Columns 2016

It doesn’t matter how rich, thin or beautiful you are

It’s been a bizarre election season. Nothing about it is familiar or normal. We’re having conversations in presidential debates about genitalia size, female bodily functions, emails that seem to go on forever – and now Anthony Weiner rears his ugly head, becoming what I consider the cherry atop this disgusting ice cream sundae.

Wiener, as we all sadly realize now, is a very troubled individual with an obscene obsession with his genitalia. His wife finally left him after he sent photos of said genitalia to what must be some of the saddest and loneliest women on the planet while his four-year-old son was in bed next to him. I guess there is no better way to grow the next generation of sexual perverts than to have them watch and learn from the best.

But this column isn’t about which political party can generate the bigger sex scandal. This column is about the fact that a woman as educated, intelligent and sophisticated as Huma Abedin could be involved with a man like Anthony Weiner. She not only married him and had a child with him even as the first wave of sexting scandals exploded around her, she stayed with him until that moment when she saw him in bed with their son taking pictures of his private parts.

All her defenses leapt into action when she thought her son was in danger. That’s the strength of motherhood. Where, I have to wonder, were those defenses of her own self-worth and self-respect when she stuck by him through way too many pictures and embarrassing attempts at a political comeback.

One of the commonest threads among middle and upper class women who are caught in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship is the embarrassment that keeps them in that relationship. Some women stay because they see no other alternative. But many women have a means of escape if they choose to use it because they know on some level that their relationship is not normal.

And yet they stay. This is one of the times that money, status, education, class – none of that really means a thing inside one of these toxic relationships. I speak from experience. Walking away from an abusive marriage is worse than walking away for just about any other reason because you feel so humiliated. You feel as though you should have seen it before it happened. You think your education and intelligence should have kept you out of the situation to begin with and should certainly have caused you to leave it earlier than you did.

Inside your head, you’re thinking how stupid people must think you are to have married or moved in with your partner in the first place. You try to hide the physical and emotional bruises. You try counseling. You try all the things you’re told to try to make the relationship work. And through it all, the abuse continues and often gets worse. Like Huma, many women don’t leave the relationship until they see its impact on their children.

This is where having money or a career or a family to fall back on is a great advantage. But having a safety net doesn’t mean handling the emotional turmoil, the fear of intimacy and the sheer shame of admitting such a major mistake any better. It doesn’t make explaining to family and friends why you stayed so long any easier. It doesn’t make starting over faster. And, if you have children, it means an entire lifetime of negotiations to keep the children safe if the court orders visitation.

Abusive marriages are the great equalizers. Whether you are Huma Abedin or someone living from paycheck to paycheck, it doesn’t change the pain you need to endure to end a toxic relationship and build a new life for yourself and your family.

I’m glad Huma finally walked away from that caricature of a man. But don’t envy her. Being Hillary Clinton’s top aide, having a place to stay that’s safe, having money to care for herself and her child – none of those things change the dynamics of the painful journey every woman exiting an abusive relationship must navigate.

She may be rich, thin and beautiful but under it all, she’s a woman used badly by a man she loved too much. I guess she and Hillary have that in common.