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The Myth of the Attractive Mistress

When a man is unfaithful, it's not as cut and dry as "I need a prettier woman in my life." He's usually fulfilling a deeper psychological desire.
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A few weeks ago, I was having drinks with some girlfriends when Ginger White, Herman Cain's mistress, made her way into the conversation. One member of our party aggressively stated, "Oh I saw her picture. She is not attractive -- at all! She is just not pretty." I was taken aback. First, I don't think Ginger White is so unattractive that she warrants that type of response, but I was more surprised that this girl was endorsing the age-old assumption that the mistress is a nymph, goddess type -- the only woman attractive enough to lure a man away from his wife. Celebrity adultery scandals give us good reason to think the exact opposite is true (real life gives reason, too, but celebrities are a common frame of reference).

When a man is unfaithful, it's not as cut and dry as "I need a prettier woman in my life." He's usually fulfilling a deeper psychological desire. The male ego is a hungry beast -- if it doesn't feel it's getting the attention it needs, it will go hunting. The source of the attention doesn't matter as much as the attention itself. The one thing the mistress can always offer, regardless of what she looks like, is newness. She is a new body and a new face. She is an escape from that which is known. Of course one reason to get married is for familiarity -- wanting to love the same body and the same face till death do us part -- but oftentimes the routine of a relationship catches people off guard and they long for the unfamiliar. I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying it happens. While it's true, mistresses like Angelina Jolie do come along -- she's the exception rather than the rule. Let's examine the evidence:

Camilla Parker-Bowles (Princess Diana) -- These days we know that Charles loved Camilla all along and never should have married Diana, but he was bound by duty to do so. At the time, all we knew was Charles was married to a striking, stylish 20-something, and he was having an affair with a plain, older woman who Diana nicknamed "The Rottweiler." Camilla is a good reminder that there's a lot more to being in love than the way someone looks, but it's unfortunate that Diana had to go through the humiliating ordeal. The monarchy has done right by letting Will chose his own wife and not insisting she be of royal descent.

Jane Doe (Halle Berry) -- Halle Berry's second husband, Eric Benét, was said to have cheated on her multiple times with multiple women. I don't know who he was being unfaithful with, but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume those women were less attractive than Halle.

Michelle "Bombshell" McGee (Sandra Bullock) -- Unless you have a penchant for tattoos, you probably consider Sandra Bullock easier on the eyes than her husband's mistress Michelle McGee. Last year Jesse James spoke to Piers Morgan about his affair. At one point during the interview (clip here), he inarticulately summed up the destructive relationship between man and ego. He said, "Turning to like infidelity or something to stroke my ego or whatever it was, you know, I don't think it was a decision I made 100 percent willingly or vindictively or anything like that ... It made me feel worse than before it happened." If a man has control over his ego and is able to tell it to simmer down when necessary, then he can be faithful to his family. If the ego has more control than the man, he is capable of betraying just about anyone -- including himself.

Rachel Uchitel, Jaimee Grubbs and Countless Others (Elin Nordegren) - Speaking of out-of-control egos, the Tiger Woods scandal is still one of the most shocking. The boy next door was sleeping with a slew of women less attractive than his Swedish wife Elin Nordegren. This situation emphasizes how sad sex addiction really is. There's nothing glamorous about it. As an addict you will have sex with anyone, anywhere, and having sex becomes the equivalent of smoking a cigarette or throwing back a shot.

Marie-Anne Thiebaud (Shania Twain) -- I really thought the marriage between producer Mutt Lange and singer Shania Twain was a keeper, but I guess marriage is difficult for anyone -- even those who start out with the most genuine intentions. After 14 years together, Shania found out not only was her husband cheating but that he was doing so with her best friend, Marie-Anne Thiebaud -- two knives in one back. As one of the best selling and best looking female artists of all time, Shania probably thought she had nothing to worry about.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is surely breathtaking to anyone seeing it for the first or even the tenth time, but not necessarily to the security guard who's worked there for twenty years. He can probably point out the most minor flaws. As is true with people -- a gorgeous woman is only flawless to those of us who don't see her on a daily basis, which is why it's best to make sure there's more to the relationship than just the exterior. I guess the bad news is women have to be suspicious of everyone -- not just the pretty girls. The good news is if you trust your man and are secure within yourself, you don't have to be suspicious at all.

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