In addition to fame and fortune, what do the following women have in common?
- Hillary Clinton
- Tea Leoni
- Elin Nordegren
- Maria Shriver
- Huma Abedin
- Georgina Chapman
- Ariana Grande
- Julie Chen
If you haven’t figured it out, it’s that all of these women have (or once had) famous partners who publicly acted out (sex, drugs, booze, etc.) in ways that negatively impacted these women’s lives—not just personally but professionally.
This scenario was played out for us once again in the new movie A Star is Born, where loving songstress Ally (Lady Gaga) has her hopes and dreams obliterated by Jack (Bradley Cooper), her deeply broken and painfully addicted mentor/lover. Onscreen, Ally learns a lesson that countless real-world women already know: Love a famous man, and you will be judged based on his actions as well as your own.
This sad but inevitable truth for women who love famous yet troubled men is exacerbated when the loving, caring woman is also famous. The real-life women listed above, like Ally in the film, have repeatedly had their names, personal lives, and careers negatively splashed across grocery store tabloids and gossip TV completely unrelated to their own actions. And let’s face it, this is a list that goes on and on. If you want more names, just Google “celebrity infidelity” or something similar and see what pops up.
Before I say anything else about this particular group of women, let me say first that I mean no disrespect toward any of them. I have not met any of them and, more importantly, the reason for this blog is that I have deep empathy for their experience of being not only betrayed but publicly humiliated by a famous husband’s bad behavior.
In most respects, these women are like any other woman who has been betrayed by a man she loves. Pain is pain and loss is loss no matter who you are, and emotional betrayal by someone you thought would always have your back is some of the worst pain and loss we can experience. It feels like you just got hit by a truck. You are betrayed, broken, angry, fearful, and a hundred other things all at the same time. You move from one emotional extreme to another with little or no provocation or warning. And this often feels (and looks) a little bit crazy to both you and the man who betrayed you. Will your life go forward as it has? How can it? Will you move on? How can you? And so it goes.
Whatever the betrayal—drinking, drugs, sex, gambling, etc.—these feelings and reactions are perfectly normal. After all, your once beloved man, your life partner, your emotional confidant, the one person in your life that you were certain you could count on, has broken your trust and your heart, and this has completely undermined everything you thought you knew about him and your relationship.
But as awful as his behavior has been, if neither you nor your man is famous, at least his bad behavior is a (mostly) private matter. When fame is not part of the equation, you can openly benefit from support groups, therapy groups, and other forms of social support. When you choose to do so, you can talk openly and honestly about your pain and your experience of healing. And you can do this without fear of the whole world judging you.
But what happens when your man is famous and his actions go public? Suddenly, your neighbors know all about it, and so does everyone else on the planet. And what these folks choose to think and say about the situation could bolster the shame you already feel and the doubts you already have about yourself and your relationship. In all likelihood, you will find yourself worrying that people are thinking your man’s bad behavior is somehow your fault because (insert your deepest insecurity here). And that’s a truly miserable experience. Because your misbehaving man is famous, there is an extra level of excruciating pain and humiliation.
Even worse, your ability to benefit from support groups, therapy groups, and similar healing venues is greatly diminished, because even though these groups do everything possible to protect your privacy, there are no guarantees. Fame is fame, and talking about famous people and famous situations is incredibly tempting to fellow group members, even if they truly care about and want to support you. Yes, you can trust your therapist and your clergy and your lawyer to keep your secrets, but others that you could turn to for support might not be as discreet. Thus, your options for empathy and healing are greatly reduced.
And if you happen to be as famous as your misbehaving husband, it’s even worse—especially if you have a ‘high-profile, role-model-for-women’ career of your own, as with Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, Georgina Chapman, and Julie Chen, among others. For you, the hits just keep on coming. Your misbehaving man is on the evening news and so are you. And I promise you, absolutely everybody will have an opinion about what happened and what you should be thinking and feeling and doing.
Some commentators will speculate that you’re unpleasant and a cold fish (or a closeted lesbian) and that’s why your man acts badly and has problems. Others will think that your man is an idiot for hurting you and you deserve better, and then they will lose respect for you if you choose to stay with him. Due to his behavior alone, absolutely everything about you and your life is now open to public scrutiny and opinion, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Your relationship and family are at stake, and, as if that’s not bad enough, your reputation and career are at stake, too, even though you’re not the one who misbehaved. So not only must you think about and deal with your relationship and the swirl of emotions wrought by your spouse’s misbehavior, you must think about and deal with your professional reputation and career. And no matter how you handle this—stay or go, support or don’t support—the world will be watching. And judging.
Take Julie Chen as one recent, sad example. Two days after it was announced that her husband Les Moonves was stepping down as Chairman and CEO of CBS, she signed off from Big Brother, the reality show she has hosted since 2000, as “Julie Chen Moonves.” Since her marriage to Moonves in 2004, she had never even once referred to herself on-air using her husband’s last name, so this was universally seen as an indication of standing by her man.
And wow did she ever take heat for that. After this semi-subtle show of support for her husband of 14 years, she was brutalized on Twitter.
- She really is proud to be married to a sexual abuser.
- Julie girl, you are officially canceled.
- I can only imagine how his victims will feel to see that.
- How disgusting and how sad.
- That was so messy and insulting to his victims.
- Go and stay gone Julie.
Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton were similarly disparaged for staying with their husbands—men with whom they have children, homes, and many years of shared family life.
Georgina Chapman reacted differently, announcing she would leave Harvey Weinstein and eventually agreeing to a divorce settlement. And what happened there? Unsurprisingly, she got blowback in the opposite direction, with people accusing her of leaving ‘the man who made her’ by financing her fashion career and putting her on TV (Project Runway). Pop star Ariana Grande was similarly vilified after the overdose death of her notoriously drug-abusing ex, Mac Miller.
When you’re the famous wife of a famous misbehaving man, there’s no way to win. No matter what, you’re left trying to save (or end) your suddenly chaotic relationship while doing damage control with your career and reputation. Whatever you decide to do in your relationship, you also must face the nearly impossible task of protecting your (possibly irrevocably) damaged brand. Crassly stated, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. As with any relationship damaged by infidelity, your healing process is miserable. But with this extra layer of fame-induced humiliation and misery, it’s even worse than usual. If you’re in this situation, I truly feel for you.