If we were to paraphrase Henry Kissinger, power is an aphrodisiac. The tableau of history gives us this evidence in innumerable ways, but one of the most pointed ways is the predilection of powerful men for a(nother) woman who is not his wife.
If we look at other powerful men in public office, their downfall at the hands of The Other Woman ranks right up there with public humiliation by any other means. It goes beyond mere scandal and gossip fodder.
General Davis Petraeus was at the centre of a vortex involving Paula Broadwell and provocative personal information that should have remained private and the subsequent dismissal from office of a decorated man.
More pointedly, the sordid episode brought to mind the heady alchemy of power and men and its overwhelming allure to certain women of a certain disposition.
Women who seemingly consciously choose to be with only powerful men – who are already married – make Paula Broadwell look positively tame.
Lita, (not her real name) a divorcee of mixed racial lineage and who is south of fifty, admits freely that she prefers to be the mistress to powerful, rich men. She wouldn’t mind being married, she shares, if only the men would ask her to marry them. “But for now,” she confesses, “I’m quite happy where I am: he gives me money; when I don’t see him I can go out and do my own thing, and he calls me every day – sometimes lots of times in a day.”
The ‘he’ in question is in his mid-fifties, a director in a powerful conglomerate who resides in a million-dollar bungalow in a pristine, manicured gated suburb with his wife of 16 years and two teenage children.
And Lita has been his mistress for the past eight years since the day they were introduced to one another, over drinks with mutual friends at a shiny bar in a five-star hotel. The routine since then is almost alarmingly similar to the routine in some married lives in its unchanging regularity.
They meet on Wednesday nights (where she prepares a lavish dinner for him followed by an evening of other corporeal delights), and then on Saturday and Sunday mornings in the two-bedroom apartment she ‘inherited’ from a former love.
How much time does he spend there? “Anywhere between three to five hours,” she says.
Lita does not come across as a conniving, calculatingly cold femme fatale with absolutely no moral radar. She was married when she was just 26, but a daughter and three years later, she found herself divorced. She is tall and willowy, with long legs and a ready laugh.
She is also a serial mistress with an obvious penchant for powerful men. How can anyone be certain it is not just a fluke attributed to kismet, destiny and cosmic forces?
Because she has been the mistress to eight men – all married – since her divorce. From directors to entrepreneurs to a foreign statesman and a diplomat, Lita has exceeded what allowances could be made that this behaviour is anything but a pattern.
A love litany of eight consecutive men of the same stripe makes a pattern, does it not?
“He tells me his wife never cooks for him, that she’s always busy with the kids. He likes the attention I give him,” she says, with a hint of an undertone that sounds close to gloating. “And he tells me he loves me.”
That love takes the form of texts, calls, luxurious gifts and wads of cash when he leaves her boudoir. The wads of cash that she spends on incredibly-impractical lingerie, which she trots out with some unadulterated pleasure.
There is little sign of remorse or regret in her attractive features. There is the temptation to wonder if it is like this with all mistresses.
But, in the name of objectivity, there is the need to shush the mental wanderlust and to suppress judgement.
She claims she is a fun person, open to spontaneous jaunts of hedonism, and this is a constant refrain she hears from her lovers. Could this have anything to do with the fact that her daughter is being raised by relatives in a nearby state and consequently, Lita seemingly resembles the closest thing to a single woman in the truest definition? She demurs to comment on this.
With unsettling honesty, she states, “I’m glad I don’t have to entertain or take care of his relatives, parents or children. I just have to entertain him, and take care of him. He takes care of me, too. He’s not here all the time, but I have my friends, so that’s ok.”
But does she not care about his children or family members? “I buy gifts for them when we go for holidays together, and sometimes I will choose the gift for the wife, too. Of course, he has to tell them that they are from him, and not from me.”
Is there a particular condition or predisposition with women such as Lita?
According to psychotherapists, women who are prone to affairs have an underlying lack of self-worth and self-esteem, having difficulty loving and appreciating themselves.
The result? They find it challenging to properly cultivate family, social and romantic relationships.
In an affair, the relationship satisfies all three dimensions making it a convenient way to blend it all together to fulfill what is clearly missing in their emotional and psychological psyche.
Is it a cover for, or a projection of, underlying causes? Interestingly, yes: the underlying cause is generally an upbringing and conditioning which does not support their self-worth. Parents who unconsciously and constantly compare them to others, withholding love or degrading them in public, as a form of punishment, would severely impact their ability to appreciate and love themselves. What generally happens is that when they do not appreciate themselves, they will seek out ways to compensate this deficiency externally which inevitably leads to addictive behaviour patterns like shopping, eating, sex and affairs.
In most cases, it starts with something innocent to soothe the craving. When it does not satisfy anymore, it will then lead to another and another and before long, it becomes an unconscious habitual behaviour. This is the dynamic of how addictions begin and develops.
And what of the powerful man who may only feel truly powerful when he has attracted another woman outside of his committed relationship?
According to the experts, the need for power is also born from the condition of also having a lack of self-worth. Some powerful men, reportedly, become powerful because they are constantly working to satisfy the addictive cravings of the inflating ego’s need to be powerful. Power is how they perceive and measure their worth, and sometimes we get to see how the inherent unhappiness in both the characters of the men and women can so easily seek each other out for temporary relief and solace.
It is akin to getting on a bus thinking it is a good ride and then finding out that it is going the wrong direction but they can’t seem to get off it. When they finally find a way get off (or thrown off), says one therapist, they continue to find another inappropriate bus to get on…and hence the cycle.
At the apt analogy involving buses, one might think about transplanting a terrible old joke involving women being compared to bicycles and how many may have had a ride on them, but remember, with many situations, that there is never supply without demand.
Power may be an aphrodisiac as well as a projection of unfulfilled needs or that of an un-satiated ego, but it is also akin to a loose cannon in an already murky emotional ecosystem fraught with uncontrollable desires.
“Powerful men are sexy,” says the light voice belonging to the nameless pretty woman. Whether or not she speaks for the majority (let’s hope not, as it’d be heartening to think women are still capable of functioning as more than power-infatuated gold-diggers) history is littered with evidence of this.
While Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi engaged in multitudinous indiscretions with a most cavalier disregard to the stream of women moving through his life, former Czech Republic Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus is remembered not just for his guardianship of a nation but also for his extra-marital affairs, made public in 2008.
In more recent years, Tiger Woods made many a media mogul happy with the glut of news centred around the public revelation of his many indiscretions, but this was made more newsworthy by the fact that Woods was, at the time, the most powerful (and highest earning) golfer at the time. Had Woods been on the decline for more than half a dozen years, his indiscretions would have probably garnered little public interest.
And then there is former US President Clinton and the 1998 Lewinsky affair, where the court of public opinion did more damage (some went as far as to say said court “criminalised desire”) and pushed the question of private morality onto a global stage for endless dissection. So much so that it almost eclipsed his scandal with Gennifer Flowers of 1992.
At the other end of the spectrum sat the long-standing affair between former late President Francois Mitterrand and his mistress Anne Pingeot that resulted in a daughter. The affair also highlighted the popular French notion that the French themselves hold very relaxed attitudes to infidelity, more so when a leader’s ability has nothing to do with his other — more private — abilities.
It could be worse, though, oh alpha male married seducers. Your mistress could publish her claims of a supposed seven-year affair with you (which you deny and denounce) in her second book and launch it on the same day as the opening of your latest uber-chic restaurant. What could be worse than the public humiliation? The fact that the mistress has eclipsed the man. (Looking at you, Gordon Ramsay.) Sarah Symonds could helm the tiniest club in the world where the mistress has actually profited from the end, rather than the continuation, of the affair.