Hot news on the world stage: foreign affairs, South Carolina style, attract international attention to American sexual hypocrisy.
Especially when it comes to the conservative right, the moralizing my-way-or-the-highway guardians of institutionalized sex.
I’m speaking of marriage of course, the acceptable venue for missionary positioning and duty visits between husband and wife. The kind that produce calm households, beautiful children, and longing for something more.
And thus ends the seven-day disappearance of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, with a teary-eyed confession upon his return.
Whereabouts for the Governor?
And where had the politically outspoken and possible GOP candidate spent that time?
Writing, according to the first public response issued.
(Odd. When I’m writing, I don’t disappear without a trace.)
Hiking the Appalachian Trail was the next stage of staged snippets.
As it turns out, the faithless father of four had flown the coop to Argentina for a (last?) tango with his mistress – leaving a concerned following of support staff – and his state – wondering where he was.
Adding salt to Sinner Sanford’s wounds: Later in the day, following the governor’s statements, emails between himself and his love interest were released for all to review. The derision level turned up a few spicy notches.
Some were quoted in the online press as “disappointed” in him as a role model. Personally, I couldn’t help but admire his manly missives. What woman doesn’t love a love letter? He praised his mistress’s kiss; he was playful and romantic. A man in love. Or at the very least, versed in sweet-talking his woman.
Really. Who can fault the human heart? It wants what it wants. (The Governor’s sentiments, certainly.)
Flashback to Bill and Monica
Personal flashback to my proper European (ex)husband (not French), and the wearisome months I listened to him eviscerate the impeached infidel. Meanwhile, my (less conservative) Euro-in-laws took the opposite view. They ridiculed our American obsession with the sexual adventures of our politicos, citing the waste of media space and tax dollars when the world had far more important tasks at hand.
C’est une affaire privée; a matter for Bill and Hillary, Bill and Monica, and that was that. Moreover, many of my Parisian pals thought Hillary’s handling fully appropriate.
This – of course – from a country that has given us the courtesan, Collette, Moulin Rouge, and the sexiest lingerie on the planet. Oh, they’ve also provided legal legitimacy to couples living together, and splendid, tabloid-worthy tales of their own to keep us entertained. All that aside, there’s relatively no concern for what presidents, prime ministers or other public figures may enjoy – and have – historically. The pleasures of the opposite sex. Well, the pleasures of sex – opposite or otherwise.
While I wouldn’t say that extramarital affairs are the French way of life, I will say that in my experience, turning a blind eye is an accepted (and effective) way of dealing with them. Ideal? No. The national pastime? Debatable. Fun? Usually. Natural? While it may unnerve many for me to say so – in my opinion, yes.
Could it work for this country? Should it? Does it already, among millions of couples who don’t live their lives in front of television cameras and nosy newshounds?
“Men and women are not made to live one love story only,” a French friend said to me recently. What a glorious (and French) sentiment. Yet I quite agree.
Of course, he didn’t specify whether he was speaking serially or simultaneously. But I already know the answer to that. He has a family he loves, and the occasional dalliance when he cannot resist. His life is hectic, tiring, exciting, erotically charged, occasionally risky, and about responsibilities first and foremost.
Is this about having your gâteau and eating it, too?
Naturellement. But wouldn’t we all like that, short of religious and moral objections that truly constrain our sense of sexual freedom?
Another French friend, equally devoted to his wife and children, strays rarely, but he does stray. Certain events – illness and loss – sparked his willingness to navigate by carpe diem when it came to encountering an exceptional woman. “Life puts a special person in your path and you must experience her. You change yourself with her. You live it. You bring back something greater of yourself, for yourself, and so, for the others you love.”
As long as you don’t get caught, I might add.
Liberté, Egalité, Solidarité (Féminine)?
Do the wives get equal opportunity?
In actuality, if you read some statistics, yes, and I don’t just mean in Europe. Infidelity is on the rise in the US among married women, and has been for some time. But I suspect with less bravado, and a dash more discretion.
The real danger lies in the obvious; the possibility of falling in love. Profoundly. And the ensuing desire to be with the object of your affection. The result is devastating hurt – to spouses and children, to financial futures, to stability and trust. And of course, to career aspirations, as in the case of the Governor. Those risks give us pause.
A crush from a distance? A flirtation? Why not.
Step over the line? You may risk something momentarily thrilling, emotionally affirming, and potentially catastrophic.
Last Tango Indeed
This morning, I can’t quite contain myself. My Mediterranean blood boils when I read the fracas made over any public figure’s private life.
Where President Clinton went wrong was in lying (though who wouldn’t, in his place?) and where Governor Sanford showed the immaturity of a teenager – wait – my teens are more mature – was in leaving his state (and the country!) without taking care of business. Passion – regardless of who you are – is one of life’s irrepressible delights, complete with inevitable complexity. And passion, when you’re a political leader, does not excuse irresponsibility.
Speaking of complexity, can you spell “hypocrisy?”
At what point, as a culture, are we going to accept that human nature is filled with flaws and variations? At what point are the moral guardians of boudoir behavior – like Governor Sanford – going to stop insisting that we live in ways that are fine for some, and impossible for others? Apparently, including the Governor himself?
Lust and love strike all of us. If we’re lucky. Mark Sanford was not immune. May his last tango have been sweet, and his reconciliation – whatever that may mean – sweeter.