The alchemy of power, a man and the other woman, discovers Amanda Suriya Ariffin, goes beyond mere scandal and gossip fodder
POWER has been termed an aphrodisiac, if we are to paraphrase the statesman Henry Kissinger. And if the tableau of history is any evidence, that point remains very much relevant decades after the quip was made famous in 1973.
The late Princess Diana revealed ‘there are three of us in this marriage’.
When the late Princess of Wales, Diana, fearlessly went on public record with the now-infamous quip that “There are three of us in this marriage”, and that it was getting a little crowded, she was added to a long line of The Wronged Wife.
However, as her then-husband was a nation’s future monarch and rightful heir to the throne, there were mitigating circumstances surrounding the expectation that he should “leave office”, as it were.
If we look at other powerful men in public office, however — and more pointedly, men who were elected into said positions of power — their downfall at the hands of The Other Woman ranks right up there with public humiliation by any other means.
Petraeus quit as CIA director over extramarital affair.
The ingrained public morality decrying adultery aside, the recent scandal in which General Davis Petraeus was at the centre of the vortex, brought to mind the heady alchemy of power, men and its overwhelming allure to certain women of a certain disposition.
Broadwell was Petraeus’ mistress.
Like fish being baited and hooked, women who seemingly consciously choose to be with only powerful men — who are already married — make Paula Broadwell look positively tame.
Nala (not her real name), a divorcee of mixed Asian lineage and who has just turned 50, admits freely that she prefers to be a mistress of powerful, rich men. She wouldn’t mind being married, she says, if only the men would ask her to marry them.
“But for now,” she confesses, “I’m quite happy where I am. He gives me money. When I don’t see him, I can go out and do my own thing, and he calls me every day — sometimes lots of times in a day.”
The “he” in question is in his mid-50s, a director in a conglomerate who resides in a million-ringgit bungalow in a pristine, manicured gated suburb with his wife of 16 years and two teenage children.
Nala has been his mistress for the past eight years since the day they were introduced to one another, over drinks with mutual friends, at a shiny bar in a five-star hotel in the Golden Triangle. The routine since then is almost alarmingly similar to the routine of married life in its unchanging regularity.
They meet on Wednesday nights (when she prepares a lavish dinner for him, followed by an evening of other corporeal delights) and then on Saturday and Sunday mornings in the two-bedroom apartment she inherited from a former lover. How much time does he spend there? “Anywhere between three to five hours,” she says.
Nala does not strike me as a conniving, calculatingly cold femme fatale with absolutely no moral radar. She was married when she was just 26, but a daughter and three years later, she found herself divorced. She is tall and willowy, with long legs and a ready laugh.
She is also a serial mistress with an obvious penchant for powerful men. How can I be certain it is not just a fluke attributed to kismet, destiny and cosmic forces? Because she has been the mistress of eight men — all married — since her divorce.
From directors to entrepreneurs — some of foreign nationality who have set up businesses here — to a foreign statesman and a diplomat, Nala has exceeded what allowances can be made that this behaviour is anything but a pattern.
A love litany of eight consecutive men of the same stripe makes a pattern, does it not?
“He tells me his wife never cooks for him, that she’s always busy with the kids. He likes the attention I give him,” she says, with a hint of an undertone that sounds very close to gloating. “And he tells me he loves me.”
That love takes the form of texts, calls, luxurious gifts and wads of cash when he leaves her boudoir. The wads of cash she spends on incredibly-impractical lingerie, which she shows me with some unadulterated pleasure. There is little sign of remorse or regret in her attractive features, and I wonder if it is like this with all mistresses.
But I shush my mental wanderlust and try to suppress my judgment, when she reveals that she is a fun person, open to spontaneous jaunts of hedonism, and this is a constant refrain she hears from her lovers.
Could this have anything to do with the fact that her daughter is being raised by relatives in another state and so Nala seemingly resembles the closest thing to a single woman in the truest definition? She demurs to comment on this.
With unsettling honesty, she says: “I’m glad I don’t have to entertain or take care of his relatives, parents or children. I just have to entertain and take care of him. He takes care of me, too. He’s not here all the time, but I have my friends, so that’s fine.”
But does she not care about his children or family members?
“I buy gifts for them when we go for holidays together, and sometimes I will choose the gift for the wife, too. Of course, he has to tell them that they are from him, and not from me.”
The burning question then is this: Is there a particular condition or predisposition with women such as Nala?
Sherman Ng of The Peace Clinic, (the-peaceclinic.com) where its therapists deal with a multitude of issues including stress, other psychological challenges as well as offering programmes that offer healing from within, helps me answer this.
“Women who are prone to affairs have an underlying lack of self-worth and self-esteem,” he explains. “They have difficulty loving and appreciating themselves”.
The result? “They find it challenging to properly cultivate family, social and romantic relationships.”
In an affair, says Ng, the relationship satisfies all three dimensions making it a convenient way to blend it all together to fulfil what is clearly missing in their emotional and psychological psyche.
Is it a cover for, or a projection of, underlying causes? Interestingly, Ng adds: “Yes, the underlying cause is generally an upbringing and conditioning which does not support their self-worth. Parents who unconsciously and constantly compare them to others, withhold love or degrade them in public as a form of punishment, would severely impact their ability to appreciate and love themselves.”
What generally happens is that when they do not appreciate themselves, he explains, they will seek out ways to compensate this deficiency externally which inevitably leads to addictive behaviour patterns like shopping, eating, sex and affairs.
“In most cases, it starts with something innocent to soothe the craving. When it does not satisfy anymore,” he emphasises, “it will lead to another and another and before long, it becomes an unconscious habitual behaviour. This is the dynamic of how addictions begin and develops.”
What of the powerful man who may only feel truly powerful when he has attracted another woman outside of his committed relationship?
Ng answers evenly: “The need for power is also born from the condition of also having a lack of self-worth. Some powerful men become powerful because they’re constantly working to satisfy the addictive cravings of the inflating ego’s need.”
Power is how they perceive and measure their worth, he says, and sometimes you see how the inherent unhappiness in both the characters of the men and women can so easily seek each other out for temporary relief and solace.
But the serial mistress, Ng adds, is a person who is addicted to a particular way of thinking, feeling and behaving. She has really lost control of those faculties to make self-nurturing decisions.
Most decisions are mainly to serve the addiction and also what they perceive is necessary to survive, he says. “It’s like getting on a bus thinking it is a good ride and then finding out that it is going the wrong direction but they can’t seem to get off it. When they finally find a way to get off (or thrown off)”, says Ng, “they continue to find another inappropriate bus to get on... and hence the cycle.”
At Ng’s apt analogy involving buses, I think about transplanting a terrible old joke involving women being compared to bicycles and how many may have had a ride on them, but remember quickly, with many situations, that there’s never supply without demand.
Power may be an aphrodisiac as well as a projection of unfulfilled needs or that of an unsatiated ego, but it is also akin to a loose cannon in an already murky emotional ecosystem fraught with uncontrollable desires.
Should the Mayan prediction come true this Dec 21, it would be quite awful to have your world - and public reputation — end on a scandalous note of being The Other Woman, and have it overshadow all other sterling achievements.
In only that respect, General, you have my sympathies.
Amanda Suriya Ariffin New Straits Times Sunday Life and Times 16 December 2012