May 18, 2011
Why powerful men can’t keep their pants on
The number of public men destroyed of late through sexual scandals is simply staggering. Within 48 hours of each other we heard that IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who many believed would be the next President of France, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, until a few weeks ago the Governor of the most populous state in the Union, self-destructed with sex scandals.
The stories themselves are beyond belief. An IMF chief, disciplined enough to oversee one of the world’s most important banks, is alleged to have forced himself on a hotel housekeeper. Schwarzenegger, disciplined enough to rise from immigrant status with a funny accent to become of the biggest movie stars in the world and one of the most powerful men in the United States, apparently could not muster the control to prevent himself from fathering a child with a woman who worked in his home.
The biggest mistake we make in determining why powerful men cheat is to believe they’re looking for sex. If it’s sex they’re after they have wives who can cater to their needs. No, these men are looking for something else entirely: validation.
Men cheat not out of a sense of entitlement but out of a sense of insecurity. And the bigger they are the harder they fall, not of arrogance but out of fear and weakness. What makes men slowly climb the ladder of success is a desire to prove they’re a somebody. They want to be and feel important. They seek to rise from the poverty of namelessness and the penury of anonymity.
It is not the promise of their potential that drives them but the fear of being a nonentity. They absorb the noxious lie of a culture bereft of values that only money and power will rescue them from being a nobody.
Therefore, even as they ascend the ladder of ‘success’ they do so with a gaping hole in their center. And whatever accomplishments they will shove into that hole – money, fame, power – it goes in one end and comes out the other.
They never feel good about themselves. They are never content. They are defined by insatiability and characterized by voraciousness, which explains why Wall Street bankers who were earning tens of millions of dollars a year still felt it was not enough and cut corners to make even more.
The first rule of success is that there is nothing on the outside that can compensate for a feeling of failure on the inside. External accouterments of success – from armored limousines to an army of personal bodyguards – can never protect you from the din of demons who whisper to you that for all you have achieved you are still are a big zero. And that’s why these men turn to women to make them feel good about themselves.
They want to feel desirable. They seek to silence the inner voices that taunt them as to their own insignificance. Because of its power, sex has a unique capacity to make insecure men feel – however fleetingly – like they’re special.
Having women desire them makes them feel desirable. So why can’t their wives give them this same feeling? Because the man who thinks of himself as a giant loser sees the woman dumb enough to marry him as a loser squared.
She, as the woman who bears his last name and his children, is part of his entire loser package. But the woman who is not married to him, who has never aligned herself with his failures, remains eminently desirable and can thus make him feel the same.
When Tiger Woods self-destructed with an alleged fifteen mistresses I was asked to be on a TV show discussing why he did it. He had a beautiful wife.
Why wasn’t that enough? The male panelist next to me said, “It’s simple. Men love sexual variety and Tiger had the money and the fame to get it.” I responded, “If it was variety he was looking for, why did he have sex with the same woman 15 times over? Every single one of the women he allegedly cheated with looked just like his wife, a blond-haired Nordic bombshell. There was no variety. No Asian woman, no African-American woman, etc.”
The explanation lay elsewhere. When he was a little boy they took Tiger, put a metal stick in his hand, and told him, “If you learn to use this better than any man who preceded you and knock that little white ball farther than anyone who competes against you, you’ll be a somebody,” which was another way of saying that right now you’re a nobody, you’re nothing. Contrary to the Biblical message that every human being is born a child of god.
Tiger heard the opposite. You are either the child of success are you don’t exist. So no matter how many tournaments he won and how much money he earned in his mind Tiger still remained a nobody with a lot of trophies and a lot of money. But none of that external success changed the original message: he was born a zero.
So he tuned to an endless number of woman to make him feel desirable and special. He sought someone who wanted him for his being and not his sporting prowess. And he was stupid enough to believe that any of these women would be out with him if he weren’t’ a champion.
It was his wife alone who loved him, but in his selfishness he lost her. This also explains why so many men who cheat end up opening up emotionally to the women they cheat with. If it was just sex they were seeking they would not be sending these women texts telling them how lonely they are and how only she, the mistress, understood them.
You may ask what this has to do with a renowned banker and politician allegedly attacking a hotel housekeeper? We don’t yet know all the circumstances of the alleged assault, so I do not wish to discuss this case in particular. But I have counseled enough men in similar circumstances to know that they don’t expect the woman to resist. When you inhabit a $3000 a night hotel penthouse – yet more external accouterments of success –and the woman in question is an immigrant cleaning up, you’re convinced she’ll be as impressed with the bells and whistles of success as you are and she’ll melt like putty in your hands. Her resistance becomes a complete shock.
The motivation, however, remains the same. Men who inhabit the top social sphere are usually driven to get there by a constant need to prove themselves. And in taking a woman who would otherwise have no sexual interest in you and transforming her instantly into a woman who desires you, you quiet the failure demons for even a brief moment.
In this sense, Strauss-Kahn’s comment in an earlier interview with the French publication Liberation, after he had been caught having an affair with a subordinate - “Yes, I love women. So what?” – displays a stunning degree of self-ignorance. The degree to which he loves women was never the issue but rather the degree to which he hates himself.
These scandals of decent men ruining themselves either through affairs or, much more seriously, through allegedly illegally and outrageously forcing themselves on women, should server as a wakeup call to a society that continues to have a single definition of success for men.
It’s not your gentlemanly behavior, sense of personal honor, or your devotion to your wife and kids that makes you special. No one really cares a hoot for all that. It’s rather the level of name recognition and money you attain that really makes you hot.
Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ is a renowned relationships expert and broadcaster whose books on love and marriage have been translated into 17 languages, with the most recent being, “The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets of Erotic Desire.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.