Re Huma Abedin: Let’s Not Encourage Long-Suffering Wife Syndrome

huma abedin anthony weinerHuma Abedin stood by her husband Anthony Weiner’s side yesterday as he gave a press conference regarding the latest round of dirty chats to be exposed between him and a 22-year-old anonymous woman. During the press conference he admitted that he continued to send sexual texts, chats and photos to women online after his resignation from Congress, and as recently as last summer. Weiner is running for New York City mayor, and warned the public when he joined the race a few weeks ago (much later than the other candidates) that more texts of this nature might come out.

During his mea culpa yesterday afternoon, Weiner offered a sort of robotic apology to the public and his wife, saying, “This behavior that I did was problematic to say the least, destructive to say the most. It caused many stresses and strains on my marriage, but I’m pleased and blessed that she has given me a second chance.” Abedin looked at the floor awkwardly almost the entire time Weiner was saying these things, prompting The Onion headline, “Man With Widely Circulated Penis Pictures Not The Most Humiliated Person At Podium.”

After Weiner’s soulless statement, Abedin took the podium as well, telling the press that she decided to stay in her marriage for herself, for her son, and that though it wasn’t easy to forgive her husband, after “a whole lot of therapy,” she was able to do it. She concluded her statement by adding, “I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him, and as we have said from the beginning, we are moving forward.”

What that last part alludes to is not just that the couple are moving forward in their marriage, but that they are moving forward as a political team. Weiner has yet to drop out of the mayoral race, in spite of The New York Times‘ call for him to do so. And according to The Huffington Post, “At least three of his mayoral opponents, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former City Councilman Sal Albanese, both Democrats, and billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, a Republican, said he should drop out.” The New York Daily News agrees. But as long as the couple are determined to plow forward in the public eye, their private life will be scrutinized. Abedin has made it clear that she feels her husband’s marital indiscretions should remain between the two of them, but that’s impossible, given that “the behavior that he did” and seemingly hasn’t stopped doing is indicative of his character.

For her loyalty-above-all-else attitude, Abedin has been painted as a political wife, and rightfully so. It seems clear that Abedin’s decision to stay with Weiner is driven as much by her ambition as it is her (misguided?) love for him and her desire to remain an intact nuclear family for her son. It’s one thing to acknowledge what drives a woman to make a selfless-selfish decision like this, but another to applaud the long-suffering wife trope this type of decision-making creates. In a post on Slate titled “Bravo, Huma,” Hanna Rosin does just that. Rosin writes:

The idea that a woman has to leave her husband in order to be considered brave is left over from a 1980′s Dolly Parton movie. Since she went public, Abedin has made a consistent and convincing explanation of why she stayed. She respected him, he was the father of her child, so she decided to give him a second chance, even though she had no idea how it would work out. In that Times interview, Weiner even admits that the issue still “bubbles” up—this is where he starts crying—and his wife forgives him anyway. Who can argue with that?

I can. And not because I’m a “condescending feminist” as Rosin suggests in her first paragraph that those of us who prefer to see women stand up for themselves are. I recognize that Abedin is a smart woman and I don’t doubt her when she says she put a lot of thought into staying in this marriage – up until now. But this new set of texts being revealed is a game changer – not just in the mayoral race, but in Abedin and Weiner’s marriage, too. Yes, I’m sure Abedin knew that Weiner had continued this “behavior that he did” (such an odious and stilted verbal detachment from responsibility there, by the way …), but had she read the actual exchanges until they were published online? And if she had, aren’t they all the more glaringly disrespectful in the media spotlight? I am not Huma Abedin, but I am a divorced woman who understands betrayal, and I felt sick reading Weiner’s exchanges. Not because they’re depraved – I agree with Slate’s Amanda Hess about how normal they are as far as sexual fantasies go - but because Weiner so blatantly disregards the sanctity of his marital bond with every word.

Some may chime in here and say I’m naive to think that there’s any sanctity involved in marriage, that I should know it’s nothing more than a political arrangement, especially for a political couple. I guess I’m old-fashioned in this sense, but I just don’t see any point in marrying unless you’re going to remain faithful to your spouse. (Excluding open marriages, of course, but Abedin and Weiner clearly didn’t have that sort of arrangement, since his behavior came as a shock to her.)

Rather than applaud Abedin for making the decision to stick it out with a man who has some serious problems (Rosin thinks he may be bi-polar, I can say it’s clear he’s got some narcissistic issues, whatever the formal diagnosis), I would encourage her to tap into that part of herself that started to rage when she said – during the press conference, in front of America – “Anthony has made some horrible mistakes.” That was the one sentence she uttered with any amount of conviction that wasn’t clouded by the kind of painful love she feels for him and her unwillingness (or maybe just unreadiness) to mourn the perfect dream her life was supposed to be.

The fact is, narcissism and co-dependence go hand-in-hand, and have a lot more in common than a lot of us want to admit. I believe that narcissists and co-dependents are like the yin-yang: we fit together perfectly because we each have a bit of both in us. Weiner spent however long he spent (months? years?) looking to get high off the risky sexual behavior he engaged in, not to mention the abuse of power he enjoyed luring in girls in their early 20s, who – as the anonymous woman who leaked this recent batch of sexts admitted – are technically adults but remain too young and inexperienced to know better, thus wind up feeling embarrassed and used. Abedin, on the other hand, is not too young to know better, but she may not be willing to truly face herself and face the truth about the dynamics of her relationship. It’s terrifying to feel like you’re about to lose everything you’ve worked so hard to build, even if it’s just a house of cards.

Ultimately, if Abedin chooses to stay with Weiner in the same bullish way he’s choosing to stay in the mayoral race, that’s her cross to bear. But examine the ways she describes him and their marriage, look at the concern and unhappiness on her face, and you see the makings of a long-suffering wife in an unhealthy marriage, staying for her man. Conversely, Weiner seems incapable of showing real remorse. Is this really what we want to teach our daughters and sons relationships are supposed to look like? Marriage involves compromise, yes, we hear it all the time. But by constantly reinforcing that idea in an egregious way, a way that promotes suffering rather than happiness and mutual respect, we are teaching each other and our children to be complacent about bad behavior, to suck it up, to live with the relationship choices we’ve made as if there’s no escape. But there is. And to pretend otherwise is unacceptable.

Beyond Rosin’s suggestion that Abedin might really just be okay with what went down in her marriage, there are even women suggesting that “Abedin’s cost-benefit analysis deserves its own defense.” In other words, that as long as staying in an unhappy marriage benefits her career, it’s worth it. If anything sounds like condescending feminism to me, that’s it right there. “Who cares if he cheated? Why would she leave? She’s getting something out of it politically.” Are we really that proud to say marriages are just business transactions? Have even our souls gone corporate?

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