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Real Talk: Stop Blaming the Scorned Wife for a Man's Affair

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Holly Petraeus
Holly Petraeus, David Petraeus' wife of 37 years
Photo Credit: Getty Images

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 mid-life 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 is it 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 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 some will go through to let a man off the hook for almost anything, and especially any sex he shouldn’t be having. But I am. When it’s a story about rape, it’s about what the woman was wearing to entice him. When it’s a story about sex with a minor, it’s about her lack of home-training and an AWOL mother. When a woman gets pregnant, it’s about how she should have been on birth control. And now a man cheats on his wife of nearly four decades and somehow the conversation becomes about her looks, because he, a good and grown man, can’t possibly be fully responsible for what he does with his own penis. The woman made him do it!!!

Women are not responsible for men’s sexual behavior, and we should not take the blame for it or shift it to another woman. We should also not forget that cheating, at its core, is about selfishness, wanting to have that clichéd cake (wife) and eat it too (mistress). Unhappy? Want a hotter partner? More or different sex he couldn’t get it at “home”? There was always the option to work on the issue or leave the relationship, which he decided not to do. That is his choice, which makes cheating his fault — not his woman’s.

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk

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