In most respects, Huma Abedin has everything that a 21st-century woman could want: a sterling career as one of the most powerful political operatives in the country, a gorgeous child, glossy hair, cheekbones that could cut through glass, and a rumored BFF-ship with Anna Wintour, who she was seen stepping out with last month. Yet like many other 21st-century women, Abedin is saddled with a bad man—specifically, her ex Anthony Weiner, who she finally filed for divorce from back in May, after years and years of the latter being plagued by sex scandals.
Yet, although Abedin and Weiner are currently in the process of divorcing, there are still whispers of an impending reconciliation. Back in May, the New York Post reported that Abedin renewed the lease on their duplex and invited Weiner to move back home, and the two also stepped out with their son, Jordan, earlier this month, according to TMZ. All the while, he currently faces a lengthy prison sentence for sexting a North Carolina teenager. “I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse,” he told the judge during a court hearing. (For what it’s worth, Abedin was not in attendance.)
To a degree, it’s none of our freaking business if the two are getting back together or not. Marriage is a complicated institution, and if the two have reached a mutual understanding about their extramarital activities, House of Cards–style, that is just fine. And yet, Abedin’s on-again, off-again relationship with her cad of a husband mirrors a common dynamic that’s deeply embedded in the dating world. We all have an ultra-accomplished woman in our social circle who has been dragged down, time and again, by someone who is so much less attractive or intelligent or successful or charismatic than her, that to consider how they even got together in the first place is worthy of that Confused Math Lady meme, or at the very least a “Wow, how’d he get her?!?!”–type reaction. We saw it with Britney and Kevin Federline. We saw it with Jennifer Aniston and literally everyone she has ever dated. And we see it with Abedin. Call it Albatross Syndrome, if you must: a condition where a woman is manacled to a man to whom she is far superior.
While this dynamic certainly goes the other way around, when the genders are reversed it’s far more common for people to focus on how unattractive a female partner is compared to her male counterpart (yay, sexism!). And while Albatross Syndrome is not limited to gender or sexual orientation, our patriarchal culture is such that there are but a few non-heteronormative pop-cultural examples (the only one that comes to mind is Victor Garber—of Legally Blonde, Titanic, and Alias—and that Nordic model with the impossibly high cheekbones who’s married to Victor Garber, but when you think about it, who wouldn’t want to be married to Victor Garber?). Yet when a woman is dragged down by a man, physical attractiveness usually doesn’t play a role in our analysis of the situation (though as an aside, how someone as gorg as Abedin could be attracted to a nominally charismatic and sentient Brillo pad is beyond me). Instead, our reaction is usually twofold: We start by expressing our disbelief at how little he deserves her, and then we constantly speculate that they’ll get back together.
Since the public first witnessed the breakdown of Abedin and Weiner’s marriage back in 2011, when the first sexting scandal broke, people have constantly speculated whether Abedin will forgive him or “take him back”—a phrase that inherently reflects how she is stooping to his level. (No one ever asks if Weiner would deign to take Huma back.) At the time, Abedin was pregnant, a highly vulnerable period in any woman’s life and a time when no couple would appreciate their private life being scrutinized, but that didn’t stop even legitimate press organizations from running breathless headlines about why Abedin wouldn’t leave him, a pattern that continued over the next five years.
In truth, our impatience with Abedin’s refusal to abandon her marriage doesn’t reflect our investment in her well-being so much as it reflects how, at the end of the day, we secretly, deep down in our guttiest of guts, actually want these relationships to work out. It’s not just that women are more likely to forgive their cheating partners—it’s that we tell ourselves that settling for a man who is not on par with us is just one bump on the road to love, an unexpected plot twist en route to our happy ending. It is so entrenched in the story we tell ourselves of contemporary love that Abedin and Weiner are even listed in a Women’s Health listicle about couples whose marriages were strengthened by infidelity. (Yeah, Women’s Health, about that…)
So often, we see couples like Abedin and Weiner replicated in IRL scenarios—the sister who’s paying off her unemployed computer programmer husband’s mortgage, the best friend who hooks up with a string of finance doofuses whose Google history reveals multiple searches for “why is my lip skin dry” on their iPhones, the coworker who keeps sending nudes to that guy you work with who’s already gotten the interns to send him nudes as well. Maybe you’re the sister; maybe you’re the best friend; maybe it’s you and, frankly, you’re tired of defending your choice of partner. Maybe you just want a happy ending for you and your own albatross. Maybe you guys just want to be left alone.
We will never know what’s going on in Abedin and Weiner’s marriage (though of course, that will never stop us from speculating to that effect). Still, if she does, in fact, invite him back into their home—or even if he still has a modicum of a presence in her family’s domestic life—that does speak volumes about how we still view women’s roles in relation to the men in their lives, how even someone who is BFFs with Anna Wintour and Hillary Clinton (the patron saint of DGAF women who are weighed down by bad men) still thinks that to a degree, her family is not complete without a man in it. Despite all of the chaos he has wrought in her life, to a degree, she still wants him to be around for their child—even though there is at least one prominent example of Weiner’s sexual impulses getting in the way of his ability to parent. (In 2016, his sleeping son appeared in one of his sexts, beside his bulging crotch.)
There is nothing to suggest that Abedin is incapable of parenting on her own, without a bad man to weigh her down. The only person who seems to question that? Abedin herself.