I once had a conversation with a man in Vermont. We met at a business conference and decided to get drinks afterward. He worked for a partnering organization, lived and worked nearby, and—oh yeah—happened to be married. Still, I quickly fell in love.
When the news arrived last Friday that the beloved General David Petraeus had cheated on his wife of 37 years with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, I almost ignored it as a non-event. The headlines and nightly news went wild, and SNL crafted a humorous joke about the title of his book, All In. I think you get it. Even before my own feelings developed for a married man, I had always been fascinated by the idea of marriage, monogamy, and affairs. In a different world, I would perhaps be shocked myself. But having lived it, I think the answer to why this happens is much simpler than we wish to believe.
To start this conversation, I have to address a few myths about the mistress-and-married-man relationship. In most cases, a woman who becomes a mistress is not looking to be with a married man. It usually just happens. The second myth is that it's about the sex or fancy perks—like all-expense paid dinners and gifts. While those certainly are reasons a woman might be intrigued, it's not a reason a woman would subject herself to an ongoing, emotionally intense affair that—in Broadwell's case—could cost her a career and marriage.
Instead, imagine this scenario. You're on assignment to interview your male boss or an influential man in power for work. Perhaps you have some theories about him already—he's closed-off, tough, superhuman, mean, successful. Then you unravel him layer by layer until you reach his vulnerable side, a side he's exposed only to you. Now you're in. You know his secrets. You are now, perhaps, part of his secrets. Continue reading...
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