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February 15, 1999 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


He did it, he lied, he got caught, he got acquitted.

Now it's back to politics as usual (and fast forward to Gore in 2000). Or not. This part, in a sense, will be the hard part. Before, it was all Strom Thurmond und drang with a side of Iraq; now, it is the Cheater In Chief's task to act as if it never happened. Yet also as if it did.

These days, indeed, the political is the presidential is the personal. And the question on everyone's lips is: Where do we go from here (I mean, between here and the next Harding-OJ-JonBenet-Monica fiddle-fest... you guys smell something -- like, Rome -- burning)?

So. Senators, what say ye?

How does a union survive an affair?

Does it at all?

After all, don't forget Henry Hyde's obliviation*: "I wonder if after this culture war is over . . . an America will survive that's worth fighting to defend." About America, this is a moot point. But if you replace the words "America" with "relationship" and "culture war" with "teensy weensy cheating problem," this is an excellent question. One many advice-seekers have asked me.

That's right. I've said enough about Hill and Bill. I am talking about you.

By the way, BG -- UNLIKE CERTAIN PEOPLE -- is not going to take a moral position on infidelity. Someone gets hurt, I show up. That's all. Herewith:

Presidents' Day: The Cheat Sheet

Infidelity: Stuff You Probably Already Figured, But That You Might Need BG To Remind You About (Say, #5)

1. Cheating sucks because: "Affairs [or at least their fallouts] really aren't about sex; they're about betrayal...You have certain assumptions about your [relationship]...When you find out your partner has been unfaithful, then everything you believe is totally shattered. And you have to rebuild the world," says the highly-regarded -- and not just because she's Ira's mom!!!! -- Shirley Glass, Ph.D. in a July /August 1998 Psychology Today interview (from which I am about to quote heavily).

2. Gender differences: Far be it from me to go all Mars and Venus on you. But while John Gray works his magic unencumbered by actual research, there are experts out there -- like Dr. Glass -- who have done some revealing homework. According to her research, men TEND to have sexual affairs (boinking over bonding) and women TEND to have emotional affairs (bonding, plus.). In one of Glass' studies, 44% of cheatin' men said they'd had slight or no emotional involvement, versus 11% of women who said the same. (Not sure where this leaves what's-her-name in Bridges of Madison County, who spent page after turgid page trying to make us/herself think it was "more than sex.") (Also: I assume -- but do not know for sure -- that these tendencies apply to men and women in same-sex relationships. You just get two of each, I'm thinking. But if you -- unlike BG's G3 supercomputer -- can find anything else on this, let me know.)

3. Corrolary: Says Glass: "Men feel more betrayed by their wives having sex with someone else; women feel more betrayed by their husbands being emotionally involved with someone else. What really tears men apart [not that women are necessarily into this] is to visualize their partner being sexual with someone else." Hello, Kevin.

4. Suspicion. Affairs are not romantic. But neither is this. Be the one who's NOT sneaking around. Find a kinder, gentler way to inquire/confront.

5.. It's not your fault. Harshest case scenario: let's say you are totally annoying, belittling, and unwilling to experiment with Saran Wrap. You are hell to live with, 24/7. Well, you should work on that. But even then, the decision to have an affair is entirely your partner's. So none of this "If only I'd made her favorite meat loaf more often..." Opposite of #1: there are people who are utterly miserable and utterly faithful. Go figure.

6. Health note: Where there's cheating, there's not so much responsibility. Where there's not so much responsibility, there's not so much latex. SOS: STDs.

7. Cybersex (more about this in a column soon). Yep, it's cheating. A new flavor of cheating, but cheating nonetheless.

Infidelity: Stuff That Might Come as a Surprise

1. The Happy Cheater? An affair -- especially for men -- is not necessarily a sign of an unhappy marriage. 56% of the men Glass surveyed who'd had affairs said they were happy (versus 34% of the women). Whuh? "My research shows that there are many men who do love their partners, who enjoy good sex at home, who nevertheless never turn down an opportunity for extramarital sex," says Glass. (For more info, search for Alexandra Jacobs' fine article in the New York Observer on this crazy little thing called compartmentalizing.)

2. Trust. Is hard to rebuild, but not impossible. Think of it this way: you now have more information than you wanted, but this 411 is also useful. As Glass says: "When a betrayed [partner] who suspected something says, 'I don't know if I can ever trust [well, whomever] again,' it is reassuring to tell them that they can trust their own instincts the next time they have those storm warnings." In other words, the first person to work back up to trusting is yourself, and you may already know where / how to start.

3. Spilling. If I've cheated, do I have to tell? That's an excellent question to ask Breakup Girl. As in, not to ask the cheatee. As in, "Honey, just hypothetically, if I cheated, would you want me to tell you?" BG's answer: not necessarily. Here's a question for you: if you keep this a secret, can you live with yourself? No? Good. That's your punishment. See, sometimes -- like, when some one-too-many-gimlet thing happened that really really really really really won't happen again -- spilling your guts spills more blood than necessary. Sometimes people think what they're doing is sharing/expressing/confessing when what they're really doing is unloading/dramatizing/self-martyring ... which is something you do for you, singular, not for you, plural. But if this thing (or things) goes on longer than one meet-the-interns picnic, well, you may have kept it under your beret so far. Still, I will make one attempt at scaring you straight. Work./play on this assumption: YOU ALWAYS GET CAUGHT. Which, for some of you, may be the point.

4. Cheater rehab. Says Glass: "An affair holds up a vanity mirror; it gives a rosy glow to the way you see yourself. By contrast, the marriage offers a makeup mirror; it magnifies every little flaw...[So] after an affair, I do not ask the question you would expect. The spouse always wants to know: 'What did you see in [that psycho hose beast] that you didn't see in me?' Or, 'What did you like about [Senator Packwood] better?' I always ask about 'you:' what did you like about yourself in that other relationship?' How were you different?' And 'Of the way that you were in that other relatuonship, what would you like to bring back so that you can be the person you want to be in your primary relationship?' 'How can we foster that part of you in this relationship?' That's one of the goals -- not to turn the betrayed [partner] into the affair partner, but to free the unfaithful spouse to express all the parts of himself s/he was able to experience in the affair." Reread. This is heady stuff.

5. "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" (R) Worth a try. As Glass says: "Leaving a bad [relationship] without trying to repair it first is like buying high and selling low. Better to see how good you can make it, then look at it and ask: Is this good enough?"

One excellent sign at the outset, according to Glass: when the cheat-er is able to step back and allow the cheat-ee to lose his/her mind for a while. Cheater must recognize temporary forfeiture of rights to say: "Quit glancing sidelong at my beeper! Quit crying when we take the only road out of town, past the no-tell Motel where we were caught! Quit microwaving my videotape of From Here To Eternity!" Three more of Glass' keywords: compassion, empathy, responsibility. Two of BG's: getting it. Like, not, "I DID A BAD THING I KNOW I KNOW I 'M THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD I KNOW I KNOW I KNOWNOW CAN WE CHANGE THE SUBJECT BECAUSE PHOEBE'S ABOUT TO FIND OUT ABOUT CHANDLER AND MONICA?" More like -- well, your advisers are not going to script it for you. At the risk of sounding like Trent Lott, if you, the cheat-er, do not sound (that is, if you are not) sincerely contrite, you may be headed for a bigass trial, one where even a 1-1 vote can get you kicked out.

However. You, the cheatee, are also not allowed to (a) want to make things work with someone whom you (b) refuse to forgive. Glass' key words apply to you, too. No, it is not Your Fault. But yes, it is up to both of you to look down at the shared terrain of your relationship -- which is different from pointing fingers at one another -- and see where the faults and fissures lie. To mix metaphors: "There is almost always a wall of secrecy around the affair; the primary partner [as opposed to the First Lady] does not know what's happening on the other side of the wall. In the affair, there is often a window into the relationship, like a one-way mirror. To rebuild safety and trust in the partnership, you have to reverse the walls and windows -- put up a wall with the affair partner and put up a window inside the relationship....Things will never be the same. [And] the relationship may be stronger."

Okay, I've filibustered long enough. I'll assume that the writers of the following letters (don't ask me why there's only one from a guy -- no secret/calculated Reason) have read the above. And that they'll seek professional counseling if their gut (if not their hero) tells them to. And that after this advice column, I won't have to talk about the President anymore.

* derivation = "bloviation" + "oblivious"



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