This past week the news has been dominated by sex scandals—some of them of an (alleged) illegal criminal nature and some of them not. What they have in common is that the men involved in all cases risked their marriages, personal lives and reputations to live out their different sexual fantasies. Again, I have to ask the question, what were these men thinking? But I know I won’t get a satisfactory answer. Or I’ll get the standard wisecrack answer—they weren’t—it was their second brain that was doing the thinking.
This time it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who ‘took full responsibility’ and stepped up to the proverbial plate to inform us about his extramarital affair with one of his household staff members and the resulting love child. The news was apparently kept secret even from his wife Maria Schriver, who when she heard it from him apparently a few months ago, promptly moved out of the house. They are currently separated and will likely divorce. When I first heard the news I thought, yet another male politician who couldn’t keep his pants zipped. Really, what is the world coming to, I ask you? One politician after another caught up in the arms of sleaze—affairs with household staff/servants (Schwarzenegger and a few of our country’s founding fathers), dabblings with prostitutes (Eliot Spitzer), oral sex with congressional pages and sex with nightclub singers (Bill Clinton), adultery with women sneaked into the White House (John F. Kennedy), adultery with an Argentinian girlfriend (Mark Sanford) and adultery with other (healthy younger) women while their wives struggled with cancer (Newt Gingrich, John Edwards, and a few other men I know of who are not politicians). The latter especially is distressing to read about if you own an iota of empathy, because you know that the news that your husband is fooling around or having children with another woman while you battle cancer cannot be anything other than immensely stressful precisely at the time when you need little to no added extra stress. And how sad to leave this life knowing that your husband was a ‘rotter’ as my mother would have called these types of men. What a thing to forgive, and can you really? What a betrayal—the ultimate betrayal. Even if you did live, could you trust a man again? Again I find it hard to believe that men can behave this way. Of course I know that there are two sides to every story. If I didn’t write that here I’d be reminded of it by some well-meaning person. And I agree, there are two sides to every story. But it’s hard to find equivalently awful stories about female politicians who behave in this way toward their husbands. I’d like to know about them, I really would.
I have been witness to some strange male (and female) relationship behavior during the past thirty years, so I know that bad behavior does happen. I know of married men who traveled under assumed names to meet their lovers so that their wives wouldn’t find out, I know of men who were on message boards and internet dating sites passing themselves off as single when in fact they were married, I know of men who were fooling around with their current wives while their soon-to-be ex-wives were succumbing to cancer, I know of men who strung women along for years telling them that they would marry them and then dropping them the minute they found the woman they ‘wanted to marry’. I know of swinging couples and wife-swappers; of men who lied to women about being ‘separated’ in order to get a woman to sleep with them. I know of men who travel on business who pick up prostitutes and call girls when they are in another city. I know of married men who offered to be sperm donors for single women and whose wives would probably not have appreciated the offers had they known about them. I also know of women (married and single) who have contacted the wives of the men they have decided to seduce, to tell the wives that they and the husbands are very attracted to each other and that if the husband hadn’t been married they would be together. I know of women who pursue married men on social network sites, by email, and via text messages. I know of women who worked for men who told them at the outset that they’d like to be their mistresses, who ended up being so, and who ended up marrying them after causing hell for the wives involved. In Norway alone, infidelity in marriage occurs in one of two marriages according to what I hear from other people and from news reports; I have no way of knowing whether this is true, since most people would never talk about this honestly. In turn, I know of wives who fought back and told some of these women off and told their husbands off at the same time. I know of some women who divorced the louts they were living with. I know of some wives who really fought back—when their husbands went to live with the other women and the scorned wives made their lives a living hell. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. You bet. And maybe it’s good that it is that way at least in some cases. But sometimes I believe in divorce as the solution to painful hellish lives. I’ve seen a number of abusive and depressing marriages during my growing up—drunken men who hit women, eternal flirters and skirt-chasers who were never happy with the women they had at home, or men who always had to have the last word—who controlled their wives and families with an iron fist. And this took place/takes place in Westernized society. So every time people say to me that women have it so much better in our neck of the world, I remind them of this, and then we come down a few notches on the ‘everything is great for women in our society’ scale.
Which brings me to the men and women I know who are unsung heroes in my book. The men and women who have stayed married through thick and thin without cheating, without abuse, without carping. Who start each day with a smile and who never cease to amaze me with their cheerfulness and helpful spirits. Who are loyal and kind to their spouses and children. Who have probably been tempted to leave a few times in their lives, but didn’t, because they put the happiness and needs of their spouses and families ahead of their own. Who stuck by spouses in times of sickness—the true test of love. I’ve seen what sickness in one or the other partner can do to relationships, so I know it’s not easy. Loyalty is underrated in our society these days. But it is what makes marriages and friendships last. Without it, there can’t really be much trust. You have to be able to see into the future and ‘know’ with your gut that the person you share your life with will be there for you when you are sick, when you need help, and vice versa. No one said it would be easy. Maybe you’d like to run at the first sign of trouble. But maybe you didn’t; maybe you wrestled with your doubt and anxiety and temptation and stayed put. These are the people who impress me. You don’t need to climb Mt. Everest or practice extreme sports or any of those things to impress me. ‘That don’t impress me much’, as Shania Twain sang a few years ago. What does impress me is longevity and the ability to be positive and cheerful in a marriage. I’m not saying that all people should stay together for an entire lifetime; I’ve already argued for divorce as a solution to hellish relationships. But if after some years of being together, an otherwise decent marriage loses a bit of its luster and temptation comes one’s way, maybe one should take a closer look at what one has before tossing it away for a sexcapade. It is possible to stay faithful, and I know couples married for forty or more years who have been faithful to one another. They say so, they are still in love with their spouses, and they are my heroes.