Shmuley Boteach argues that men have affairs because their low self-esteem requires constant affirmation. Boteach, an American Orthodox rabbi, is author of Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer.
Shmuley Boteach: Men don’t have affairs by and large for sex. If they wanted sex they would go primarily to prostitutes. Or if they really want sex, stay at home and have sex with your wife. Men have affairs for affirmation. It’s something that I captured in a book I wrote called The Broken American Male. And The Broken American Male thesis is very simple. Our culture is structured like a pyramid. We men only get to read about the people at the top third of the pyramid or even the pinnacle of the pyramid. We read every day about Bill Gates. We read every day about LeBron James. And with this constant emphasis on financial success, professional success a lot of us are made to feel like we’re failures. And in that feeling of failure we turn to women other than our wives in order to feel like winners.
The great cathedrals of Europe – these enormous giant cathedrals, there’s two ways to build them. One is with giant support structures in the middle and you see that often. The other is with something called a flying buttress. It’s where you want to keep the space hollow and fit in as many people as possible so you support the structure with these buttresses that hold the structure up from the outside. Well, a man can either have his wife who’s his support network, who is one of the great pillars of his sense of self, his self-esteem. And she helps him to hold up the entire structure of who he is. And that’s healthy, a soul mate. Or you can have the flying buttress. It’s where you’re hollow and empty on the inside. You feel like you don’t have any real self-worth. You feel insignificant. You feel anonymous. You feel that some of your life’s achievements does not amount to much. So you get someone from the outside to help raise the structure. That’s the principle reason why men have affairs.
And you will ask yourself, well if I need a woman to tell me how valuable I am in order to feel good about myself, why can’t that be my wife? And the answer for the broken American male is simple. If I think of myself as a giant zero then the woman dumb enough to marry me is a zero squared. She’s an even bigger loser than I am. It’s specifically the stranger who did not marry me, it is specifically the person who’s not related to me who still has value. Everyone remembers when AOL was just a dial-up Internet company and it took over Time Warner that owned Warner Brothers Studios, HBO, CNN . Well AOL lost its value and it pulled Time Warner after the acquisition all the way down. But it was only that they separated the two companies that Time Warner stock went back up. A lot of husbands do that to their wives. They take beautiful women, smart, accomplished professional women, loving women and as soon as they marry them with their broken sense of self, they transfer the sense of nothingness onto their wives. Thereby necessitating the affair, the woman who’s not your wife, to make you feel good about yourself.
Now you begin to see why it’s specifically sometimes the biggest achievers who end up being so susceptible to unfaithfulness, to adultery. What is the story of Tiger Woods? It’s the story of a boy who was told by a loving father who probably meant it for its best but he was told from the time he was a child, look, you’re okay, you’re a cute kid. But if you learn to use this metal stick better than anyone who’s used it before, you’re gonna be a somebody. Well the message you get is that now you’re a nobody. And no matter – and you can have all these medals that surround you and you can have all these trophies but you still don’t internalize that sense of achievement. So you marry your wife and she doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. So you maybe subconsciously blame her. Its other women who tell you you’re amazing. Notice that Tiger Woods did not cheat for variety. You know, the argument is that men are basically evolutionary inseminators who seek the widest possible distribution of a gene pool and hence it’s no mystery that they cheat. They look for variety.
Variety? All the women that Tiger Woods cheated with were carbon copies of his wife. Where was the Asian woman? Where was the voluptuous curvaceous woman? Where was the African American woman? He was cheating with blonde, blue eyed Nordic bombshells that really looked almost identical to his wife. Because he was cheating for a totally different purpose. It was to feel accomplished. Bill Clinton was president of the United States and yet interestingly, the most powerful man in the world, he fell susceptible to the charms of a woman who stood on line ten hours just to see him which was really flattering. It was incredibly flattering. Because even the most powerful man in the world may not see himself as such. Remember, Bill Clinton’s story is a painful one and he comes from a very broken, even tragic beginning with his father dying when he was just a baby and then his stepfather. You know, he had to take his stepfather off of his mother from beating her with like a lead pipe. And this man has seen really horrible things.
And sometimes it’s hard to put those pieces back together. That’s why we men have to heal ourselves. If we don’t heal ourselves then I fear that we will spread some of that toxicity and that dysfunction to our families. And, of course, it applies to women as well. Let’s not forget that the rates of female infidelity are skyrocketing. Having said that there still seems to be a principle difference in why a man cheats and why a woman cheats. A man cheats for the ego boost and for affirmation. Women almost always cheat out of neglect. You know, the studies really show that wives whose sexual, emotional and romantic needs are addressed in marriage don’t really cheat. They’re actually pretty happy with their husbands. It doesn’t mean that they have a monogamous nature. The recent evidence is showing that women do not have a monogamous nature. That’s okay. But they do have a nature that responds to the affection and focus of a man. Whereas men, you can have sometimes the most loving wife, the most devoted wife and sometimes men are still cheating. When a married couple are sitting on my couch and it’s a painful and tragic thing to witness, after she’s discovered that her husband has been unfaithful.
And there are very few things that are as painful to feel that you’re discarded. It’s amazing that the husband’s to comfort their wives will say to me on that couch, will say to their wives on that couch, but I didn’t love her. I love you. So what are they really saying? I didn’t love her, I lusted after her. I loved you but I lusted after her. Now if you ever put love and lust in a boxing ring together, lust is gonna crush love. And that’s what they’re really saying. So why do we emphasize lust in marriage more? If love can’t compete with lust why have we demonized lust? Why have we made lust something that should be found only in porn or it’s something only singles get to experience? But married couples settle down. They get to love each other.
Any marriage that doesn’t have intense strong desire, any marriage that doesn’t have lust is becoming something of a prison. It’s where you’re kind of there for reasons other than wanting each other. Maybe because it’s comfortable. Maybe because you appreciate and cherish each other. It maybe because of the kids. Maybe because you have nowhere else to go. It maybe because you even feel that you belong there. That’s okay. But it’s still a form of external incarceration. You’re not there out of a deep desire to be there. Lust is where you want that person and that’s why you’re there. And that has to be the primary reason that we go into marriage and that we stay in marriage. And I maintain passionately that the passion need not be lost, that this idea that there’s a transition in marriage from lust to love, that when you’re single you can’t keep your hands off of each other. But it slowly migrates into this partnership, such a cold commercial expression. That it slowly migrates into this partnership. I – that’s balderdash. It’s a defeatist approach to marriage. It’s one that I cannot embrace and it’s one that I have to argue against. That’s the reason I wrote Kosher Lust.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton