Poor Holly Petraeus. Not only do you find out your husband of 38 years, resigned CIA director General David Petraeus, is cheating on you with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, a woman 20 years your junior, but you find it out in the most incredibly public way. And then you're basically blamed for it. No one is accusing Holly of being a bad wife, oh no. David has described her as "the greatest source of support, wise counsel, and love that any soldier could have." They've been married for 38 years. But, um, look at her. Says one commenter on an article about her: "She looks like an old granny." Says another: "She looks like his great-grandmother ... She should be at least 75 pounds lighter ... I blame it on her appearance." Are we really surprised by this?
This is the gut reaction when any cheating scandal happens. Blame it on the wife. What did she do to make her husband unhappy? Did she stop sleeping with him? Was she too involved with the kids? Did she "let herself go"?
Women judge other women this way. The idea that, 40 years into a marriage, the man you've built your life with may suddenly replace you with a younger version is so scary that we build up an array of defenses to counteract our fear. This couldn't happen to me because I'm keeping myself up. This couldn't happen to me because I'll keep him happy.
The woman David cheated with is attractive, fit, and has biceps that look like they could go a few rounds with Cameron Diaz. Hmm, goes our minds. Well, of course he cheated. Look at the mistress. Look at the wife.
If a beautiful woman gets cheated on -- and there are plenty of them, like Elin Nordegren, Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, Elizabeth Hurley, or Christie Brinkley, to name a few -- then our minds zip around to find other reasons the man strayed: She seems like a psycho bitch. She's too concerned about her appearance and not any fun. She's older than he is. She didn't want children. She was too involved with her career.
We don't look to the man, look to him to be a responsible human being who, if he's sexually unhappy, should talk to his wife about it -- because we fear this would simply fail. We look to the women because keeping yourself trim, or getting plastic surgery, or remaining a sexual dynamo after children and decades somehow seems more "controllable" than expecting another human being to respect boundaries. We can control ourselves -- we can't control others. And that basic truism terrifies us into denial and excuses. Maybe we just don't want to admit the stark truth: Forty years of monogamy is very difficult, I don't care who you are. (Not an excuse, but a reality.)
Holly, who has her own career as the assistant director of service members affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, doesn't seem to be blaming herself, or her gray hair, or her weight. She is said to be angry about the affair. Reportedly David Petraeus himself said of his wife's reaction, "Furious would be an understatement."
She has every right to be furious. And every right not to self blame.
Do you think Holly's looks are at least partly to blame for her husband's cheating? Should looks matter in cheating?
Image via Getty