Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin: On Work as Relief From Personal Problems

After Weiner's Twitter scandal broke, they both turned to their jobs for solace. But that strategy worked for only one of them.
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When Anthony Weiner's bizarre Twitter, Facebook, and texting habits became public, where did he and his wife turn for comfort? Not to each other, not to religion, not to their friends—but to work.

A new, much-discussed article from the upcoming issue of the New York Times Magazine describes Weiner and Abedin's so-called "post-scandal playbook." They both have high-powered careers—Weiner as a politician, Abedin as an aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—and it's clear that for both of them, their careers were an essential part of feeling normal again after Weiner confessed to sending intimate photos and messages to women he met online. But treating work as a respite from their rocky personal lives had mixed results for the couple.

It worked out well for Abedin. She discusses how, two days after the press conference where her husband came clean, she left for a two-week-long work trip to Africa:

"My compass was my job," she says. "It was where I could go and life was normal—nothing horrible had happened there."

Abedin's view of work as a sanctuary from the turmoil of home life is a common one. In her landmark 1997 book The Time Bind, University of California Berkeley professor Arlie Russell Hochschild explored why workers were spending more and more time at the office: between the '70s and the '90s, she reported, the average worker had lengthened his or her work schedule by 164 hours each month, and spent 14 percent less time on vacation. For white-collar workers the motivation to work more, she found, was not fear of getting fired or even the desire to make more money. Rather, it was that work was a more pleasant environment than home.

This perspective is echoed by one of the participants in UCLA's CELF study, where researchers spent three years studying the lives of 32 middle-class families. Travis, a father of two young boys, told the researchers:

You'll notice when I'm walking around the house that, um, there's basically very little respite for me. It's all about, um, managing someone else's needs most of the time, and admittedly, I'm not as strong and caring of my own needs, but I see that my own physical health is being compromised by not doing that, so, um, I'm starting to do more of that, which of course leads to aggravation from my demanding wife, um, by not paying attention to her and not fulfilling her needs.

So I think my house kind of represents, um, work. And my workplace kind of represents rest in a certain way.

Abedin and many others experience a reversal in how people traditionally think of work and home: Instead of home being a calm oasis protected from harm, work is.

But this strategy didn't help Weiner much. As the article tells it, Weiner wanted to drown out everything that was going on by getting back to work, but he couldn't:

Meanwhile, back in New York City, Weiner was determined to put his head down and get back to work, but that was made more difficult by the fact that Congress was not in session. "So there wasn't any real place for me to go," he says. "I had, and this is not exaggeration, 20 television cameras outside my little co-op in Forest Hills."

Compare Abedin's "my compass was my job" with Weiner's "there wasn't any real place for me to go." When work is your refuge and then work disappears, you're left unmoored, directionless, with no place to go.

Soon, of course, Weiner had bigger problems than the fact that Congress wasn't in session. He eventually resigned from office, making his placelessness permanent (at least until he maybe runs for New York mayor this year). So where did Weiner turn when he could no longer go to work? Interestingly enough, he started devoting more time to being a husband and dad. His personal life ceased being something to get away from and became something to embrace. Two years later, the results have been positive, according to his family members. The Times piece quotes Weiner's brother, Jason.

"I wouldn't stand for other people saying this about him, but there was definitely a douchiness about him that I just don't really see anymore." His family agrees that the post-scandal Weiner, the diaper-changing Weiner, is far more likable.
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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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