Petraeus and Broadwell — and the moral is?

Portrait photo
Portrait photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here we go again.

A high-ranking alpha male, CIA director David Petraeus — considered “the most respected and decorated soldier of his generation”, according to the front page of the Financial Times — has resigned after having an affair. Not just any affair, but one with a jock/soldier/Harvard grad/author/hottie with whom he was doing six-minute runs in Afghanistan.

His wife of 37 years? Toast.

Take it from someone whose arguably semi-alpha husband was poached: a clarinet-playing, tall, handsome, funny MD who now earns in a month what I make in a (lousy) year.

Like Petraeus, he was gone a lot, working long days and many “on call” overnight shifts at the hospital, long before cellphones, emails or texts could have given me a way to reach out easily. And medical culture, like military, can be damn hard to penetrate, highly protective of its members. When they say people “close ranks”, they mean it.

Petraeus was hotly pursued by Paula Broadwell, a fine-looking high-achieving woman with plenty of determinationdespite her own marriage and two children.

Let’s be clear. I’m not defending infidelity. Petraeus was a fool to throw away a stellar career.

His marriage? Who knows?

That’s the dirty secret of the adulterer.

For every shocked, stunned wife (or husband), there is one more honest with herself, who knew things were crappy in their marriage — or knows they chose to marry and have kids with and stay with someone with a weak ego, a man/woman who needs to cat around to feel strong and sexy and desirable.

And a husband physically distant from his wife for long periods of time, a man spending a lot of private time with  a woman whose behaviors push all the right buttons, let alone a wife who’s given up on her skills and/or appearance?

Sound the sirens!

The woman my ex-husband is now married to was clearly going to become his second wife. I met her twice, spoke to her once, and felt it. Many of the issues — a la Petraeus/Broadwell — were similar:

 — They worked together

 — She saw him every single day, well-dressed and well-spoken and high-earning and authoritative, all catnip

— She flattered him deeply

— She was intensely competitive

 –They spent a lot of time together away from work; she was a single mother

And, in my case

 — She makes three times my income

— She’s highly educated and flatters his intellectual ego

I was financially dependent on him, which left me essentially powerless to act decisively

My ex made clear to me from the start of our seven-year relationship he wanted to marry a high earner. Not only was I a journalist — a field in which $100K is a lot, (peanuts in medicine) — but I also had to re-boot my career when I left Canada and moved to the U.S., just in time for the 1990 recession, severely curtailing my earning power.

His second wife, with whom he had two more children, is fat, not pretty and dresses, apparently, in the dark. I saw her in my retail job three years ago and she still looked like hell. So it’s not all about looks.

Every marriage has its frayed, weakened bits. Every marriage hits rough spots, some of which last months, or longer.

Which is why, in my second marriage, (13 years together now), Jose and I are very aware that marriage is not forever, that people can and will lose interest, carry toxic secrets or private resentments and stray. Addressing the issues, whatever they are, can be messy and painful — and may well lead to divorce court if both people admit these are utterly un-resolvable.

I spent a lot of years examining which of my own behaviors had allowed my marriage to end so quickly. One of them was simply having married the wrong man, which I knew at the time. I also painfully examined what I might do if I re-married, and I do treat my second husband very differently. An affair, or divorce, is a miserable, frightening wake-up call.

A woman who loses her man to a poacher — and they are poached, as surely as a hunter sights his prey — needs to do a little self-examination as well. Who did she marry? What’s not working between them? Or in the rest of his life?

It’s too easy to call him names and cut his clothes into shreds and call a divorce lawyer.

No matter what happens after an affair comes to light, the cuckold has ask what their role in it was as well.

What say you?

15 thoughts on “Petraeus and Broadwell — and the moral is?

  1. I think adultery is done for a number of reasons–lust, fear, self-esteem, anger, etc–but that doesn’t change the fact that it shouldn’t be done. It’s secretive, it’s cruel, and someone’s bound to find out eventually about it, and then it just ruins your reputation (I’m looking at you, Petraeus).
    I think when God wrote the commandments, he added a subscript to the 7th one: “And if thou shalt flout this commandment and commit adultery, thou shalt be found out and be humiliated in front of thy community.” That tends to be the case these days, especially with high-profile people caught with something on the side.

    1. I wonder if it’s worse or better (not that it’s ever good) if the adulterer is high-profile. It also really depends on your community. It has to be seen as something crummy, not a shrug.

  2. GlennFreiner

    Having been raised in a single parent household, I can’t condone adultery either because I see the aftereffects of this all too well. That being said, he cheated and she cheated; they must have felt they were getting something from each other that they weren’t getting at home. That having been said, before I am totally lynched. marriage needs to be thought of as a job. You train for a job, you go there every day, you do the work that needs to be done, you go to the conferences or educational offerings to keep yourself up to date as the job changes. Same with marriage: IT SHOULDN’T BE WORK, BUT IT SHOULD BE THOUGHT OF AS A JOB. Every day both husband and wife need to work at it. Communication, marriage retreats, alone time. That is in an ideal world where people aren’t struggling to make ends meet. Basic needs are barely being met, let alone the needs of marriage and family. Hell of a post.

    1. You said it very well indeed. No one wants to “work” at being married and the best marriages have sufficient joy and pleasure in them to offset the inevitable hells…but I agree with you. I think some people take their spouse for granted and I think it’s a terrible mistake. Once you know (and my parents split when I was seven) that marriage is not de facto forever and you decide to marry you also have to be willing to really look very hard at your own baggage and issues as well.

  3. I’ve just posted on another blog (in a different context) a comment to the effect that we’re all doing the best we can within the limits of being human and therefore imperfect. This is _not_ my defense of choosing actions that result in tremendous anguish or pain for the onlookers or participants. Rather, it’s my sad acknowledgement that for a variety of reasons (insecurity? narcissism? psychopathy or sociopathy?) some people are really good at deceiving themselves and/or others all the way down to the bottom of the slippery slope, whether that means bending their marriage vows until they break, poaching someone else’s spouse, or stretching the limits of an expense account until one is clearly embezzling from one’s employer (or … insert here your sin of choice).

    By sin I mean transgression, although the offense-against-deity aspect is optional depending on the religious interest or disinterest of the reader. You don’t have to be a primary-text-thumping-zealot to realize that there’s a lot of plain old everyday wisdom in the basic behavioral guidelines of what religious people call the Ten Commandments: don’t take something that–or someone who–is not yours. It tends to get people upset–both the offended “owner” and any nearby onlookers. In other words, it is better NOT to endanger your, or somebody else’s, promise to be faithful either with marital relations or an employer’s finances.

    Yes, there are usually warning signs before the situation lands at the bottom of the canyon. Should the betrayed parties (spouses, employers, etc.) have perceived the problem sooner? I really don’t know. Once everything has gone SPLAT, there’s nothing to do except proceed with as much dignity and integrity as possible. Given the intensity of human emotion, it’s unrealistic to expect complete tranquility from all participants at all times, but it does minimize the suffering all around if people can relieve their own emotions without making a bad mess even worse. I thus give Gen. Petraeus some credit for resigning. People can speculate about his motives but there’s something to be said for taking action to keep at least some of the mess from unravelling in the full glare of publicity. Mostly I’m sorry for the previously uninvolved (and unaware) people in both families. They didn’t ask to be included in these extremely difficult circumstances.

    Catlin, if I keep on giving this much time and thought to your blog postings I may have to launch my own blog and confine future responses to saying “I think xyz about this…please see my comments at [insert link here]!” Unfortunately, at present, other commitments and priorities intrude. I’ll keep coming back to visit. Thanks again for writing on this thought-eliciting topic.

  4. Steve

    Sorry but I don’t believe this story is about infidelity. My guess its more about Behgazi and keeping this man from testifying about this administrations failure in Libya. Why now? They knew about his affair for over a year. This man was vetted for the top spot in the CIA, investigated by the FBI and nobody knew about an affair? That defies logic. Either the President knew about it and did nothing or the FBi knew about it and didn’t tell him. Either way it isn’t good for e President . He should be outraged at the FBI and looking for heads to roll or else….?

  5. Dorli

    Thanks (again) for your honest and thought-provoking post. This whole affair is turning into something even a skilled screenwriter couldn’t create, and it’s almost easy to enjoy it like a good movie. Yet, it’s sad and complex. There are always two marriages in one marriage, n’est-ce pas?

  6. Pingback: Did David Betray Us? | Crgardenjoe's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s