Soul mates are hard to find.
But former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford
has likely found his, and no thanks to popular websites like Match.com and eHarmony.
Sanford, who left office on Jan. 12 when Nikki Haley
was sworn in, was spotted last week at a glitzy resort in Uruguay with Maria Belen Chapur
, a former Argentine journalist he calls his soul mate.
The couple fascinates the Argentine press. The Argentine celebrity magazine "Caras
" published an eight-page spread on them. One picture shows
Sanford in a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts, baseball cap and sunglasses holding hands with Chapur in white shorts and a gauzy top. Other pictures show
the pair enjoying a day at the beach. They look, well, happy.
If Danielle Steel was writing the story of Mark and Maria, it would be a best-seller.
The popular governor of a Southern state with the heiress wife and four sons meets an exotic divorced woman, a former journalist turned commodity broker, who speaks four languages, at an open-air dance spot in Punte del Este
, a jet set locale.
They become friends. They chat over the next seven years on e-mail. Suddenly, passion ignites and friendship turns to romance. But roadblocks loom everywhere. The Republican governor is a family-values man in a conservative state with a high-profile national role as the chair of the National Governors Association.
His head belongs to politics, his heart to a woman thousands of miles away. He balances home life with governing the state, but thinks constantly of the woman he will die "knowing is his soul mate."
Mark must see Maria even if it means jeopardizing his family and career. He sneaks away to Argentina without telling his staff. His absence is noticed and his wife, who knows about Maria, and says he has disappeared before. His staff says he is hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Enter an intrepid local reporter who gets a tip, meets Mark's plane from Argentina at a metropolitan airport and busts him.
His career is on the line. Maria is chased by media. Her e-mails are hacked and love notes are leaked to the press. Mark risks it all and gives an interview declaring Maria is his soul mate. His critics – and even some supporters – want Mark to resign. He refuses. Impeachment begins, but fails. His wife moves out of the governor's mansion. He is censured. He stays in office and true to Maria, who never sells out for fame and fortune but holds steady for love.
If Mark Sanford's story were a romance novel, we would be rooting for the love birds to live happily ever after, walking on a beach at sunset with glasses of champagne. But in real life in the United States, affairs and infidelity are looked upon as sinful, distasteful and wrong.
Sanford isn't alone in his quest for true love. Researchers have said there is a 50-50 chance
that a partner will have an affair during a marriage. That includes non-physical relationships such as romance via e-mail, which is how Mark and Maria began their romance.
Although Maria is likely to get the blame for the Sanfords break-up, she was likely not the cause. As Dr. John Mordecai Gottman
, a psychologist who studies marital stability, says, "Most marriages die with a whimper, as people turn away from one another, slowly growing apart."
It happens. Just look at Al and Tipper Gore
. No one would have seen their split coming ten years ago – although Al and Tipper might have.
Politicians are people, too. Mark Sanford wasn't caught in a tawdry scene in a cheap motel by an interstate. It appears he fell in love. His path begs the questions: What would you do for love? Keep your current life or toss it all for "the one"? Mark and Maria walked through the fire together and came out on the other side. Loyalties tested, they both passed.
Last week, according to the Argentine press, Mark and Maria sped around town in her gray Peugeot (it would be an exotic car, wouldn't it?), passing through the neighborhood where they met 11 years ago. (That alone is admirable. It is hard enough to maintain a friendship for 11 years, much less something deeper.) They enjoyed a long lunch. They walked on the beach. They revisited Punte del Este where they met those many years ago.
"Belen and Mark took in the sun, walked hand-in-hand along the surf and kissed passionately, showing that long-distance love, in the electronic age, is not impossible," according to the "Caras" story.
The Associated Press has sought comment from Sanford. He did not respond. Cue the love song as end credits roll.