Why did Tiger Woods marry? What motivated him to give up a life of sleeping with porn stars and Perkins waitresses without fear of public humiliation? Why did Woods pass up one of the great bachelor runs in the history of men who eat alone over the sink? I was talking about Woods with coworkers at lunch. The Tiger Woods story clings to us all. You can try to ignore it, but it’s too big. It’s big because the scandal hinges on one of the few revered institutions in America – marriage. How could a man with a very public life and everything to lose risk it all for the body of a “Tool Academy” girlfriend? Why did Woods, a man who must have known in that incredibly-focused brain of his that he was capable of “transgressions,” marry Elin Nordegren in the first place?
Last night I pulled out a copy of H.L. Mencken’s “A Mencken Chrestomathy.” Chrestomathy is one of those old words used by people like George Will, my brother Dan and H.L. Mencken, before he died. It means “a volume of selected passages or stories of an author.” The book contains Mencken’s very quotable and often funny thoughts on everything, including marriage. In his 1922 essay “The War between Man and Woman,” Mencken wrote:
“Not many men, worthy of the name, gain anything of value by marriage, at least as the institution is now met with in Christendom. Even assessing the benefits at their most inflated worth, they are plainly overborne by crushing disadvantages. When a man marries it is no more a sign that the feminine talent for persuasion and intimidation – i.e. the feminine talent for survival in a world of clashing concepts and desires, the feminine competence and intelligence – has forced him into a more or less abhorrent compromise with his own honest inclinations and best interests. ”
Two quick notes: 1.) Mencken is known as a curmudgeon. 2.) He’s not wrong.
“Whether that compromise be a sign of his relative stupidity or of his relative cowardice it is all one: the two things, in their symptoms and effects, are almost identical. In the first case he marries because he has been clearly bowled over in a combat of wits; in the second he resigns himself to marriage as the safest form of liaison. In both cases his inherent sentimentality is the chief weapon in the hand of his opponent. It makes him cherish the fiction of his enterprise, and even of his daring, in the midst of the most crude and obvious operations against him.”
Mencken comes to the point:
“It makes him accept as real the bold play-acting that women always excel at, and at no time more than when stalking a man. It makes him, above all, see a glamour in romance in a transaction which, even at its best, contains almost as much gross trafficking, at bottom, as the sale of a mule.”
And you thought Simon Cowell was harsh.
I don’t know why Tiger Woods married. But Mencken has addressed why some (not all) men are persuaded to marry – sentimentality and fiction. Mencken goes on to say that in order to buy into marriage, a man must buy into the fiction that the entire endeavor is in his best interests. It’s not. Marriage is good for some things (like making and raising children) and bad for others (like having freedom.) I think the people who acknowledge the pluses and minuses honestly have the best marriages because they see through the fiction. The smart couple, it seems, sees marriage for what it really is – shared experiences, hard work and compromise. (Then again, I’m single, so what do I know? These words are written by a man with zero toilet seat awareness.)
I don’t know why Tiger Woods – if the allegations are true – cheated on his wife; there is no acceptable excuse to do so. But I do know that he is incredibly focused and, more than anything, his identity is wrapped up in being a winner. It is entirely possible that Woods bought into the fiction that by getting married his life would be great because, well, he’d be married. Maybe marriage, for the first time in Woods’ life, made him feel like – and Mencken would agree – a loser.
That, or he’s just an asshole.