I love what Hillary Clinton represents, and I very much want her to be president, but it always makes me uneasy to see Bill Clinton speaking on her behalf. Because the elephant in the room is that he treated her spectacularly badly not just in the 90s, but well past his presidency.
I like that she’s not the kind of chick to be sitting around at home making cookies – neither am I. It reveals a strength and ambition that I share. But the difference between her and me is that when my marriage revealed its rotten core, I ended it. Divorce was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the best things I’ve done for my dignity and self respect and, perhaps counterintuitively, for my children. Although it was hard, my life has been extraordinarily improved because of it. I have never been happier or more free. My children don’t have to look at me like some long-suffering woman who put up with being neglected. I’d like to think that taught them something about the kind of treatment to demand and expect in their own lives.
I have sooo many friends who are living in loveless marriages, or have found out things about their spouses that are awful, but still they soldier on. I very much understand the impulse to keep things together for kids and money. Heck, I did it for years. When I decided to pull the trigger, it felt like a terrifying freefall, and I was sure I was going to be a bag lady. I was desperately sad for my children, for the ideal future I’d dreamed for them but felt like I’d failed to deliver. But I could not respect myself and put up with what had happened. I remember how embarrassing it was for my family and friends to know what I was putting up with, how tired they got of hearing the same old complaints about how bad things were. (I heard a lot of “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results” from them back in those days). I feel so sorry for the women I know who live like that without the courage to change it. I wish I could give them all a hug and a makeover, take them away on a girls’ trip and give them the number to my kick-ass divorce lawyer.
I understand that Hillary is different, and that her choice was probably more calculated. Certainly she’s gained a lot from her association with Bill. But at what cost? I’d rather be making love in a studio apartment with a man who adores me than hanging on for financial or even political gain to one who clearly doesn’t. It’s fear, plain and simple. Fear that you can’t make it alone. Fear of change. Even at her level, she put up with it because she thought she was less without him than with him. That’s kind of sad and pitiful.
I know things change as we get older, that passion fizzles out and friendship is what’s left. I see that she cares more about other things besides the lovey dovey stuff and that keeping him around is expedient for her goals. But I can’t help but lose some respect for her for that. It still sends the signal that women have to stand by men, no matter how much those men disrespect them.
Do I believe that marriage can survive infidelity? Absolutely. If we’re honest, it’s rare that you can restore the kind of trust and intimacy needed for a real marriage after cheating. The people I know who have stuck it out mostly live like roommates, sniping at each other and mistrusting each other, perhaps without realizing how soul-sucking that is and how much better life can get if you just let go. But I do think it can be done, although I think it’s more likely if it happens early in a relationship, when things are still new, and not late in the game like it happened for them. But what he’s done is habitual and ongoing – he’s not changing. It wasn’t just Monica, it was so many others, even after his presidency, if reports are to be believed. It continued even after he got caught again and again (it’s not exactly like she can claim to be in the dark, like it was some shocking breaking news. The man was caught and outed by the press over and over again. It’s a distinct case of “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”). So when he stands up on that stage and gives that performance about all the great things he thinks about her, I can’t help but be reminded of how he’s humiliated her and made her a laughingstock. So I wish they’d keep him off the stage and let homegirl stand on her own two feet. She looks a lot more dignified without him.