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Serial Infidelity in the Age of Tiger Woods

The parade of women coming forward to proclaim a liaison with Tiger Woods has brought a new twist to the typical cheating husband story.

The famous golfer's admitted "transgressions" and "personal failings" suggest his philandering is of the repeat variety, making this a tale about serial infidelity and raising questions about how such dalliances may differ from an affair that is often characterized as a one-time "mistake."

"For a lot of people, the garden-variety affair seems to come out of the fact they are dissatisfied in their relationship and they start to confide in another and that starts a slippery slope. With serial affairs, their attitudes about fidelity are different," says Kristina Gordon, an associate professor of psychology who conducts infidelity research at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Gordon, co-author of "Getting Past the Affair" and "Helping Couples Get Past the Affair," says many factors come into play but include a feeling of entitlement, which goes hand-in-hand with insecurity.

"A lot of folks do get that sense of entitlement because they have people telling them how wonderful they are. Some are very driven, and it's sometimes out of a sense of insecurity. They are continuously seeking someone to make them feel good when they can't do it themselves," she says.

Gordon and others who study infidelity say they aren't aware of any existing studies that differentiate one-time cheaters from those who have repeat affairs; it's not easy to get good data about affairs in general, they say.

"Overall, the best estimates are that between 15 percent and 40 percent of men will cheat at some point in their first marriage - best guess, 25 percent - whereas about 5 percent to 25 percent of women will cheat at some point in their first marriage - best guess, 15 percent," psychologist David Schmitt of Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., said in an e-mail.

A new study he co-wrote, just published in the European Journal of Personality, suggests that narcissism and other personality traits affect short-term mating.

Todd Shackelford, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University in Davie who directs the Evolutionary Psychology Lab and has been studying infidelity for about 20 years, agrees that personality traits linked with infidelity go beyond just narcissism. He says people who have low scores on personality tests measuring conscientiousness, as well as high scores on openness to experiences, may be more likely to be unfaithful. But although personality traits are linked with infidelity, they are not very powerful predictors, he says.

For men, he adds, it's all about opportunity. And for celebrities, athletes and others in the public eye, it's all about having the money to cheat, traveling away from home and having strangers throw themselves at you.

"Sheer opportunity is the single best predictor of men's being unfaithful. It's really that straightforward," he says. "Other things matter, of course, but a lot of work indicates it's just sheer opportunity, which doesn't seem to be as good a predictor of women's infidelity."

2 Responses »

  1. Did you ever think that perhaps Tiger's marriage was all just a sham for the public? Someone said you need to get married, because it looks better for your image - So what you do not really don't know her or love her just yet- you can have other women on the side.

    Perhaps it was all for show, just for the publi, and it was not a real marriage in the sense that you and I may think of marriage.

  2. Being an average sort, I have no idea what it must be like to be an idol on a very public pedestal. But I do know, from being a Wanda Workaday for a couple two three decades, that power, whether real or perceived, draws women like a light draws moths come evening.

    Must be multiplied a million times more for a public figure whose face is known everywhere he goes. (Money and fame are a draw I'll never comprehend from the inside *wink*)

    The experts can say what they want, but time awards more knowledge than the best education money can buy.

    Humans are civilized these days, but a couple million years of evolution can't be shrugged off by a couple hundred years of civilization. Understanding that birth control is a very recent phenomenon, a man who *services* more than one woman has more offspring. A man who stays faithful has fewer offspring. If more offspring are born with an inherited tendency to wander, then over time (eons) men who wander will far outnumber the faithful sort.

    And that's just the normal Joe. Add the public adoration and today's media, conferring instant recognition wherever the tiger goes, and the inclination to wander increases.

    I feel bad for Tiger's wife. The evidence points toward a woman who expected fidelity, and was outraged to find it not so.

    Yet she knew she was marrying a very public figure, even if she hoped evolution wouldn't rear its ugly head this time. She married a man who got many of us to pay attention to golf, at least for a while ... to see another ethnic barrier broken in our nation ... hurrah! Good for tiger, a good man.

    I feel really bad for their children. They will always know Daddy was a cheat, whether they stay together or not. Of course, there will always be money for the best therapy, so maybe they can grow up sort of normal.

    If I were to take bets, I'd bet upon them splitting up over this, whether tomorrow or next year. The two of them likely have little common ground, growing up on different continents, for heavens sake. If they'd grown up in similar neighborhoods, I'd give them a better than 50 percent chance, because their communication level would be synchronized in a way that escapes the college degreed. It isn't about blue eyes versus brown, it's about common ground. If she grew up in "Alabaster" and his fore mothers and/or fathers came from "Alabaster" I'd give the two of them a good chance. Attitudes pass through generations.

    And despite all my yammering about lack of baseline connection, they might just work this thing out and through. I give their relationship high kudos if they are able to overcome the media ... however, history does not favor it.

    However it works out, Tiger has legal heirs. They'll never want for anything money can pay for.

    But that we all could be in their shoes.