Joining the illustrious ranks of Elliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner, Gen. David Petraeus is the most recent in a long string of high-powered men to be felled by an affair. Last week, the former CIA director handed in his resignation, admitting that he was involved with a woman who wasn't his wife.
But there's more to this story than the typical emboldened-man-sleeps-with-enamored-woman; Petraeus' secret was allegedly revealed when his mistress – Paula Broadwell, the woman who wrote his biography – became jealous of another woman and began sending her threatening emails. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that:
The collapse of the impressive career of CIA Director David H. Petraeus was triggered when a woman with whom he was having an affair sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him, according to three senior law enforcement officials with know¬ledge of the episode.
The recipient of the e-mails was so frightened that she went to the FBI for protection and help tracking down the sender, according to the officials. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and a Petraeus biographer, and uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the officials said.
Broadwell wouldn't be the first woman to go batshit crazy over a man; in 2007, astronaut Lisa Nowak infamously drove hundreds of miles while allegedly wearing an adult diaper in order to confront her romantic rival. She was later found to have had a mallet, knife and rubber gloves in her car.
So what is it that leads otherwise sane, rational and in these cases, very successful professionally, women to be reduced to behaving like schoolgirls when it comes to romantic rivals?
“One of the basic traits of intense feelings of romantic love is sexual possessiveness,” says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and author of the book “Why Him? Why Her?”. “Romantic love is linked with the dopamine system, and this give you focused motivation and cravings; for a woman, she's biologically primed to do stupid things if she feels threatened because she thinks somebody is going to steal her man.”
Unfortunately, she adds, it's not a trait that we grow out of as we get older. Some 12- and 13-year-olds will never send angry letters to their rivals, and some 70-year-olds will never learn not to.
The good news? Going all bunny-boiler isn't necessarily a tendency that we all harbor.
“A great many of us would like to write harassing letters and threatening letters, but we have enough emotional control impulse control that we don't do it,” says Fisher. “I don't think that everybody is an accident about to happen.”