I went to see the new Renée Zellweger movie this weekend, "My One and Only", a film that touches on the ever present subject of a woman's liberation after leaving a man. The movie is set in the 1950 and follows Anne Deveraux, a southern blonde who, as her husband Dan, a band conductor played by Kevin Bacon describes her, suffers from delusions of grandeur. When she arrives early from one of her trips, she finds him in bed with the singer of the band, and it's clear this isn't their first time.
She packs up, takes her two teenage sons, money and jewelry from the safe deposit box, buys a Cadillac and leaves for Boston, the closest city she can think of. He protests and tries to stop her by saying how the affairs mean nothing and that she means much more. He then tells her that she is a bad mother who doesn't even know what school her kids go to and that she won't be able to take care of them or survive on her own. She drives on, with the clear intention of finding a husband to take care of her and her boys.
This is the archetypic tale of the betrayed wife, and it lives on our collective feminine psyche. I know it very well from my personal experience and from watching my mother live through my father's affairs, sharing her heartache and suffering with it all (my parents' story has a happy ending, see below). I also know it from my extensive work on the Greek archetypes and working with various women who have lived through their experience of betrayal.
The archetype of the betrayed wife is nothing new and has been present in public lives from Henry the 8th through Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards, Princess Diana, Silda Spitzer, Dina McGreevy, and most recently, Jenny Sanford. But unlike so many others, Jenny walked out. She didn't sit by the governor's side as he confessed. Instead, she went and did an interview with Vogue and posed looking gorgeous.
Let me start with the mythology, the way it relates to today, and how it leads us to catharsis (the Greek word for resolution) at the end. Hera, the goddess of marriage, is the loyal wife of Zeus and the queen of Mt. Olympus. She is Mrs. Zeus. Their romance begins when Zeus woes her by disguising himself as a cuckoo bird. She takes pity on the bird and takes it under her arm. The bird then proceeds to change into mighty Zeus and seduces her, after which she to marries him. Now think back for a minute. Have you ever encountered a disguised male? Someone that enlists your support, that you embrace before he reveals his hidden self? Zeus and Hera have a 300-year honeymoon, and then he gets the 300-year-itch and has affairs with muses, goddesses and semi goddesses, fathering countless children while she is stuck at Olympus, humiliated and undermined. She feels disempowered and blocked from exercising her power as a woman and as queen. She becomes bitter, jealous, vindictive and turns his mistresses into cows, flies, and trees.
At some point she realizes that she must leave him. Yes, get out of Olympus. counsel no divorce lawyers, take no temples, just walk out. She leaves him (this is my favorite part of the myth) and returns to Evia, her birthplace, where she secludes herself in her sanctuary to do some soul searching. Beware of goddesses doing soul searching! They become mighty!
Notice that she doesn't confront him. She doesn't call her girlfriends to bitch about him. She just leaves. In the movie, Anne does a similar thing. She leaves, dates one jerk after another, moves in with a sister she can't stand, eats humble pie, takes multiple jobs, travels from city to city, runs out of money and even gets arrested. But--she doesn't go back!
In the Greek myth, Zeus misses Hera, so he disguises himself as a statue and begs her to return. She does return more complete within herself and is called Hera the Telia, Hera the perfected. In the movie, Dan, returns and begs Anne to come back. She says, "No", and when he asks her, "Don't you love me anymore?" and she responds with the climactic line: "I am not sure if I love you, but I am sure I don't need you anymore!" She has finally come to the realization that she can survive financially, emotionally and mentally without him. She has unhooked herself from him and has connected back to her own self .
Like Hera and Anne, my mother, made the decision to leave my father. In Athens Greece in the 60 's with no vocation or a job this was a most courageous act with many challenges on the way. In the last year of their lives he asked her for forgiveness, and she forgave him. They had a loving six-month long distance relationship, Athens to L.A., she died three months after him. That is how strong their bond was. In the film, Anne finds her sea legs by reassuring herself, getting up after every blow. My mother found her life force in leaving my father.
The core issue is not that the man is unfaithful, lies, cheats and betrays the woman. The core issue is that the woman assigned her well being to the man. Such a relationship is doomed to be a dead-end. Somewhere in there she gave up her inner authority and it's going to backfire at some point. Our feminine psyche is always prompting us to wholeness so it will bring up false situations to wake us up. Ultimately it is all serving to return us to self.
When something becomes so visible in our society it is a collective wound that is being exposed and needs to be healed, "The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves." When we women rise up in who we are and own our truth, when we express our needs and claim our voices; when we recognize that we can be both powerful and vulnerable when we stop diminishing ourselves, the men will rise to the occasion and match us. But if we remain unconscious of our feminine power, the men will have a field day and we both will suffer the consequences.
I am grateful to Charlie Peters, the screenwriter, for raising this subject again, and I am grateful to each of us who walked away from the unconsciousness of being suppressed, forgotten and shut off.
Have you been betrayed? Has someone close to you? How did you cope? Share your story or thoughts on the subject matter below.