Ronnie Polaneczky: In love and war, here's what's fair

Posted: November 14, 2012

JUST FOUR DAYS before former general David Petraeus resigned as director of the CIA over an extramarital affair, the Daily Beast website published the general's 12 "rules for living."

They were compiled by Paula Broadwell, his biographer and, as we now know, mistress, whose sculpted guns rival Michelle Obama's.

The list is meant to inspire. Sadly, some of the rules are now as snicker-worthy as the title of the Petraeus biography, All In . . .

Rule No. 1, for example - "Lead by example from the front of the formation" - sounds like something out of Fifty Shades of Grey.

And maybe the general used No. 4 - "There is an exception to every rule" - to excuse his hound-doggery.

And No. 10 - "Stay fit to fight. Your body is your ultimate weapons system" - now conjures images of the super-fit general slapping sixpacks with the buff Broadwell in a Kabul tent.

Go ahead, say I have a twisted mind. But Petraeus' wife must be entertaining even more disturbing thoughts, the poor thing. And I think we can imagine what his children - including a son, an Army officer who served in Afghanistan - must now think of their dad's rules for living.

Petraeus, who released a brief statement last week, is reportedly devastated about what he's done to his life. But we've not heard a peep about Broadwell's emotional state or what prompted her apparently jealous and threatening emails to a Petraeus friend, whose subsequent call to the FBI triggered the investigation that exposed the mess.

So Lord knows how Broadwell is explaining her fall from grace to her radiologist husband, two little boys or the legions of friends and family who helped with the kids while she ran around the Middle East with the general.

Forget rules for living, then. What Petraeus and Broadwell needed were some thoughts about home. Because if they'd thought more about their families, they might still occupy a world in which his reputation was honorable and no one was comparing her to the unhinged paramour in "Fatal Attraction."

I'll get the conversation started.

1. Never do more than wink at anyone but your bride or groom. Marriage has peaks and valleys, but nothing will luge it faster down a mountain than stepping out instead of figuring out how to fix the blah spots.

2. Your spouse can divorce your cheating behind, but your kids can't. And man, are they gonna hate you for turning the family upside-down.

3. The more high-profile the cheater, the more explosive the fallout of an affair. So if you're not up for the sight of CNN camping in your neighbor's driveway for a glimpse of your betrayed spouse, keep your pants zipped.

4. If your wife moves 24 times in 38 years to support your career (as Holly Petraeus did) and has had to raise your kids mostly solo, she deserves your fidelity. No matter how her hair has grayed or her body thickened. Period.

5. If your husband so respects your ambition that he supports your journeys into war zones (as Scott Broadwell has) to write a career-advancing book, you don't mock his faith in you by diddling with the book's subject.

6. It's folly to underestimate the power of human biology or overestimate the innocence of infatuation. If you don't believe me, take a divorce lawyer (or a criminal-defense attorney) to lunch and ask to hear some war stories.

7. Nothing hurts more than seeing your family in emotional agony and knowing you caused the pain.

8. It's easier to get over an unconsummated crush than to salvage the relationship you battered by letting your hormones take the lead.

I feel for Petraeus, a bona fide American hero who succumbed like a twit to the adoration of a comely younger woman. And I wince for Broadwell, a soldier who served her country on multiple deployments and took love of country way too far.

Before this incident, they were known as brilliant, brave, patriotic and fierce badasses, the kind we want in the military because they show the world who's in charge of keeping us safe. They were, as the saying goes, all in.

How sad, for them and their loved ones, that all in was too far.

E-mail: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217. @RonniePhilly

Blog: philly.com/ronnieblog

Columns: philly.com/Ronnie

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