How Petraeus Proves That You Can’t Outsmart Nature

When first hearing about the General Petraeus scandal, I wasn’t very interested in writing about it. I mean, “Powerful man cheats on wife with attractive young woman who admires him” is about as dog bites man-ey as a story can get. This is something that has always happened and will always continue to happen. Frequently. (In fact, some would argue that the main reason why men seek power is so they’ll have sexual access to a larger population of women — basically, power didn’t make him have sex with other women as much as his want to have sex with other women made him want to be more powerful — but that’s another discussion for another day)

After reading that Paula Broadwell was basically a female Petraeus clone — and after seeing pictures of Petraeus’s wife who, bless her heart, kind of looks like Benjamin Franklin¹ — the question isn’t “Why did he cheat?” but instead “Really? You didn’t think this was going to happen? Really?”

“So,” I can imagine you asking, “if this is such a non-story, why did you decide to write about it?” Good question! In a couple of the articles I’ve read about this, the authors were trying to piece together when this affair most likely began. It’s generally assumed that it started after she spent time with him in Afghanistan, but no one has really been able to pinpoint exactly when. I decided to write about this because, well, anyone who points to Afghanistan as the beginning of their affair is looking at it all wrong. There’s no need to check emails or text messages or phone calls to find an exact date. The answer is in plain sight.

From Slate.com’s “A General Lesson”

Paula Broadwell, the woman with whom he had this affair, writes in her fawning biography of Petraeus that they first met when she was in graduate school at Harvard and he came to give a talk about counterinsurgency strategy. She approached him afterward and expressed interest in the subject; they exchanged cards. Soon, she decided to write a Ph.D. dissertation on his leadership style and, when he took command in Afghanistan, asked if she could come observe him in action. He agreed.

This affair began the moment Petraeus decided to allow this young and attractive woman — a young and attractive woman who was infatuated with him, remember — to shadow him. Maybe they hadn’t actually had sex yet, but when he signed off on accepting her offer, he might as well as put his signature on her clitoris.

Now, I’m certain that, when first meeting Broadwell, Petraeus wasn’t thinking to himself “I wanna f*ck her while she’s screaming out random quotes from the book she’s going to write about me.” Actually, lemme rephrase that. He probably did think that — trust me when I say that you (women) really do not want to be privy to the surprisingly creative depths of the sexually deprived thoughts and fantasies that go through our heads when meeting an attractive woman — but thinking that and actually putting things in motion so that it will happen are two different things. Basically, I don’t think “I’m going to cheat on my wife with her” was the first thought that came to mind when meeting her.

The mistake Petraeus — an extremely smart and extremely calculating man — made was the same that most other men who’ve ever stepped out on their significant others also made. Regardless of how smart you are and how strong your will may be, you cannot outsmart or outwill nature. You just can’t expect to spend that much time — running together, sharing meals, speaking for hours, etc — with someone you may be attracted to and expect nothing to happen.

This is why I’m not a huge believer in true platonic friendships, why I’ve argued that men who want to avoid cheating need to avoid nightclubs, and why I believe that you avoid cheating by making decisions weeks, months, years even before the opportunity to cheat even enters the picture.

Affairs like Petraeus’s don’t begin when actual penetration occurs. They don’t even begin when you first start flirting and/or having conversations that aren’t really all that inappropriate yet. It starts when you first begin to entertain the idea that you enjoy having a certain person around you, and you start doing things to make sure you interact more often. You start going to lunch at 12:15 instead of 12:30 because it increases the likelihood of you “running into” her. You find bullshit excuses to text them or hit them up on Gchat, asking him questions that you could have easily just googled. You allow her to follow you to Afghanistan, work out with her daily, and allow her to stay in your headquarters.

Considering that it’s near impossible to be in a relationship and avoid everyone who you might be attracted to, I imagine that some of you think I think affairs, especially among people with options, are inevitable and unpreventable. If none of us can outsmart nature, those who want to stay faithful are doomed, right?

This is not true. There are two easy ways to help prevent something like this from happening.

1. Only commit to someone if you fill completely “fulfilled” by them.

2. If you’ve committed to someone who doesn’t completely fulfill you and you ever happen to encounter someone you think you may be attracted to, nod your head at them, take a deep breath, turn the other way, and run.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

¹Can’t take full credit for this observation. My mom actually made it while watching a news story about the scandal. Btw, thanks again for all the well-wishes regarding her health. She has a long road ahead of her, but she seems to be responding well to her treatment so far.

Separate But Equal: About Wyclef, Lauryn, And Loving Two People At The Same Time

From a historical perspective, The Fugees of the mid-90′s and “The Score” were one of the biggest — if not the biggest — phenomenons in hip-hop history. Yet, despite their ubiquity — they sold 16 million f*cking albums, for God’s sake — as a person who remembers 1995 and 1996, I remember Biggie, Tupac, Nas, Wu, and even Bone Thugs N Harmony being a bit more culturally relevant at the time. “The Score” was the album everyone bought and listened to, but there were no season-long homeroom debates about who was better, Pras or Wyclef, and no stories about how people stood in line for hours waiting for their album to drop. “The Score” as an album and the Fugees as a group managed to be ubiquitous and underrated at the same time. Even today, it’s almost as if we forgot that the album “Killing Me Softy” came from was just as popular as that song.

I realize this may be confirmation bias, I can’t help but wonder if the Fugees’ unique place in hip-hop history is largely due to Wyclef and Lauryn’s unique relationship. This thought was further exacerbated when reading a few quotes from Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story — Wyclef’s just released memoir. While most hip-hop heads were already aware of their dysfunctionally functional love affair, the details revealed in a few of these passages still resonate.

From “Wyclef Jean: I loved Lauryn Hill and my wife”

During that time, Lauryn and I ate, slept, woke up, ate, slept, and did music; that was our world. And when we began to tour together, every night was like a fairytale world and we were living in our dream. We’d each have our rooms but we’d always end up in the same one. It felt like that relationship was real, and it was. It was love; it was lust. It was more intense than some teenage romance, because we knew ourselves. It was the type of pure love that burns bright but burns out fast.

I’ve never really gave much serious thought to the idea that Wyclef and Lauryn effectively breaking each other’s hearts is what broke up the Fugees. I don’t even believe Clef’s recent statement about Lauryn lying about the paternity of her child being the cause, either. Instead, I think the uniqueness of their situation produced an album that they’d never be able to replicate. They couldn’t have released a follow-up to “The Score” because the relationship it grew from was doomed. Even then, back in 1996, as we listened to “Ready or Not” and “Zealots” and watched the “Killing Me Softy” video hundreds of times, there always seemed to be a latent sense of “they won’t be able to do this again,” of onemegahitwonderness. Perhaps Wyclef and Lauryn’s relationship was so much of a star-crossed force of nature that it directly impacted how we viewed their music.

Those aware of Wyclef and Lauryn’s love affair are also likely aware that the affair was actually an affair. While he was falling in love with Lauryn, he met, courted, and eventually married Marie Claudinette, a woman who’s still his wife today. From what most of us seem to think of and understand about love, this — a man being in love with and maintaining relationships with two women — doesn’t seem possible (and does seem “selfish” at best and “f*cking triflin” at worst), but Wyclef shared what was going through his head.

It’s hard to explain, but I was in love with both of them. I was torn between the impossible love affair, the whirlwind artist romance, and the solid, good woman who demanded respect. The solid woman had her passion, too. So my life became crazy, because I was in the middle and each of them was passionate about me in different ways. One side was all bound up with music and discovery and my own self-expression. The other side was all about intellect and wisdom and helping me to mature. I did not know what to do; I just knew I had to do something. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. It wasn’t clean and simple.

Now, casting aside the moral objections to Clef’s admittedly messy behavior, I do think he makes a compelling case for the idea that is it actually possible to be in love with two people at the same time. While I know some would argue that true romantic love is inherently tunnel-visioned — in fact, they’d probably continue, it’s not true love unless you’re willing to completely and totally give yourself to one person — the way Wyclef describes it does make sense. According to him, he was in love with Claudinette and Lauryn for two completely different reasons, and I think it’s possible for that type of love to be separate but equal. It’s not possible for everyone to love this way — some of us just aren’t built for that — but it is possible for it to exist.

The obvious counterargument here would be that since he actually married Claudinette, his love for her must of been greater. Perhaps he was just in lust with Lauryn.

I (obviously) don’t know exactly what was in Wyclef’s head or heart, but I don’t necessarily believe that choosing to marry Claudinette automatically means that he must have loved her more. Maybe the love for Claudinette just made more sense to him. Maybe it felt safer, more permanent, more controllable, and he took an impractical situation and made a practical decision.

Either way, if his memoir is truly sincere, while being in love with two equally awesome women seems like it would be a great problem to have, I can’t imagine a more stress-inducing situation. Considering this, maybe we’re looking at everything the wrong way. Perhaps there was no follow up to “The Score” because he was just too f*cking exhausted.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

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