Elizabeth Edwards is an undoubtedly smart woman who is living out the pain that comes from the old and outmoded beliefs about men and women that unknowingly determine our behavior . . . along with a hefty dose of denial.
Let's take the denial first. I mean, wouldn't you want to know if your husband had fathered an illegitimate child? Pulling the shades down over your eyes and never ever saying out loud the name of the "other woman" (or not allowing Oprah to say her name) won't help a bit. I'll say it: Rielle Hunter--a reportedly broke single mother who is probably not the crazy stalker Elizabeth paints as the root of all evil.
I know that what we hide--especially from ourselves--can hurt us. The emotional pain we feel (like the devastating grief of losing a 16-year-old child in a car accident that affected both Elizabeth and John) or the pain we deny gets stored in our bodies if we don't find a way to release it, and can contribute to everything from insomnia to cancer. And Elizabeth, who is already suffering from metastasized cancer, is hiding some very big truths from herself.
Here's a smart, substantial woman. Yet she fully supported her husband's candidacy for President even though she knew that the truth about his affair would invariably come out during the campaign. Like Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth is probably more mature and morally steadfast than her husband. Like Hillary, had she not been indoctrinated with a "stand by your man" mentality, she might have been the better candidate.
What are women like these (and let's add Silda Spitzer to the mix) doing with men who are powerful enough to think they can get away with cheating on their wives? Wives who stand at their sides as the men perform their insincere mea culpas. What, you think Eliot Spitzer didn't enjoy those high-priced call girls? Or that Bill didn't know what actually constituted sex? Or that John didn't like his nights at the Beverly Hills Hilton with the sexy videographer who ostensibly told him he was hot?
The answer lies in our shared unconscious belief system that women are "less than" men; that every woman needs a man to complete her; that if she's too fat no man will want her; that women who are too smart will scare men off; that women are the root of all evil; and that women should stand by their men, no matter what.
Sounds to me like Elizabeth is telling herself more than several of these outmoded lies.
As outdated as these beliefs may seem in this post-feminist age, they nevertheless impact our behavior. They wear away a woman's self-esteem, until the betrayed wife winds up writing a passive-aggressive book that publicly flays her husband.
It's difficult to look at a couple's relationship from the outside and know what's really going on, but I have a hunch that Elizabeth's health problems would improve if she faced the truth and John were out of the picture.