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Easily Caught With Their Pants Down

Easily caught with their pants down – Anthony Weiner

High profile infidelities have been in the spotlight. Why do they do it, Judith Ireland asks.

Once upon a time there was a 40-something congressman who had a bright future ahead of him. Recently married to a prominent political adviser, the congressman was billed as one to watch in US politics. But then a photo of a man in his underwear was sent from his Twitter account to a 21-year-old Seattle woman who was not his wife.

Thus began a week of the congressman denying any knowledge or ownership of the undie tweet. His computer had been hacked! It was a hoax! That is, until he fronted a press conference on Tuesday, tearfully admitting the crotch shot was his all along. And that he had had kinky online interactions
”with six women over three years,” mostly, but not exclusively, before he was married. Welcome to the doghouse, Anthony Weiner.

With The New York Times reporting that his wife, Huma Abedin, is three months pregnant, the story has officially become surreal. And yet, there is something oddly familiar about it as well. Weiner’s weinering follows in the grand tradition of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods, Jesse James, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Newt Gingrich as high profile cheaters, who had stupid, embarrassing, messy downfalls.

Sex scandals may be a 10c a dozen, but we can’t get enough of them. Even if, as in Weiner’s case, we have never heard of the offender before. This is nothing new.

University of Sydney Associate Professor of History Katrina McKenzie says there is a rich tradition of sex scandals that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, where clergymen, political figures and aristocrats were brought asunder when their pecidilloes went public. When a moral guardian is exposed as a fraud, it is a talking point, she says. ”I do think the hypocrisy irks people.” That and the ”titilatory factor” plays a big part in our enjoyment of such tales.

But McKenzie also notes that a spate of scandals will often occur in ”moments in transition” when society is anxious about or testing its social norms.

”People can be trying to assert boundaries.”

Indeed, while infidelity is often portrayed as a pastime for the rich and famous something depraved that politicians, sporting legends and movie stars get up to in their spare time in practice, it is much more commonplace.

Julia Hartley Moore has run a private investigating company in New Zealand for 16 years and says that infidelity can and does happen to anyone. ”It doesn’t matter who you are, its just the fact that you’re in a relationship,” she says.

Los Angeles-based, Australian-born relationship expert Patrick Wanis thinks infidelity is on the rise, but says it is difficult to put a number on it. ”It’s impossible to have exact figures and data on cheating for the simple reason that those figures are dependant on self reporting.” The 2009 Great Australian Sex Census of 9000 Australians, found 47 per cent of male and 44 per cent of female respondents had been unfaithful in some form. The National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago suggests that between 15 and 18 per cent of marriages experience infidelity but other polls put the figure as high as 70 per cent.

The rise of dating sites for married people also points to the popularity of infidelity. With 9.5 million members worldwide, Ashley Madison launched in Australia in April 2010 with the tagline ”life is short, have an affair”. Australians have since become enthusiastic supporters of the service, and as of May 2011, there were 347,806 Australian members. According to founder Noel Biderman, of the 14 countries where Ashley Madison is available, Australia has the fastest growing membership per capita.

It is common for people to blame the prevelance of cheating on the opportunities afforded by sites like Ashley Madison that encourage and allow people to meet. And the simple fact that mobile phones, email and social media now make it easy for people to carry out their contraband communications. However, as Weiner’s experience shows, while technology makes it easier to cheat, it also makes it easier to get caught.

Wanis blames ”a break down in morality and values and an extraordinary increase in pervasive narcissism” on the current rate of infidelity in society. Factors such as the 1980s self-help movement, the New Age movement and bad parenting (wherein kids are told they are wonderful regardless of their behaviour) mean that society today is focused on ”me, me, me” more than ever before. Wanis is worried that we are prioritising careers, money and material pleasures over our romantic and parenting relationships. ”We all want instant gratification,” he says. ”Therefore we don’t think of the consequences.”

The current state of affairs also suggests a discomfort in the gender balance. Looking to the likes of Schwarzenegger and Weiner, Wanis observes a trend of ”men marrying up but cheating down”. That is, men are less comfortable than they seem with partners who have high-flying careers, so they look for a woman who is powerless and submissive to reassert their sense of control. ”I know I’m going to be criticised for this, but I don’t think men can handle such successful women,” he says. Hartley Moore has also observed a gender imbalance in her private investigating noting that as women spend more time at work, some men feel like they are not getting the attention they need at home.

Yet this is not to suggest that cheating is just a man’s game. Hartley Moore, whose book, Infidelity: Exploding the Myths was recently re-released, says that cheating is an equal-opportunity pastime. ”Women play around as much as men,” she says. Indeed, 40 per cent of Ashley Madison’s registered Australian members are female.

However, while both genders are prone to straying, they tend to do so for different reasons. Wanis says that women are more likely to cheat if their emotional needs are not being met. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to go AWOL if their relationship is ”lifeless [and] sexless”. In the case of very powerful men, cheating will also happen because they feel ”entitled” and ”invincible”.

The gender divide also continues into the affair and says a lot about those forehead-slapping moments that Tiger et al have provided over the years. As a rule, women are much better at discretion once the affair gets going. ”Women are very clever and calculating when it comes to conducting an affair,” Hartley Moore says. Men, however, are more likely to think they won’t get caught and take stupid risks. ”They really think they’ll be able to explain it away.” Congressman Weiner: take note.

But regardless of how careful, or how tricky you are, the experts warn you’re destined to get caught. Hartley Moore says cheaters will inevitably exhibit different or strange behaviour and give the game away. ”When you’re married, you end up knowing someone very well,” she explains.

If you’re a public figure promising congressman or not you can rest assured the cameras will also be hot on your tail to tell the world about it. And expose our social anxieties once again.

Judith Ireland is a staff reporter.

This is an archived copy from The Canberra Times June 11, 2011
(News Opinion Editorial General)

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