The same dynamic is at play in our national and private yearnings. We want the same illusion of moral constancy in our politicians as we do in our marriages.

But we inevitably find our leaders have feet of clay. And it’s common for couples to not even know what’s going on in their very own relationships.

I’ve heard these sexual secrets with regularity in my 20 years of practice as a psychoanalyst; I can reflect on stories of infidelity from my small puritanical home town that have dribbled in over the last 40 years, long after the fact, often after somebody has died (just like with Deep Throat); I know of their existence in the family in which I was raised; and they’ve been repeatedly disclosed to me by my friends as they’ve grappled with it. Naturally, I also see it played out in media coverage whenever a story breaks.

It’s omnipresent and we don’t want it to be.

We can consider the sexual acts of others so stupid and hubristic we can’t even believe they were undertaken, and we think that would certainly never happen to us. Or we try to keep our concerns at bay by joking our partner has no time to have an affair, or we ask them if they’ve been untrue and they say “No, honey”. Sexual love over time can be tricky. I don’t know who said it first, God or Bono, but this line comes to mind: “Love is a temple; love the higher law. You ask for me to enter but then you make me crawl.”

No matter what we do to try and protect ourselves, this is the problem: rationality plays no role in desire. They operate in separate spheres.

To prove we’re all susceptible, here’s a list of just some of the jumpstarts to affairs:

  • Too much narcissism
  • Not enough narcissism
  • Stasis
  • Tragedy
  • Grief
  • Wanting to ride the wave of happiness by riding someone’s curves
  • ADD
  • Illness
  • Augmenting great sex at home
  • The absence of great sex at home
  • Sexual disorders
  • Sexual ease
  • Falling in love with someone else
  • Wanting compartmentalized un-emotional sex with someone else
  • Too much money and grandiosity
  • The absence of money and the wish to not feel it
  • Having children
  • Not having children
  • Because you’re young and don’t know better
  • Because you’re old and know too much
  • Because your partner’s your best friend
  • Because you can no longer stand your partner
  • To get back at your partner for betraying you
  • To get your partner’s attention
  • Because the couple steers into danger consciously
  • Because the couple drifts into danger unconsciously
  • Because it’s so not what people believe you’re capable of that no one would suspect you
  • Because it’s what everyone expects of you
  • Because the Madonna/Whore split is alive and well
  • Because you’re human.

Our trust doesn’t extinguish our partner’s sexual desire; their trust doesn’t extinguish ours. In fact, our wish for trustworthiness exists in part because we have such a well-earned fear for the power of desire. The same is true of those we vote into national power. Our hope for true leadership guides us in our search, but it doesn’t guarantee finding it.

I believe we’d have a better chance of weathering the foibles of our own humanity if we’d reconceptualize intimacy in a way that plans for the high possibility of infidelity. I suggest this because betrayal is hard enough without the additional shame we heap on it with our clanging response of shock each time we hear of another couple in crisis.

The same could be true for how we see our leaders.

There should be no cause for shock in the case of something that happens with great regularity. What?! A politician lied to cover up hypocrisy? What?! Someone strayed? What?! You ordered the chicken again?

Image by John Edwards 2008 via Flickr

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