Is "Letting Yourself Go" A Valid Excuse For Your Man to Cheat?

Holy Patraeus Surely you’ve been following the fallout from ex-CIA director David Petraeus’ affair. You can hardly turn on a news channel without seeing a salacious update. Given that Petraeus’ gigantic screwup has led to repercussions beyond anyone’s juiciest imagination, so many of us have been wondering just why he did it. The usual motivations have been cited: because he could, because of a midlife crisis, and obviously because he thought he wouldn’t get caught — an especially baffling outlook as he was the leader of the Central Intelligence Agency, whose mission it is to know all manner of things it is not supposed to.

During the guessing, another, less kind reason for Petraeus’ affair has been cited. It’s about his wife, Holly, his spouse of more than 37 years. News sites and bloggers have been kind enough not to go on record saying it, but commenters have not been so polite. They say Petraeus cheated because his wife “let herself go.” Over on Voxxi, a story about Mrs. Petraeus’ charitable work on behalf of military families devolved into a lengthy critique of her looks, with suggestions on how she could improve her image and possibly save her marriage.

I’m sorry, what? This “blame the woman” mantra is as pervasive as it is stupid as it is damaging. Not only it is victim-blaming and sexist (and it ignores that Petraeus himself is no prize package), but it also puts forth the idea that as women there’s really something we can do to stop men from cheating, other than, you know, not dating, committing or marrying ever. That’s not to say that all men cheat. It is to say that there’s nothing you do to make your partner cheat, and there’s also nothing you can do to stop him from cheating.

I shouldn’t be shocked by the mental contortions that some will go through to let a man off the hook for almost anything, and especially any sex that he shouldn’t be having. But I am.


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