“Men cheat for the same reason that dogs lick their balls... because they can.”
I was in my early twenties when I got the chance to work with a famous actor. This guy was quite a legend, known in the industry as one of the greats who had cemented his reputation with a series of huge hits in the 1970’s. Sure, we were now in the 1990’s, but fame can last longer in the film industry, even if you have done nothing recently. Partly because it is a small and incestuous group and partly because newcomers will put anyone remotely famous on a pedestal in the hope that they will give them their big break. So reputations endure from one generation to the next. This guy was no Cary Grant or Amitabh Bachchan, but he was a household name with my parent’s generation.
We did a few ad films with this actor over the period of a year, so I got to know him pretty well. One night we were sitting and discussing the script, in his office, over drinks and after we both had a few too many drinks I finally summoned the courage to ask him the question that was on the mind of every twenty-year old. “Are all the stories true about the women and have you cheated on your wife?” It must have been the combination of the vast amounts of alcohol and the fact that this old timer had a wild eyed young man in audience that led him to answer my question with great seriousness. At first he mumbled and stumbled on about fame, power, money and how all these things made men attractive to women, for about ten minutes (most of which were pretty incoherent) and then went on to tell me that it boiled down to one simple thing – that it was not like he wanted to or planned to cheat on his wife “but when women are throwing themselves at me, hour after hour, day after day and week after week – then what am I supposed to do, how many times can I say no and how long can a poor man resist such temptation?” At this point he looked at me triumphantly, as if expecting a pat on the back for the effort he had made trying not to cheat on his wife. I not only did not offer one but told him it was wrong to cheat on his wife. He laughed and suggested we have another drink. I will admit that as a twenty-one year old I was impressed with his position and predicament, but still I had trouble reconciling the cheating part. Most twenty something men are so obsessed with women and sex that rationalizing an argument for cheating can be a factor of immaturity, inexperience and early untamed manhood. However, we do grow up and once we reach our thirties we begin to have a completely different perspective on life and women. The fundamental change in my thirties was instead of feeling some sense of admiration and envy for men like the actor; I began to feel sorry for men like him. Adding notches to your belt in your twenties, before marriage, can be chalked down to wild-eyed boyhood, but doing this in your forties and beyond, especially as a married man, is nothing more than pathetic and boils down to insecurity and lack of integrity.
Here is the one thing that there is no getting around. Cheating on your spouse is a conscious decision one makes. It is not something that happens unconsciously when one consumes a lot of alcohol or uncontrollably because a woman is repeatedly throwing herself at a man. Think about it this way: if the same man who cheats on his wife is offered an opportunity to sleep with the most gorgeous woman in the world, but told that he has to jump off the top of the Empire State Building right after – would he still do it, even if he was drunk? It really is that simple. Men cheat because they believe they can get away with it. That they will be able to grovel, beg and get their wives forgiveness; and most of them do. Everyone has opportunities to cheat and everyone can make a mistake, but those men who have a pattern of cheating do so knowing full well they are doing wrong and still go ahead with it. What it boils down to once you clear away all the psychobabble excuses about personal issues, childhood experiences and personality types, is quite simply the difference between men with ethics, morals and character, and those without.
Cheating and abusive behavior among men in power has been around longer than the world’s oldest profession. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton started an affair with a married woman, while he was secretary of the US Treasury. When the affair and cover-up were exposed, he published a pamphlet defending his affair by saying that he never abused any public resources – sound familiar? Today, there seems to be an epidemic among elected officials all over the world, and all of them are using Mr. Hamilton’s defense, when caught, as a reason not to resign their office. What is greatly worrying to me is that these men all have one thing in common, and that is they believe they did nothing wrong since they did not break the law. But the issue is not the law. It is one of their word and their bond, and the trust that we have put in them. They have broken their vows of marriage and clearly misled and lied to their constituents often over a period of many years. Take Mark Sanford (Governor of South Carolina) who lied about his whereabouts for close to week, and finally when concerns about his disappearance started to grow, he held a tearful press conference blubbering on about his Argentine soul mate. I am glad his wife walked straight out the door with the kids, but he too refused to resign his office. Then there is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent revelation that he fathered a child with his housekeeper (the same time his wife was pregnant with their first) and kept his secret for fourteen years, while the housekeeper brought up his children under the same roof. Conveniently, Arnold came clean and sought forgiveness right after his political career ended. Or to more serious charges against the former President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, who last year was found guilty on two counts of rape. He had been dogged for years with charges of sexually harassing and abusing women, but clearly believed he would get away with it because of the office he held. Sure Mr. Katsav’s charges are more serious and he did break laws, but the underlying principle and premise is the same. These men are clearly drunk on power and abuse their position to prey on women; believing that they are not only bulletproof, but not answerable to anyone for their actions. The fact that politicians, especially today, living in a 24x7 media and technology fishbowl still believe they can get away with doing this boggles my mind, and tells me how deluded and desperate these men really are.
The latest scandal involves a rising star in the NY Democratic party who it seems has been sexting and tweeting lewd messages and naked photos of himself to college girls and porn stars. He has been married less than a year and his wife is three months pregnant. When the story first broke he went on a media blitz totally denying it and claiming that his account was hacked. When it became clear that the blogger who broke the story had more incriminating evidence, including, women who had been victims willing to talk, it was only then that Anthony Weiner decided he needed to come clean, beg for forgiveness and seek “treatment.” I am terribly curious about the idea that one can get cured for being a cheater, a serial liar and for completely lacking character. The bottom line is not if these men broke laws or if their wives forgave them, but the simple fact that they knowingly lied to protect themselves. We put our trust and faith in them to make important decisions about our lives and future and they broke that trust, demonstrated extremely poor judgment and are no longer fit to represent us.