In case you missed it, Rielle Hunter apologized today for her affair with John Edwards.
“I behaved badly.”
As someone who blogs about infidelity, I know I should be overjoyed. Here’s one of the nation’s most infamous mistresses saying “Infidelity is wrong.” You can’t buy that kind of PR for the chump cause.
But forgive my cynicism. This mea culpa comes after another book deal. According to Hunter:
My publisher came up with the idea of me going through my book and annotating all of my regrets and mistakes. I liked that idea. I thought it was innovative and interesting, but of course the actual execution of that idea turned out to be excruciating. Owning your past mistakes is no day at the beach but I do believe it is an important endeavor to undertake.
It may be churlish of me, but I don’t accept her apology.
I think I’m a minority of one judging by the comments on HuffPo all commending her for her bravery. It’s not that I don’t believe people engaged in affairs cannot change, or deeply regret their behavior later after some painful consequences. It’s not that I don’t think Other Women are beyond reach.
It’s that I don’t really find her remorse convincing.
To most people, who’ve probably never been chumped, she seems sincere. She says the right things. “I behaved badly.” “I was selfish.” “I hurt people.” “I hurt Elizabeth Edwards.” She comes across as contrite.
As someone who received many such apologies from a practiced liar and personality disordered cheater, however, I see some familiar cracks in the “remorse.”
1. The subtle blame shift. Almost immediately after she says she “behaved badly,” she wants us to know that she was once “viciously attacked” by the media. She says she thought she was a victim. But then, curiously, she never disavows that thought. She says it doesn’t “matter.” I find those two statements contradictory — the acknowledgement of misbehavior, but the dismissal of any substance to those “attacks.” If you truly thought you were in the wrong, you wouldn’t characterize people publicly calling you on your shit as a “vicious attack.”
Heck, I thought she found a discourse on her “regrets and mistakes” to be “innovative and interesting.” So long as it’s her own publisher and not the vicious media.
2. The subtle minimization. “I behaved badly” is the sort of statement reserved for spilled red wine on your friend’s white sofa and not paying the dry cleaning bill. “I behaved monstrously” is a more apt description of sleeping with a married man whose wife is dying of cancer and then continuing to assassinate the woman’s character during her last days on earth. I’m sorry, Rielle — bad behavior and “hurt” don’t just really do it for me.
3. The vagueness. Hunter is rather short on particulars. I found this a telling attribute of my own cheating ex. He’d tearfully tell me how sorry he was, how it just killed him to think of what he had done. But when I questioned him carefully — HOW are you sorry? What do you think of exactly that makes you feel regret? What triggers you? He couldn’t answer me. It was all words and no substance. Hunter gives us a litany of those she “hurt” and doesn’t tell us how she hurt them. Perhaps we have to read the book to learn more. Is it an apology tease?
4. I did it for Love. It’s hard to fault people who love. Okay, she confesses it was selfish of her, but there’s still the not-so-subtle narrative that these were forces beyond her control. Hey, she made the grievous mistake of loving too much. Poor girl.
5. The FOO excuse. “I didn’t realize how damaged I was.” Because I was unaware, hey, all that crap I wrote and got a nice advance for? It doesn’t matter, because I didn’t intend to hurt anyone. Blame it on my damage.
I am a product of infidelity. Both of my parents cheated on each other, and as a kid it damaged me. I then grew up, fell in love with a married man, and caused even more damage. I believe history often repeats itself if you do not take responsibility and change it. Infidelity is wrong. It hurts people. It hurt me and then I in turn also hurt people. It is a chain of pain. One I do not wish to pass on to my own daughter.
6. It wasn’t my Intention. This is a classic ingredient of faux remorse — “I didn’t INTEND to hurt you.” It’s copping to a lesser crime (with a little blameshifting twist, implied “but if you find it intentional, well that’s on you.”)
It Wasn’t My Intention is total bullshit, because affairs are completely premeditated. To live a double life requires more planning than a NATO air strike. In Hunter’s case, they were bribing a guy to pose as her baby’s father. Sounds pretty intentional to me.
I am sincerely sorry for my bad behavior, and for hurting anyone. If I hurt you, I am sorry. It was not my intention, I was thoughtless and selfish, and I am sorry.
Hurting anyone? Haven’t we just diluted the apology exponentially by lumping Elizabeth Edwards and her children with me and the masses? Yes Rielle, thank you. I was offended by your creepy photo spread of you splay legged, naked from the waist down, surrounded by stuffed animals. You can’t unsee that.
7. The lack of humility. When British politician John Profumo was scandalized by an affair in 1963, he dropped out of political life and quietly devoted the rest of his life to charitable causes outside the limelight. He demonstrated true humility, without the self congratulations of a book deal.
That Rielle Hunter thinks the world is eager for her apology and wants us to pay folding money for it, is all I need to know about the depths of her character transformation.