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The Tea and Sympathy Rule

A New Rule for Older/Younger Affairs

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In 2007, when Sam Adams first denied allegations that he was sleeping with Beau Breedlove, I assumed he was lying.

And I didn't care.

Remember when President Bill Clinton was caught blowing loads on Monica Lewinsky? Like a lot of liberals, lefties, and progressives, I spent nearly a year arguing that Clinton shouldn't be impeached for lying—under oath—about his affair with Lewinsky. Many argued he had a right to lie about the affair, that we all have a right to lie about our private, consensual, legal sexual conduct, and that sometimes lying is the only way to keep our private, consensual, legal sexual conduct private. The affair by itself was a mistake, but it shouldn't have been the subject of Ken Starr's investigation.

And can anyone argue that it wouldn't have been better for all involved—Bill and his family, Monica and her family, the whole damn country—if Bill had gotten away with it?

Of course it would've been better if Clinton had refrained from messing around with "that woman," a much younger, not terribly discreet White House intern. And it would've been better if Sam Adams had refrained from messing around with Beau Breedlove, a much younger, not terribly discreet young man.

In the Mercury's Back to School Issue ["Camping Out," Sept 11, 2008], I quoted this line from Tea and Sympathy: "When you speak of this in future years... and you will... be kind." Immediately after that line, a much older woman fucks the living shit out of this hot high school boy. In the play it's a selfless, altruistic act; the woman only wants to help the boy prove to himself and others that he's only sensitive and poetic, and not, you know, gay and homosexual.

"The circumstances in Tea and Sympathy don't precisely parallel the ones scores of Mercury readers over the age of 25 are likely to find themselves in soon," I wrote. "But many of you will soon be fucking the living shit out Portland's much younger people, Porland's newly arrived college students, and you will be spoken of in future years by the younger people you fuck the living shit out of today. If you wish to be spoken of kindly—and you do—I've got a pretty simple rule for you."

It's the "campsite rule," something I introduced in my Savage Love column [see pg.43] because, despite my on-the-record disapproval of sexual relationships where there are large age differences, some older people are attracted to younger people and vice versa—whether we like it or not.

"As with campers at campsites, the older partners of younger people should always leave 'em in better shape than they found 'em. Don't get 'em pregnant, don't give 'em diseases, and don't lead 'em to believe that a long-term relationship is even a remote possibility. ...And if you do the right thing—and leave 'em in better shape than you found 'em—your younger lovers will always speak highly of you."

We know Beau Breedlove did not emerge from his affairette with Sam Adams pregnant—at least that's what we know now—and if Sam had given Beau a disease or gotten him hooked on meth, it seems highly likely that Beau would've mentioned it in his interview with the Oregonian. So it looks as if Adams—at least from what we know now—honored the campsite rule.

Breedlove, however, failed to uphold what shall now be known as the Tea and Sympathy rule: When the younger person in an older/younger affair speaks of it in future years, he or she has a duty to be kind. If no harm was done to you, then you should strive to do no harm in return. And if the younger person remembers the affair fondly, as Breedlove seems to, and if the younger person considers his or her former lover to be a friend, as Breedlove claims, then the younger person shouldn't speak of the affair—even kindly—when the younger person knows that doing so will wreak havoc on the life of his (or her) old flame.

This judgment is based on what we know now, and the fact that Adams upheld the campsite rule doesn't make Adams' actions any less reckless, the affair any less ill-advised, and it doesn't mean there's nothing inherently squicky about older, more powerful folks making out with teenagers in toilets.

"Maybe Breedlove is squealing because Adams did NOT honor the campsite rule," someone wrote after I made this point on Blogtown. That's entirely possible—and if true, if Adams harmed Breedlove, and that's the reason why he's speaking out now, then Breedlove needs to drop the "I love Sam, Sam's my friend, this was a great experience for me, I wasn't harmed..." line he's been peddling alongside the damaging details of their affair. Saying things he knows will harm someone he professes to like makes Breedlove look dishonest at best, unstable at worst. It leaves one to question Breedlove's motives.

But Breedlove was the younger person—blah, blah, blah—and we're not allowed to speculate about the younger person's motives, or examine his actions when a scandal like this breaks. Adams should've known better and is far more culpable, as the older person. But the possibility that Adams and Breedlove were both—to borrow a phrase—"a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty" comes closest, I think, to capturing the essence of this scandal.

However nutty and slutty Adams' actions were, they have not been shown to be criminal. And Adams, like Clinton, should not be driven out of office for failing to truthfully answer a question that should've never been put to him in the first place.

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