A man who built his career on testosterone, who spent years pumping iron and staring at himself in mirrors, who thrived in the egocentric troika of sports, Hollywood and politics is probably not a good candidate for faithful husband. Maria Shriver had to have known that when she married Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold and men like him are supreme narcissists. Sure, they are charming, dynamic, seductive, even magnetic, but the world beyond their own minds and bodies is an abstraction. Other people are moons revolving around their sun. They are emotionally detached. All they really need in life are themselves.
So, it is truly mystifying to the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world why a wife would get upset about him having sex with other women. As Arnold said to Maria, it had nothing to do with her; he still thinks she’s hot. It’s only sex, after all – sex and an inconvenient love child.
That’s how Arnold tells the story, anyway, in his new memoir, "Total Recall." And, asked by interviewers if he thinks revealing the details of his philandering and divorce might be painful for his ex-wife and children, he says yes, it is painful. Yet the look on his face suggests that pain is just a bit of collateral damage with no bearing on Arnold’s desire to market his autobiography. The way he sees it, the world needs to hear the epic tale of his life, and that is far more consequential than the feelings of those four children he fathered with Maria.
I first crossed paths with Maria Shriver on her Uncle Teddy’s campaign bus during the New Hampshire presidential primary in 1980. This was six years before she married Arnold. She was a 24-year-old budding TV journalist hanging out in the back of the bus with her younger cousin, Kara Kennedy. I was not much older – a fresh-out-of-college political cartoonist on my first national news assignment. I thought Maria was incredibly cute with her dark hair, angular Kennedy jaw and smiling row of bright teeth, that most ubiquitous family trait. I figured she had an interesting life in store – she was a Kennedy, after all.
During that trip, I visited the bridge at Chappaquiddick where Ted Kennedy had driven a careening car into the dark water and left a drowning young woman behind as he saved himself. Maria knew about that incident. She probably knew about Teddy’s other affairs and the secret sex life of her martyred Uncle John, the prince of Camelot. Infidelity was common behavior among the high-achieving males in the Kennedy clan (though her own father, Sargent Shriver, seems to have had a more true moral compass).
Biographers of John F. Kennedy indicate that he, like Schwarzenegger, saw sex with a series of bimbos as little more than physical release that had no significant bearing on his love for his wife, Jacqueline. Having grown up in that Kennedy world, perhaps Maria never expected her husband to be perfectly faithful. But she probably hoped for discretion, at least.
For men like Arnold who see themselves as bold men of action destined for great things, sex is a mere perk. While a wife is a trophy (especially one with the Kennedy pedigree), all other women are just incidental conquests along the path to mastery of bigger realms – Hollywood stardom, political power or a Mr. Universe competition. But even the most cavalier rogue can at least get his timing right if he cares at all about the people nearest and dearest to him.
Schwarzenegger’s book is an example of crass and callous self-promotion. Maybe in a few years it would have been OK to publish a tell-all tome, but this close to the moment of pain he inflicted on his family, it is just plain creepy and cruel.
Not that Arnold would see it that way; he is too enthralled by the face in the mirror and the siren call of his personal destiny.