The XX Factor

Edwards Does Oprah

In her much-discussed Tuesday column on Elizabeth Edwards , Maureen Dowd wrote:

Elizabeth said when they married, the only gift she asked John for was to be faithful.

Yesterday, while interviewing Edwards in her home , Oprah teed up the same anecdote. “You asked your husband for just one gift when you got married; what was that?” she asked. “I wanted him to be faithful to me,” Edwards replied.

I found this strange in Dowd’s column and stranger during the interview. Maybe I’m naive, but absent some alternative arrangement, fidelity would appear to be implicit in the act of getting married. Asking for fealty as a wedding gift is like graduating college and asking your parents for a diploma. (Is it even customary for the groom to gift the bride?) A gift is, by definition, something not earned or paid for. I cannot imagine asking a partner to refrain from adultery in this way-as a favor, a dispensation, largesse. It’s as if Edwards always knew that what was owed her would not be easily granted.

Edwards carries that same tone of confident vulnerability through the interview. After acknowledging, very briefly, that she blames her husband for the affair he conducted, she tells Oprah:

Women need to have more respect for other women… I have created this life. This is a life I have put together. It takes a lot of work to put together a marriage, to put together a family and a home. I spent a lot of time trying to do that. You can’t just say, “I like the way that looks,” knock on the door and say, “You’re out. I’m in.” You can’t do that. Somebody has worked hard at that. You have to have enough respect for other human beings to leave their lives alone and if you admire that life, build it for yourself.

So Elizabeth sees herself as a creator of this world, builder of this place. She alone toiled over these bricks and wants the house left unmolested. But a marriage is not an inert thing over which one claims a property right, a house waiting to be robbed. Men have agency; houses do not. And one doesn’t, in the end, earn a husband through pure sweat equity. The really weird thing about the aforementioned passage is the way it’s presented as a condemnation of Rielle Hunter’s behavior when it’s more descriptive of John’s.

At any rate, this exchange in the Edwards’ personal gym is the most awkward, excruciating blurring of private and public I have ever witnessed (see below). I say skip Edwards’ memoir and steep yourself in some George Trow