He shouldn't have left.

General Petraeus should not have resigned. In fact, I wish the president had said, “Sorry General, I do not accept. Now, get back to work.”

I’m not going to pretend I understand the goings-on of the FBI and the CIA, and the more I read about the Petraeus scandal, the more I realize that a lot of the hubbub has to do with the pecking order of who knew what when and how. That’s a whole different issue and has more to do with the handling of delicate information than it does the affair itself.

Now, of course, there are real concerns about why resignation might be in order for someone in his position–compromising national security among them. But at this point, the FBI has found only personal drama, and no security issues connected with the affair (says CBS news).

Let’s Look at What’s Really Bothering You

So let’s take the security issues off the table for now and get to the part that makes headlines, namely that a man of power had an extramarital affair with his young, beautiful biographer. It’s hardly surprising, and yet we seem to be endlessly scandalized by it when it happens. What’s on trial right now (even if Petraeus is not and likely won’t be), is his affair. This is yet more evidence that our reaction to cheating in our culture remains way over the top. While the idea of cheating can be overly romanticised by videos found on websites similar to Nu Bay com, losing your job and ending your career over a sexual affair is ridiculous and incongruous and shouldn’t happen. Period.

We love to be scandalized by the falls from grace–by politicians, war heroes, celebrities. We can’t believe this could happen to them in a way, because who’s more brilliant, more beautiful, more impervious than they are? We’re shocked that a smart, family man or woman would dare take such a risk, or that someone with a rock solid marriage would ever need to seek sex outside the marriage. We think they “should know better.” Wha? Anyone over the age of 12 probably “knows” better. These two people made a choice that, now that they’re outed, they have to say was a mistake, something they just shouldn’t have done. And if there was ever a way for us to know, and there isn’t, what really went on between them, I’d say that wasn’t a mistake at all–the mistake was in letting it get out.

When are we going to stop being scandalized, and instead realize that this happens–to lots and lots of people. Not because society is going down the toilet or because something has changed, but because in fact NOTHING has.

The fact is that human behavior hasn’t changed, and won’t anytime soon. People have been having affairs for as long as anyone can remember. What’s changed or is changing is our response to it, and it is, slowly. At one time you would be (and in some cultures still will be) stoned to death by your own neighbors for such a crime. Today, barring the chance that a jealous lover takes matters into his or her own hands, chances are you won’t be killed for your affair. And if the threat of death didn’t deter people in darker times, the threat of divorce or embarrassment won’t either, and doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter where you went to school, or how much you earn, or how beautiful you or your spouse is. How smart or sophisticated or loving you are. Of course, your affair will get a lot more national attention if you’re a four-star general, but accountants and school teachers and policemen have found themselves in this same predicament. I don’t think they’re bad people because of it. The thing is, we like to THINK that General Petraeus has a stronger moral character or is better than us and can’t possibly fall prey to this. And the panic arises when we realize that if that guy or that woman can’t resist that temptation, than how can any of us? Indeed. That is the question.

This isn’t to say that everyone cheats, or that everyone should. The numbers are pretty high, though (by some accounts, 60% of men and 40% of women cheat). But it also doesn’t mean that having an extramarital affair should spell the end of your marriage, your career, or your life.

The Question of Monogamy

Why this hang up over sex? While we’re drawn to monogamy, and still hold it up as the ideal and the only way to love (which I don’t agree with either), we’re not all that great at it. Some say we’re not even actually built for it (check out Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan). We continue to hold ourselves and others to a standard that few of us can adhere to. And punish ourselves harshly for it.

The very idea that you should lose your job, your career (especially in Petraeus’s case, who isn’t exactly a replaceable employee) over a sexual affair is ludicrous to me. You think, well, he might have put us in danger. Perhaps. And yet, we may be in far more danger because he’s no longer at his post.

Think I’m cynical? Hardly. I don’t see cynicism as the answer or the best response, either. Assuming that everyone will cheat and the world is going to hell in a handbasket is not the goal or the panacea. In fact, I believe we should have a far less cynical and more realistic, sex-positive approach to the role of sex in our lives and relationships. We still cling to this false and fantasy-driven idea that this can’t or shouldn’t happen–that you can’t love someone, you can’t want and maintain a decades-long relationship, and yet want or seek out sex elsewhere. And yet, we can–and do. But it shouldn’t spell the end of everything if that happens.

The Thing Everyone Says (Especially Women)

Then comes the quaint complaint of the simpler minded: “If you’re going to cheat, why not just get a divorce first?”

I’ll tell you why: Because in many cases, people have no desire to end their marriages. They love their spouses. In fact, many of the people who have affairs outside the marriage are in fact quite happy in most areas of their relationship. They don’t want to end their marriage. And why should they? Why is it more ok in our culture to upend and tear asunder a rich and valuable, years-long life together than it is to want or god forbid act on the desire to have sex someone else? This is not ok.

We put far, far too much stake in the idea of sexual exclusivity than serves us or our relationships. Yes, you can love your spouse and want to keep what you have and still be drawn to and want sex with someone else. Eric Anderson, PhD, author of The Monogamy Gap, says that the reason why men cheat (his study focused on men specifically) is simple: It’s a rational response to an irrational situation. We hold the bar far too high, and then wonder why we come up short. Again and again.

Does this mean I endorse any and all cheating? That I’m all, Sure, yeah, go ahead, what the hell? Of course not. It’s a serious and risky choice to make, and one I’m convinced no one wants to hear about, namely the spouse. We don’t want it flaunted in our faces, and we don’t want to feel rejected or embarrassed by it. But that doesn’t mean that when this happens, and it does happen, it has to spell the end of a relationship–and certainly not the end of your life.

4 replies
  1. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Have you ever been married? Because you seem to be missing the fact that sex is not just sex, it’s about communication, vulnerability and trust within the context of a relationship. People cheat because they don’t communicate with their spouses about what’s wrong and what they are missing, they cheat because they are emotionally immature, but they do not cheat because they are fulfilled and there is no acceptable excuse for cheating. It doesn’t matter that it’s been done for years – that’s like saying sexism or slavery is fine because it was fine for years. The fulfillment and real intimacy that comes with a committed, monogamous relationship is something worth aspiring to, and it appears it is something you have never experienced. With respect to Petraeus, you fail to reference the poor judgment shown in taking such a risk. Cheating is selfish and shows poor judgment, and he shouldn’t be in his position if he cannot exhibit good judgment.

    Reply
    • Mandy Pratt
      Mandy Pratt says:

      General Petraeus should not have resigned. In fact, I wish the president had said, “Sorry General, I do not accept. Now, get back to work.” ~ I totally agree.

      One of the points I think you might be missing Kelly, is the fact that Petraeus was OUTSTANDING at his job, and Terri clearly stated she didn’t endorse cheating nor did she minimize it, the point is someone doesn’t need to end their marriage, job, and life over a mistake. The fact that you compared it to slavery just makes Terri’s point more clear, yes it’s wrong and horrible for anyone to go through, but it’s NOT as horrible as something as extreme as slavery.

      Also, I don’t agree that because Petraeus cheated it meant he would have poor judgment when it came to his job. I know plenty of people who are experts with money, but suck at relationships. Or who are great at relationships but have poor judgement when it comes to diet/nutrition. One doesn’t necessarily mean the other.

      Bottom line we are losing a great leader who protected us as a country over a mistake that should be forgiven, and he will be very hard to replace.

      Reply
  2. Terri
    Terri says:

    Thank you Mandy–and Kelly, for your comments. Kelly, Mandy’s right–you seem to have missed my point. I in no way endorse cheating. No one said it’s a swell idea. The fact that you compare it so slavery proves my point however–and if we could talk to some folks who have endured slavery, they’d laugh their heads off at you. Who said a committed relationship isn’t something to aspire to? And I’d say Petraeus and many others have aspired to it–40 years of marriage is nothing to sneeze at. As Dan Savage says, we have to stop looking at monogamy as a kind of virginity (once you cross the line you’re not a virgin anymore) and look at it instead as a kind of sobriety–you keep aspiring, keep aiming for that, but when something throws you off, you get back on. And while I understand where you’re getting your pop-psych ideas about infidelity, I encourage you to read a little more deeply on the topic–and you’ll find that the way we’re wired all but demands novelty, and so quite often when someone cheats, it’s not a symptom of a large communication problem (tho of course it could be); it’s sometimes actually about the sex and simply wanting and needing it with someone else. Period.

    By the way, Kelly, I will add that by asking if I’m married, you seem to insinuate that anyone who hasn’t been married a) has no idea what a relationship involves, b) has no moral compass, and c) isn’t entitled to an opinion. This comes across as an attempt to undermine my opinion simply because of my lifestyle and choice. Emotional immaturity indeed.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I agree that it is baffling why as a society we are shocked when someone cheats. Whether it be a celebrity, our family or our neighbor, we are FLOORED and react like somebody just committed mass murder. Even in the wild, monogamy is difficult for many species of animal. I agree with Terri that monogamy is hard, but is something to aspire to. I think that even for people who haven’t cheated, it is still hard not to; like a type of sobriety. It’s human nature to be interested sexually in others, it’s just whether or not you act on it that is the issue at hand.

    Kelly is also off base by suggesting it can’t just be about sex sometimes. Sure, some people have emotional and physical affairs, but I do not believe that sometimes sex isn’t just physical. I’ve had purely physical sex that involved no emotional attachment. I was single, but it was what I needed at the time. I’ve also had sex with emotion (and I’ve been married), so I know the difference.

    I’ve had 2 long term relationships in my 30 something years (7 years and 6 years) and with both sex was terrible and sex was an issue. It is hard to understand how sex plays a role in a relationship until you’ve seen how it can ruin a relationship if it is not healthy.
    In my current relationship, I had an epiphany about how sex is actually probably THE most important part of a relationship. Why #1? Well, if the physical is good, then the rest tends to fall into place easier. BUT, to keep it good and healthy long term to me, means that both partners, but especially women need to understand how sex is different for men and women. This is NOT saying men shouldn’t pay attention to the needs of women, not saying that at all, but I do think that our society can demonize men and sex sometimes.
    What do I mean? It is hard to put into writing but I will try. There is a stereotype that marriage = no sex. Or that long term relationship = the excitement wears off. I do not think this has to be the case. For me personally, from my experiences I looked at why this might happen. Also, cheating. Why would that happen with the frequency it seems to? Cheating is not rare, it is quite common.
    I
    t is not so simple as to blame hectic schedules, kids, complacency or boredom. Too easy. For many men, not all, but I’d gander the majority, sex is very much a physical thing. It is visual. It is a subconscious urge to “take a woman” in a very primal way. That is the act itself. When you love someone, I am sure for them, it makes that act much better and somewhat emotional, but it is still a physical urge, a release for them. Women, more emotional about it right? Yes, this too is a stereotype and I am generalizing, but think of it this way. Many women do not orgasm EVERY time or even ever from just vaginal sex. That doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy it because we also just like the close physical intimacy with our partner and that brings a certain satisfaction. But imagine if a man didn’t orgasm every time? Physically it would be painful and honestly I don’t think just “physical intimacy” would be enough. That is okay.

    I feel that we tend to demonize men in some ways. “Oh they are too visual. They only care about sex. They don’t care about me.” Or that because in the media women are sexualized more than men, we want to jump on our feminism and declare that we won’t be objects! But if you are in a committed relationship, are you an object if you let your man feel very physical about you when it comes to sex?
    Not always, but very often it is the woman who is “too tired” “too busy” “just don’t feel like it” when it comes to sex. Probably because for us, there is less of that primal physical need. I am NOT saying we do not get horny and just want to fuck sometimes, we do, but men want to just fuck probably more often than a lot of women do. Hahaha.

    This is TMI, but I have sex with my boyfriend (who lives with me) every day. Not exaggerating. Every day. This is not to brag. I am not saying you have to have sex every day, but, I know what his needs are and I plan on meeting them. It is not a chore for me. I want to do it too. And that is part of the key. In my past relastionships I didn’t want to do it. The physical connection wasn’t there the way it should have. Now, I enjoy that physical intimacy, I enjoy the act, but I also enjoy knowing that he is satisfied. And that is where I feel that there would be less cheating, less marital problems. If you make an effort to keep the physical good, and recognize that your man might have different needs than you and CELEBRATE those needs, a lot of other problems are easier. I think a lot of women (not all, just some) dismiss men’s needs “oh he’s too physical and just wants to fuck me. I am not in the mood so I shouldn’t have to do it. He gets it enough…” that type of thing. And you can’t. You have to understand the difference, embrace it, enjoy it, and keep your sex life going!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *