- Written by JACEY ECKHART, The New York Times, November 15, 2012
MY husband looks more like Cary Grant in “Operation Petticoat” every day — accomplished, senior and ravishingly handsome. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem for me. Ordinarily, this Cary Grantness would be cause for a skip in my step and a naughty gleam in my eye.
But this is not an ordinary week for military marriages. This is a week in which heroes are brought down by their all-too-human flaws. This is a week of women who look like Kardashians turning over their e-mail accounts to the F.B.I. This is a week of military spouses — male and female — being hand-fed humiliation by the person whose career ambitions they supported for years.
Most of the time, my long-married military friends and I don’t think about infidelity. We don’t worry about divorce. We know that research from the RAND Corporation shows that even though military members are more likely to be married at every age than their matched civilian counterparts, we are no more likely to be divorced. We feel confident that despite war and danger and the escapades of our own children, our marriages are forever.
Until now. Because Gen. David H. Petraeus is no drunken ship captain carousing in Russia with his junior officers. General Petraeus is no wolf preying on females in his chain of command. He seems too much like our own husbands. If he could betray his wife of 38 years and 23 moves and a decade of constant war, what hope do the rest of us have for fidelity?
This weekend I treated my husband to the same scene that probably played out in the bedrooms of all 800,000 active-duty marriages. Ours was crowned with me stomping out of the tub clad in a towel and crying, “Please, please, promise me that won’t ever happen to us!”
My husband of 25 years thought this was the silliest thing I have ever said. And I have said a lot about infidelity through our own history of 7 deployments, 16 moves and 2 so-called geographic bachelor tours, when he was sent on assignment without us.
I don’t mean that either of us has jealous tantrums or that either of us is a cheater. I mean that when military life requires that you spend so much time apart, your marriage confronts one of the factors shown to contribute to infidelity: opportunity.
When we were first married, the opportunity was all mine. My husband was stationed on an all-male ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf. I was a 22-year-old girl who thought it was “no biggie” to go dancing with a bunch of naval aviators. “It was just dancing,” I claimed. “What are you so mad about?”
Later, the opportunity was all his. I was home with a baby and no friends, and he was making port visits. One night he woke me up with a call from a 7-Eleven in Daytona Beach, Fla. “Some girl was flirting with me a little too much,” he said. “I thought I should go get a Klondike bar instead.”
Although there are no firm numbers about infidelity and the military, I suspect that we are a lot like other Americans. From my experience as a military marriage consultant, I’d estimate that a third of military marriages are probably blighted by infidelity — about the same as civilian marriages.
And so we set up our little rules and policies to keep our marriage safe. We talk. We identify the rare, much-too-attractive individuals in our work and social circles whom we need to keep at arm’s length. Fidelity is ingrained in us now.
So why has the Petraeus scandal reduced me to a wet towel and tears? I watched the Petraeuses on TV and noted that, like my husband, the general is in that Cary Grant stage of a military career.
I watch them and I am suddenly aware I look less like the buxom nurse in “Operation Petticoat” and more like Mr. Grant’s co-star, Tony Curtis, every day. And not the young Tony Curtis, either.
Meanwhile, early next year my husband will deploy for the eighth time. So, not surprisingly, all I can think as I watch the Petraeus scandal unfold is: The Kardashians are coming. The Kardashians are coming.
What are our meager defenses against age and distance and opportunity? We talk about the Petraeuses as if we know them; we don’t, personally, but in a way we know their life story intimately. And now we know, as they do, that history isn’t enough to keep a long military marriage together.
No, I think we always knew it. It is just that now we have a reason to look at this new fidelity and make our plans for the deployments to come.
We reassure each other. We discuss strategy. We laugh over our shared past. We head back to bed.
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