"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, June 1, 2023

A Little On The Side–Men’s Birthright From White House To Walmart

Men have always had a little on the side – everything from hookers to arm candy to escape the humdrum of the same bed, the same woman, and the same, dutiful, ordinary sex.

Women have always put up with men’s meanderings – it comes with the territory of a good provider – and despite the hi-octane fury of a woman scorned, nothing much ever has come of it. 

Abject apologies, diaphanous explanations and promises have been enough.  Women are simply happy that their man comes home.

Of course the seas of men’s dalliances have become choppy of late.  Women are willing to put up with less; but a good marriage is simply good accounting.  It makes no sense to give up on sound investment.  Suspension of disbelief is the meme, and lipstick stains on the collar notwithstanding, men get a bye. 

Betty Arlen’s girlfriends had told her that ‘diffidence’ – a catch-all phrase that meant men’s faux fatigue, inertia, and ennui– was a warning sign.  A diffident husband in his prime would not settle for indifference, and would get his little bit on the side.

So Betty set out to see if they were right.  Her husband, thank God, would never be so tacky to use the ‘working late at the office’ excuse or the unexpected business trip to Dubuque, so it would take much more sophisticated sleuthing to catch the thief – errant emails, tell-tale scents, unexpected incoherence, a change in timbre or tone – but she would find out sooner or later.

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Her husband, however, was not the careful, abstemious type.  He knew that denials made within the context of suspension of disbelief and female sexual fatigue would be enough.  In fact, without the intrigue, the trailing scents, and the left luggage, sexual indiscretion would be no fun – it would, in fact, become the lowest common denominator.  

Let her suspect, Bob Arlen said, all the better; and when she finally did discover a smoking gun, he would admit it without shame.  Yes, he said, but it meant nothing,  It’s you I love.

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John Kennedy was the nation’s best example of male sexual tomfoolery.  Jackie knew that he was bedding every young woman from Marilyn Monroe to Slovenian beauty queens, but being First Lady was worth every misstep of her gorgeous husband; and the very fact of concluding a marriage with such a Lothario – getting him in her bed more often than not – was a feather in her cap.  

As importantly, the image of the patient, long-suffering wife of a sexual troubadour was one that suited her.  Who cared for love and romance when no sooner had Jack’s dead body cooled than she went off with Onassis?

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Point being that men do their thing and women put up with it as it suits them.  The movie Welcome to New York is Antoine Fuqua’s story of a fictitious Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a womanizer of mythical proportions who, denying the accusation of consorting with prostitutes, famously said, “How did I know they were hookers?  All women look the same with their clothes off”.  

The Strauss-Kahn character in the Fuqua film is an unapologetic sexual adventurer.  He knew quite well that his wife would stick by him despite his well-known sexual libertinage because he was in line for the French Presidency.  Regardless of social position men and women behave in the same, predictable ways.

Henry Kissinger once said that power is the strongest aphrodisiac,  and this doughy, misshapen, gravelly-voiced, overweight Jewish schlub found that he could have any young shiksa that he wanted.  It didn’t take suave Kennedy looks and charm to get women into his bed – only access to the President. 

Although it is much harder for a Walmart clerk to have his cinq-a-sept liaisons, it is still possible and common.  Henry Glennis worked the paint and trim aisles of the store, and Margie Fallon the lingerie and housewares department, and both were in desperately unhappy marriages.  Too many children, too high a mortgage, too clingy in-laws, and too low home sale prices restricted their choices.  A little on the side was about all they could hope for.

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They first met in warehouse storerooms, then cheap motels, and finally in her house while her husband, a freight supervisor at Target was called for pro-temp duty in Oklahoma City.  The affair – if you can call it that, so bland and limited as it was – lasted only a few months but while it did, offered the breath of fresh air that both needed.

Nothing is new in these stories, for cheating has been a feature of human society forever.  Clytemnestra, no shrinking violet, was  not one to remain alone and celibate during the long years her husband Agamemnon was at war with the Trojans fought over ‘another man’s wife’.  Her exiled son, Orestes, returns to avenge his mother’s killing of his father, and the incestuous, unholy sexual congress of his mother with another man, and murders her and her lover.  

Agamemnon, of course, freed at least temporarily from a loveless, power-driven marriage, has his way with Cassandra, a Trojan princess and brings her back to Argos as his sex slave.  Of course Clytemnestra is angry, not so much because he sacrificed their daughter for favorable winds to Troy but because of ‘that woman’. 

Everyone in literature has been unfaithful.  Connie Chatterley, Emma Bovary, Hester Prynne are just a few of many hundreds who have cheated on their husbands; and the number of husbands who went astray are innumerable,  Zeus had countless offspring with gods and humans alike.  He was father to Helen of Troy, Apollo, Athena, and countless others.  Polygamy or serial sexual congress was the rule of Olympus and the meme ever since.

So no one should be surprised at the mistresses of Jefferson, Bush I, FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, Clinton or even Nixon.  Former President Sarkozy of France kept his mistress in the Elysees, and his predecessor’s mistress, his children by her, and his wife all grieved in unison at his funeral.  Martin Luther King had more illicit sexual encounters that even J. Edgar Hoover could count.

No one however, grieves at the funeral of the Walmart clerks or will grieve at the thousands of graves of serial adulterers.  Male infidelity is par for the course.  A little on the side is not an aberration but a pattern.  Women are catching up, but sexual ‘inconsistency’ is still a man’s thing – and praise be it in this, our current abstemious, censorious, prudish, Puritanical MeToo age.

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