The Mistress (France’s Secret Weapon)
I wasn’t surprised that the President of France threw over his First Lady (who was not even his wife, but his ex-mistress girlfriend) for a pretty movie star. Americans expect that of France. (Except maybe the part about the First Lady being hospitalized for being dumped.) If an American president did something that he’d be in big trouble, but it seems like the French actually like Mr. Hollande more now that’s he dumped the woman who broke up his marriage for a prettier woman who’s a movie star. Apparently 89% of the French public prefers the new mistress.
I understand France. But I’m still trying to figure it out the mistress thing.
The French have it figured out, clearly. The French of a certain class are all sexual politicians and France is the one place in the world where a great seducer can still fuck his or her way to the top, the way they did in ancient Rome. Americans, as much as they have been trained that this is theoretically possible, still they have no idea how to go about it. For the French l’amour is a way of life and it seems kind of smuttily, interestingly attractive. ‘Fuck me now!’ For Americans l’amour is something to think about while you play with yourself.
I am an American. I love women. I like women. Sometimes it has even seemed that liked them almost too much. I have been married at least three times. And I wasn’t always faithful, although now I am on a long streak of my best behavior, but one thing is for sure: I never had a mistress. Never. Not once. Not even close.
Yeah, I’ve had some repeat offenders I fucked around with, but never one girl on the side. When married American men hear about mistresses they are often confused. “What is that?” they wonder. To hook up at all they have to go through channels! Smoke and mirrors! Mazes! They don’t know what a mistress really is, even though they have repeatedly seen them portrayed in movies and on TV. You know, Tony Soprano had a mistress. And there was Mrs. Robinson, but she wasn’t really a mistress, just a predatory cougar. There was the sexy psycho TV chick in To Die For (sexual sociopathy at its finest from Nicole Kidman) and that was based on the true story of an American adultress. But basically there aren’t mistresses in American real life; we just play them on TV.
We sometimes hear that someone super rich or in Congress or the military high command or something like that has a mistress, and it’s a big scandal, but nobody we actually know has one. Senators have mistresses, and lobbyists and some billionaires. Mistress? That’s a whole other plateau? It’s either way above my paygrade, considerably below it, or both. But it’s not really an American thing.
Even people on American sitcoms and in PG films don’t have affairs. People do have affairs in movies but they are having the affairs that people don’t have in real life. It’s as alien as science fiction. But they do it for real in France, I hear. Sometimes it seems like everybody’s doing it there, huh? Where do they find the time, I wonder. Don’t they find themselves feeling spread a little thin. After the wife and kids and the office how much do you have left at the end of the day (afternoon)? But then I remember that the French who have jobs get a month’s vacation and work 30 hours a week or something, so I can see how good managers could squeeze something in.
Sometimes in Paris I suspect it’s actually going on right under my noise, but my mind isn’t trained to spot it. I have no “stray-dar.” But I want to know more.
A mistress? What would that be like? God it seems like it would eat up all your time. If you have a mistress do you still read novels. Does your mistress read the same ones and do you talk about them. Did you give your mistress a copy of that American book “Submission?” The one about butt fucking. Is mistress stuff steamy? Or is it simply like a secret second wife, but one who perhaps tries to please you instead of correcting or changing you? A woman who’s usually glad to see you and doesn’t take it for granted or worse.
I will probably never know anything more than I know now. Americans live in a female dominated sexual police state. There is a conspiracy here to keep men from fucking around. You get caught fucking around and you are going to pay, big time. Getting caught is an industry.
Mistresses in the Europeans system, at least from what I gather, are not evidence of a tragic flaw. It seems that they are simply expressions of status, leisure, immunity from petit bourgeois morality and of the possession of a certain pep, if not vigor. I can’t imagine that Cialis and mistresses mix.
Maybe the reason the Mistress is un-American is that it sometimes implies that the woman is kept, that she is at least in part supported by the man, thus being not very feminist. I guess. In America a man usually supports his wife, at least in substantial part, as well as supporting whatever women have already divorced him. Perhaps it’s that Americans have replaced the mistress, economically, with the ex-wife. We pay all the costs and reap none of the benefits by our system of spreading out our women over time instead of having them all at once.
This does cause me to wonder How did the Puritans win here? I don’t get it. Maybe the lack of mistresses in the U.S. is politically rooted. Mistresses are an institution of the leisure class and so they seem undemocratic. Working class people would never have the time or the resources to pull off structured adultery. In Europe it’s part of proving who you are. In America we have managed to retain an air of immorality around the whole thing, even though noo on has any morals.
Apparently, for French politicians, having a mistress makes you more likeable, making you appear more human as well as more ruling class. In English and French culture upscale fucking around has been institutionalized for centuries. Socialized, acceptable adultery probably goes back to the time my ancestors were painting themselves blue, and the medievals were high on it and whatever the Cromwell folks and the Puritans did to discourage eroticism, fucking around enjoyed a brisk revival with Charles II of England and the Restoration court.
John Dryden’s collected works, published in 1808, were edited by Sir Walter Scott, who at least feigned shock at the salacious parts of Dryden’s comedy, remarked on the Restoration court in his introduction:
“Such were actually the manners of Charles the II’s time, where we find the mistresses of the king, and his brothers, familiar in the highest circles. It appears, from the evidence in the case of the duchess of Norfolk for adultery, that Nell Gwyn was living with his Grace in familiar habits; her society, doubtless, paving the way for the intrigue, by which the unfortunate lady lost her rank and reputation. It is always symptomatic of a total decay of morals, where female reputation neither confers dignity, nor excites pride, in its possessor; but is consistent with her mingling in the society of the libertine and the profligate.”
Kings sometimes had dozens of mistresses, ranging in importance from a defacto wife to concubine to the occasional tumble. Kings had no real reason not to have mistresses and they didn’t need to worry about knocking them up. You just made the bastard a Duke or a Count or a Cardinal and he was okay. This tradition spread outward from the king, throughout aristocracy. In the 19th Century a man who could afford it had a wife and a mistresss, and the word demi-monde emerged, referring to that gay branch of society where the brazen played.
Wikipedia offers a partial list of French royal mistresses from Clovis I to Louis Philippe I that lists 81 women. Charlemagne had at least 8 acknowledged mistresses, Henry IV had ten, Louis XIV had at least 19. Adultery at Versailles seems to have been important politically, and a far more popular sport than horses, tennis, dice or cards.
It is said that France treats it politicians more like the royalty that preceded them then we Revolutionary Americans do. We keep them on a short leash. But in France, it has been theorized that having a mistress actually contributes to the popularity of a president. Even in America an aura of indiscretion can contribute to a politico’s popularity – JFK had that fisher king allure and his many affairs gave him a powerful glamor. He had Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson (who said of her encounter with JFK “it was the best 20 seconds of my life,” Gene Tierney, Marlene Dietrich, stripper Blaze Star, Judith Exner Campbell (also the mistress of mafiosi Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli—who later claimed to be part of a plot to kill Kennedy, ) as well as numerous socialites and workplace romances.
Kennedy womanizing gene seemed to charm hipsters, blacks, and Europeans. America started using the word charisma. We had a “rat pack” president and he died like one.
I suspect that all real political leaders inherit a lot of anthropological baggage from the rites of kings, and so if you’re a politician it doesn’t hurt to come across a kind fertile cheiftan who performs certain act to, well, stimulate the economy and make the fields and livestock productive.
Virtually every French leader but DeGaulle has been a philanderer and seducer. Adultery worked for Giscard d’Estang. “When I was president of the republic, I was in love with 17 million French women,” he said. “When I saw them in the crowd, they felt it and then they voted for me.” Adultery worked for Chirac, who wrote “there have been women I have loved a lot, as discreetly as possible.” Adultery worked for Mitterand, so well that his wife invited his mistress to his funeral, just as adultery worked for Pompidou’s whose mistress and illegitimate daughter were invited to his sendoff.
It worked for Edgar Faure became France’s prime minister in the 50’s. He said, “When I was a minister, some women resisted me. Once I became president, not even one.” Bill Clinton, eat your heart out. What is a politician, really, but a seducer? You were born in the wrong country, Bill. In France you can still fuck your way to the top and step out when you get there.
Parisians and New Yorkers alike seemed to give Nicolas Sarkozy more “props” after he scored Carla Bruni, the famous singer,model and rockstar girlfriend as his trophy third wife after a brief mistress tryout. But Americans still aren’t sure about this stuff. They’re afraid that sex will ruin them. What if you can’t stop? I mean, look at Dominique Strauss-Kahn; wasn’t he supposed to the French president? What happens when you can no longer keep it in your pants? The executive possessed by the mating demon. Americans refuse to understand this. If they’re not keeping it in their pants, well… it’s probably in their hand.
This piece originally appeared in L’Officiel Homme