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The Ultimate Team Player

By Megan Rosenfeld and Brooke A. Masters
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 26, 1997; Page C01

Every day of the Marv Albert trial, Heather Faulkiner was with him in court. They arrived holding hands, they left holding hands. And in between she sat listening to witnesses testify about her fiance's sexual infidelity and his penchants for threesomes and women's underwear during a trial predicated on his own agreement that he had sex with the woman who said he bit her and forcibly sodomized her. At hearings before the trial, Faulkiner and Albert always sat next to each other, and the more graphic the testimony got, the more entwined they became.

Albert's guilty plea yesterday to assault and battery ends the sordid trial but does not squelch one of the spectators' major questions: Why would a woman like Faulkiner, obviously attractive and accomplished, stick with a guy like that? A guy who not only has two- and three-timed her, but who lied about his age (he's 56) and wears a toupee so obvious it has been the butt of courtroom jokes. When does the act of forgiveness turn into masochism?

So Faulkiner, a freelance television producer who contributes to the eight yearly "Outside the Lines" programs on ESPN, joins the ranks of women who have taken the song "Stand by Your Man" quite literally. People at ESPN were reluctant to talk about her except to say, in one colleague's not-for-attribution words, that she is a respected professional, a lovely person, intelligent and fun to be with. "And why is she hanging around with him?"

After dating for years through many of the escapades described this week in an Arlington courtroom the two became engaged in May, around the time of Albert's indictment.

"It's so graphic!" said a woman named Wanda who found the whole thing distasteful enough that she did not want her last name connected with the subject. She was shopping at a downtown drugstore. "She's been faithful!" she said of Faulkiner with a laugh. "She's been next to him every minute of the day! I don't admire her, I'm sorry for her. And her only a fiancee!"

Sticking by your man in publicly embarrassing moments does not always reflect badly on a woman. People felt sympathy for Gail Berendzen, who stayed with her husband of 25 years after he resigned as president of American University and pleaded guilty to making obscene phone calls. Effi Barry, tall and elegant, sat behind Mayor Marion Barry during his trial on drug charges, listening to the details of infidelity and cocaine sniffing even in her own house, and never publicly lost her cool. But once, as described in the book "Dream City," after one day of particularly lurid testimony, she went with Barry into his office, shut the door and started screaming at him. "I'm a person, too!" aides heard her yell. "I have to sit and listen to all of this. How do you think I feel?"

And then she split a few weeks after the trial was over.

"One reason people stay long past when they should have is the notion that you made a deal to stand by this person, and it's a character issue that you don't leave during the bad times," said Manhattan psychologist Marlin S. Potash, author of "Hidden Agendas: What's Really Going On in Your Relationships." "It may be complete denial. And for some women there is this transformative Barbie belief in the power of abiding love I will be the savior, the good person here. The hope is I can save his soul."

Not to mention the power of being needed.

As long as he needs me

I know where I will be

Behind him steadfastly

As long as he needs me

sung by Nancy in "Oliver!"

In her new book, "The Other Woman: My Years With O.J. Simpson, A story of Love, Trust and Betrayal," model Paula Barbieri writes that she had ditched O.J. at the time of the now-famous murders but went back to him after the following touching exchange:

"You've got to come back," O.J. said. "I need you."

For me it was a pivotal point. Once I heard O.J.'s pain, my decision was made. I might have broken up with the man, but that didn't change my human obligation to him. If I didn't go back, O.J. would die. It was, I thought, that simple.

Besides, I was responsible here. Hadn't I wished the fatal wish?

"I'll be there for you," I told O.J. "If you need me, I'll be there."

Even later, wracked with doubts, she decided to hang in for a while longer. "If I left now, I wouldn't just be deserting O.J. I'd be admitting that I'd thrown my life away, and for nothing."

Somehow she found redemption in her Bible studies and a big fat book contract. At least she isn't as pathetic as Amy Molitor, the girlfriend of rapist Alex Kelly, who was convicted of assaulting a teenager in Molitor's family's car in Connecticut the night she'd left on a European vacation. After eight years on the lam with another woman, Kelly stood trial with Molitor at his side even after he'd wrecked her car and left her bleeding on the road, fleeing because he thought the accident would make him look bad.

"I love you, Amy!" he cried as the bailiffs led him away.

"People who do bad things are often very good at lying," Potash said. "Look at how many juries believe them so why wouldn't someone who cares about you?"

The mere fact of adultery, or even of it becoming public in a humiliating way, is not necessarily the death knell for a lot of relationships. "There's a real gender difference in jealousy," said anthropologist Helen E. Fisher, author of "Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery and Divorce." "Both sexes are jealous. Men tend to be more jealous of a one-night stand. Women are more jealous when their man has devoted emotional energy and resources toward the other woman. There is a Darwinian explanation for this women are extremely interested in a man's resources, and a man is interested who rears their babies. He doesn't want to be responsible for someone else's child."

That does not appear to be an issue in the Albert case, however. His four children from his first marriage are all rallying around. Even his first wife offered support. Faulkiner, 40, seems to be friendly with them, although she did not always go out for lunch with the group. Other than glaring at the woman who brought the charges against Albert, she has remained impassive, smartly coiffed and composed, even as the testimony got ickier and ickier.

At one point the victim testified that Albert told her, "I will never marry again. I got burned once." She also said that Albert had told her about his and Faulkiner's sex life. And on Wednesday a friend of the victim's, a woman named Adriana Zamot, testified Albert called her in April and said that "the reason he hadn't called was that he was involved with someone, but he wasn't anymore."

"I don't think I'd want to be seen with someone like that true or not," said Katherine Stevens, who works downtown and was shopping at a Victoria's Secret during her lunch hour. "I would be like this," she said, raising a pair of leggings to hide her face.

Staff writer Elizabeth Kastor contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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