I posted about Rielle Hunter almost two years ago on a post titled, Intentional Infidelity. More specifically, I posted about Elizabeth and John Edwards. Even more specifically, I posted about Johnny. His real name being Johnny which Rielle magically knew before he even told her. Johnny’s true name had escaped me because stacks of research articles---not mystic angels and the guiding light of cosmic energy---surround my appreciably messy desk.
(A printout about the Edward's affair leans against my reproduction Baroque lamp that with a little bit of imagination illuminates my keyboard as if it were an opera singer center stage Universe. I, however, remain in the shadows where anyone in their right mind would beg me stay considering how bad my hair is before a ten-o-clock brushing. It might be ‘bad’ at four in the afternoon. Let’s not go there.)
Last Friday at 4:00, I steeled my nerves and grabbed a bag of Saltine crackers to settle my stomach before watching Oprah’s interview with Rielle Hunter, the Infidelity Whisperer. Rielle is a woman who by fortune or misfortune, is blessed with the psychic ability to see inauthentic men wandering city sidewalks, forlornly searching for their true selves like Sinbad’s death-defying quest for the Golden Fleece.
Picture post modernity’s inauthentic man as a wandering sailor on uncharted seas, and lose not your faith in mercy for ye can know that verily thus sayeth our higher power, he may yet be saved. Yea, led towards authenticity if the Whisperer is willing to accept her sacred mission. Despite the rewards of saving even one man from certain doom, the state of the inauthentic man searching high-and-low for his true self makes Whisperers very sad. Breaks their hearts you see because these days there is so much work for a woman to do and so very little time for her to do it. She must pick-and-choose where her time and talents can best be allocated. This is a spiritual conundrum, so devoted as Whisperers are to not making judgments. She must, however painful the choice, make a judgment as to which inauthentic client merits her tutelage because as any 21st Century woman knows, you can’t possibly tutel everyone on your list.
I have noted (and maybe you have, too) that when a man loses something, he naturally asks a woman to find it for him. If he loses his true self, a woman will be only too pleased to meet his request. So when my husband lost his true self, I dutifully searched our home for his authenticity and came to the conclusion that his real self was in the laundry room crammed in underwear baskets next to other archeological digs revealing who a man really is without his business suit and corporate badge. "I can't find myself", my spouse complained during his midlife crisis. "Do your laundry, honey", I whispered ever-so-gently, "And you'll know exactly who you are."
Spiritual gurus tell seekers to "chop wood and carry water before and after enlightenment." The clue-trail to finding yourself in my house is: “Before enlightenment, wash yer underwear and fold yer clothes. After enlightenment, wash the diapers and do the dishes other people ate on.”
My spiritual guidance did NOT result in a successful reconciliation, however. If you're in a similar situation, you might want to do what Rielle Hunter did and whisper the lies the lost man wants to hear; such as the one that he looks better with his underwear off than he does with it on. (Telling the inauthentic man to pull his pants up rather than down, makes him feel like you're the one wearing them. If you are a Whispering companion to the lost man’s quest for self, you must (let me reiterate), you MUST take off your pants! It’s the first step initiating his delicate process finding his authenticity.
It’s too easy to poke fun at Rielle. I feel guilty mocking what she believes makes her special and unique. She is not the most grounded woman Oprah has ever interviewed, nobody can argue with that. She seemed very smart, sincere, honest about her love for Johnny, certain of his love for her. She was concerned about being a good mother to a child who will bear the burden of her parent’s coup de foudre. Though to meet the challenges in her life, Rielle would do well wearing combat boots instead of fluffy slippers like the ones she wore in the interview. Confronting denial, rationalization and justification is no time to slow down your feet with flip-flops. You gotta cushion your soles and brace your ankles ‘cuz for sure your knees will buckle more often than naught.
When you’re on a spiritual journey facing ego as your foe, you can’t be worried about how fat your calves look in combat boots.
I wrote that last paragraph because Rielle seems excessively concerned about the way she looks to other people and to herself. That’s why she did the GQ interview, she said. She wanted people to see she was a beautiful woman and sexy in her own right--not pregnant and fat and frumpy like the insulting photos on grocery checkout stands.
Denial-Rationalization-Idealization and Cognitive Dissonance
About halfway into the interview, I couldn’t help but identify with Rielle. Most significantly: her idealization of a man with a dubious character who has proven who he is by the arrogant things he does. The Johnny she sees contradicts the Jonathan Edwards the public sees. The Johnny she sees is a wandering soul and her job is to propitiate his integration---even if she fragments herself. Her role is to mentor his progress, listen to his excuses, and understand the fumbling bumbling error of his ways because she will assist him in becoming the good man she knows he is at heart. No matter what he did or how he did it, Rielle had a viable excuse for his behavior.
If you listened to Rielle’s interview and did not hear her irrational defense of a man who has hurt her time and time again, or recognize her desire to get Johnny get out of a tough spot, you may never have been in a narcissistic relationship where the sanest of people go to extraordinary lengths defending the person who is destroying their life. Call it a Magnetic Force or call it Charisma. Narcissists have it and even folks in combat boots can be manipulated into seeing someone who isn’t really there. Allowing yourself to SEE the man AS he IS without imagining what he could be is complicated when you’ve invested your children’s welfare, your life, your time, your heart, and your integrity into making the relationship work.
Denial becomes an option if there’s no way to exit gracefully.
So to women like myself, women who see the man’s soul as more authentic than his honest-to-God entitlement, arrogance and downright lack of integrity, we’ll see bonding where there isn’t any. We’ll see empathy and miss the manipulation. We’ll see widdle-pwotective-defenses instead of aggressive offenses. We’ll see courage instead of cowardice; generosity instead of bribes; compromise, not resentment; righteous anger not hateful rage; love not fear. We’ll see, just like Rielle, the man who isn’t there.
This thought occurred to me when Rielle was talking about the way Johnny had screamed at her when tabloid photos of her pregnant body were released to the public. “He screamed as I walked outside,” she said quickly adding, “But he is not a screamer.”
“He may have lied,” she said, “but he is not a liar.” He may have betrayed his wife, but he is not a betrayer. He may have hated her pregnancy, but now the baby is their love-child. Rielle trusts Johnny because he has never lied to her which as anyone can see as plain as the no's on their faces, he has done and repetitively so. He betrayed her in a shameful way telling the world he was not her lover, suggesting (something the public would readily accept), that she was loose as a goose and had tied her own noose. Noose being the innocent child he fathered into being.
But Rielle, on a spiritual journey towards authenticity, would never love a liar, a screamer, a faker, and a betrayer because she is in tune with cosmic truth---on a higher plane than the average citizen. So to Rielle, considering how judgmental people are, Johnny is not a betrayer. Not really. He’s a man-in-process.
Yes, Rielle is the Infidelity Whisperer. She sees men who aren’t really there.
For all the hopes and dreams and illusions Rielle has about her relationship with Johnny, she seemed rather ordinary to me. She didn’t appear to be a con artist since she’s about as successful at manipulation as any garden-variety narcissist with more arrogance than cunning, more impulsivity than strategy. Although a few people on Oprah’s website said Rielle was a sociopath, that doesn’t ring true to the way a predator would have handled her golden opportunity. For one thing, a sociopath is not as invested managing a 'good' image and Rielle desperately wants people to see her as a good person, a nice woman, a devoted mother, and a beautiful woman any man would desire as a sexual partner. She wants you and me to like her in spite of the unlikable things she has done. She expects us to accept her intentions as being more truthful than her choices. And if we don’t do that, we are being judgmental. This is the mantra of the narcissist, not the sociopath.
A true gold digger, a bonafide sociopath, may have done everything Rielle did with one exception: she’d have blackmailed the potential president of the United States by keeping her pregnancy secret. She’d have found a way to profit from her power over the Edwards’ family. She wouldn’t have felt a need to manage her image because she had only done what thousands of other women have done: have sex with an up-and-coming politician or any man of power.
Nah, a sociopath would have been a whole lot smarter about hiding her pregnancy and would not have cared a whit or a snit what other people thought because blackmail is more rewarding than the costs of image management. Rielle cares and yet all her attempts to manage her image backfire because she is unable to admit to herself that what she did was wrong. Shamefully wrong.
“I’m not a homewrecker!” she insisted when in fact, the Edwards home is still being demolished by her embarrassing attempts to prove she’s a good person. She believes the only time infidelity occurs is when a marriage is unhappy. (not true!) As long as Rielle can justify her behavior, she has no need to suffer remorse and shame---nor experience the painful burden of knowing she has hurt the Edward's children because she believed her sacred journey with Johnny was more important than theirs.
A little coup de foudre is something nearly everyone can identify with—feeling special and chosen when the man of your dreams falls in love with you.
“It wasn’t calculated,” she insisted and maybe it wasn’t.
If not, if Rielle honestly believes the magnetic pull towards Johnny was the manifestation of their divine destiny, let her story stand as witness to anyone who believes an affair is the key to self-knowledge. Trust me. It’s not. You will be stupider and dumber and lie more to yourself than anyone else. You will turn reality upside-down and inside-out and go to extraordinary lengths to justify your behavior. You will put your kids on the alter of your ego and sacrifice everything of meaning and value in your life. When you have done that much damage to that many people, denial becomes an option when there’s no way to exit gracefully.
Infatuation makes us crazy---temporarily. Infidelity might make that craziness permanent.