If you happened to be looking for a good curse to put on someone for a reason that makes sense to you, you couldn’t go much further than wishing an unfaithful partner on them. There’s nothing quite like the upheaval of discovering a partner’s infidelity to rock your world in just about every way, and none of it feels good. It is an excruciating form of suffering and rather common, though when in its throes one feels entirely alone, and as if this has never happened to anyone else quite as badly as it’s happening to you.
I’m thinking long these lines after reading the latest story about “our secure marriage that withstands the pressures of political life,” this time from Bill and Chloe Shorten last weekend. The allegedly ugly and unspecified rumours are not for me to repeat, given my already tenuous legal situation. Let’s just say infidelity is one of the major temptations in many partnerships. Rumours of unfaithfulness often send public figures into a virtual frenzy of indignant denial, as well as what some might think of as unseemly revelations of their enduring closeness and commitment no matter what difficulties they encounter.
In the intimate and rarefied atmosphere of political life, sexual temptation must inevitably rear its enticing head. It can and does manifest in any workplace, often due to little more than proximity, however, throw in the tensions and hyper-excitement of life lived in the political bubble and you have ideal conditions in which lust can thrive.
Sex is lovely. Sex is relief. Sex is gratification. Sex can make you feel better when nothing else can. Sex is celebration: think of the victory root on somebody’s office desk. It is also consolation, when everything is going wrong and people hate you. Really, there’s not much sex doesn’t ease, albeit temporarily.
Is it any of our business if politicians are sexually unfaithful to their partners? There’s a good argument on this here, and some comments are interesting as well. I think whether its our business or not is largely out of our control: some of us will make it our business, the media will make it our business, a jilted lover will make it our business, a scorned partner will make it our business, a love child will make it our business, and so on. In short, if you are a politician and you have an affair there is the most enormous likelihood that we will find out about it and judge you, generally in the negative.
We are hard on our politicians, and perhaps rightly so. Many of them seduce us with their “family values” and their claims of moral integrity. We are not pleased when they are revealed to have feet of clay. In the popular imagination the unfaithful partner is harshly judged: there are those among us for whom infidelity is practically a hanging offence. An unfaithful politician is doubly judged, perhaps. If she/he is willing to go to such lengths to deceive those closest, why should we trust them in public office? It’s a reasonable question, but of course people are infinitely capable of compartmentalising, and how they conduct themselves in their private lives need have nothing to do with how they behave publicly. John Howard, for example, was a devoted family man and cared about the Aussie battlers. He had no compunction at all, however, about locking up refugees and their children indefinitely for the fabricated crime of seeking asylum.
A politician should be aware that if she or he undertakes an illicit affair, the fall out might be catastrophically public. Not only will they have a devastated partner and maybe family, a possible jilted lover and all the rest of the accoutrements of infidelity, they’ll have the public to contend with as well. There is nothing that can be done to protect them from these outcomes. They are on their own. Whether it’s our business or not, we’ll all have an opinion.
Of course many partnerships survive infidelity, some even claim to have be strengthened by the trauma. But political careers? Well, Bill Clinton’s survived. I’d advise pollies to think very carefully before they embark on an affair, but that would be a waste of time. The very hallmark of the affair is that one does not generally enter into it through using one’s head. Its another part of the anatomy entirely that’s involved.