Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Back when I was first starting out in TV news, I worked closely with a male reporter who had a reputation for being an insatiable office lothario. A considerable portion of his spare time while on the clock was spent trying to seduce one impressionable, post-collegiate hire or another; these seek-and-destroy missions were usually undertaken in the same sickeningly cavalier manner -- with an almost comical lack of regard both for the wreckage of past relationships that he'd left strewn all over the newsroom and for the wife and young child he returned home to every night. Throw in a frat-boyish tendency toward male-bonding-through-conquest-comparison and you had a personal catastrophe waiting to happen.
While I was certainly no angel and had done my fair share of screwing around, cheating on women who cared for me and generally behaving atrociously, I always kept this reporter and his exploits in the back of my mind during my early 20s -- as a sort of object lesson.
I looked at him and told myself, "I don't ever want to become that."
He was in his late 30s, married, a father, and a fucking narcissist who just couldn't resist whatever ego-stroking power trip came from getting a 21-year-old to sleep with him. He was a walking hard-on who was constantly one lipstick smudge away from destroying his life, his job, his family -- everything.
I always wondered what he would tell himself if and when it all fell apart -- how he would even begin to justify not simply what he'd done but quite possibly who he was.
Needless to say, this little memory has pushed its way back into my consciousness in the last 48-hours, thanks to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's gargantuan indiscretion.
But while psychologists, self-help gurus and humiliated wives of news-cycles past now jockey for position in front of this camera or that -- with rubbernecking audiences gleefully joining in the obligatory pile-on and armchair analysis of "why men cheat" -- it's worth noting just how far off-point the whole debate seems to be.
Sure, we've witnessed the fall from grace of dozens of powerful men before the whole Spitzer debacle, but to imply -- even for a moment -- that deceit, betrayal and arrogance belong strictly within the realm of the masculine sex is both obscene and offensive. Eliot Spitzer's actions were indeed selfish and stupid, but to view them in such simple yet strangely accepted terms -- as indicative of some great anthropological mystery about men in general -- renders the entire argument worthless. The truth is that an inexplicable willingness to compartmentalize all that you've worked so hard for -- to bury the thoughts of your loved ones, your future, any potentially negative consequence -- in order to chase down a cheap thrill isn't a male trait any more than it's a female trait; in reality, it's a human trait.
People make mistakes. They screw up -- sometimes horribly. They do things without thinking.
And while Eliot Spitzer will now pay the price for what he's done, neither his crime nor his punishment will answer any larger questions about the nature of men let alone human nature. No matter how many scorned women might understand the hurt that Spitzer's wife is feeling, and as such want to beat the disgraced governor until he gives up the answer they believe any betrayed spouse is entitled to -- why? -- it won't ever come. Eliot Spitzer can only speak for Eliot Spitzer, and chances are even he doesn't fully understand what led him do something so shockingly dumb.
I've cheated on people who loved me. I never purposely set out to hurt anyone, but that excuses nothing. I'm now sorry for the pain I caused.
I've been cheated on by people I loved. The pain is unimaginable, but I found that beyond some healthy analysis, looking for an ironclad reason as to why it happened -- what might explain or even excuse the betrayal -- only made it worse.
Destroying those you love is beyond justification, and any attempt made to do so -- particularly one which falls back on tired sexual stereotypes -- is an insult to those from whom you may find yourself asking forgiveness.
It's that simple -- or maybe that complicated.
Just before I moved out to L.A. to begin a new chapter in my career and my life, that Casanova reporter started dating a co-worker of ours with whom I was good friends. Whereas his past conquests had been passive, compliant and staggeringly respectful of his need for discretion, I understood something that his insurgent lust had apparently blinded him to: His new paramour would be nothing of the sort. She wouldn't behave; she wouldn't romanticize his immaturity; she wouldn't give a damn if the whole thing exploded and took an innocent wife and kid with it. She wasn't looking for love or an emotional connection and she wasn't trying to fill some hole left unattended by the lover she'd kiss when she got home.
She was doing it just to do it -- and neither she nor anyone else could tell you why.