Biology lesson at the faculty Christmas party

Greg was so pissed he lost his Christmas spirit.

The problem was that he is a subject matter expert in this field. He knew the answer to this question cold, but he did not want to get dragged into this discussion. He just wanted to lay low until dessert was served just before the party broke up.

The dinner dishes had been cleared away from the big oval table a few minutes before. They were in the private room at the back of an upscale restaurant. The wait staff had left a coffee service on a side board and had given the room to the guests until they called for the dessert course.

Greg panicked when the conversation suddenly lurched in this direction. It had been ruthlessly steered in that direction due to relentless axe grinding and a touch of pot stirring.

Greg’s wife Quiara quickly ground her heel into the top of his foot. Fighting back a grimace, Greg injected as much meekness into his voice as he could and said, “Ah, please no. I catch enough crap for being the resident science nerd. The last thing anyone wants is for a biologist to rattle on regarding a topic which is about ethics more than biology.”

Everyone at the table were Doctors of Philosophy. Greg was the only Ph.D. with a hard-science background. He was a Biologist who specialized in reproduction. His most recent papers all had to do with reproduction in Homo sapiens.

The other twenty-three attendees were in the Language Department. All of them were experts in the literature, philology, and linguistics of various languages alive and dead. This meal was the Christmas party for the language department, masquerading as a “solstice celebration.”

Greg thought that it had been a clever manipulation to imply that calling on him to lecture in this scenario would bore people and make him feel awkward. He had high hopes as he flicked his eyes to his wife, who flashed her eyes in approval at his cleverness.

Sadly, his gambit didn’t work. Radu, in his role as resident axe-grinder, was undeterred. “Oh. Come on Greg. I think everyone here is genuinely interested in hearing the answer,” said Radu. “If you want to know the answer to this, raise your hands.”

About three fourths of the table raised their hands immediately. After seeing how the vote was hopeless, the remaining quarter slowly raised their hands so they didn’t look suspiciously out-of-line with conventional wisdom. Greg marveled at the way that perceived social pressure got people to compromise their values almost immediately and on a subconscious level.

Greg silently noted the three people who least wanted the discussion to go in this direction were Kailey, Elodie, and Quiara. Greg thought of them as the “three amigos”. Kailey was the wife of Radu, the instigator. Elodie was wife of the department head, Emile. Quiara was Greg’s wife and the reason why he was at the dinner at all. The fact that these three were against it wasn’t surprising.

In October, Elodie and Kailey travelled to a conference in Vancouver to present a paper together. The day they returned, Elodie and Kailey showed up to Greg’s house unexpectedly. Quiana pushed him out to his backyard shed and the women spent almost the entire day holed up in the master bedroom.

It was impossible to miss the fact that Elodie spent that entire day crying hysterically in an advanced state of emotional breakdown while Kailey and Quiara desperately tried to put her back together.

Greg was completely excluded from that discussion, but he did overhear Quiara advise Elodie to “come clean” and later he heard Kailey suggest, “what happens in Vancouver stays in Vancouver.” It wasn’t difficult to infer what was going on.

At the time, Greg wrestled with whether he should tell Elodie’s husband, Emile. If it had been a friend, Greg would have spilled the beans immediately. The problem in this case was that Greg and Emile hated each other.

Emile had never been friendly to Greg, and had always treated him as if he were a servant. The dislike had turned into active enmity during the Faculty Ball the previous spring. Quiana sent Greg to the bar to get fresh drinks. When he retuned to the table, Quiara wasn’t there. He found her out on the dance floor with Emile. Emile’s hands were all over Quiara– breasts, back, and ass. Quiara looked embarassed, but did not protest. Greg waited until the couple circulated on the dance floor next to the Chancellor. That’s when then stepped in and deliberately made a scene with the Chancellor as his audience. This forced Emile to publicly apologize to him and withdraw from the dance floor in shame.

Greg expected Quiara to be furious over what he’d done. Instead, she was embarrassed and meek, making Greg wonder if she was complicit. On the way home that evening, Quiara told him that she was quietly trying to get Emile to behave, but he wouldn’t. Quiara said she was afraid of making a scene and was secretly delighted Greg intervened. For weeks afterwards, Quiara called Greg, “my hero” whenever she greeted him.

Ever since that incident, Emile refused to acknowledge Greg’s presence and had not said one word to him. When Greg found out Emie’s wife was had cheated on him, Greg decided not to tell him. Judging by her distress, Elodie was certainly remorseful for her actions. He let it slide.

At the table, after the vote for Greg to answer the question unexpectedly became unanimous, Greg resigned himself to his fate. “Ok, then Radu, state the question concisely and I will try to answer it.”

“Is it equivalent offense when a husband cheats on his wife as when a wife cheats on a husband?” Radu asked with a smirk.

Greg smiled. “You posed that as a yes/no question. Letting the biological chips fall where they may, there is a clear answer, but no one at the table is going to like the answer. We’ll have to get into a technical discussion of why that answer is clear and then everyone is going to lose their shit and disagree. It isn’t worth it.”

Quiara frowned when Greg used profanity, but no one in the group seemed fazed by it. Quiara had a flash of inspiration and suddenly spoke up. “Alright, new rule: if this starts descend into an argument, then we change topics. Does anyone disagree?”

Quiara was well-respected in her department and had a keen mind. There was silence at the table as everyone consented or her proposal. Quiara made eye contact with Kailey. Greg saw Kailey give Quiara a slight nod.

Quiara turned to Greg, so he began. “Biologically, a man cheating on a woman is not an equivalent offense to a woman cheating on a man. They are different acts with different causes, executions, impacts, and outcomes.”

This answer stunned the table.

Gerhart, the bearded professor from Bremen quickly asked, “If they aren’t the same, which is worse?” In his thick accent, the W was pronounced as a V.

You could hear a pin drop at the table. Everyone wanted to know the answer. Even Greg’s wife Quiara was looking at Greg expectantly.

“Biologically, it is much worse when a female cheats on a male than the other way around,” Greg said.

Kailey taking her cue, groaned out loud. “Ah, come on, that just male patriarch hyperbole bullshit! Women have been oppressed by men for all of human history and are much more vulnerable when their mates choose to abandon them.”

The table descended into pandemonium and chaos and Greg leaned back and breathed a sign of relief. Greg made eye contact with Quiara, who smiled back and then made eye contact with Kailey. Kailey actually had to do a two-finger whistle to get the arguments and discussion to die down.

“Everyone agreed that if an argument erupted, that we’d agree to disagree,” said Kailey. “Time for a new topic. I would really like to hear what Churan has to say about that conference she just got back from in Beijing.”

In the sudden silence, everyone looked around the table and Churan wasn’t there. Churan’s husband Chen said, “Sorry, she just left to go to the ladies room. She’ll be back in a few minutes.”

In the silence, Elodie’s lightly accented soprano voice suddenly piped up. “Why is it worse? I would like to know.”

There was something both compelling and emotionally vulnerable with her request for the information. She sounded as if she desperately needed to know the answer. This caught everyone’s attention. Greg silently swore in his own head. This was exactly what he had been trying to avoid. Quiara was instantly grinding my foot like she was heal-toeing a seventies-era Formula One race car.

“Look, this discussion is controversial and it is about to go off the rails,” pronounced Greg. “Please don’t make me ruin the Christmas party.”

“Solstice party!” called out Dorotea, predictably. When Dorotea was born in Maryland, her parents named her Dorthy. She’d met and married her husband Pietro while studying Italian literature in Turin. She started calling herself Dorotea after she married him and took his last name. It was good for her career as a scholar of Italian literature.

Greg took silence to be consent, and started to breathe a sigh of relief that his run in the mine field was over. Unfortunately, resident axe-grinder Radu spoke up. “Aren’t you an expert in this field, Greg? This is what you’ve done your last few research papers on, isn’t it?”

“Yes Radu, you are correct,” replied Greg. “This type of question is all over my CV. However, my expertise won’t make it any less controversial.”

“I want to hear your considered opinion, Greg.” said Radu, with a flash of victory in his expression. The man was an epic pot stirrer.

Everyone at the table was looking at Greg again. Greg looked at Quiara in a desperate attempt to get her to bail him out. Quiara just shrugged.

“Well, fuck! Here we go,” Greg said to himself internally.

“Here is the argument,” he started. “As a species, Homo sapiens evolved to exhibit sexual dimorphism. There are different genders and each gender has a separate and distinct capabilities. That puts them into different roles vis-à-vis reproduction and child rearing.

“Ethically and morally speaking, the two genders are fully equivalent in value. A human life if a human life when considering subjective criteria, like ‘value’. Do you follow me so far?”

Greg could see people at the table nodding. Everything he said so far made sense to them.

“Ethics and morals have nothing to do with biology. Biologically speaking, when you get down to the hard facts of reproduction: ovaries, eggs, testicles, sperm, uterus, placenta, mammary glands, the male and female genders are not equivalent. They are complementary.”

“What about transgender?” asked Dorotea.

“Transgender is not a biological term. In biology, you can either be male, female, or intersex. Intersex has a precise biological definition in which gender cannot be classified, either because the genital anatomy and chromosomes don’t match, or due to a congenital defect that renders their sexual anatomy utterly ambiguous. The condition on Intersex is exhibited in only 0.018% of the population. That’s about fifty to sixty thousand out of the entire US population of 32 million.”

Greg said it like this to bait everyone to argue about transgender issues. Personally, he was sympathetic to people with gender identity issues. He suspected most of the people here tonight were too. His hope was that the table would take up this axe to grind and descend back into chaos. Greg looked meaningfully at Kailey hoping she’d pick up on his cue, but she was so busy giving her husband Radu a death stare, she missed her window of opportunity. Surprisingly, the blow up that Greg prayed for never came.

At this point. Churan came back to the table, intrigued at the silence and tension, “What did I miss?”

Chen shushed her and began whispering to her.

“Everyone with me so far?” Greg asked, practically begging someone to object. No one did.

“There are two arguments for this: disparate impact, and gender complementarianism.

“The disparate impact argument is that if you look at all of human history, around 85% of the women who made it to maturity reproduced. Less than 40% of all men who made it to maturity reproduced. In some eras, it was less than 20% of men. Women are far likelier to reproduce than men.”

Gerhart broke in at this point to ask a question, “What is the scientific basis for such a claim?”

“Have you all heard of the Human Genome Project, run by Francis Collins?” Greg asked. “They mapped the entire human genome back in the nineties.”

About a third of the guests nodded. “I heard about that on NPR!” said Fatima. She was delighted to be a part of the conversation at last.

“As an offshoot of the Human Genome Project, a new discipline, known as ‘Computational Biology’ was invented. Biologists study changes in DNA over time by gene sequencing human remains from different historical periods. They use computers to crunch through the genetic changes and modifications over time.”

“And from these calculations they are able to establish that more than twice as many women as men reproduced?” asked Gerhart.

“Precisely,” said Greg. “It is a hard factual mathematical data.”

There were nods across the table. Greg congratulated himself that this was the right thing to say. He knew they weren’t going to argue about the validity of math with a hard science geek like him.

“The studies are quite striking,” Greg continued. “Somewhere around 8,000 years ago, the genetic diversity in males suddenly declined. The ratio of women reproducing to men reproducing was seventeen to one. One way of looking at this is that each man that reproduced had seventeen wives. It suggests that humanity was massively polygynous.”

“Why was that?” asked Quiara. Greg laughed to himself that his wife, who had been trying to shut down this conversation moments before, was now honestly curious.

“There are several anthropological hypotheses, but there isn’t any factual scientific basis for these,” Greg replied.

“What are they, Greg?” Quiara asked.

“The main hypotheses is that large scale stable agricultural societies emerged around this time. This allowed the accumulation of wealth and power, which necessitated the creation of military to protect the accumulated wealth. This led to labor specialization and the creation of professional soldiers. This led to the creation of empires through large-scale conquest warfare.

“You had concentrated wealth, large numbers of young men being taken off to war under the command of a small number of professional military types. The best of the young men who survived were usually the fittest and most capable, and they were typically co-opted into the professional military. After a couple of cycles of this, you had two types of men: super alphas and confirmed betas.

“The super alphas were reproducing and the betas either weren’t allowed wives, or they didn’t survive long enough to conceive,” Greg replied.

“But this is what anthropologists would say. A biologist like myself can’t take it seriously. It is a non-scientific hypothesis. It isn’t testable.”

To Greg’s chagrin, only two heads nodded at that declaration.

“What is the impact of a one to seventeen reproduction ratio on society?” asked Quiara.

“You had the fittest men reproducing more frequently. The result was a fitter gene pool, but with less genetic variation. This was advantageous to the alphas, it was awful for the women, and it was utterly disastrous for the betas.”

“How was it bad for the women?” asked Kailey.”Don’t they get better genes for their children?”

“If the male to female breeding ratio is one to seventeen, women were splitting their share of their mate’s time and attention to a seventeenth of what they’d normally get. That’s if the mate is fair. Knowing how people are, however, the male would have favorites and they’d get almost all of his availability. The rest would get scraps. Imagine being one of seventeen wives. You’d spend a less than twenty nights each year with your mate and your children would barely know their father.”

The women at the table didn’t like that.

“Additionally, the value of a single wife essentially drops down to nothing. A wife will know that he’s got sixteen others just like her. She would have zero leverage to get the husband to cooperate in any way. Also, can you imagine the politicking between the wives to get the husband’s time and attention?”

Greg shuddered at that dramatically and the men all laughed. Even some of the women smiled.

“But that’s not how things are now,” observed Quiara.

“Correct,” Greg replied, smiling in admiration at his wife. “Human civilizations evolved social systems that worked against hypergyny. Legal systems which protected individual rights developed. As an offshoot to individual rights, women were given the legal right to own property and to have self determination. Monogamy as an enforced social institution developed.”

“How did legal systems impede hypergyny?” asked Chen.

“I’m not an anthropologist or a sociologist, Chen,” said Greg. “You really need to ask someone with those credentials to get a full insight. I suspect that an anthropologist would say that the development of legal systems and individual rights ended ‘Might makes right.’ The strongest man was no longer allowed to simply take what he wants.”

“Yeah? And what makes monogamy so great?” asked Radu with a smirk, as if it were self-evident that monogamy was bad.

“Monogamy represents the best possible deal for all men and all women across the spectrum.” Greg stated. “Individual folks, the ones who get married to shitty partners, may not like it, but it is the best possible deal for society as a whole. It ensures a greater percentage of men have the opportunity to procreate, it maximizes genetic diversity for the species, and it maximizes the amount of support a wife receives from her husband for child rearing.”

“Wait,” said Chen, “We haven’t answered the original question. Why does the fact that less men than women reproduce mean that a woman cheating on a man is worse?”

Greg was thankful for Chen’s interjection.

“There are more women than men to start with, Men are in a minority. Further, they have a much smaller chance to reproduce than women. They are tremendously disadvantaged relative to females. Any cheating that takes place harms both parties, but as the man is already disadvantaged, the effect on him is, by definition, worse. Therefore, there is a disparate impact,” Greg pronounced.

The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. Gerhart suddenly erupted into a booming deep belly laugh, “Ho ho ho ho! Greg is very wily, is he not? Bandy words with him at your own peril!”

Gerhart’s bonhomie lifted the table, and soon many others were laughing too and congratulating Greg on his argument. A few glasses were raised.

When the laughs died down, Gerhart asked, “You said there was a second argument, one from gender complementarianism?”

“This topic is a lot nerdier. Have I lost the room yet?” Greg asked, hoping people would be bored. For some reason, everyone wanted to hear what he had to say. He decided his is where he would take his stand.

“Biological fact is that males and females have reproductive organs that are different. This means that men and women have different roles entirely in reproduction. This has guided males and females down different evolutionary paths in terms of reproductive strategy.

“Males are biologically required only for sperm production and they evolved to be indiscriminate breeders. When mating, males evolved to be opportunistic rather than picky. Men breed across and down the social hierarchy. The technical term for ‘across and down’ is ‘hypogamy’. This is another way of saying, ‘anything that moves.'”

This got a chuckle from the table.

“Men do have a reputation for that, don’t they?” asked Churan.

Her statement was met with many nods.

“Men are pigs!” declared Dorotea.

Greg watched as most of the women at the table rolled their eyes at Dorotea’s comment.

“Females, on the other hand, are biologically required for egg production, gestation, and nourishment of newborns. They pay a very heavy price when child bearing and child rearing.”

This pronouncement was immediately accepted by the women. They knew that part of what Greg was saying was true.

“Females have to cope with the consequences of breeding, so they are highly-discriminating breeders. Consequently, women pick and choose who they mate with very carefully. What they are looking for in a mate is someone who can ease the burden of raising children.

“Women evolved to almost always mate above or across the social hierarchy. They are loathe to mate with someone less desirable than themselves. They are not opportunistic breeders, they are strategic breeders. There is a biological term for this, which is ‘hypergamy’

“So how does male hypogamy and female hypergamy play out?” Greg asked rhetorically. “Here’s a hypothetical: Abe is a rag picker. He has a very beautiful daughter named Barb. Barb ends up marrying Craig, the average looking son of a rich merchant, rather than Danny, the buff son of a fellow rag picker. Craig chooses Barb as partner rather than Ellie, the ugly daughter of another wealthy merchant. That’s how hypogamy and hypergamy tend to manifest.”

“I don’t get it,” said Dorotea.

“In our hypothetical scenario: Barb prefers an average-looking Craig on a social level above Daniel, a more attractive mating partner on the same social level,” said Greg. “Social status was more important than say, looks. Barb prefers a mate from higher up in the hierarchy. That’s hypergamy. You follow?”

Dorothea nodded.

Greg continued. “To Craig, beautiful Barb is a more attractive mating partner on a lower social level to ugly Ellie, who is on the same social level. To Craig, looks were more important than social status. That’s hypogamy.”

“But it isn’t that simple, women aren’t always motivated by money!” said Dorotea.

“The word I used was status, not money, but I agree with your premise, Dorotea. Men aren’t always motivated only by beauty either– my example was deliberately simplistic to illustrate the principle.” agreed Greg. “Women are motivated by a number of factors. They don’t just look for wealth. They look for physical beauty, social standing, intelligence, wealth, and masculine traits, such as ambition and strength. All of these combine into a composite measure, which we call ‘status’. The status of various men establishes a hierarchy. Women choose the best available status to them.”

There were a lot of nods at the table this time.

“Men, on the other hand, have a different view of what status is. The woman’s intelligence, personality, and wealth are examined, but appearance is weighted so heavily, the other factors are not nearly as important,” said Greg.

“Anyone disagree?” he asked.

No one wanted to.

“Having defined the gender differentials vis-à-vis hypogamy and hypergamy, the million dollar question my colleagues and I research is: why did these different natures evolve? Does anyone want to lay down a hypothesis?”

Greg looked around the table. No one had the courage to offer an opinion.

“Here is what the dominant viewpoint in our field of study think: childbearing and child rearing is difficult and expensive. Females need support in terms of resources, partnership, and protection.

The practice of human pair bonding between the males and females was the result. When males pair bond, they give their mates resources, partnership, and protection. These are necessary for the raising of children and provide the most stable environment for it. What women are attracted to, are heuristical indicators of a male’s ability to provide those things. Status is a composite score of those heuristics. Any objections to that?” Greg asked the group.

Again, no one gave an opinion.

“What do females give men?” Greg asked.

Everyone clearly had an opinion, but no one was willing to offer it.

“Pussy?” asked Radu.

The women all around the table frowned. The death stare Kailey leveled at Radu made everyone at the table distinctly uncomfortable.

Greg decided to be conciliatory, “Radu isn’t wrong in a general sense. Sex is a concrete manifestation of an abstract policy goal for men. The abstract policy goal for men is obtaining a genetic legacy. What men get through pair bonding with women is children. A man needs a woman to give him children.”

This was well received as it gave women power not previously afforded. Everyone tittered and joked about how it was very obvious, but no one saw it. There were laughs and it eased the tension quite a bit.

Greg summarized, “So when males and females pair bond, it represents a compromise between the two sexes to get what they want. Females get support raising the child– that is protection, resources, and collaboration. Males get exclusive access to a woman for the purposes of reproduction. That’s how he can maximize the possibility for having a genetic legacy.

“It is extremely important to note that pair bonding in Homo sapiens is non-obligate. Some species are so hardwired to pair bonding that they cannot become aroused except with a bonded partner. Humans do not need a pair bond at all. That’s why courtship and pair bonding rituals between human mates is so complicated. Historically, it is so complicated that most cultures took pair bonding completely out of the hands of the couple altogether. This modern notion that we have a right to choose your own partner and that we should choose that partner on the basis of love is a very recent development. Objectively, it hasn’t been a very successful experiment.”

Greg paused to see if there would be an objection. There wasn’t one.

“Pair bonding, which is non-obligate in humans gets wrapped up in culture. That makes the topic more about anthropology and sociology than biology. The only parts of it that are in scope for biologists to consider are the parts which are universal across all cultures. Pair bonding itself is a human universal. There isn’t a culture on earth that doesn’t have a concept of marriage as the foundation of a family unit.

“One of the few universal rules within pair bonds are that males get exclusive access to a female. Exclusive access is significant. When pair bonding, the worst-case scenario for a male, biologically, is that his pair-bonded female would allow a non-pair-bonded male to impregnate her. In other words, the male in a pair bond is squandering the support he is giving to the female to support the genetic legacy of another male.”

“What about polyandry?” asked Fatima. “I heard an NPR interview about a group in Tibet which practices polyandry.”

“Polyandry is the proverbial exception which proves the rule,” said Greg. “There have been cultures which supported polyandry. These have mostly abandoned the practice. The people of the Tibetan plateau and the native peoples on the Marqueses islands still practice it on a limited basis. Polyandry is generally considered to be a temporary response to peculiar localized conditions. In both Tibet and the Marqueses, there was insufficient arable land to support the population.

“In Tibet, there wasn’t enough arable land to split the land and support two brothers and their families. Consequently, the brothers ended up a sharing a single wife. If they didn’t do it that way, the younger brother would be sent away and receive no inheritance.

“There was a similar situation in the Marqueses Islands. The main difference is that the husbands who shared women were friends rather than brothers. In both cultures, there was significant absenteeism at play. One husband would travel for a year and the other stayed with the wife. They would then switch up the following year.

“In both cases, culturally, it was a temporary condition. If you eliminate the stress caused by the absence of arable land, the practice dies out. In Tibet, food is no longer scarce and the practice is now in severe decline. On the Marquesas Islands, the practice basically died out after a smallpox epidemic killed off 75% of the population.”

Greg asked, “Everyone follow me on that?” He waited to be nit picked, but there was silence across the table.

Greg could see that several folks at the table wanted to ask about adoption or step-children, but none were brave enough to ask. Their lack of courage suited Greg just fine.

“What is the worst case scenario for a female?” prompted Greg.

Several people had an opinion, but no one wanted to go on the record. Dorotea shouted out, “When a man cheats on his woman?”

“What does cheating mean?” Greg asked. “Copulation outside of the pair bond?”

“Yes!” replied Dorotea.

“How is the female harmed biologically when a male copulates with another female?” Greg asked.

“He’s broken his promise of fidelity,” answered Dorotea.

“That promise to remain faithful is part of the marriage contract. The marriage contract is a social structure with theological underpinnings– not a biological one,” answered Greg. “Can we set aside theology for the purposes of this discussion?”

Greg laughed internally as he made this move. No one wanted to touch the third rail of religion.

“Cheating is such a loaded term. Can we instead say, ‘Break the terms of the pair bond?'” asked Greg.

He received mostly nods, Gerhart had a look of dawning realization on his face. He was just a little quicker than the rest.

“Ok,” Greg said. “Hypothetical: It’s World War II, Andy is from the Kansas. He left his wife Betty and their kids at home and went off to war. He became a navigator in the air corps and was sent to England.

“He was a crew member on a bomber. One day, Andy was awarded some R&R and went to London. In London, he met a beautiful young English gal named Colleen. They formed an instant connection. He invited her to dinner, they got drunk, and their evening culminated in a sexual liaison. The next day, Andy went back to his unit and never saw Colleen again. After the war, Andy returned home to his wife and they raised their young family together.

“Here’s the question: biologically, did Andy break the terms of his pair bond?”

“Of course!” answered Dorotea.

Gerhart, however, got it. “No, he did not!”

Greg was extraordinarily relieved that it wasn’t him dropping this bomb.

The table all turned to Gerhart, who smiled. “Biologically, what a woman gets from the pair bond is support for raising a child. The worse case scenario for Betty would be that Andy would remove his support for Betty and give it instead to Colleen. Andy clearly hasn’t done that. Biologically, therefore, Andy has lived up to the terms of his pair bond.”

The women at the table actually sputtered for a minute trying to come up with a counter.

“But he broke his promise,” said Dorotea.

“That’s theology, which is out of bounds,” reminded Churan gently.

Greg decided to take a chance. “If you think that this view is bullshit: consider how married men conceptualize fidelity. The same man who shamelessly flirts with a woman at his office and tries to bed her, goes apeshit when his wife dances and flirts with a man at a wedding reception. Why does that happen? Is this man a hypocrite? Is he insane?”

Greg left room for people to respond. No one did.

With a smile, Greg concluded, “Or is he encoded with millions of years of evolutionary wisdom that says what is cheating for a man is different than what is cheating for a woman?”

The group stewed on this. Greg knew he was being a bit disingenuous with that argument, but no one called him on it.

Greg advanced to the next step. “Now consider an alternate scenario: Our man Andy went to London on R&R and met Colleen. They fall fell love, but being religious, Andy and Colleen refuse to copulate. However, for the next nine months, Andy gave his pay check to Colleen instead of sending it home to Betty. Betty was back at home struggling to feed her children and keep clothes on their backs. By a religious moral definition, Andy was completely faithful, but biologically, was he?”

Gerhart smiled, “Of course not.”

It was the men this time who sputtered to come up with a counter-argument.

Gerhart then shocked Greg by inquiring about the obverse scenario.

“What if,” stated Gerhart, “while Andy is in England, Betty starts having an affair with Steve, the foreman at the airplane factory where she works. Has she broken the terms of her pair bond?”

“What would you say?” Greg asked Gerhart.

“I would say, yes,” answered Gerhart. “She has broken the pair bond.”

The woman all vociferously disagreed with this.

“If he can get away with extra-marital copulation, then she should as well!” growled Kailey.

It somehow didn’t surprise Greg that this argument came from her. It wasn’t just what happened to Kailey in Vancouver that stayed in Vancouver. What happened to her in Atlanta had stayed in Atlanta. What had happened in Chicago stayed there. What happened in London had as well. That was why Greg would not allow Quiara to attend conferences with Kailey. Sadly, Emile didn’t know any better when it came to his wife Elodie, and sent her off to Vancouver unaware of the circus atmosphere Kailey surrounded herself with. The consequence was that Elodie fell.

Greg didn’t blame Kailey as much as he could have for her indiscretions. Kailey’s husband Radu had been banging at least one of his graduate students each year for the last decade. It was well known by the faculty of the University. Radu got away with it because of tenure and the fact that his academic reputation was stellar. Greg once did some cocktail calculations about how much Radu was spending at the University Inn in a year entertaining his lover. The amount was big enough that he wondered if Radu qualified for a volume discount. The only thing Greg blamed Kailey for was dragging Elodie into her mess.

“Ah, you’re speaking of justice, Kailey. What exactly constitutes justice?” Greg asked and shrugged. “That’s a topic for the philosophers, the criminal justice faculty, or maybe even the theology faculty to consider. There is no such thing as justice in biology.”

Kailey wanted to reply, but she couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Greg, I want to hear more about your premise that Betty was unfaithful when Andy wasn’t. They were more or less the exact same scenario.” Greg was very surprised to hear his own wife ask that question.

As one, every head at the table swung around to look at Quiara. They wanted to know if she and Greg were going to disagree and fight. They were disappointed when they saw only open curiosity on Quiara’s face.

Gerhart broke in and answered the question, “The answer is clear, Quiara. Betty gave away Andy’s right to genetic exclusivity.”

“What if she doesn’t get pregnant?” asked Quiara. “His genetic legacy hasn’t been compromised.” Greg noted with pride that his was a superb question. Again, he was struck with admiration for his wife.

Gerhart looked at Greg. “Whether or not she conceives doesn’t matter,” answered Greg.

Quiara frowned. “Why not?” she asked.

Greg responded, “Betty knew better than anyone on earth that pregnancy was a possibility. Birth control is, at best, probabilistic. We talk of birth control in terms of percentages and not abosolutes. There are only two known one-hundred percent effective forms of birth control: complete sterilization, and the word ‘no’.”

This got a laugh from Gerhart, Churan, and Chen. Everyone else was horrified.

“As soon as Betty allowed Steve to enter her,” continued Greg, “she broke the terms of her pair bond. A condom, when used properly, is 96% effective. Four out of hundred times Betty allowed Steve to penetrate her, the condom would have failed and pregnancy would have resulted. If she somehow managed to use birth control effectively to avoid the logical consequences of sex, the risk was still there. She wantonly put Andy’s exclusive right to a genetic legacy at risk.”

Greg marveled at himself as he said it. He’d been magnificent so far. At this point, he’d argued so effectively, no one dared oppose him. All he needed now was a good segue into his final topic.

Emile gave it to him when he shouted across the table.

“This is, how you say, total bullshit!” Emile suddenly said in his heavy French accent. It was the first time he’d spoken in Greg’s direction all evening.

Emile was an impressive figure. He was ridiculously good looking with a chiseled granite chin, finely coiffed salt and pepper hair, and manufactured fingernails. As a young man, he had been a professional tennis player and he maintained his fit and athletic physique. He also had the finely bred manners and smug superiority of the French upper class.

Emile was also very tall. “193 centimeters!” Greg’s wife Quiara had once gushed at him, as if the metric system meant anything to the daughter of a machinist from Pensacola, Florida.

Emile’s figure was especially impressive when he was angry. He had been pissed from the time they sat down to dinner because Greg pulled Quiara away from the seat Emile saved her next to him and sat her next to himself at the far end of the table.

“How so?” Greg asked Emile.

“Saying that a man is unfaithful because of how he spends his money instead of where he places his cock is absurd! Ridicule!” screamed Emile.

The entire table flinched. Not so much at his language, but at his vehemence. His tone was dripping with anger and hatred. Heads swung back and forth looking at Emile and Greg to figure out what was going on between the two.

“Oh?” replied Greg. “Hypothetical: a married man purchases a hundred thousand dollar sedan to impress the married women he was trying to seduce. At the same time, that man’s wife does not have a working car and she was struggling to get her kids to school every day. You wouldn’t consider that infidelity, even though he isn’t providing her the resources and cooperative support she needs to raise her kids?”

Greg knew that Emile bought an S-class Mercedes last year because Quiara had described it rhapsodically after she was first invited to ride in it. Greg also knew that his wife had been secretly driving to Elodie’s house each morning, driving her and Elodie’s kids to school, and then driving Elodie and herself to work. This added nearly forty minutes onto Quiara’s commute every morning. She did it to support her friend, just as Kailey had been driving Elodie and her kids home every day.

Emile was instantly enraged by Greg’s hypothetical. He knew Greg was talking about him.

At this point, Quiara started trying to physically drill a hole down through the top of Greg’s foot with her heel, but Greg was determined. He kicked Quiara’s foot away from him so hard, Quiara shouted, “Ow! Greg, what the hell?”

Greg leaned forward and looked contemptuously at Emile. “You don’t think it is infidelity when a married man spends nearly $2,000 a month taking women who aren’t his wife to dine on gourmet French lunches at Le Coucou?”

As Greg said this, several women around the table put their hands to their mouths and began to blush. Greg looked first at Quiara, who instantly went beet red. She couldn’t look him in the eye. He then looked around the table. Most of the women Emile had been taking to the restaurant was both embarrassed and shocked to see that they weren’t the only one.

Emile’s rage doubled as it became obvious to everyone that Greg was talking about him.

“You don’t think that a married man spending nearly $20,000 on a tennis bracelet for the married woman he’s trying to seduce is infidelity?”

As he said this, Greg withdrew the jewelry box from his pocket. It contained the Tiffany tennis bracelet Emile had given Quiara earlier that week. He opened the lid and lifted it to show everyone at the table. There were gasps all around.

Next to Emile, Elodie had tears streaming down her cheeks. Greg tossed the Tiffany bracelet box across the table so that it slid to a stop in front of Elodie.

“Elodie, that bracelet should be yours and not Quiara’s.” Greg said angrily.

Greg looked over at Quiara who looked like she was about to be physically ill. Her hand was over her mouth. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, too.

Greg knew that Quiara thought she’d hidden the bracelet where no one would ever find it. She didn’t take into account how motivated her husband would be once his private investigator showed him the footage of Emile handing it to Quiara during their secret weekly gourmet French lunch.

Greg then looked at Elodie, who was now furious. She started hitting and slapping Emile and screaming at him in French. It had been fifteen years since Greg’s last high school French class, but he could hear Elodie saying, “She’s my best friend!” in French over and over to her husband as she beat him.

Emile angrily pushed Elodie away from him, stood up, and charged at Greg. This was easier said than done. He was at the opposite end of a huge oval table. He had to stomp around the outside perimeter.

“Emile, sit down!” shouted Greg. “You don’t want this!”

Greg had a momentary flash of fear as the fight or flight reflex kicked in. Emile was probably six inches taller and had at least forty pounds on him. Greg, though, was made of some pretty stern stuff and he stood up and held his ground as Emile approached.

Emile got within striking distance of Greg and stopped. As quick as a snake, his right hand shot out in an attempt to belt Greg across the face. Emile was a lot more athletic than Greg gave him credit for. His fast-twitch muscles and reflex times were superb.

One of the women screamed in terror. “Screaming like that is so unproductive,” Greg noted to himself.

Greg backed slightly, rolled his shoulder in, and Emile’s fist was a half inch short of his nose. Greg didn’t see it, but sensed the other half of a combination punch. He instinctively ducked his head down. Emile’s left hand sailed just over Greg’s head, actually making contact with Greg’s hair. It was very close and was a near disaster for Greg, but he weathered it.

Greg then took one step forward. He bladed his hand and got it locked in right above Emile’s elbow. Using Emile’s own body weight and momentum, he immediately put Emile in a standing straight arm lock. Greg had to resist the the temptation to break Emile’s elbow in half right there in front of everyone. Instead, he applied a little pressure and it made Emile whimper. Emile tried desperately to escape the arm lock. Greg slowly increased the pressure until Emile quit fighting and was standing absolutely still.

“Let me go!” screamed Emile. “This hurts! You are like to break my arm!”

“Shut up, Emile,” said Greg. “You attacked me. Did everyone see how he came at me and swung at me?” asked Greg.

“Yes, Greg,” Chen replied. “We all saw it.”

“I don’t want any more violence, Emile,” pronounced Greg. “If you continue to struggle and it comes to violence, I will literately break your arm in half. I am a smaller man than you, but what you don’t know is that I am the youngest and smallest of five brothers. They beat the absolute shit out of me as a kid on a daily basis. The consequence of that is that I’m extremely tough and I can put up a hell of a fight. My brothers and I went to Brazilian Ju Jitsu together for years. I got my black belt before I got my Doctorate. I earned my black belt, Emile.”

Greg looked around the table. Everyone was watching with rapt attention. Quiara had a weird look on her face. It was a disbelieving awe. She couldn’t believe her husband had bested Emile in physical combat. She was doing a major reassessment.

Greg suddenly released the pressure on Emile’s elbow and kicked him on the back of his knees. Emile plopped down onto his knees with a hard crack. Greg then pulled Emil’s arm over his head and put him into a wrist lock. Emile couldn’t move as much as an inch without breaking his own wrist.

To the table as a whole, Greg said, “In case you all didn’t realize what just happened, we just established that Emile takes all of our wives out to secret romantic lunches at Le Coucou. Emile, don’t you tell those women the lunches are so that you can have a bit of a romantic tête-à-tête in a private setting?”

When Emile didn’t respond, Greg applied more pressure to his wrist. Emile grunted and said. “Yes, that is what I tell them.”

“Ladies, if you were not taken by Emile to Le Coucou for a romantic tête-à-tête in a private setting, please raise your hand. Be honest, now. I have had been watching Emile for quite some time and I know who has and who hasn’t. Don’t make me call you out as a liar.”

Only Churan and Gita raised their hands. Greg looked over at his wife to see if she had the balls to lie. She didn’t. Her arm was down. She wouldn’t look at him.

Greg barked a laugh in disbelief. Other than Quiara, Churan and Gita were the prettiest women in the room. In fact, Greg thought Churan was among the prettiest woman he’d ever seen in real life. She was regularly mistaken for Lin Chi-ling, a famous model and actress.

Gita, had been adopted by a large family from Madison, Wisconsin. She was a multi-sport athlete and had gone to Duke University on a cross country scholarship. She was distance-runner with exotic looks and a midwestern-America cultural upbringing. Greg thought she was extremely attractive.

“Well, Emile, why didn’t you ask Churan or Gita? Are you racist against Asians?” Greg asked.

Emile didn’t answer, so Greg ground the bones of his wrist together. Emile grunted and said, “They are both too new to the department. It will be a little while before we can build the necessary rapport.”

Chen, Churan, Gita, and Gita’s husband Raj all opened their mouths in shock.

“Well Gentlemen,” said Greg, “it must be a shock to learn that your wives consented and submitted to romancing, wining, and dining by their department head. I’m very sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings for you.

“The restaurant name, Le Coucou, was part of Emile’s subtle messaging. Le Coucou is French for the Cuckoo Bird. For those of you with little to no background in Biology, many of the species of the Cuculidae family are infamous for practicing brood parasitism. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and force others to pay the costs for raising their young. From this, we get the word ‘cuckold’.”

Greg got some nods from the men around the table.

“Make no mistake, gentlemen, the women know that Emile’s intent was to sleep with them. I’ve seen the transcripts of several of his dates. He comes right out as bold as brass and tells the wives that his goal is to convince them to cheat on you with him. He uses every means at his disposal to do this.

“Emile denigrates us to our wives. As your boss, he knows where you stand career-wise. He makes wife is aware of how disappointing you are and how you aren’t measuring up. I’m the only husband of a wife who isn’t in the department. He cannot use my own career to denigrate me, so instead, he plays up my physical inferiority when he attempts to seduce my wife. Isn’t that a laugh? When he tried to fight me, I beat his ass in five seconds. I defeated him and he never laid a finger on me.”

Greg made it a point to smile and meet the eyes of every person at the table.

“Emile flaunts his wealth to our wives by pointing out he is taking them to the most expensive restaurant in a hundred mile radius on a regular basis. He talks about his wealthy upbringing and brags about the resources he has. Little do most of the wives know that he is really broke. The investments, the yacht in Nice he likes to mention, and the fortune allegedly left to him by his parents are all fictitious. He took out a second mortgage on his house to buy that Mercedes he drives our wives around in. Both are close to being repossessed. Tell them where your money comes from, Emile.”

Emile said nothing, so Greg, bent Emile’s fingers back.

“The money comes from Elodie’s parents,” he grunted. “She had an inheritance and a trust. She ask me to look after it.”

“Emile flaunts his intellect to our wives by talking about his papers and bragging about how he is being referenced in the academy. He is a fraudulent academician. His claim to fame was his critique of Éliane Grimaître Taïeb. This was considered so fresh and innovative at the time, that it was published in hardcover and it is where almost all of his references come from. Guess what? He didn’t write it! He bought it from the woman who actually wrote it, a fellow-student who had a heroin problem. He’s been paying her hush money for years to keep that a secret.”

Greg, put a slight twist on Emile’s wrist. “Tell us her name– the woman who wrote your dissertation.”

“Marie Cellier-Anouilh,” he said, grunting in pain. “We were in school together. We dated until she developed that habit.”

This brought gasps from the table.

“Emile also flaunts his social position, making sure your wife knows that he is her boss, that he is an aristocrat, and that he has an important and extensive network of friends and connections that make him an amazingly powerful being. It’s all horseshit. He was never an aristocrat. He was the son of a man who owned a tobacco shop in Grigny, France. Tell everyone, Emile, how your dad lost his Tobacco shop. Go on.”

Greg twisted Emile’s wrist again and said, “He sold it to get me on the tour.”

“Which tour?” asked Greg.

“The pro tennis tour,” said a very clearly exasperated Emile.

“The only legitimate claim he makes is that he was a tennis pro. He was briefly on the tour in the late eighties,” said Greg. “I managed to have a conversation with his old coach. He said he was good enough to be on the tour but would never be good enough to win anything. He was essentially known only for his good looks. He was the male version of Anna Kournikova. What was your highest finish at any tour event on the tour?”

“Twenty fourth,” he said.

“Tied for twenty fourth,” corrected Greg.

“So, Gentlemen, to land this plane and tie it back to my little biology lesson from before, this piece of shit was leveraging hypogamy and hypergamy deceptively to make a run at our wives.

“He artificially presented himself as being a higher status male looking for mating opportunities further down the hierarchy. They all, to one extent or another, bought it. I know every woman here. They are neither stupid nor foolish. What this tells me is that Emile was exceptionally good at it. ‘All of the people some of the time’ is a pretty high bar. He’s one of the better con men any of us have ever run across. Unfortunately, he is, at the end of the day, just a charlatan.”

Greg looked around the table. The faces showed varying degrees of anger, disgust, and humiliation.

“Elodie,” continued Greg, “You have my deepest apologies that you had to find out what he did to you this way. I did not want to do this publicly, but my hand was forced. I do have something for you. It is a Christmas gift that I beg you to accept.”

Greg pulled a box out of his jacket. He handed it to Churan. “Can you pass this down to her?”

The box went from hand to hand to Elodie. Elodie asked, “Shall I open it?”

“Yes,” replied Greg.

She opened it up and there was a remote key fob for a Honda. She sat there stunned.

“My oldest brother owns a Honda Dealership and he owes me several huge favors. He paid them off by giving me a Honda Odyssey mini-van. It is used and a couple of years old, but it’s in excellent shape. It is totally paid for: tax, title, and registration included. The only thing I couldn’t do was add it to your insurance. Hopefully, this will take the pressure off begging for rides to get your kids to school. It’s in the parking lot outside right now.

Elodie started crying and sobbing. Both Quiara and Kailey were instantly up and rushed over to comfort her.

“I will also say this, Elodie. If you are not comfortable remaining in your current home, you are welcome to bring your kids to live at my house. Your kids will have to share bedrooms with ours, but you can have the guest bedroom and we’ll make it work. The house is in my name, so you can stay there as long as you want, even if things don’t work out between Quiara and I.”

With that pronouncement, Quiara started to cry. Kailey and Elodie were suddenly comforting her. Greg never ceased to be amazed how crazy tight that those women were as friends. Even after Quiara’s treachery with the bracelet and the secret lunches, Elodie had her back.

“Emile, are you listening?” asked Greg.

“Yes,” responded Emile with supreme contempt.

“This is where you leave us,” said Greg. “When I release you, I want you to stand up, walk straight out the door, and leave this premises. If you don’t, I will beat the living shit out of in front of twenty-two witnesses who despise you and are all willing to testify that you swung at me first. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” replied Emile with his trademark contempt.

“Yes what?” Greg asked.

“Yes, Sir,” Emile responded.

I barked out a laugh. “I was looking for ‘Yes, Greg’, but ‘Sir’ will suffice.”

Greg let him go without warning and took three steps back to give himself some maneuvering room. Emile stood up, shot his cuffs, and walked straight out the door. He closed it behind him. He did not look back.

With a deep breath, Greg sat at the table. All eyes were still on him. Greg killed the glass of water at his place setting. He was parched. His hand was shaking as he drank.

Greg said, “I will tell all of you something that you may not know. This private University has a relatively small faculty. Everyone in the other departments have observed what is going on in the Languages Department and they all know that there is, figuratively speaking, something rotten in Denmark.

“Emile is the only department head at any college anyone has ever heard of who only hires married couples to staff his department. In fact, my wife is the only department member who was hired into the Language Department without a spouse being hired at the same time. The reason why that happened is that I was personally head hunted by the Chancellor himself as a potential head of the Biology department. Emile hired Quiara because the Chancellor gave him a direct order to do it.

“Emile always told everyone his unusual hiring practices were designed to promote department stability and help staff retention. but the rest of the faculty doubts that is true. It isn’t lost on the faculty that his practice gives him total control over both husband and wife. That doesn’t sit very well with the rest of the faculty. I can tell you, the faculty in the Biology department have taken to referring to the Languages Department as ‘the Harem’.

“How you decide to collectively manage this crisis will determine how the rest of the faculty responds. If you lock arms and circle the wagons as a group, you’ll probably be able to emerge from the disaster without become a laughingstock.

“My advice to the ladies who have been targeted by the charlatan is that you go to together to HR and submit a group sexual harassment claim. Get this asshole fired, and then work like hell to rebuild the reputation of the department.”

He took the glass of water from Quiara’s place setting and drank that down.

“I have evidence that Emile was bedding a couple of the wives. I debated whether to inform her husbands tonight. I decided that I don’t want to humiliate them. They were clearly clueless about what their wives were doing. I profoundly believe what happened is a matter that only concerns the husband and wife. It is no one else’s business.

“I propose that as a group that we decide collectively that no woman will ever make a public statement about whether they were or weren’t having sex with Emile. Ladies, that means if you are innocent, you are bound by your sacred honor to keep your innocence to yourself. Say nothing so that your guilty colleagues aren’t humiliated and can maintain a shred of dignity. Does anyone disagree?”

The room was silent. Greg said, “Then from now on, let us never discuss who was or wasn’t sleeping with Emile.”

The room was totally silent. Greg decided to address his final subject.

“In a few minutes, I’m going to leave the room and let you discuss between yourselves what you should do. Before I leave, however, I want to address the topic of forgiveness.

“Despite the bullshit I was floating earlier about breaking pair bonding agreements, there are are no ethics or morals in Biology. More often than not, the strongest creatures just take what they want. That’s a terrible and awful thing to contemplate, but it is the only law in nature.

“A young male lion takes over a pride by killing or driving off the previous male. As soon as he does, he kills the cubs or drives them away so that all of the offspring will be his. There is no right or wrong to this. He just does what he wants. If that means destruction of a bunch of cubs, so be it.

“Brood parasites leave their eggs in the nests of a different species. If the nesting pair don’t detect the interloping egg, their brood is doomed. The parasitic egg will hatch before their own. The first thing the newly hatched parasite does is immediately destroy the other eggs or kill whatever hatchlings are in the nest. There is no right or wrong to this. Brood parasites can get away with it, so they do it.

“Obligate carnivores don’t feel bad about the other species they eat. Cannibalism is common throughout the animal kingdom, particularly cannibalism of the young. There are species that deliberately destroy the habitats they live in to discourage competition. There are even plants species that deliberately destroy their own habitats to discourage competition.

“There is no right or wrong to any of this. It is just what they do. That’s a harsh reality. Humans are different from animals because humans have a very strong conception of right and wrong built into our consciousness. The term ‘sapiens’ from ‘homo sapiens’ derives from the term meaning ‘wisdom’. The wisdom we have is separating right from wrong.

“To go along with our rules on right and wrong, we humans have developed a lot of related technologies: apology, forgiveness, and restitution. These are the things that make us different from animals.

“We had a discussion earlier about the male to female reproduction ratio of one to seventeen. If we lived eight thousand years ago, here is how tonight would have gone.

“Emile was your alpha. This was his harem. I say that it was his harem because all of the women in here, save Gita and Churan, submitted to his authority by allowed him to romance them behind her husband’s back.”

Kailey started to object, but Greg raised his hand and said, “Let me finish! I think I earned the right to finish my address. I promise you it will only last another couple of minutes.”

Greg glared at the folks at the table until they nodded or looked away.

“As I was saying, this was Emile’s harem. He was the alpha. I defeated him in physical combat in front of you. What would that have meant, 8,000 years ago?

“Well, the first thing I would have done was castrate Emile. Then, I would pull his teeth. Then I would have removed all of his fingers except for the index fingers and thumbs on his hands, leaving only that for him so he wouldn’t be totally useless as a slave. I then would have sodomized him in front of everyone. I would do this to demonstrate that I was superior to your previous alpha. It would let you know a new order was in place.

“Next, I would have declared the wives were all mine. The first man to object would have his throat slit in front of the others. I would then ask if there were any more objections. The stronger men would be castrated directly. The ones who were weak and sucked up to me right away might be left intact and put in charge of controlling the castrated ones later.

“I then would have then taken one of the wives in front of everyone. Probably the wife who put up the most resistance. I would make the point that resistance is futile.

“The slaves would all be put into a slave labor pool. The men would toil day after day growing crops for me.

“The women would be put in my harem and would start at the bottom of the status hierarchy. The wives I already had would beat you and starve you and treat you like shit. I would put you on a rotation and you’d all get your turn with me. You’d learn pretty quickly that the women with status were the ones who gave me children. If you gave me children, you’d be pampered and privileged and brought to my bed more often. You see, that’s the ultimate status marker in the harem: the ones who please me the most get the most time with me.

“You’d use any means at your disposal to make sure I was successful at planting my seed in your bellies. Once you were pregnant, my whole demeanor toward you would change. I would shower you with compliments and tenderness. I’d spent hours snuggling you with my hands on your gravid belly, whispering how sexy you were carrying my child. When our child was born, I would dote on the child, showing just how fatherly and gentle I was with your offspring.

“You’d soon realize I was a good man who loved his children. You’d fall ass over tea kettle in love with me. If you gave me children, there’s a pretty good chance you’d actually live out your lives as happy women. Eventually, you would come praise me for my strength, rationalizing that I protected you, gave you a good standard of living, and made your offspring more secure and more prosperous. In the same manner, you would eventually come to despise your previous husband’s weakness. You’d do it all without even realizing how you’d been manipulated.”

Greg leaned back in his chair and stretched. He looked each woman at the table in the eye. He was shocked to see that some of the women were extremely turned on by his narration.

“Why did people, 8,000 years ago, do stuff like this? They did it because in that time and place, humans actually believed in the concept that ‘might makes right’.”

Greg spread my arms out to indicate the entire room.

“So if ‘might makes right’ today, this is now my harem.”

Greg noted that he could have heard a pin drop.

Greg looked each woman in the eye. When he got around the table he said, “Men, your wives belong to me. The only thing that would be left to do would be for me to decide which woman I would take in front of the room tonight.”

There was a visible frisson. It spooked the absolute shit out of the party goers. Greg couldn’t believe that they just sat there and took it. He’d never before thought that people that smart would be such sheep. He marveled to himself what a supremely weird moment this was.

He broke the silence. “Aren’t you all glad that we don’t believe that any more? As we spoke earlier, human morality and social systems have evolved. We now believe in individual rights. We believe in the right for a woman to self determine. We believe in the sanctity of marriage. We don’t believe in maiming and castration as punishment. We don’t believe in ownership of people anymore.

“The greatest force for change in the evolution of our moral systems in the last two thousand years was Christianity. It may come as a shock to everyone here, but I’m actually well grounded and knowledgeable in Christianity. As a boy, I was raised in church and despite being a strict evolutionist as an adult, I still understand what the church teaches. I admire it.

“For those of you who lack my knowledge and grounding, the salient characteristic of Christianity is forgiveness. Christ preached that we could be forgiven for our sins against God. A prerequisite of receiving forgiveness for our sins is a willingness to forgive others who have sinned against us.

“It’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us today our daily bread. And Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ The whole concept of receiving forgiveness and forgiving others is baked right in. It is probably the most important technology embedded within Christianity.

“Gentlemen, I know you’re pissed because to one degree or another, our wives have injured us by building secret relationships with that prick Emile. I ask that you would seriously consider forgiving your wife. Emile was charming, deceptive, convincing, and he was in authority over them. He duped them all.

“Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation: we celebrate the fact that Christ became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to earth to bring us forgiveness. Although I am personally supremely pissed at Quiara, in the spirit of the coming holiday, I’m going to try my hardest to take a soft approach. I am going to make every effort to find a way to forgive her so that we can reconcile. I hope that you men will embrace the spirit of the season as well.

“If you don’t and choose to be a hardass about it, you are declaring that you choose to live in the ‘might makes right’ world. And I will remind you all, in that world, your wife now belongs to me.”

Greg stood up, walked over to the door, and opened it. There was a member of the wait staff waiting there. “Are you ready?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” announced the head waitress.

Greg stood back out of the way and the waitress rolled in a cart filled with desserts. A second cart came in with a couple of magnums of champagne chilling in ice buckets.

Greg addressed the group again. “As a gift to the group and as an apology for ruining your Christmas party, I took the liberty of acquiring a few magnums of Veuve Clicquot champagne for the group.”

Greg watched as the women blushed and made furtive eye contact with each other.

“Gentlemen, you don’t know this, but each time that Emile took our wives to the Le Coucou to enjoy a gourmet meal, he asked the wait staff to bring out an unopened bottle of Veuve Cliquot in an ice bucket. Emile told the women that if they chose to spend the afternoon making love with him, that he’d pop the cork for them to celebrate. It was an extremely powerful manipulation, wasn’t it ladies?”

Several women blushed. None of them responded.

“As a fitting way to celebrate the removal of Emile from your lives and as a thorn in our sides, I bought some Veuve Cliquot for the group.”

With a pop, the first magnum was opened.

Flutes were quickly filled and passed out. There were quite a few shocked faces looking into their glasses of Champagne.

Greg raised his flute and waited for everyone else to do the same. “To husbands and wives!” Greg pronounced.

The group repeated, “To husbands and wives!”

As everyone started to drink Greg said, “All of them members of my harem!”

He drank his flute down and said, “I’ll leave it to you to discuss how to handle Emile. Merry Christmas everyone.”

***

Greg was waiting in the car for quite a while before he saw the Language Department members come out bundled up in their coats. In pairs, they got in their cars and left.

Some were talking excitedly. Some were arguing. Some were deathly silent. At least one couple, one Greg didn’t expect to recover from this evening, were in an embrace and both were crying.

Elodie came out at the end with Quiara. Quiara saw Greg and gave him a gesture which he took to mean, “hold on a few minutes”.

Using the key fob, Elodie located the Odyssey Greg got for her. Quiara walked to the van with her and Elodie cried as she took it in.

Quiara helped her get in it and get the seats and mirrors adjusted. Greg could see her demonstrating the controls. They both had the same model van, so Quiara was able to help Elodie with it all. Quiara then sat in the passenger seat next to Elodie and they talked for a while. I knew they had a lot to discuss.

After about twenty minutes, Quiara got out of Elodie’s van and walked over to our car. She was crying her eyes as she got in the passenger seat.

“Greg,” she said, “I’m so sorry. I never…”

Greg held out his hand and said “Stop,” gently but firmly.

She stopped right away.

Greg said, “I want to speak first and I want you to just listen, OK?”

Quiara nodded.

“I’ve been seeing a counselor for anger management and to try to figure out whether it was worth it for us to reconcile. She has helped me out a lot. The fact that I didn’t kill that Asshat in that room, or at the least, viciously assault him, is an absolute miracle. Do you understand that?”

Quiara nodded.

“My counselor has me convinced that I owe it to our kids, to you, and to myself to find a way to get over this and stay together. She helped me develop a game plan. This game plan is predicated on radical honesty.

“My counselor says that people who are caught cheating often fall into a pattern of denial, partial truth, minimizing, rationalizing, and outright lying. They practice all the various forms of deception because the stakes are so high, there is a perverse incentive to lie.

“Cheaters do this in the hopes that if they can ease their partner over the initial shock. They think that this will give them enough maneuvering room to preserve their marriages. They think they are justified to lie to preserve the relationship. They comfort themselves by rationalizing that they’ll make it up to their spouses later. She says the impulse to do this is a misguided kindness.

“In reality, lying is the worst thing that a cheater can do, because the foundations of trust are already broken. The deception by the cheater shows the wronged party that their partner simply cannot be trusted any longer. Do you understand the point my counselor was trying to make on why radical honesty is important?”

“Yes, Greg,” said Quiara.

“I could test you for honesty. I could ask you for an explanation without telling you anything that I know. I could then use your own lack of knowledge of what evidence I have against you to tempt you into deception: denial, partial truths, minimizing, rationalizing, or outright lying.

“There are valid reasons for me to do this. If you told me exactly what I already knew, it would help me relax, because it would show me you were serious about coming clean and that you really wanted us to continue. If you acted deceptively, however, I would draw the conclusion that you aren’t trustworthy. Are you following me?”

Greg waited for Quiara to nod again. She did.

“I was going to do just that, but my counselor convinced me it was a bad idea Any misstatement on your behalf would be the evidence of perfidy that I was looking for. It would basically guarantee a negative outcome. So, I will tell you right off the bat, I know a lot more than you think.

“Something didn’t sit right with how you and Emile interacted the night of the facuity ball. My brother recommended an investigator. I’ve had him watching you ever since. He basically worked the job for expenses as a professional courtesy to my brother. I have transcripts of every conversation you had with Emile at Le Coucou. Video too. I also have every text you exchanged and every email he sent to any of your personal accounts– even the secret “MeVuelvesLoca” account you don’t think I know about. I think I know everything there is to know,” said Greg.

Greg thought this would make her nervous, but Quiara actually looked relieved. “Then you know that I never had sex with him,” she replied. “Thank God, I was so worried that I’d never be able to convince you.”

“I know you didn’t have sex. I also know that you were utterly complicit in Emile’s seduction of you for more than a year,” Greg replied, “You liked being the object of his attention and you invited him to try over and over. You kept secrets from me. You even kept secrets from Elodie, your best friend. You were not honest with me about where you were on the days of your secret lunches with him. The worst of it was that you accepted the gift of that bracelet.

“That one haunted me because you’d never be able to wear it around me. The only reason I could think of for you to accept it was if you didn’t plan to be around me much longer,” Greg answered.

“No!” said Quiara. “I would never leave you! Never!”

Tears streamed down Quiara’s cheeks.

“So you were just going to keep it hidden away forever, only wearing it when you manage to slink away for your next secret rendezvous with him?” he asked.

She started to speak, but Greg shut her down.

“We are going to talk through everything that happened and why, Quiara. You will have a chance to come clean. Like I said, I have a game plan.

“The fact that I am a scientist means this will be both good and bad for you. The good is that I will have an open mind and I will let the chips fall where they may. I will let my observations, rather than my anger and resentment, determine what comes next. If you are open and honest, we have a shot at overcoming this.

“The bad is that I will require proof. I will not be swayed by mere sentiment. I trusted you for years because I was convinced you loved me and you had your priorities straight. Now, I am no longer convinced you love me and I’m morally certain you don’t have your priorities straight. If you did, you never would have accepted the bracelet. For that reason, there is no ‘for old time’s sake’ in this relationship any more. Trust is the true foundation to a marriage relationship, not love. My trust is shot.

Quiara nodded while she mopped at her nose with a tissue. She understood and accepted this.

“As I said. we’ll talk it all through. We’ll probably talk it to death. Tonight, however, I am going to ask you only one question: are you willing to commit to the lengthy and painful process of putting this relationship back together? In other words, are you willing to pay a heavy price to stay married to me?”

In his minds eye, Greg had imagined the scenario of asking Quiara this question more than a dozen times. Each time, he pictured himself being cold and emotionless while he asked. He never envisioned asking it while emoting and nearly losing his shit. Unfortunately, that was exactly how it went down.

Quiara was suddenly all over Greg. Her embrace wasn’t passionate nor was it tender. It was desperate. “I love you Greg. I love you more than life itself. I’m not letting you go. I know I screwed everything up. It was my fault and I will do whatever it takes to recover. You name it and I’ll do it. You’re going to have to scrape me off of you.”

When Greg pulled himself together, he put the car into drive and accelerated. They drove off together, moving forward.

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