Last weekend’s New York Times “Vows” column featured a big, beautiful wedding much like any other, except for one unsavory detail: The bride and groom had fallen in love while married, and left their spouses in order to be with each other. Oh, and there were kids involved. (Homewreckers!) And their families had gone on vacation together. (Harsh.) John Partilla and Carol Anne Riddell’s scandalous story has provoked a cascade of user comments and blog posts, and even landed the couple a spot on The Today Show. (The couple was smart enough to turn down an actual appearance, but the show brought on psychologists to analyze their situation, below).
The fact that the Times glorified their story by putting it front and center in its popular Wedding section is as controversial as the story itself, but it’s also an indication that our culture might be catching up to the reality of our demographics: Couples split up and marriages end nearly as often as celebrities file for divorce, and rarely are those situations uncomplicated. According to the last census report, roughly one in five adults have been divorced, and first marriages that end in divorce last an average of eight years.
Whether calling it splits because of an affair or realizing that marriage is more than they’d bargained for, even a short marriage is likely to involve loved ones who are devastated by its ending. Not to mention ex-spouses, like Carol Anne Riddell’s former husband, who was not pleased by the Times story on his ex-wife’s second marriage: “I wasn’t contacted or interviewed or given any opportunity to opine on any of it, including having my seven-year-old daughter’s picture in the paper,” Bob Ennis, Carol Anne Riddell’s ex-husband told Forbes. “The primary story here is not that interesting. People lie and cheat and steal all the time. That’s a fact of life. But rarely does a national news organization give them an unverified megaphone to whitewash it.”
But then, is it really surprising that our culture is ready to whitewash unconventional love? We flocked to theaters and bookstores to devour the true story of Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who left her husband for a younger man and left the younger man for (eventually) an older man. And watching Julia Roberts eat, pray, and love herself out of divorce guilt didn’t seem to tarnish her reputation as America’s sweetheart.
The Times‘ story opens with the question, “What happens when love comes at the wrong time?” What seems to happen is that some of us vilify the couple whose joy comes at the cost of pain to their spouses and families, and some of us seem to find hope in the idea that we could find happiness in marriage number two. It’s complicated.
Do you think that Carol Anne and John should be celebrating their marriage with public announcements and pictures of their kids from former spouses on the cover of the country’s most famous wedding section? Tell us what you think in the comments section, below: