Did some of the details of General David Petraeus’ alleged affair ring a bell? Maybe that’s because it is awfully reminiscent of a certain conundrum presented in The New York Times Magazine‘s Ethicist column last July.
“My wife is having an affair with a government executive,” began a letter to The Ethicist aka writer Chuck Kolsterman. “His role is to manage a project whose progress is seen worldwide as a demonstration of American leadership. (This might seem hyperbolic, but it is not an exaggeration.)” Sure, sounds similar. But is it? Speculation on the identity of the beleaguered husband began after the letter to the Ethicist was shared on Twitter in the aftermath of the news of the affair.
Who knows? But if it is, it seems a bit troubling that the husband of the woman having an affair with General Petraeus is seeking advice from the author of Sex, Drugs and Cocca Puffs? Although Mr. Klosterman does give good advice, namely that if your wife’s lover is really as high profile as the letter suggests, perhaps the author of the letter had ulterior motives for writing to The New York Times.
“Part of me wonders why you’re even posing this question, particularly in a column that is printed in The New York Times,” wrote Mr. Klosterman. Sounds sensible. Maybe more people caught up in scandals should write in to The Times and ask Mr. Klosterman’s advice.
Regardless of the actual identity of the letter writer, it sure is fun to reread in light of yesterday’s news.
Update (9:56 p.m.): According to The New York Times Magazine, the letter in question was not by Scott Broadwell, husband of Paula Broadwell (who was having an affair with General Petraeus). Hugo Lindgren, the publication’s editor, indicated they had investigated the matter and determined that it wasn’t, in fact, related to General Petraeus.
Although we don’t know who was seeking advice about their spouse’s affair with a government official, it sure sounds fun and interesting–demonstrating American leadership.
The letter to the Ethicist, and Mr. Klosterman’s response, below:
MY WIFE’S LOVER
My wife is having an affair with a government executive. His role is to manage a project whose progress is seen worldwide as a demonstration of American leadership. (This might seem hyperbolic, but it is not an exaggeration.) I have met with him on several occasions, and he has been gracious. (I doubt if he is aware of my knowledge.) I have watched the affair intensify over the last year, and I have also benefited from his generosity. He is engaged in work that I am passionate about and is absolutely the right person for the job. I strongly feel that exposing the affair will create a major distraction that would adversely impact the success of an important effort. My issue: Should I acknowledge this affair and finally force closure? Should I suffer in silence for the next year or two for a project I feel must succeed? Should I be “true to my heart” and walk away from the entire miserable situation and put the episode behind me? NAME WITHHELD
Don’t expose the affair in any high-profile way. It would be different if this man’s project was promoting some (contextually hypocritical) family-values platform, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The only motive for exposing the relationship would be to humiliate him and your wife, and that’s never a good reason for doing anything. This is between you and your spouse. You should tell her you want to separate, just as you would if she were sleeping with the mailman. The idea of “suffering in silence” for the good of the project is illogical. How would the quiet divorce of this man’s mistress hurt an international leadership initiative? He’d probably be relieved.
The fact that you’re willing to accept your wife’s infidelity for some greater political good is beyond honorable. In fact, it’s so over-the-top honorable that I’m not sure I believe your motives are real. Part of me wonders why you’re even posing this question, particularly in a column that is printed in The New York Times.
Your dilemma is intriguing, but I don’t see how it’s ambiguous. Your wife is having an affair with a person you happen to respect. Why would that last detail change the way you respond to her cheating? Do you admire this man so much that you haven’t asked your wife why she keeps having sex with him? I halfway suspect you’re writing this letter because you want specific people to read this column and deduce who is involved and what’s really going on behind closed doors (without actually addressing the conflict in person). That’s not ethical, either.