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Relationships in the digital age

Affairs in the Digital Age

Petraeus, Allen, and the Millennial Playbook

I must say that I found it especially disconcerting that our Spook-in-Chief, General Petraeus, didn’t know that emails, like diamonds, are forever —no matter what Millennial-worthy types of subterfuge you might engage in.  There’s something sad about a Baby Boomer engaging in digital antics, don’t you think?  Dirty emails? Wouldn’t phone sex have been easier and safer?  Calls can be traced, of course, but no one knows what you said right?  Isn’t that the point of being Spook-in-Chief?

 The women in the story are younger, of course, and married with kids and probably not as thrilled with their lot in life as they’d hoped and maybe that’s why so much of what’s been revealed seems so very high school.  Not Petraeus or Allen’s high schools — the high schools of the 1960s where people passed notes in class and gossiped and girls longed for a Princess phone of their own — but today’s high school where jealous or jilted girls or boys send texts or sexts to humiliate former loves or warn off potential rivals or defriend people on Facebook.  And where counselors routinely remind kids that digital activity never fades away, unlike old soldiers, and cyberstalking and bullying are illegal.  But, alas, these women aren’t in high school.  While young enough to have very toned arms and a penchant for sleeveless and revealing dresses, they weren’t young enough to know.

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Maybe older folks need to keep their hands off the Millennial playbook.  Maybe sixty isn’t the new forty for men and thirty-seven or forty isn’t the new twenty-five because a twenty-five-year-old would have known better than to send “anonymous” emails from cybercafés (where did she even find them?) to General Allen and then Jill Kelley and her husband as Paula Broadwell did, apparently thinking that the four-star Kelley was keen on was her general.  Did anyone say high school?

Oops.  All she did was push “send” a couple of time and one distinguished career’s down and another hangs in the balance.

 Much of what I’ve written about Millennials and digital technology applies to those hapless older generations who bite into the same apple.  The ease of the blurt, drunk or sober, positive or negative; the lack of boundaries; the seductive freedom of saying what’s on your mind without thinking about consequences; the simplicity of pushing “send” and the false belief that no one out there is any the wiser; and never will be; the faux intimacy of the email and the text and the loosening up that can come with not being face-to-face.  Maybe it was just like being in high school, after all, although the simple fact that they emailed shows they really weren’t.  No one under the age of thirty-five emails anything personal, folks.  Still, maybe going digital makes you feel young.

 Maybe it is all about high school.  Maybe feeling like it’s high school and acting like it is what extramarital affairs are really all about.  Perhaps it’s going back to high school in your head and feeling as if you’re back when your future was still ripe for the picking?  And the life you’ve chosen for yourself isn’t yours, after all?

 The unfolding of this sad but cautionary tale reminds us that relationships in the digital age, illicit or not, are different.  Electronic footprints yield facts and factoids about the players that don’t begin to work up an investigative sweat.  Lots of photographs of everyone, including those unlucky enough to be married to the players.  The Kelleys’ financial woes.  Jill Kelley’s brief stint on reality television which is just so, um, zeitgeist.  And the twin sister which is a story of its own.  And the FBI guy who sent the shirtless photo which I’m still hoping is one of his swimming attire instead of a sext.

 What would a Millennial have done that Paula Broadwell or Jill Kelley didn’t?  Well, she might have gone to the relationship section of Reddit.com, where you can ask an anonymous group of your peers whether he is into you or not, or any other question you might have about soldiering forth (sorry, I couldn’t stop myself) in a relationship.

 As for my peers, the Generals, I’m guessing they’re both out of the digital game.

 

 

 

Peg Streep, author or coauthor of nine books, is a New York City based writer currently working on a book about the Millennial generation.

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