Archive for June, 2009

On Being Good

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

I have to admit to a certain amount of morbid fascination with cheatin’ Mark Sanford. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah and significantly more downright stupidity for him to believe that he could jet out to Argentina, not let anyone know where he was going, visit his lover and somehow get away with it. Clearly there are analogs to be drawn between Sanford and Elliot Spitzer.

(Note: Elliot is a classmate of mine from Princeton’s class of ’81. It was my expectation that Elliot would someday run for president, that I would donate a lot of money to his campaign and that he would name me ambassador to Spain in exchange. I am bitterly disappointed.)

I do not believe the “arrogance” argument that says that people in power believe that they’re beyond the rules and that they won’t have to pay the consequences for their actions. I am much more of the school of thought that says “they wanted to get caught.” I believe that both Spitzer and Stanford were fundamentally very unhappy with their lives and, consciously or subconsciously decided to commit political suicide. That Stanford hasn’t quit his post and is still trying to salvage his career speaks more to his emotional instability than to his original motivations.

What drives people to commiting actions that they know are stupid? In Sanford’s case, I don’t believe that “love” is the answer.

I don’t believe that Sanford met Maria Belen and simply fell head over heels in love with her to the extent that he decided to chuck his marriage and his career so that he could spend the rest of his life with her. If he had, he’d still be in Argentina learning to Tango instead of back in South Carolina performing the two-step.

I find it easier to believe that Sanford has probably been fantasizing about Maria Belen for a long time (they’ve known each other for several years). I suspect that he’s been flirting with Maria AND with infidelity for a long time. I would also not be surprised if Sanford had already, previously, cheated on his wife. (See update below.)

Maybe Maria Belen had been resisting his moves. Maybe she’d simply been ignoring his flirtation. Maybe she was already in a relationship (was she married at the time?). Married women (perhaps, women in general) seem to be much less inclined to go the way of Spitzer and Sanford than men. Regardless, sometime a few months ago, something changed.

Maybe Maria Belen suddenly became available and Sanford’s advances were suddenly more opportune? Maybe Stanford finally convinced here that he was ready to leave his wife. Maybe they had too much Malbec.

Here’s the thing I’m interested in: what was going on in Sanford’s mind the very second that circumstances changed? What was his internal dialog? I can only speculate that it went something like this:

“Whoa! WTF? Did she just do the ‘hair toss’? Are those her toes I feel climbing up my leg? What do I do now? If I have sex with her and my wife finds out, I’m dead. She’ll divorce me. I’ll lose all my money. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to run for President. I’ll be the laughing stock of late night TV. This is a really BAD idea. On the other hand, I’ll get to have sex with someone other than my wife. Ok, let’s do it!”

I think the most common answer to why men do stupid things is, unquestionably, sex. We are genetically programmed to want to have sex with as many women as possible. It’s how we can assure that our genes are most reliably passed on. I remember hearing about a study that suggested that men stay “in love” for only 3-4 years. Our genetic disposition keeps us with our mates long enough to assure that our babies make it through their first few years without getting eaten by saber-toothed tigers but then it’s time to move on to find another babymaker. I can believe it.

I have been married (and faithful) for 27 years. To say, however, that every single day I notice some woman and contemplate what it would be like to have sex with her would be an understatement. If there are any numerical limits to my lascivious thoughts it’s due to the relative lack of women in high-tech rather than to any natural goodness on my part.

And yet, I’ve remained faithful.

Is it because I’m fundamentally a better man than Sanford? Absolutely. Come on, the guy’s a politician. The corner crack dealer is probably a better man, too.

Is it also because I have fewer opportunities than Sanford and because I’d never do anything to hurt my family and because I’m, fundamentally, a wimp?  Ya, sure – ya betcha.

Someone once said, “You’re only as good as you act when you know you won’t get caught.” Would I be faithful if I knew 100% that there’d be no chance of getting caught or getting AIDS or getting blackmailed? I don’t know. Probably. There are always repercussions. Even if I didn’t get caught, I WOULD KNOW. There’s no such thing as being unfaithful “once.” Once you have been unfaithful, you remain unfaithful forever. As Bob Dole put it, “Integrity is everything. If you have it, nothing else matters. If you don’t have it, nothing else matters. ”

I would find it difficult to look at my wife and to expect her to be faithful to me having myself failed to do so.

I think that men need to acknowledge their basic lecherousness and then to learn to deal with it. We need to learn to say “Ok, I recognize my inner lech, but my inner lech will stay there; he will not run my life.”

Why do men so often fail at this? (BTW, maybe women fail, too, but I’m not qualified to comment on that!) Is it simply that in the state of wild sexual rapture that reason fails? I don’t believe this. I suspect that, at the very moment of truth, when Sanford decided to cheat on his wife, he was completely limp and that this testicles has receded into his loins. I suspect that adrenaline and fear were more likely coursing through his veins than testosterone and lust. I believe that Sanford and Spitzer failed because they are cowards. Rather than stepping away from the ledge and dealing with their problems, they leapt.

I think the “program” is simple. Here’s how to decide what to do:

Ask yourself, “Am terribly unhappy? Do I no longer love my wife? Do I hate my job? Am I so miserable that I am contemplating making a huge mistake just so that I can do SOMETHING to change it?” If the answer is “yes”, then the solution is to fix these things. Seek counseling. Get a divorce or decide that you can deal with the problems. Quit your job or figure out a way to make it less miserable. Do something ABOUT the problem rather than something stupid, unrelated to the real problem, that is not going to make you any happier.

If the answer is “no, I’m actually doing ok. I lust after other women, but I love my wife. There are times when I don’t like my job, but it’s not that bad. After all, I’m GOVERNOR for Christ’s sake!”. Then the answer is easy: stop playing footsies. Ask for the check and go home.

Of course, it also helps to avoid situations that tempt us. Here’s my list of Top 10 ways to avoid faithfulness:

1. Don’t go to strip clubs (or brothels). Avoid prostitutes.
2. Don’t flirt with any women you find attractive. They might flirt back!
3. Don’t hire a good-looking secretary, especially if she’s divorced and younger than you.
4. Pay heed to the 9th and 10th commandments (“Don’t covet your neighbor’s ass. Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife.”)
5. Don’t go to bars with unmarried friends.
6. Don’t have female friends unless they are, foremost, your wife’s friends. Even then, see #4.
7. Don’t have unmarried female friends whether they are your wife’s friends or not. It is a myth that men can have female friends.
8. Don’t insist on a prenup. Live in a community-property state.
9. Make a conscious decision to love your wife and to value your family.
10. Stay away from the Malbec.

 Pretty simple, no?

Update: The Associated Press today reports “S. C. governor ‘crossed lines’ with other women”. Sanford says he “never had sex with them”. Perhaps a riff on Bill Clinton’s excuse?


First Long Motorcycle Trip

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Last week, a friend and I took off a couple of days of work to do a couple of days of motorcycle riding. We headed out late Wednesday and rode about 110 miles to a campground on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass (Salmon La Sac). After spending a very cold night there, we headed out towards Ellensburg on forest service roads.

These roads are made of gravel and were in reasonably good shape. We’d never ridden in gravel and took some getting used to our bikes’ “squirreliness” with less traction. Nevertheless, we got the hang of it and rode long enough to get to 4000-5000′ and encounter snow. We had to double back and find alternate, lower, routes.

The views from these forest service roads are spectacular. For the most part, the roads are used for logging and for fire fighting. As such, they wind through forests and mountains. They frequently feature steep cliffsides (with no guard rails, of course).

After lunch in Ellensburg we got on the “superslab” (highway) and headed north towards Leavenworth. There, we camped at the Eightmile campsite and spent a much warmer night.

The next day, we decided to continue on the Cascade Loop highway cutting up through Wenatchee, Chelan and back through the North Cascades highway. Although this was all on pavement, the views were stunning and we met some great characters along the way. We stopped at the North Cascades summit (about 4800′) and took a picture standing on 3′ of snow. The ride home took about 7 hours including stops for lunch and to relieve sore butts.

I’m looking forward to more such rides including more gravel and more visits to places I’ve not been to before.

Great trip…