Why you should care
Because humans may not have nine lives, but it doesn’t stop some of us from acting like it.
For several years in the mid-20th century, there was no question who was the most photographed, most famous person on the planet: Charles Lindbergh. From piloting the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927 to the “trial of the century” surrounding the kidnapping and murder of his eldest son, the 6′3″ blond-haired college dropout could scarcely step outside without being mobbed. According to Winston Churchill, Lindbergh was “all that a man should say, all that a man should do and all that a man should be.”
You can say that again. It turns out that the globe-trotting Lindbergh’s most audacious transatlantic feat was the round-trip he repeated over 20 years between his American wife and six kids and the multiple children he fathered out of wedlock with three European women, including a Munich hat-maker — and her sister. So what is it that compels people to lead double lives? Is it about power, an oversize libido, the thrill of the chase? And how, like Lucky Lindy, do they manage to get away with it for so long? A look at some of history’s greatest con artists and two-timers provides some pointers on how to lead a secret double life, starting with a page from Lindbergh’s playbook. Tip #1: Maintain a safe distance from your other life.
Leading a double life is not as uncommon as you might think.
That bit of advice is something Brian Meyerson, a South African turned London tycoon, could have used in the early 2000s. He installed his mistress and their son in a Hampstead house right around the corner from where he lived with his wife and family, and when his family vacationed at their beach house in South Africa, Meyerson would rent a nearby villa for his second family. Despite the daring proximity, he managed to keep his second family a secret from his wife for a decade. But, from the expense of supporting a second family to the multimillion-dollar divorce settlement he paid when his wife finally learned the truth, Meyerson remains a cautionary tale in the annals of double living. Tip #2: Double living is not for the faint of heart or those light in the wallet.
That said, second lives can become a healthy source of supplemental income for the truly creative and devious among us — case in point: Frank Abagnale Jr., famously played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can. Starting at the age of 16, Abagnale assumed a series of fake identities, from airline pilot to doctor to sociology professor, becoming a perpetual motion machine of transcontinental con artistry in the late 1960s. Tip #3: A rolling con gathers no moss. Part of what made Abagnale’s double living so impressive (until he was caught) was its multiple dividends: Impersonating a pilot provided not only a steady salary (and flow of flight attendant friends) but also the means for Abagnale to crisscross the country, cashing phony checks before skipping town.
Sometimes chronic double-lifers like Abagnale engage in their craft more for social advancement than financial gain. Such was the case of James Hogue, a mysterious drifter and rabid cross-country runner who successfully faked his way into the inner circles of America’s elite during the 1980s. From working-class Kansas City, Hogue was a master of reinvention who convinced administrators at Palo Alto High School in Silicon Valley he was an orphan raised on a Nevada commune and Princeton University admissions officers that he was a self-educated 18-year-old ranch hand from Utah. Tip #4: Turn your divergent nature into an asset. Princeton awarded Hogue a $15,000 scholarship, and he blended right into the Ivy League school, even competing on its track team, until his actual identity was uncovered his sophomore year.
Occasionally a second life is necessary to become your true self, even if, in part, that’s a raging hypocrite. Take pastor Ted Haggard, the former evangelical leader and devoted husband and father whose followers numbered in the millions until 2006, when his condemnations of homosexuality and immorality wilted in the face of news he’d been paying a male prostitute for methamphetamine and massages for years. “I bought drugs and a massage from him,” Haggard later admitted, “and he masturbated me at the end of it. That’s it.” And that was it for Haggard’s church and public life too, a fitting illustration of Tip #5: You have to be willing to lose it all (including a happy ending).
Psychologists claim that leading a double life is not as uncommon as you might think, and many of us lead very different public and private lives, even if that difference takes the form of fantasy or daydreams. “It is on a spectrum ranging from secrets we keep from others and even ourselves to pathological,” says Robert Motta, a professor of psychology at Hofstra University. “On the extreme end are the sociopaths who lie and deceive so chronically that it is a way of life and they have no remorse, guilt or concern about it.”
And, on the plus side, and a Final tip: Leading a double life can allow you to become a better person. Lindbergh, widely viewed as a distant, emotionless man who was later vilified for his Nazi sympathies and support for eugenics, was by all accounts a caring and attentive father to his German families, including his two Munich mistresses, who were both disabled as a result of childhood illnesses. Guess he really was all a man should be — to his secret lovers — and the Lone Eagle wasn’t so lonely after all.