On a recent debate about marital infidelity on CNN a fellow panelist was adamant that Tiger Wood’s unfaithfulness was both predictable and unpreventable. ‘As a famous guy you meet a lot of beautiful women. You feel attracted to them, they feel attracted to you, and you end up in bed. It’s not more complicated than that and there’s no way to stop it.’ Men cheat. Get used to it. Case closed.
Such shallow drivel has been the level of discourse ever since the story broke that Woods may have had enough mistresses to staff a female softball team. Firstly, if there is no way to guarantee male faithfulness, why are we all scandalized by Tiger’s behavior? And second, a whole parade of powerful men – Eliot Spitzer, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, John Edwards – are destroying themselves and their families with acts of infidelity. And we can’t come with any cause other powerful men have a sense of entitlement?
What impedes any deep understanding of infidelity is the public’s natural assumption that husbands have affairs for sex. In fact, the vast majority of husband’s affairs have no physical component. They are cyber affairs that take place over the internet. They are conducted over the phone and are never consummated. And even when they do get physical it is often very bad and unsatisfying sex, as Monica Lewinsky shared in the Starr Report and as a multitude of JFK’s mistresses alleged as well.
In truth, men have affairs not for physical reasons but for emotional ones. They cheat not out of a sense of confidence but out of a state of brokenness. Not out of a sense of how desirable they are but out of a sense of what failures they are. And this is especially true of men like Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton who live in a hyper-competitive environments where they realize that they are only special to the extent that they keep on winning. Men like these are particularly broken, living as they do just one failure away from obscurity. They know that their value as human beings rests entirely in other people’s hands. And they live in permanent and painful insecurity. They constantly question their self-worth and they turn to women both to feel desirable and sexy and to comfort them from their pain.
Yes, I know. Men like Tiger Woods appear to the public as cool-as-a-cucumber. But beneath the calm veneer is a man who has been trained to believe that his value as a human being rests entirely on a never-ending game of human one-upmanship.