Oh, boy. Earlier this month Bill and Melinda Gates announced they were getting divorced after 27 years of marriage, and there’s a lot to unpack. As if that wasn’t enough of a shocking reveal, new reports indicate that Melinda, nee French, filed for divorce after discovering that Bill had an affair with a Microsoft employee in 2000, and had a friendship with disgraced suicide (murder?) victim Jeffrey Epstein. And so, to steal a phrase from ESPN: C’mon, man.
When Bill and Melinda got married in 1994, Bill was worth an estimated $9.35 billion. That means that Bill Gates knew he had a lot of money before he tied the knot. Reports also indicate that he and Melinda did not have a prenuptial agreement, which would be understandable if the two had married in the 1970s when Bill wasn’t a billionaire. But they married in 1994, when he was already a billionaire several times over.
Then, in 2000, six years after getting married, Bill went and did something stupid: he had an affair with a Microsoft employee. Now, I want to be emphatic when I say that cheating on a spouse is always stupid. There is no such thing as an affair that isn’t stupid. It’s a bad, stupid, grotesque, disgusting, awful, reprehensible, malodorous, selfish thing to do. He should not have done it no matter what his fortune was worth. But knowing that you’d be risking about half of a fortune that was, by 2000, estimated to be $63 billion.
So I have one question: Why, dude? Why risk love and kids and money and reputation for such a shallow, base, ridiculously stupid thing? Even in 2000 Bill Gates had a reputation as being a philanthropic billionaire, out to help solve the world’s problems with his considerable fortune. Why risk that reputation, that image?
And then, bam! It turns out he was friends with Jeffrey Epstein, too? And it wasn’t even some situation where the two knew each other way before Epstein had a reputation as a dirtbag. Nope. According to the New York Times, the two first met in 2011, three years after Epstein had pled guilty to solicitation prostitution from a minor. Not just soliciting prostitution. Soliciting from a minor. The Times report continues that Melinda was uncomfortable with Bill’s friendship with Epstein even back then, but Bill continued to see Epstein regularly.
Yep, there’s more! It turns out that Bill had a history of making inappropriate advances to female employees both at Microsoft and at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Can you imagine that? Bill Gates is a smart, smart guy, but how dumb did he have to be to hit on some girl at the place that is partially named after his wife? I’m serious. That’s like wearing an “I ♥ King George” t-shirt to Independence Hall.
And then there’s the fact that Michael Larson, Bill Gates’s “money manager” (which must be some rich people thing I’m too poor to appreciate), Michael Larson, was accused of sexual harassment. Bill knew, Bill did nothing, Melinda is pissed. In fact, Bill allegedly helped try to “settle” the matter discreetly, but when Melinda found out, she insisted on a full investigation. Apparently Larson is still Bill’s money manager.
And lastly there’s this super vague accusation that Bill developed a reputation for “questionable conduct in work-related settings,” according to the New York Times. This does not have any elaboration. Does it mean he was hitting on people? Or is it more of an Ellen DeGeneres situation where he was just a dick to everyone? Whatever it was, if one has a reputation for it, it would seem that there were enough instances of some sort of questionable conduct so as to alert some people that it might happen again.
Look, I’m not trying to detract from Bill Gates’s genuinely good contributions to society. Microsoft is probably the most culturally and societally impactful company to exist since Henry Ford opened his plants in Michigan. Seriously. The rise of personal computers, software as a whole, the ease of accessing the Internet, the apps that most of us use every single day like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook…that’s all unbelievably important.
And the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done some incredible work to bring access to healthcare and other basic life infrastructure to people all over the world. Incidentally, the Foundation was founded in 2000, and for some reason I can’t help but wonder if the Foundation and the affair are related in some way.
And maybe Bill Gates is otherwise a good guy. I’ve never met him, but he doesn’t give off the Bond-villain vibe that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, even Steve Jobs occasionally emitted. (By the way, I love Elon Musk and I don’t think he’s in any way, shape, or form a bad guy, but between the flamethrowers and his general I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude he seems a little like Hank Scorpio from The Simpsons.) And maybe Bill is otherwise a good father. Hell, maybe except for the fact that he was a crappy husband, he was a good husband. I don’t know. And I’m not here to assassinate Bill’s character or legacy or whatever.
But I just want to point out that infidelity is a stupid, stupid thing, and when you’re worth as much as Bill Gates is, it’s even stupider. I mean, what could possibly be worth that risk? The risk of failed marriage, failed parenthood, diminished personal wealth, lost reputation, lost status…what could possibly be worth risking that? No man is perfect, and there have doubtless been good men who were bad husbands (Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind immediately, but I’m sure there have been others). But with Bill Gates, it’s just so, so stupid and unnecessary.