“Torrid” is the word the nearly 60-year-old congressman used to describe his extended adulterous relationship with a married staffer that destroyed his political career. He is possibly the last politician in this town that most observers — especially those of us who knew him and respected him — would have expected to have an affair.
When he and the woman met, he said, they spontaneously felt a “spark.” As they worked closely together, the spark ignited a flame of passion that eventually engulfed them. The congressman added, as a matter of context, that his vulnerability stemmed in part from the loneliness of his bachelor existence in the nation’s capital with his family back home. He paints a Spinozian picture of a spark landing in dry tender (i.e., a lonely man) with their close proximity fanning the blaze into a hot, torrid affair. While he felt terrible guilt over the affair, he both blamed himself and the circumstance, as well as the chemistry between them, for overwhelming his scruples.
In the end, he stood alone with his shame before the media, the public, and his family — dismayed and disgraced — his life and hers in shambles.
His confession, resignation, and quick departure from Congress and the Capitol at least spared us some of the embarrassing spectacle we have endured from so many politicians who struggled to hang on to office even after their “indiscretions” become public; typically our sensibilities have been assaulted by the pathetic, demeaning ploy of the tanned, botoxed, cheating husband dragging his wounded wife in front of the cameras in a cynical effort to gain sympathy and salvage the situation. With this congressman’s solo mea culpa, his sordid story faded quickly from the news and was replaced by the next scandal du jour coming out of Washington.
Nonetheless, his story keeps bubbling up in my thoughts. When my husband and I first came to Washington 20 years ago, the then-senatorial aide spent two hours explaining the “ropes” of Washington politics to two new friends from his home state. He was unforgettable: so very intense about his conservative values, so sincere and open about his religious faith, and so very knowledgeable about issues and “the way things work” inside the beltway.
I have wondered why he felt it necessary to make bad matters worse by calling their relationship torrid. From his tone, he was not castigating himself for immature impetuosity and bad judgment, nor do his remarks smack of locker room braggadocio. Rather, he seemed to be trying to convey the impact of being overcome, undone, and overwhelmed by a wondrously powerful and intoxicating physical and emotional attraction. He seemed to be saying that he didn’t know that he was capable of those types of feelings; he seemed unaware that he subconsciously wanted to experience “torrid,” and thus, was blindsided and then tripped up. If he had realized the potential, might he possibly have had his defenses up and avoided succumbing to temptation?
I’m puzzled by why I cringe at this part of his confession. In part, it is because his characterization of their relationship as “torrid” seems to violate the little dignity he had left, to expose what should have remained private in a pointless attempt to convey the strength of the temptation he faced. I also wonder if, with the cynicism and negative characterization of love’s short shelf life that abound in the culture, perhaps I’ve unknowingly absorbed cultural myths. Have I, despite experience that should teach me better, subconsciously let the conventional notion rub off on me that “torrid” is for newlyweds, not paunchy, graying, past-middle-age types who have long ago grown past such nonsense?
Do I see “torrid” as evidence of immaturity? Is it?
Today, we think of passion as being mostly related to young romance. An older view, however, is that passion is an emotional response arising from our “lower nature.” The former view is clearly shallow and incomplete; this non-theologian wonders if the latter view isn’t a vestigial remnant of the Gnostic heresy. The plain fact is that the Old Testament Scriptures picture the Creator as a being who feels strong emotions such as anger and jealousy (unbelievers, of course, sneer at this as thinking anthropomorphically). And in the New Testament, it is stated explicitly that the Heavenly Father loved His creatures so passionately that He gave His beloved Son to redeem them (John 3:16) at the cost of the Son’s suffering and tragic death by crucifixion. Couple these elements with the Scripture’s teaching that God created us in His own image, and it becomes difficult to see how our need to love passionately is anything less than a fundamental aspect of our divinely ordained humanity.
So, who needs “torrid?”
As long as “torrid” is viewed as, at best, unseemly and immature, couples who are middle-aged and older (experiencing the frenetic pace and relentless demands of modern life, coupled with a growing awareness of the inevitable diminution of physical and emotional resources) may feel indifferent to a gradual loss of intimacy — and the affection it nourishes — viewing it as a normal, natural progression in life. There is an old humorous but fallacious jibe that says, “Cooking lasts; kissing don’t.” Adopting this mistaken view means millions of couples drift apart, thus depriving themselves of the intimacy that I am convinced God intended to contribute to maintaining the fidelity of the marriage bond.
I believe it is fair to ask, “Is it honest to conceal this element of our humanity?” (Let’s be clear as to what my point is: although I genuinely enjoy seeing young couples flirting, I have little patience for undignified public displays of affection and absolutely none for aging Romeos sporting younger trophy wives.) From the multitude of public figures (and others) whose careers have been destroyed by affairs, is it healthy to pretend that a desire for a torrid love life is not part of who we are? I can only wonder if the devout congressman’s lack of understanding of this part of his nature is not what blindsided him and caused him to fall prey to temptation?
Look at it this way: it is plainly evident that the conjugal union from which new life comes was designed by the Creator to produce one of life’s most intense pleasures, thereby ensuring that we would want to marry and have children. In a parallel fashion (in order to fulfill Christ’s explicit teaching that God intended the marriage covenant to be a life-long proposition), passionate marital love contributes to the accomplishment of an enduring bond and is thus an integral part of the Creator’s plan to make life-long fidelity not merely feasible, but immensely gratifying. Hence, as I see it, the capacity for “torrid” is not to be disparaged, nor, as bitter experience devastatingly shows, is it safe to ignore our need for it.
Frankly life-long marriage without “torrid” is not an appealing picture. Despite the claims of the cynics, life-long marriage with “torrid” is possible, even if only a minority are willing to make the investment to enable it to flourish. What experience shows for certain is that a marriage not nurtured and refreshed by intimacy will not prove the secure haven God intended it to be.