Some Words for John Edwards

09/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Emily Pease Teaches writing at the College of William and Mary

My husband and I just celebrated our anniversary. I have to swallow hard to say this, but Ed and I have been married 33 years. So what were you doing 33 years ago? Yeah you, all you little whipper-snappers. Were you even born yet?

I know, it's weird for me, too. But I don't have any mental pictures for what a 33rd anniversary looks like, so that helps. Not like the pictures I have of a 50th. In my small town, folks publish those almost every week. Two old people, one white-haired and the other bald, standing in front of a cake. Occasionally they'll publish the first wedding photo next to the 50th, both in front of a cake. It's like a "before" and "after" photo, only in reverse. Beautiful in the beginning, then not. But they're happy both ways, so it's all good.

None of these photos is accompanied by testimonials, but it sure would be interesting if sometimes we'd hear these old folks give some advice. "Here we are, fifty years married and still going strong," they might tell us. "And it's all because we...."

All because of what, I'm not sure. Staying together year after year, through thick and thin, children in tow, then children in college or off at a job somewhere, then just the two of you again--this takes stamina. Also dedication, patience, forbearance, and self-control.

Yep, self-control. I'm talking to you, John Edwards.

After 32 years, you got a big crush, just like a school-boy, and it was more than you could handle. The whole world felt like a romantic movie. You couldn't sleep, it was all so intoxicating. You were alive in ways you hadn't been for a long time.

It was just so...sweet. And thrilling, like when you and the kid down the street sneaked away and drank your first beer.

Well, welcome to life. It's full of temptations.

Do you think you're the only one who ever had such a crush? People get crushes all the time--all the way till they're so old they don't even have a right to get a crush. They push the grocery cart around the store and then, bingo, there's the best-looking grocery shopper you ever saw, right there next to the potatoes and onions. And suddenly the wife you've loved for a zillion years seems like a stranger. You wonder how you ever ended up with her in the first place, now that you've seen this new bright shiny new thang.

The difference between you and most everybody else is, you couldn't resist. You said so in your televised confession. In your mind, John Edwards, you were Mr. Invincible.

Well, welcome to life again. Feeling invincible is common to all adolescents.

I suppose I could feel lucky that Ed, my husband for 33 years, hasn't gone off the deep end and actually followed through on a temptation here and there. I know he's had them (who hasn't?), as have I. Gasp! Women get mid-life crushes too.

So here's the point: men are far more likely to stray than women. I can look around right now and start counting off the ones I know. They just couldn't resist. That young thing simply looked so much better, driving around in her two-seater convertible, all free and breezy, than the comfy old wife back home.

What happened when these men told their wives what they'd done? I'm guessing they all experienced a version of the scene one of my friends described for me. She and her husband sat down in the den. He said, "I don't know how to tell you this," and then told her about the other woman. My friend listened, fighting tears. And then she said, "You ought to be glad I don't have a gun right now, because if I did, I'd shoot you."

That scene came to my mind this weekend when I heard the news about you, John Edwards. I pictured Elizabeth sitting on the couch, hearing your story. After everything she's done for you. After all the two of you have been through together. All those years....

And I hoped she used something like the line about the gun.

During one of the many discussions I heard on TV, Andrea Mitchell expressed her dismay about the affair. First, it was Elizabeth she was thinking of. But then it was all the campaign staffers, many of them young, who believed in Edwards the candidate. Then it was the Democratic Party. And finally, the country as a whole, all feeling let down. Again.

John Harwood had a different take on it. It's time we not pass judgment, he said. The country needs to get beyond these narrow moral issues and look at the bigger picture. What a person does in his personal life doesn't necessarily reflect his ability to lead or to govern. Etc. Etc.

By then I was talking to my TV screen. Andrea got it. John Harwood didn't.

Women are sick of watching men follow their little whims. Sick of hearing the sad excuses. It's honesty we want. Real grown-up behavior. Self-control.

Shakespeare, who obviously knew a lot about the subject, offers the best definition of lust I know: "The expense of spirit in a waste of shame/Is lust in action...."

Lust is a fact of life. You just don't have to act on it.