Published April 25, 2012
Former Senator John Edwards is now on trial, charged with violating campaign finance laws, in a case that began with his sexual affair with former campaign videographer Rielle Hunter—an affair that led to a love child. Campaign finance laws aside, what was Edwards thinking when he decided to have a sexual relationship with Hunter? What was he feeling? What, after all, was inside the mind of John Edwards?
In my opinion, derived from twenty years listening to the life stories of men and women, hundreds of whom have engaged in romantic relationships outside of marriage, the answer is this: His relationship with his wife had likely become a source of suffering. The passion in the Edwards’ marriage had probably died years before (as it does, eventually, in most every marriage), and she, sick with cancer, was quite literally dying, and he was looking to feel alive in a world that highly creative, very motivated, extremely passionate people like he often find barren. He was looking for the refuge and humanity and confirmation which a woman who chooses a man can indeed offer him (and vice-versa).
He is guilty of all that, if any of it is a crime, which I suspect, after long and sober consideration, it is not. I simply am not at all sure that any person who loves another person (even that person’s husband or wife) should honestly want him (or her) to live entirely without that life force which men and women share when they find one another magical. And I am certain that ending marriages simply because they almost inevitably become devoid of that magic, while remaining rich in other ways, is foolish.
It is too simple and too dismissive and does no justice to the truth to say that John Edwards was drugged by testosterone or commandeered by pathological narcissism. Sure, he is male. But, at his age, if anything, he was starting to run short on testosterone.
Yes, he had to be somewhat narcissistic to spend $400 on haircuts or, for that matter, to run for elective office at all. But narcissism isn’t always bad, by the way: It drives people to do things like write Pultizer-prize winning plays and race to find cures for cancer and heart disease.
No, considering Edwards a nut or a fool just doesn’t do those moments with Rielle Hunter justice. It doesn’t add up.
I suggest you consider this calculus, instead: It may be the case that many individuals who are moved by passionate possibilities in life (like Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Kennedy and former Governor Mark Sanford and Princess Diana and maybe Golda Meir, for all I know)—to change society for the better, to defeat tyranny, to create great and moving literature, to design and build great buildings and to build powerhouse companies—find it impossible to deny themselves the miraculous, life-affirming, spiritually-healing force that males and females can sometimes channel in one another’s direction. And maybe, one could argue, they shouldn’t.
The great novelist Raymond Carver once wrote:
“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?”
“And what did you want?”
“To call myself loved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”
I know this one thing, for sure: If that is what was in John Edwards’ mind when his wife was dying, when his children were suffering and being sustained by him, when his hopes for America were high, and when his passion for Rielle Hunter was a relentless tide, I have no business judging him, nor should anyone.
There may be plenty of reasons John Edwards would have made a lousy president, but—from a psychological perspective—his affair with Rielle Hunter isn’t one of them.
Oh. There’s just one other thing. It’s a really big deal. John Edwards and Rielle Hunter have a little girl. And if that girl grows up to do something spectacular in this life—say, becoming the first female President of the United States, or a great spiritual leader, or our Poet Laureate, then we’re all going to feel really dumb and should hold ourselves in the deepest contempt for having pilloried her father and mother, when they followed their hearts and ended up creating her.
Life stories don’t have final chapters, and God does work in mysterious ways.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.