I was going to sit down and write something this morning about Christopher Lee—the congressman who got caught trawling Craigslist—but Mistermix at Balloon Juice pretty much said everything I wanted to say (and cited me in his lead):
Any regular Dan Savage reader/listener knows that one of his most common caller/writer is one part of a married couple who’s sexually frustrated.... This kind of call or letter is pretty boring because there’s really no solution accepted by mainstream society. Most of these marriages would be a hell of a lot better if the sexually unsatisfied partner had a discreet affair, but that puts the other partner in a socially untenable situation. “Open marriage” is something for dirty hippies or sleazy swingers, not an upstanding member of society. And, since the first stop for marital therapy is often a pastor or priest, it’s very unlikely that the open option will even be broached.
So, instead of negotiating an outlet, these marriages move on to a badly executed affair, tears, recriminations and, usually, divorce. The cheated-on member of the pair has the moral and legal high ground, they’re under intense social pressure to make the cheater pay, and by the time the cheating happens, the cheater’s resentment over their lack of satisfaction has probably already poisoned the well.
If we want to do something about the high divorce rate, we might want to get real about making sexual satisfaction a precursor to marriage, and also about the role of a discreet, mutually agreed-upon affair as a safety valve. Of course, religion and social norms rule that out-of-bounds. That’s too bad, because the only person more miserable that Mr. and Mrs. Chris Lee this morning is their little boy, a kid who’s in a world of hurt that might have been avoided if mom and dad had been able to negotiate a piece on the side.
Yes, we need to get real. License to get a little on the side, having that safety valve, accepting that no two people can be all things to each other sexually over the thirty, forty, or fifty year life of a marriage, and recognizing that there's more to marriage, and more at stake, than just sexual exclusivity (particularly when there are children involved)—all of that would actually bring down the divorce rate faster than, say, banning gay marriage or fat marriage or creating covenant marriage.
Some other thoughts about Lee: Vitter and Ensign are still in the Senate, Bill Clinton survived Blowjobgate and is a respected elder statesman, even Mark "Soulmate" Sanford managed to serve out his term of governor of a theocratic state—but Christopher Lee is out in a day?
And Lee, unlike Vitter, et al, didn't actually get caught doing anything. Lee very well could be—and Lee is no doubt telling his wife right now that he was—one of the millions of fakers and fantasists who "ruined" Craigslist personal ads, i.e. the lairs and picture collectors who have no intention of actually meeting up with anyone. They send out pics, they engage people in long email conversations about getting together, they beat off about what might have been, and then they log off and go home to the wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/cats, much to the frustration of the handful of fools and losers who are still actually looking for sex on Craigslist.
Lee's actions were, of course, insanely reckless, evidence of poor judgment, and can be regarded as hypocritical-by-default. (Lee doesn't seem to be a "family values" blowhard himself, but he is a card-carrying member of the party that panders to "family values" blowhards.) But they're not necessarily evidence that Lee cheated on his wife or, if he did intend to cheat, that Lee didn't have cause.