The idiocy of text-message adultery.

Science, technology, and life.
April 7 2010 7:52 AM

Public Sext

The idiocy of text-message adultery.

Tiger Woods. Click image to expand.
Tiger Woods

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A woman says Tiger Woods had sex with her. No, really. Her name is Raychel Coudriet. It's the same story we've heard from other women: She liked Woods, he wanted her, he propositioned her, she said yes. He was sitting next to her at a party when he made his move. Did he touch her? Raise an eyebrow? Whisper in her ear? Nope. He texted her.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Woods may go down in history as the greatest golfer of all time. But he'll also be remembered as the king of sexting. He takes his place in a pantheon of lechers who have sated the world's oldest urge through the latest communications technology. Bill Clinton used the phone; Mark Foley used online chats; Mark Sanford used e-mail; Woods used text messages. Sitting right next to Coudriet, Woods went for his phone. He "texted her constantly," says the National Enquirer, echoing reports by other women. He was more addicted to texting than he was to sex.

The picture of Woods sitting there with Coudriet, discreetly sending her messages that would show up later in the Enquirer, captures the bottomless folly of extramarital sexting. Cheaters seem to think their phones send secret mating signals only their girlfriends can pick up. They couldn't be more wrong.

In the months since Woods' adultery was discovered, scores of his messages to various girlfriends have been leaked. So have the texts of Jesse James, the philandering husband of Sandra Bullock. If those aren't raw enough for your taste, try the X-rated pager messages between former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his then-chief of staff, Christine Beatty. No detail is spared. You can find out exactly how Beatty debriefed Kilpatrick and which holes Woods liked to play.

But that's only half of what makes these messages creepy. The other half is the cheaters' constant worry about being caught. Their thumbs work the keypads, pleading for secrecy. "Don't text me back till tomorrow morning. I have [too] many people around me right now," Woods told Jaimee Grubbs, a cocktail waitress. To Joslyn James, a porn actress, he texted: "Don't come down here yet. Lots of people in the hall. I will let you know when it clears." Later, he chastised her: "You almost just ruined my whole life. If my agent and these guys would have seen you there, Fuck."

Fuck, indeed. Everyone with an Internet connection now knows plenty about Woods' sex life. But we don't know it from a bimbo getting caught in a hallway. We know it from his texts. His comments to Coudriet—"Are you touching yourself? I want to f--- you"—are reprinted verbatim in the Enquirer. He treated his phone as a private channel, a place where he could hide his darkest thoughts from the world. Instead, the phone manifested and published them. His trysts are gone. His marriage is on the rocks. But his texts? They're immortal.

Bullock's husband, Jesse James, made the same mistake. "I'm texting you in secret," he told one of his girlfriends. That message, along with 194 others, is now in her possession and is among several, "many of them extremely graphic," that she has reportedly shown to TMZ, the celebrity gossip site. Too late, he has learned that there's no such thing as texting in secret.

So has Kilpatrick. "THEY WERE RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR. THEY HAD TO HAVE HEARD EVERYTHING," he told Beatty after a night together. When she joked that they'd been "busted," he replied, "DAMN THAT. NEVER BUSTED. BUSTED IS WHAT YOU SEE! LOL."

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    That's the folly of the cheating sexter. He thinks that to be busted, he has to be seen with his girlfriend. He has it backward. A physical encounter can be broken up in seconds, leaving only the uncorroborated memory of a putative eyewitness. But a text is objective and self-incriminating. Busted isn't being seen. It's being read.

    In hindsight, the exposed sexters seem almost poignantly naive. James' electronic attempt at just-between-us intimacy—"*wink*"—has been pasted all over the Internet. Kilpatrick's and Beatty's frequent reminder to each other—"ERASE!"—has been preserved as a warning to all who think their messages were purged. And Woods' leaked promise to Grubbs—"secretively we will always be together"—has become a self-refuting joke. The promise was a fantasy. So was the secrecy.

    Remember that the next time you wander off the fairway of marriage. Lust isn't love, and texting isn't whispering. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The cell phone knows. Soon, the rest of us will know, too.

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