Sanford and the Soul-Mate Scenario

The passion versus power conflict within Governor Mark Sanford is a scenario seen in certain influential and important men, some of whom risk their ambition by engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior. But, when their indiscretions with a woman are based on love there can perhaps be more sympathy and forgiveness than if the affair was based on lust alone.

Of the many examples of a sacrifice of power for love, there was none so infamous during the last century as England’s King Edward VIII. He met Wallis Simpson in 1931 and after almost four years of friendship they, as she stated, “crossed the line that marks the indefinable boundary between friendship and love.” In 1936, after serving as King for less than one year he abdicated the throne for Wallis, who was an American, a divorcee, and still married to her second husband. She filed for divorce from her husband, Wallis and Edward married in a small ceremony in 1937, and by all indications they had an extraordinarily happy union.

Governor Sanford seems to have a similar love for Maria Belen Chapur, an Argentinean lady who he met in 2001. He writes to her in an email that he “had a special feeling about you from the first time we met” and that it was like a “lightning strike.” In an interview with the Associated Press, in between calling Ms. Chapur his “soul-mate” Mr. Sanford confirmed that “There was some kind of connection from the very beginning” between him and Ms. Chapur, although it was many years before their friendship took a physically intimate turn.

A reading of their emails shows two people who are very connected and deeply in love. Among expressions of love and longing for each other, Governor Sanford and Ms. Chapur reveal the details of their days and show a genuine interest in the simplicities of the other person’s life. Maria is very affectionate and supportive of him, asks nothing from him, and is even concerned about the content of their emails to keep Mr. Sanford’s position “safe.” Mark sends her little gifts that make him think of her, and while he admits that their relationship is unexpected and new territory he states that it has a “soul-mate feel,” and he puts her above himself in his wish to make her happy and not complicate her life.

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Mark and Maria deserve privacy and understanding as they go through this private matter. This is not some tawdry and lust-filled affair, but one in which, as Governor Sanford wrote to Ms. Chapur, “despite the best efforts of my head my heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul.”

Some might argue that adultery committed without emotional attachment, such as that of Bill Clinton or Eliot Spitzer, are “better” than a Sanford scenario where one believes his girlfriend is his soul-mate. But sex without sentimentality is little more than base passions.

As an elected official, Governor Sanford’s responsibility is to the best interest of South Carolina, and he showed a severe lack of respect for his position by leaving his post and being unreachable for days as he visited Ms. Chapur in South America. In case of an emergency or other unexpected crisis, his constituents would have been without their chosen leader. If Mr. Sanford needed some time alone to sort through his personal issues, there were more appropriate ways to do it. His weakness in not making professional decisions to prepare for his absence parallels his weakness in not being able to make a decision between his wife and girlfriend.

In the Washington Post’s September 21, 2008 issue of Parade magazine, their marriage poll revealed that 62 percent entered into matrimony because they had reached a certain age or they didn’t want to be alone. It is very concerning that almost two-thirds of people who marry are doing so for superficial reasons, which explains the increasing instability of marriages.

The honorable thing to do in a marriage that cannot be salvaged is to separate. There is dishonesty in adultery, but there is also dishonesty in living a lie and remaining in a sham of a marriage. And even worse than the two conditions previously mentioned is the dishonesty of entering a marriage with anything less than complete love and conviction.

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