As most people close to me know, I have a verrrry testy relationship with marriage. Some aspects of deeply trouble me: its religious foundations, its patriarchal history of a woman being ceded by one man to another, even — I’ll admit it — its permanence. For me, marriage represents a certain end to a narrative possibility.
On the other hand, there are obvious tax and legal benefits to marriage, and a new study comes out every other week showing it’s good for your health, and Mike and I love each other and live no differently than our married friends — and now that we have two kids and are stuck with each other for the rest of our lives ANYWAY. . .
So in theory, I’m down. But in practice? Haven’t been able to touch that shit with a Vera Wang gown with a 10-foot train. I’m talking one bad track record here, folks. SHITTY! That first guy I told I’d marry? Didn’t do it! Second guy I said the same thing to? LIES! Third guy I took a ring from and gave a yes to? He’s still waiting for me to set a damn date!
Marriage: I’ve got a problem with “follow-through.”
(Not that Michael’s relatives give a good goddamn. They’re making me Mrs. Ortlieb whether my little feminist, God-bashing ass likes it or not.)
So what’s my problem with marriage these days? I’ll you EXACTLY what the problem is: Jenny Sanford and Elizabeth Edwards. And if those two women don’t shut the fuck up already, I am NEVER gonna walk down that damn aisle.
This week has been something of a perfect storm of Sanford/Edwards news, what with word of John Edwards potentially admitting paternity of his mistress’s child, but I’ll start with Jenny Sanford because just when I thought everything that had been said on it had, she went and lost her fucking mind. For those of you living under a rock the past few months, Jenny’s husband, Mark Sanford, South Carolina governor, skipped out on business for four days and was said to be wandering the Appalachian Trail but was instead discovered below the equatorial belt with his Argentinian mistress. He later explained to the AP that he did it because he would die “knowing that I had met my soulmate” — harsh words for his wife of 20 years to hear, no doubt, but what she did next, and what she continues to do, is what baffles me.
Granted, I’ve never been married. And as far as I know, I’ve never been cheated on. But I can certainly imagine the torment, and the grief, and the embarrassment, and the rage. I can imagine feeling horribly unpretty and blaming him for that, and hating the other woman as much as I hated him and then remembering he was the liar. I like to think I’m empathetic enough to place myself in both Elizabeth and Jenny’s politician’s wife pumps and even feel the compounded humiliation that comes with all those years of parading yourself as the “model family,” of having to smile even in the midst of the media feeding frenzy and it’s all because of who he is and the son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t even BE who he is if it weren’t for you.
I can even understand the media envy: that lying, cheating bastard is lead story, top-of-the-fold, giving every anxious microphone and camera his version of events, you at his side with a limp hand in his and a practiced look of unity. And too, you’ve got Barbara and Katie and Diane and that toady Ann Curry all wanting “your side of the story,” when you know that really means the public’s hungry for some blood on the highway and can’t wait to see the woman scorned, but you’ve got a lot of capital invested in this marriage and frankly in his career, so you say your piece — for his political office, and for your own mental health — and that’s the end of it.
Or in theory, that should be the end of it, which is where Jenny and Elizabeth totally go fucking with my head. First, Jenny poses for Vogue and grants an interview in which she expresses relief that she doesn’t have to deal with midlife crises like her husband’s because “I know my legacy is my children. I don’t worry about that.” And this week, Jenny Sanford signed a deal to write a memoir “that ‘will grapple with the universal issue of maintaining integrity and a sense of self during life’s difficult times,’ and would discuss ‘the emotions, confrontations and heartbreak behind the headlines of her story.'”
In other words, she’s pulling an Elizabeth Edwards.
Because we all know the tragic and cautionary tale of Elizabeth and John, and the presidential run that should have never been, and by all appearances, both of them handled the Rielle Hunter affair as gracefully as possible. . . until Elizabeth, who in her own words on the tour for “Resilience,” her memoir, decided to document her response to the affair, thus reopening that wound for an international book tour. I didn’t read “Resilience,” and by all accounts the affair took up only a small fraction of the book, but no reviewer failed to note that Elizabeth used the book to paint John’s mistress as a conniving stalker and John as a naive victim — absurdly one-dimensional stereotypes given Elizabeth’s intelligence, which led more than one critic to snort that perhaps the book should have been titled “Revenge.” Between her career and her values and her poor son and then CANCER, I’d always had a tremendous amount of respect for Elizabeth Edwards, but Liz, “Catty Martyr” doesn’t look good on anyone.
And then there were the interviews! However much of the book was devoted to other issues she may have cared deeply about, NO ONE wanted to discuss anything but the affair, the state of her marriage, and whether Rielle Hunter’s baby was her husband’s. Why she didn’t stipulate beforehand that only a limited number of questions be devoted to the affair, I’ve NO idea, but Elizabeth spent every last interview looking like she’d vastly prefer being in a hospital bed sucking on some chemo to this hell.
But the interview that literally sent me from my couch to my shrink’s? This one with the ladies of The View. She’s visibly uncomfortable from start to finish, and at around two minutes in, Elizabeth Hasselbeck asks her whether John “has he had contact with this woman” (referring to Rielle Hunter) and Elizabeth snaps, “I’m the wrong person to ask about that!”
Because right there is where my heart cracked in half, and I saw the marital hell she was surely living in, and that her decision to write about her husband’s affair and publish it now meant taking that hell on parade. I literally couldn’t fathom what her life must have been like: battling terminal cancer, attempting to reconcile this new phase of her marriage, and honestly not even knowing if he was in contact with his mistress and her child (possibly his child, too) or not.
More than that, I didn’t for one second buy her reasoning for writing about the affair in the book. She told The View gals that her children were reading other people’s versions of their story on the internet every day, so it was important for her to set down her side of things. But as a mother, and particularly as a mother with potentially little time left with your children, isn’t it more important to have those conversations one-on-one with each child instead of with the world? Isn’t it more important that it be a dialogue than an essay? Be honest, Elizabeth: does performing a postmortem on your husband’s affair on a national book tour bring your children more good than harm?
And Jenny Sanford, I’d ask the same of you. I understand your husband might not have a job much longer, and you’ve been out of the workplace for a while, and you might need to start thinking about how to support those four boys. But I’d appeal to your better judgment when it comes to writing about your husband’s affair — just look at what a brief segment in Elizabeth Edwards’ memoir wrought. And you haven’t exactly come out of the gate looking savvy: marching over to Vogue with “midlife crisis” hardly hints that you’re going to treat the father of your children fairly IN HARDCOVER FOREVER. And come on. . . the “universal issue of maintaining integrity and a sense of self during life’s difficult times,” and “the emotions, confrontations and heartbreak behind the headlines of her story”? Cut the publicist’s bullshit.
You know what would make a much BETTER story? The one that comes out AFTER you save your marriage. Or after you ditch it, and get yourself back on your feet, and are able to tell the world how you pulled yourself out of the wreckage. Because that’s a story worth taking pride in; that’s a story you’d want to read to your sons, right?
(I know that’s the one I’d be a whole lot more interested in reading, myself. And not JUST because it makes me that much less terrified of all of marriage’s bogeymen, though Mike might be super-appreciative if that’s the book you wrote too.)