Tuesday, December 21, 2010

True Love in the New York Times

In olden days it would have been the talk of the town. Nowadays it is the buzz of the blogosphere.

Last Sunday in its Weddings section, the New York Times struck a blow for its own cultural values. In place of the usual charming stories that form the backdrop of the listed weddings, the Times told about the love that brought John Partilla and Carol Anne Riddell together. Link here.

When John and Carol met, when they were instantly smitten. Unfortunately, they were also both married to other people. By the way, John had three small children and Carol had two.

Gradually, their passion led them to overcome their moral responsibilities and to live their love.  They both divorced their respective spouses and got married.

Someone must have thought it was a charming love story. True love was winning out over decrepit social institutions, like marriage.

The only duty that has survived this bonfire the duty, such as it is, to sacrifice the lives of those we love, those for whom we bear responsibility, to one's passion. If their love, like that of Romeo and Juliet, does not threaten society’s values, then it cannot be true.

In their bliss the happy couple overcame all obstacles. The Times explains that: “…they faced distraught children and devastated spouses, while the grapevine buzzed and neighbors ostracized them.”

It's almost as though they were dancing through the rubble of the lives they ruined, all the while ignoring the fact that they had become social pariahs.

Surely, they struck a blow for a new morality.

Everyone finds it bizarre that the Times chose to highlight this love story in its Weddings section. Those who found it most offensive were Times readers themselves. If you read through their extensive comments, you will find that they are markedly unsympathetic to the Times' near-desecration of a sacred and solemn institution.

While many commenters would have happily cast a blind eye on John and Carol Anne’s true love, they were most shocked by the couple's willingness to bare their shame in the New York Times.

How, many asked, could they have publicly humiliated their former spouses, their parents, and their children?

Seeming to speak for all of those who were offended Joe Coscarelli addressed the couple directly in the Village Voice:  “Why would you sign up for this? Why would you apply to air your family business? WHY ARE YOU SO DAMN PROUD OF YOURSELVES? “ Link here.

He adds, that if Carol Anne feels so "terribly about the pain [she] caused [her] ex-husband," why does she want "to make him relive it all? In ink! With photos!!”

Even in the Times photo, we were not seeing the picture of one big happy blended family. One astute commenter pointed out that as the smiling couple was cutting their wedding cake no one around them is smiling.

Apparently, their happiness is not contagious. Commenters who see the couple as more selfish than loving seem to be standing on solid ground.

If your love makes everyone around you miserable, you are going to have an especially difficult time making it succeed.

Despite it all, and despite the public condemnation of their actions, the happy couple is still proud of what they did. Link here.

John Partilla also added that he and Carol Anne were both surprised to see how many people, including New York Times readers, were outraged to see them airing their dirty linen in public.

Had they anticipated the response, they would not have become quite so public about their story.

But how did an advertising executive and a television journalist fail to anticipate the public reaction? Were they blinded by love or by their idea that going public would make it alright. After all, if they were proud of themselves, no one had any right to feel differently. No one, as the therapy culture teaches, has any right to be judgmental.

For its part, the Times has stuck to its own non-judgmental stance. Being in the business of transvaluing values, as Nietzsche would have put it, it is not going to admit to fault. A Times spokesperson explained: "The Vows feature gives a close-in account of a wedding every week . . . We don't attempt to pass judgment on the suitability of the match, the narrative of the romance, the quality of the ceremony or the flavor of the wedding cake." Link here.

By the Times’ new ethical principles, breaking up two families is about as consequential as the flavor of the wedding cake.

In the Riddell/Partilla marriage there is a great deal of non-judgmentalism. As it happens, neither of the two seems to have a very high level of moral judgment.

But you also see what happens when people overcome their normal feelings of shame and throw their most fundamental responsibilities to the wind. How well do you imagine that their reputations will survive this brouhaha?

Of course, we are not children. We know that people do fall in love, and that they sometimes do it at an inconvenient time.

If that happens, what are they to do? Emily Yoffe offers a succinct answer. If it happens to you, you have three choices: “One is to conclude one’s fantasy life is getting out of control, limit contact with the object of one’s desire, and count on the lust eventually passing. (That’s got my vote.) Two is to act on the lust, have an affair, but try to keep the whole thing a secret so as to not blow up two marriages. Three is to decide blowing up the marriages is worth it to be together, despite the enormous collateral damage to one’s spouse and children.” Link here.

1 comment:

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