The Last Taboos

What we all think about, but never talk about

Why Huma Stays

Beware the sense that a man is indispensable.

All of New York City and beyond—especially women, are wondering why Huma Abedin stands by Anthony Weiner. Not only is she staying, but she read a supportive statement at Anthony’s news conference, where he stated once again that it’s all behind them. Nobody but his wife believes it at this point; yesterday my cab driver turned to me and said, “She’s crazy, or just ambitious.”

I think I know why. My patients do it, my own mother did it, and I myself, when I was younger, less comfortable in my own skin, and far more desperate, did it too. Women of all ages and at all stages of life, smart, capable, attractive, and otherwise assertive ones, struggle with hidden depths of shame, insecurity and grandiosity that drive them to debase themselves, to ignore what they know, and to give the men they think they love and know they need, second, third, and fourth chances.

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The husband of a patient of mine (she was sixty at the time, and one of the loveliest women I’ve ever seen) chose the night before she was to have surgery for what everyone thought was a fatal cancer, to confess that he had been carrying on an affair for twenty years. Evidently he wanted a clear conscience before he buried her. She lived, and stayed. When I was a teenager, my funny, forceful, glamorous mother discovered that my father was keeping a girlfriend in an apartment not far from our house. She moved to a hotel, taking me along, for two weeks. Then she came back for twenty more years and many, many more girlfriends, even moving into the hospital with him to nurse him as he was dying.

And after what I thought was the most tender and passionate night of my life when I was a college sophomore, the graduate student I was besotted with told me that he had spent spring break with his college sweetheart, and that he felt a lot more for her. Each one of us was too humiliated and frightened to be alone to end it. Each of us, stimulated to compete by these alluring rivals, thought our charms would prevail if only we stuck it out and showed these men what true love was like. Feeling a man is indispensable blinds you to the fact that the only truly indispensable thing is your self-respect, and that if you left you would never, ever, regret it.

Jeanne Safer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in New York City for 40 years, is the author of 5 books on taboo topics.

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