Soliciting men in bathroom stalls , moving hookers over state lines (seriously, why aren’t ours here in DC good enough for Spitzer?), trysts in a TGI Fridays (really, McGreevey, really?), hiking the Appalachian trail – or was it lounging seaside in Argentina ( )- these are tales for an epic Hollywood blockbuster. The serious political leader caught with his pants down in outrageous scenarios is a constant thread in our media commentary. Arnold, we knew you had it in you, we just thought your story would be more exotic than a housekeeper. So let’s be honest with ourselves. We don’t devour every salacious detail of these affairs because of what the husband did, though, do we? We devour them because we are watching the scorned political wife.
And among those political wives, Ms. Edwards was the first to not stand by her man’s side in the mea culpa media interview . We applauded her for it. Then Ms. Sanford set the bar a little higher by dropping off the scene, leaking that she hadn’t spoken to her husband for weeks and demanded his repentance . Was the tide turning? Were we seeing a movement away from steadfast support of the husband because of his career? And why did these earlier political wives stand next to their husbands in those moments of humiliation and disgrace? Were they just in shock and willing to believe what they wanted to believe, or did they also believe in their husband-as-candidate so profoundly that they were willing to forgo their own humiliation?
Julianna Margulies’ ill-titled show The Good Wife handled the perspective of the shamed wife with delicacy and respect through its first season. We watched as she rediscovered her independence, cultivated her career and built a life that wasn’t centered around her husband. But we watched her keep her husband at arm’s length, for the sake of her kids and presumably because you can’t stop loving the father of your children overnight.
So now we have Maria Shriver to watch. Possibly due to her own blue-blooded political savvy, in combination with her experience working for the media, she managed the message from the time it leaked out. It certainly can’t be a mistake that this news leaked months after the Governator left office. His political career was able to reach the apex he desired without his own indiscretions toppling it, like all these other idiots, but Maria managed to avoid the requisite press conference and already announced that she is separated from the dirty rotten scoundrel. She doesn’t look like a victim, she looks like she’s in charge.
So what does it leave us to think? What do we relay to our kids who are old enough to hear the incessant media chatter and ask us questions about it? How do we not shine the spotlight on our husbands and issue a few threats addressing precisely what we’ll do to them if they take up with the housekeeper or nanny or kindergarten teacher or school psychologist? Why do marriages fall apart after 25 years and four children? What does it say to the cheaters (and our kids) if we stick with them and what does it say to our kids if we ditch them?
Any one of these questions is enough to whip up a tornado of doubt and introspection to the point of neurotic. So I choose to focus on the positive. My instinct is that we tell our kids the truth: many adult decisions are leaps of faith but we leap because we genuinely love someone; the inertia of the fear of what ifs is more paralyzing than the leap could be damaging. We stand by a spouse or we walk away based on what is right for us and what is right for our kids. We can’t ever really know what compels some political wives to stick around and others to walk away. But we have to believe that it takes two people to make a marriage work and two people to allow it to break.
And about that fairy tale, as a women’s studies minor and feminist protestor outside strip clubs in college (seriously), I enjoy watching my girls get lost into the world of a Disney fairy tale. Why can’t I let them believe there is a Prince for them? Why shouldn’t they think their daddy is my modern-day Prince? Weren’t 3 billion people worldwide glued to the marriage of Kate to William because we love fairy tales? Maybe Maria tolerated Arnold’s behavior for as long as she felt her children needed her to and then she broke. Maybe the Terminator was Maria’s Prince for as long as she wanted one.
Maybe the real fairy tale is that the story isn’t linear and the Princess gets a few bruises along the way. But she brushes herself off and gets back up. Maybe that’s the real lesson for the kids.