I would never, ever sleep with my biographer. How can I be so sure? Because, as a married man, I would never, ever tell my life story to a woman I found even remotely attractive.
Unlike me, David Petraeus is a man of great loyalty, sacrifice, honor, discipline and willpower. Which is exactly why he messed up. I know I am a man of infinite weakness. And because of this knowledge, I know that the two greatest rules in life are not to get involved in a war in Afghanistan and not to hang out with hot chicks.
I spend much of my day avoiding sexual situations. I set my GPS to a male voice. I get massaged only by chairs. I try to limit business travel to cities in the Northeastern U.S. When I interviewed babysitters for my son Laszlo, the question "How are you around children?" was fifth on my list, after "How often do you wear sweatpants?" "Do you feel the need to wear makeup during the day?" "Do you do a lot of thigh work at the gym?" and "Do you read and enjoy my column on a regular basis?"
People greatly underestimate how they'll act in what economists and psychologists call a hot state, such as being hungry, horny or, according to my MTV viewing, from New Jersey. Dieters succeed best when they wake up and make a list of everything they'll eat that day so they don't have to make decisions when they're hungry and staring at a menu. But willpower in one area does not always translate into self-control in another; we're all tempted by different vices and have experience resisting different triggers. Because Petraeus had extensive Army training to withstand torture, sleeplessness and contemporary hairstyles, he probably thought he could also steel himself against temptations he hadn't trained for. "People who pride themselves on being superrational and superdisciplined are uniquely at risk for this hot state/cold state problem. This is how hubris works," says Charles Duhigg, whose book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, puts book buyers in a hot state by gratuitously throwing in the word business.
I don't even fully trust cold-state me. When I was on Dr. Phil three years ago, I sat next to hot, 21-year-old, identical-twin former nannies named Pam and Deja. When Dr. Phil asked if I'd hire them, I told him I wouldn't even let my friends hire them. "If I'm dieting, I'm not putting chocolate in the house," I said. When I got home, proud of my wisdom, my lovely wife Cassandra screamed, "I'm the diet?" I explained that she was the diet only because she was my wife and because, unlike Pam and Deja, there is only one of her. We did not have sex that night. Neither did Cassandra and I.
Duhigg said he got much of his evidence from studies done by George Loewenstein, an economics and psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Loewenstein has found that people in their cold states lack empathy for mistakes made by people who were all heated up, which is why we, in our lame daytime cold states, are so eager to moralize about the lapses of Petraeus as well as the identical twin sisters, doctors, generals and shirtless federal agents who make up the telenovela that is his life.