. What can I say... It's the typical guy fantasy, after all! I couldn't bring myself to cheat, because I *need* to trust the one I love, and know very well that unless I can trust myself, I'll never be able to trust her. Even if she never found out, *I* would know.

Then again, I lack the kind of megalomania that is inherent in people who seek fame and/or high political office (My own megalomania is infinitely more subtle!). The same drive that pushes someone to run for president is also likely to push them to seek out woodpiles. Better that, in my opinion, than to seek dominance through military actions or exhibiting destructive aggression against what one perceives as political "enemies."

That's why I'm infinitely more comfortable with a philandering president than with one who foams at the mouth at the notion of regime change. Both seek to satisfy similar hungers. One results in the ruination of a party dress, the other destroys lives. And I want the person whose finger rests on the big red button to get all the "stress-relief" they need or want! :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Just as a quick p.s.--to someone who might, for example, wonder about the tonal disconnect between the post itself and the syrupy, wistful music: In composing the post, I intentionally omitted any nod to the emotional component of adultery, and all of the genuine pain it can cause. Because--at least for the purpose of starting a discussion--I didn't want to muddy the message. And the message, first and foremost, is that "mass coupling" may be something that men are just powerfully drawn to do. Period.

Now, what happens thereafter--and the havoc it can wreak--well, that's a whole other story.

Steve Salerno said...

Btw, where are our newlyweds today? Heather/Mike? Any words of wisdom for us here?

Mike Cane said...

>>>And if you take Catholic liturgy on its face, those priests were cheating on God. That's one angry spouse you don't want to have.


I think this blog would be very enlightening, for both Steve and everyone else: Roissy in DC

And then there's this I noted in a post: I Weep For Cape Cod

As for the past post about journalism not being popular ... well, I'll fess up to having no interest in the subject.

Chad Hogg said...

Surely I am not the only person to have noted the serendipity in that today's "word of the day" in the sidebar is "orifice".

I was thinking of writing about this myself. There definitely seems to be a connection between the type of ambitious personality required to have any chance of getting a high political office and the kind of personality that has a high sex drive and engages in risky behaviors. Add in the pressures of making monumental decisions and being in the spotlight all day, every day, and I can certainly see why many of our highest politicians are found to be in these sorts of situations. In fact, I am rather surprised that the Secret Service does not maintain contacts with a few very discreet, loyal, prostitutes to avoid scandals. Sure it is illegal for the common person, but I highly doubt that would be a hindrance. Then again, perhaps they do, but using these services would not provide the same kind of risk-induced high that these men are looking for.

As for all men cheating and "needing" to, I am unconvinced. Certainly a man's sexual desire is one of the most powerful forces in the world, forbidden fruit can be especially alluring, and we have a biological imperative to produce as many children as possible. I like to think, however, that most men have control over their instincts and desires.

As someone who was married somewhat recently (2 years ago) I definitely still notice attractive women, mentally undress them, am more interested in beach volleyball than any other Olympic sport, etc. However, I have no interest at all in pursuing sex outside of my marriage and, I feel confident, would not take advantage of it were it offered. Whether that will still be true in 30 years I cannot say, but I hope so.

Steve Salerno said...

Chad, if that's your t/n, I give you kudos. I also thank you for weighing in with some excellent points. Love the line about beach volleyball. But I'm just curious, if you choose to "clock back in"--where in the chain is the breakdown between thought and action, for you? Is it a question of morality? The "commitment" factor? Something else?

Heather and Mike said...

Why is it that I feel like I just read the male version of a Carrie Bradshaw* column?

I think a lot of people are prone to cheat maybe because it's biological, maybe because they were sexually abused as children, maybe because they're egocentric, maybe because they're bored ... who knows? The ability/provocation/temptation to cheat is in all of us no matter gender, race, culture or sexuality.** But this can be said about almost anything in life — cheating on your taxes, eating trans fats, kicking your dog, gossiping, beating your wife ...

One of the reasons I fell in love with my partner is because he chooses to walk in the light (biblical reference aside) and vice versa. I'm not perfect (neither is Mike), but my "big life" actions are conscious — at least more so now than in the past.
I "choose" not to cheat or be single and promiscuous because it's boring. It's so much better to come home at night to someone who's supportive and constant than hit the bars looking for a hook-up, ala "Girls Gone Wild."

In reference to Edwards, I plain don't care. Honestly, I only care on how it affects me and this country. Who gives a shit if he's boinking a woman with a bad dye job? ; ) Didn't Italy have a political leader who moonlighted as a porn star? When the Clinton scandal broke out, I was living in Spain and the people there couldn't believe that this made headlines in the U.S. They thought it was hysterical. So do I.

* Being a woman, I thought it fitting to make a trite woman-centered reference.
** If you think only men are prone to adultery or men are more prone to adultery than women, all I have to say is, "Seriously?" Your stats must be old.

Heather and Mike said...

P.S. Steve- Is this what it takes to get people to comment on your blog? I should try it. No one ever comments on my blog!!!!! : (

Anonymous said...

I always wondered about this dense behavior by powerful men. Are these guys that horny or that stupid? I think they get off on the "thought" of being caught now. In this day and age, you got to be a moron to try this stuff while pursuing a public life. You know they are after Obama about this very issue. Insiders say he is not spotless in this department either. Martin Luther King, Jr had a problem with the ladies too and the FBI had a huge file on him. If we were in Europe, instead of Puritanical America, none of this would matter too much. Just makes you wonder...

Steve Salerno said...


Hmmm. Are you implying that I went lowbrow in order to provoke reader response? ;) Look, I'll tell you the truth: After three years of doing this, I honestly don't know what will, or won't, provoke a big response...except journalism/news. I know by now that I don't get much response from that topic. But leaving that aside, I've done posts about the nature of being--which you'd think would be a big yawner--that have taken on a life of their own and approached the 100-comment plateau in just a few days. And then I've done other posts on what I thought would be "hot topics" (to borrow the name of a recurring feature on The View), which, yes, I watch), and gotten almost zero response. In all seriousness, I'm not much farther along in that diagnostic/demographic process than I was when I started in 2005.

Re your comment on today's women: Yes, I know about the gals from Sex and the City, and I know all about hook-up culture and the way it has changed female mores. I still think a dichotomy exists between men and women in their sexual behavior, and especially their comfort level with same--and once again I'm going to trot out that dreadful line from my cousin (otherwise known as The Man Who's Slept With Every Woman in Arizona): "When a woman opens her legs, she opens her heart, too." Though it may be less true today than it was when he first uttered it during a night of Phoenix bar-hopping in the early 90s, I continue to believe that women have a much tougher time with no-strings sex. We shouldn't forget that Mother Nature is still a mother, after all. (Though probably a single mother, these days.)

Steve Salerno said...

And btw, I commented on your blog once! And caught some hell for it, as I recall. :)

Anonymous said...

i'm with heather, dont be so sure steve. you dont know my friends! or me ;-P


Heather and Mike said...

I was kidding about the blog comment thing. No one comments on my blog because I write about whether or not I should buy laminate or wood flooring for the new house.

I'm sorry if you feel like you caught hell for your comment on my blog. ; ) Don't let that stop you. Personally, I thought my response back to you was poignant.

But back to the sex thing- I have a lot of girl and guy friends (my bff is a straight man) and between the two groups, I'd say the women were the most promiscuous. I know this girl who would recall her conquests like ... a guy (for the lack of a better metaphor). But in all, I really think it's an individual thing, not an entire gender thing.

Personally, and I don't speak for all women here, I think promiscuity is gross. It's like drinking a pint of someone's spit.

Steve Salerno said...

Ahh, Heather, the same lovely imagery I remember from class. :)

Again, seriously, thanks for spending some time on my blog. And go with the real wood; it's better for resale, and it takes polish (the right polish, at least) more uncomplainingly.

Heather and Mike said...

Of course! I like your blog, Steve. I advertise it even. : )

Yekaterina said...

Some men have high sex drives, some women do, others, not so much.

Maybe it's the risk takers with high sex drives that simply just can't resist.

Elizabeth said...

Your post on journalism got little readership, Steve, because the link to comments underneath it is gone. Never was in the first place, at least not on my screen.

Anonymous said...

Well I for one would like to hear more about the media and I tried to add my comment on that blog but can't figure out how to post a first comment?


Steve Salerno said...

Dummy, you ain't no dummy; in fact you and Eliz have provided a valuable service by pointing out a flub on my part: I inadvertently clicked the "don't allow" tab under Options for Comments on that post (he says sheepishly). I have now corrected that.

Thank you!

Mike Cane said...

>>>I inadvertently clicked the "don't allow" tab under Options for Comments on that post

Baloney. You were sitting there with a wicked smile on your face, "Go on! *Will* it to happen! *Will* your Comment there! Can't do it, can ya, huh?" *cackle*

You sadist!

Steve Salerno said...

That is very good, Mike. Seriously. Very good. And just goes to prove the (oft-made) point that a short but perfectly executed bit of satire can do the work of 2500 somewhat-less-well-chosen words.

Mike Cane said...

Steve: But then, you have to make allowances, because I tend to be smartasstistic.