Just when I thought I'd heard everything about the Spitzer-Paterson-McGreevey triad of bad behavior, a friend called with an angle I never considered. "Nine months," she said. "Nine months to a mini baby boom."
Seems her husband of many years arrived home from a business trip with the Spitzer gossip still raw and unraveling. They took a walk, started talking about politicians and prostitutes, segued into their own fantasies and where they'd draw the line and, apparently, couldn't get home fast enough. (The kids were away.)
I say good for them -- not because of the sex, but because of the bravery.
It's easy to imagine how that playful banter could have veered off track into a multicar pileup. What if her fantasy involved his boss or best friend? What if he blurted out, say, that time on a business trip ... ohhh, noooo. What if their lines were drawn at vastly different lengths?
Most couples in a relationship that's lasted 10 minutes past the honeymoon stage know that money (how it's made and spent) is an ugly sore erupting periodically into heated debate. Sexual desires, on the other hand? Not gonna talk about that.
It's a pity, really. I've read enough books, interviewed enough therapists and written enough about sex to know that most people have unfulfilled desires and strong opinions, which they share with everyone but the person they're having sex with. Or not having sex with.
Where does this strategy lead us? To a growing trend in homes with two master bedrooms.
We can do better. The question is, how? How do we ask our partners dicey questions about desire and disappointment, primal attraction and propriety, without spinning out of control? Without losing more ground than we have already?
The best strategy may be one we already use.
Let's say that our young child panics after seeing television images of a deadly tornado. Scary, yes, we tell him, but such natural disasters are rare. We practice safety drills and promise to keep him safe.
We tell a teenager, not nearly afraid enough about the perils of driving, that speed and alcohol kill. We point to horrific front-page articles, push back our hysterical urges and whisper: This is what can happen.
An elderly person drives into a group of pedestrians and we talk to our own aging parents about whether it's time to take away the car keys. We use the news to talk about teen pregnancy (thanks, Jamie Lynn Spears), brutish behavior by Little League parents and why we can justify that glass of merlot with dinner.
Then we stare at lovely Silda Wall Spitzer, her puffy eyes focused into space at the news conference she dreaded, and we dissect, judge and forward e-mail jokes to friends ("Clients 1 through 8 were Charlie Sheen").
Yet, we don't bring this news home, because it's a lot easier to talk about them than us. But unlike a tornado, which cuts an ugly swath across the landscape with little warning, the forces that pull couples apart are often a long time coming. Whether it's narcissism or loneliness or unbearable urges that compel people to stray, those ugly swaths that cut across human hearts are often unmendable regardless.
So maybe we take the chance, addressing this adult topic with baby steps and respect, which means that we listen without judging.
There's nothing too scary about asking our partners questions such as:
• Why do you think some people take sexual risks? Do you think it's really about sex, or something else?
• David Paterson, the new governor of New York, and his wife seem to have moved past their mutual affairs into a stronger marriage. Do you think that's possible for most couples? Preferable? If so, what do you think dethroned Eliot Spitzer needs to do to rebuild his marriage? Or should she leave him?
• Some people think that men are more inclined to go outside of their marriage for sex, women for an emotional soulmate. Do you buy that? Do you think there really is a difference between a sexual and emotional affair? Is one worse than the other, or are they equally unhealthy and hurtful?
• Is it OK to lust in our hearts, as Jimmy Carter did? Is it possible not to? Where do you draw the line between safe and dangerous?
• Do you think it's possible for love to remain at a fever pitch over time? If not, does that bother you?
• Do you think human beings always deserve forgiveness? Which act, or acts, in your mind, would be unforgivable?
And, lastly, can we please open that merlot now?
It's far easier to point fingers and share puns about public figures knocked from grace. But it doesn't point us in the right direction, which is toward one another. Yes, this is what can happen. We need to find ways to keep our relationships safe.
Asking a few questions won't get us as far as we hope to go, but it will get us closer than separate bedrooms. Whether you partake in a mini baby boom is up to you.
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350