So Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina wasn’t hiking on the Appalachian Trail, as his staff led us to believe. Nor was he off alone to “clear his head” as his wife reported. Nope. Republican Governor Sanford was hiding out with an Argentinian lover who signed her emails with “sweet kisses” and “I’ll dream with you” http://www.thestate.com/sanford/story/839350.html.
Meanwhile, we, the incredulous public, are still reeling from TLC reality couple Jon and Kate’s decision to split after Jon’s alleged affair with a preschool teacher. And that’s after picking our jaws up off the floor following revelations that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was smitten with a prostitute named Kristen.
Why the great shag fest? Because, as anybody who tries it knows, marriage is tough. It’s an institution held together by duct tape that unravels over time, when romantic notions crumble beneath the collective weight of parenting, vacuuming and bill paying.
I have proof. For many years, I was a sex and marriage columnist for three different women’s magazines. A lot of letters started like this: “My wife is too tired for sex.” Even where bonfires once raged, embers cooled: “I’m no longer attracted to my wife since she became such a fatso.” Or, “My husband’s a workaholic and I met the perfect man on the Internet. Is phone sex cheating?”
When I first started reading these letters and scouring the country for experts to dish out advice, I was in a state of disbelief. According to the media, everybody is having great sex all of the time, even married people, and orgasms are as easy to come by as sneezes. Then one night I went to a dinner party with friends and the women began talking about how they avoided sex with their husbands. One woman said, “I know not to smile at my husband when I get into bed, because then he thinks I’m in the mood. I’d rather read a good mystery novel than have sex.” Another told me, “If my husband is still awake when I go to bed, I make some excuse, like I have to go downstairs and make sure all of the lights are out. By the time I come back up, I know he’ll be snoring and I’m off the hook.”
Say what? But that’s not as bad as the hot tub party I went to a few months later — women only, all of us in bathing suits, nothing kinky, sorry – where we played one of those truth-or-dare games after a few fizzy drinks. One question went like this: “If your vagina was an article of clothing, what would it be?” Hot, right? Except that most answers went like this: “A shut purse,” “A worn out sweater,” “A tattered pair of stockings,” or some other forlorn item.
More recently, I went to my book club’s discussion of Twilight, that soft porn vampire novel. This was a true literary love fest among our book club members – soccer and baseball moms, mostly – who crooned over Edward, the vampire hero at the heart of that series. Why? Because Edward is a true gentleman, a guy determined to keep his lover safe by not biting her neck, no matter how good she smells. Chivalry is not dead. You just need to find a vampire lover strong enough to race through the forest while carrying you on his back.
What does this all add up to? I’m not sure, except that I’m not surprised that Jon chose a preschool teacher over hypercritical Kate, or that Mark Sanford ran away to Argentina, to a woman who signs off her emails with, “I’ll dream with you.” Dreams and lovers, and maybe even prostitutes, are much easier to take than the thorny reality of slogging through children and housework, jobs and disappointments, death and taxes, with only occasional moments to embrace between chores. Those of us who stay married might not make the papers, but we are truly making love.