Why Men Cheat, with Shmuley Boteach

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.


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Transcript: 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. [TRANSCRIPT TRUNCATED]

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton



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