This morning I was bombarded by the same news as everyone else: Huma Abedin’s husband, Anthony Weiner, cannot stop sexting. Abedin is Hillary Clinton’s closest advisor and the vice chairwoman of her 2016 campaign. Weiner is a former Democratic U.S. representative and a current stay-at-home dad.
This is Weiner’s third sexting scandal. In 2011, Weiner accidentally tweeted a lewd photo he’d intended to send privately to a college student. He initially claimed that his account had been hacked, but in the end admitted to having inappropriate exchanges with at least six women. Abedin was five months pregnant.
In 2013, new pictures were leaked to the press. Weiner admitted to sexting at least three women under the alias Carlos Danger.
Last night, a third round of sexts emerged. In one of the photos, Abedin and Weiner’s 4-year-old son is resting on Weiner’s stomach, inches away from Weiner’s erect, yet thankfully garmented, penis.
Many feminists rejoiced online today as Abedin issued a short, terse statement explaining that she had finally decided to separate from Weiner. That was my first reaction as well. I was all, “Get it girl! He never deserved you to begin with! Go find someone who will appreciate your brilliant brain and perfect hair and deep well of devotion. This dude is not qualified!” And then I sat with it for a couple of hours. My reaction did not feel true.
Craving fiction last night, I’d picked up Lucia Berlin’s short-story collection “A Manual for Cleaning Women.” In the first story, a man named Tony passes out drunk on the floor of a laundromat. Its owner leans down to tell him:
“Brother, believe me… I’ve been there… right down there in the gutter. I know just how you feel.”
Tony thinks: “Anybody says he knows just how someone else feels is a fool.”
“Anthony Weiner is a jackass, and Abedin did not deserve this treatment” is a sentence that reflects the reality of the situation.
“Anybody says he knows just how someone else feels is a fool” is a sentence that reflects the truth of the situation.
As onlookers to someone else’s relationship, we have the benefit of limited information and hindsight. Three times! Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, the saying goes. Is there shame left to even dole out in the third round?
It’s easy to argue that Weiner’s first indiscretion was so prolonged and multifaceted that a woman of Abedin’s intellect should have recognized his actions as a mark of character, rather than an aberration, that her decision to stay with Weiner after his second public indiscretion showed a self-abnegating stubbornness that resembled her mentor’s response to her own husband’s affairs, that Abedin only decided to finally leave Weiner because his actions left her no other option from a public relations standpoint.
I can’t disagree with those points, because the truth is that I don’t know the truth. Abedin’s the only one who knows. But here’s what I am sure of, upon deeper reflection: This isn’t a win for feminists. It’s a deep loss for a strong woman. Glee is an understandable reaction; compassion is a better one. Stripped to its bones, the situation — person wants marriage to work, marriage can’t work because the other person can’t or won’t control his or her compulsive behaviors — sounds terrifically painful. Why dance on the grave of another person’s marriage, even as we judge it to have been a bad one?
Abedin hasn’t issued a statement of strength. She just threw out the “we tried to work it out” and the “please respect our privacy” and the “we both care about our kid” stuff that everybody in the public eye does when this happens. It wasn’t Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” folks.
Heartbreak, new or renewed, is quiet and lonesome, even for the powerful. Huma Abedin is a woman with a young child and a philandering husband who has lied to her for at least five of their six years of marriage. Two seemingly contradictory ideas can coexist. She does deserve better, and there’s nothing in this moment to celebrate.
Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a contributing writer to Opinion. Follow her on Twitter @velvetmelvis.