Whenever a politician is caught with his pants down, the wife is always a curious spectacle, so many in the media putting her under a microscope. Remember Huma Abedin, Anthony Weiner’s accomplished wife and most ardent supporter? When she took to the microphone after one of his more recent transgressions, we saw something unfamiliar and, for some, quite unsettling. For as long as most of us can remember, the appropriate and familiar response for wives in similar situations has been either to stand by their husband, silently suffering but supportive, or leave him and file for divorce.
Huma Abedin did something altogether different. She spoke for herself, explaining that she had given a great deal of thought to her husband’s actions and intent – and decided on her own to forgive him and move on. At first, the media celebrated her candor. But slowly, as the news cycle wore on, broadcast and print journalists alike began to suggest that Abedin retreat back to the comfortable. It was as if they were saying, “Please do us all a favor, and embrace a role we can better understand.”
Let’s separate this from other arguments related to leaders who “cheat.”
Put aside the fear that diminishing values has allowed disgraced politicians to rise again. Forget that history shows us many examples of philanderers who, despite personal weaknesses, went on to champion causes and laws that have made our country stronger. Ignore evidence that suggests the very traits we value in leaders, a certain predilection for risk and taking chances, can sometimes lead to their downfall.
Let’s stop feigning shock, once again, despite example after example, year after year, that powerful people have little control over their sexual appetites.
Instead let’s discuss a wife’s unique reaction, and reasons why it should be embraced.
I mean, it’s a hell of a lot better than hiring a private investigator and then allowing a reality television show to film the entire event. Or what about those who document their SO’s indiscretion on social media? And what’s wrong with everyone who’s following along and enjoying the downfall?
Why not talk openly and honestly about a subject most of us would like to pretend doesn’t exist – the unrealistic demands of monogamy and marriage?
Those of us who try are often shamed for lack of values, or called names like “doormat,” or worse. As if we aren’t all living in the same world with the same tabloid stories every week. There’s this desire, by the public, to hold on to generalizations that obviously do not apply to the vast majority of people who subscribe to them. The anger with and at people who have interests outside their marriage, yet continue being, you know, married, also reflects a desperation and unwillingness to accept certain truths about human relationships.
Marriage is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. This is something many know, on an intellectual level, but few want to acknowledge or talk about. Marriage is being redefined all the time, most recently to include gays and lesbians. This is a good thing. Marriage has also evolved since the days where women were considered property, yet both men and women still hold tight to the idea that we own our spouses.
It should be obvious to anyone, no matter how we wish it so, we actually own no one. Sometimes, not even ourselves.
Examine the harm in forcing a traditional formula on people who require something different, and the harm that has occurred in families all over the country.
Making unrealistic demands, and for some that includes lifelong monogamy, is not working. Whether you look into sociological studies or your own family, you’ll find evidence to suggest that many people lose the romantic desire they once felt for their partner and end up looking elsewhere for that elusive thrill. Sometimes, they find it.
Many people don’t even realize they’re not cut out for a traditional marriage until after they’ve said their vows. They bought into a fantasy, or got married too young, before they really had a chance to think things through.
And very often, they don’t have the kind of relationship where these kinds of issues can be discussed, much less explored and acted upon. So it becomes a shameful secret.
If they act on it? Even more shameful and secret.
As a society, we’re left with multiple marriages, multiple divorces, and children as the collateral damage, trying to survive in the aftermath of a broken and miserable family.
It would be a whole lot better for those children, and all of us, if we stopped embracing such nonsense. Instead of insisting on therapy and suppressed desires, we reevaluate our expectations and have an honest discussion about the limits of traditional marriage. This idea that one formula should apply to everyone doesn’t work when we’re talking about religions and countless other social constructs, why would it apply to marriages?
A reassessment of lifelong partnerships, which might include more reasonable vows and healthier, long-lasting unions, benefits all of us. This could create an environment where more people stay together, happily, and devote themselves to raising healthy children.
It’s wrong to publicly shame famous people who are “caught” philandering. Instead, let’s embrace the opportunity to shine some honesty into areas of our lives that previously held darkness and deceit. Let’s begin that conversation.
And we don’t have to speak into a microphone to do it.
Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa. Column courtesy of Context Florida.