Let's get one thing straight: there's no excuse for cheating on your wife. You may argue that "my needs were not being met," "I was being taken for granted and not appreciated," or "she's let herself go and I don't find her attractive anymore," but going elsewhere never solves the problem back home. So don't expect sympathy or understanding because you won't get any.
It doesn't matter whether you're married to Elin Nordegren Woods or Holly Petraeus. There's no excuse for cheating on your wife.
But there is precedence.
And this is why -- although we're all sickened by the story of a powerful man cheating on his wife -- it comes as no surprise that it has happened once again. The only shock is that the man behind the headlines is (now former) CIA head Gen. David Petraeus, long regarded as a model of restraint, discipline and integrity.
What made him stray? Can we blame it on power? It's not an excuse, but it is a mitigating factor.
Historically speaking, for centuries unfettered sexual conquest was the privilege men seized upon when they came into power.
Historian Laura Betzig traces this power/sex connection as far back as 6,000 years, and cites numerous examples throughout the ages. In ancient China, a man's power and status was reflected in the number of women he kept; middle class men might have 3-4 concubines while great princes kept hundreds. According to Betzig, "The point of politics is sex."
More recently, the Washington Post labeled this flaw "a leader's sexual hubris" and asked experts to opine on why so many leaders confuse power with sexual charisma.
Gen. Petraeus no longer lives in a world in which to the victor goes the spoils, which in the past would have included women. But like most contemporary men, he turned his back on his wife of 38 years and chose a younger model. His conquest was his biographer Paula Broadwell, a woman who could keep up with him and his five-mile runs and who displayed her formidable guns during an interview with Jon Stewart. (The segment, which included a push-up contest during which Broadwell crushed Stewart, in restrospect feels creepy-crawly feel and tawdry, and Petraeus's mistress comes across less as a serious biographer and more as a flounce-adorned dominatrix.)
This is not to say that Paula Broadwell is entirely to blame. After all, it takes two to tango. But she fits the stereotype of the woman you'd expect a man to cheat with: sexy, younger, provocative, challenging. The one quality she possesses that runs counter to the power/sex dynamic as played out through the centuries is this: she seems as physically powerful as Petraeus, and if there was conquest involved the capitulation and surrender appear to have been mutual.
So what does that leave us with? Sadly, the same old story. Blame it on history, blame it on biology, blame it on opportunity and availability. But we have the cheating man fallen from glory, the scorned wife furious and humiliated, the public enjoying it even we gasp at the thought that such a respected man has erred.
In the end, it doesn't matter what she looked like, what he did for a living, or what the reasons were. There's no excuse for cheating on your wife that can justify the act and make everything all right. How many times do we have to see this repeated before our eyes before we learn the lesson?