Anthony Weiner has resigned his seat in Congress. Now comes the hard part: He has to deal with his marriage.
His wife, Huma Abedin, specialassistant to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is pregnant. They hadn’t even been married a year when the scandal broke. He was caught sending lewd and suggestive photographs and messages to multiple women via Twitter. He was doing it before and during their marriage.
Should she forgive him? Should she stay with him?
Huma Abedin is beautiful, gracious, dignified and intelligent. She is beloved by colleagues and friends.
Weiner, a Democrat, has few friends and was not popular with his colleagues. This was obvious when Nancy Pelosi and others called for his resignation and when President Obama weighed in, saying he would resign if he were Weiner.
Two people Weiner could count as friends were Bill and Hillary Clinton. The former president officiated at Weiner’s wedding to Huma. Reportedly her parents, Muslims, were not thrilled with the relationship between their daughter and Weiner, who is Jewish. The Clintons were said to have vouched for him. When the story broke, Abedin, who has been with the Clintons since the White House days, was traveling with the secretary of state and did not return home until this past week. It was the day after her return that he resigned. Those close to both say there had been many phone calls between Weiner, his wife and the Clintons.
Hillary Clinton forgave her husband after his many transgressions. We don’t know what she has advised Abedin to do.
But forgiveness is a tricky thing. In fact, it can actually be dangerous, according to author and filmmaker Helen Whitney. Whitney is an expert on the subject of forgiveness. Her riveting documentary “A Time to Forgive and a Time to Hate,” recently aired on PBS.
“Forgiveness can be powerful,” says Whitney. “But in rare instances it can be dangerous, It can be a cheap grace.”
In an interview before the Weiner scandal broke, Whitney asked rhetorically, “Is forgiveness a gift that comes without conditions?” No, she says. “With forgiveness must come repentance, remorse, contrition, restitution, an apology and a request for forgiveness.”
Though Anthony Weiner has publicly admitted wrongdoing and apologized to his wife, will that be enough?
Whitney also says that “forgiveness is about feeling good, separating yourself from this, pushing the dark memory to the side.”
Forgiveness is a particularly Christian tradition. Jesus on the cross asked God to forgive his tormenters. Many Christians believe in unconditional forgiveness. “We take the Lord’s prayer seriously,” says Whitney, in order that we will be forgiven. “Jews, ” she says, “believe forgiveness is conditional. That the guilty one does harm not only to the person, but to the community. And the whole community will be affected by an apology.”
For Huma Abedin, who has been more publicly humiliated than most people could imagine, this is truly a dilemma of immense proportions, because she will be under a lot of pressure, even from herself, to forgive her husband.
“When the (injured) person is under pressure to forgive,” says Whitney, “it is a double injury.” The guilt for not being able to forgive is tremendous. It makes people wonder whether they are “spiritual underachievers for holding on to it,” says Whitney.
In his resignation statement, Anthony Weiner didn’t really acknowledge how much harm he had done to his wife. He seemed to be more anxious to let people know that she was with him and supportive. He said he was leaving because the scandal had become a “distraction.” Distraction is the understatement. Not only did he humiliate himself and his wife, the mother of his child, but he kept it up for almost two agonizing weeks, at first lying about it, and then dragging her and himself into the spotlight as if he couldn’t get enough. It was almost as though any publicity, no matter how bad, was better than none. Even when he resigned, instead of simply releasing a statement, he had to get up in front of the cameras and put himself through the grotesque spectacle of being the object of obscene catcalls. Thank God she spared herself and us the spectacle of standing there with him.
What is particularly difficult for so many women who have to deal with this kind of anguish -- and we don’t need to go through the list -- is that somehow our cultures expect women to put up with it. “Even spiritual leaders,” says Whitney, “counsel women to be healers, to make the family whole, to get back into the relationship.”
How could Abedin possibly forgive him? Perhaps by realizing that, as Whitney says, “forgiveness is not condoning. It is not excusing, not forgetting.” One of the criticisms of forgiveness,” says Whitney, “is saying ‘everything is fine’ when it’s not.” It is not letting the wrongdoer off the hook. It does not deny the right of resentment, but it doesn’t mean wallowing in bitterness either.”
According to one close friend of Huma Abedin, many of her friends feel that she should leave her husband. They say that if he’s been doing this before they were married and continued after the marriage (and we still don’t know what else could come to light) that he probably will not be able to control himself in the future, especially if it is an illness.
So what if she can’t forgive him?
“Try to stay miles away from that person,” says Whitney, “but also try to understand what circumstances got that person there.”
Should she forgive him? Should she stay? They are two very different questions.
If I were Huma Abedin I would have been out of that marriage the day the story broke -- particularly if I were pregnant. What kind of a life will this poor child have with a father who is so damaged and a mother who has been damaged by him? If his creepy, repulsive and arrogant behavior doesn’t make Huma’s skin crawl now, I don’t know what would. Can she really have a happy, loving, trusting relationship with this guy? I doubt it.
Should she forgive him? This one is harder. They say that the person who does not forgive suffers more than the one who has caused the harm. But that is complicated, as Whitney has shown us. If one can’t forgive, what can you do? Anthony Weiner has apologized. He has asked for forgiveness. But is he capable of repentance, remorse, contrition and restitution? Or will he do it again?
If I were Huma Abedin I would try to understand him but I would not condone or even excuse what he has done, and certainly not forget. I would stay as far away from him as I could. I would try very hard to forgive him. Not for his sake, but for myself. Mainly because, as Whitney explains, “the roots and origins of forgiveness are existential, not religious. The ache in the human heart is primordial, as is the craving for connection, for the relationship, and the terror of going into the night unconnected and unfulfilled.”
Clearly her heart aches. By staying with him and forgiving him will she feel connected and fulfilled?
Only she can know.
Sally Quinn | Jun 17, 2011 12:00 PM