Monday, January 17, 2011

Ignoring vows to speak new ones

The New York Times ruffled many feathers in their recent write-up of Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla in their "Vows" section. Most of the article is pasted below with my comments in dark blue/bold. You can read the whole article here.

WHAT happens when love comes at the wrong time?
What do you mean by love, and what do you mean by "wrong time"? If it's merely a surprise or a seeming inconvenience, that is a different matter than a "wrong time" marked by a wedding band from a different person on one's left hand.

Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla met in 2006 in a pre-kindergarten classroom. They both had children attending the same Upper West Side school. They also both had spouses.

Part “Brady Bunch” and part “The Scarlet Letter,” their story has played out as fodder for neighborhood gossip. But from their perspective, the drama was as unlikely as it was unstoppable.
Love is rooted in the will, not in emotions, so it can hardly be described as, "unstoppable." Instead, the two individuals in question had the ability to make a decision of whether or not to put their marriage before a new relationship.


The connection was immediate, but platonic. In fact, as they became friends so did their spouses. There were dinners, Christmas parties and even family vacations together.

So Ms. Riddell was surprised to find herself eagerly looking for Mr. Partilla at school events — and missing him when he wasn’t there. “I didn’t admit to anyone how I felt,” she said. “To even think about it was disruptive and disloyal.”
If nothing else, this is a good warning for all married couples -- or those who will marry -- marriage does not make a couple immune to temptation. There is a tremendous responsibility to avoid occasions that might foster inappropriate relationships or friendships. When unwelcome feelings arise, there is a need to follow stricter boundaries to protect one's marriage and family.

What she didn’t know was that he was experiencing similar emotions. “First I tried to deny it,” Mr. Partilla said. “Then I tried to ignore it.”

But it was hard to ignore their easy rapport. They got each other’s jokes and finished each other’s sentences. They shared a similar rhythm in the way they talked and moved. The very things one hopes to find in another person, but not when you’re married to someone else.

Ms. Riddell said she remembered crying in the shower, asking: “Why am I being punished? Why did someone throw him in my path when I can’t have him?”

In May 2008, Mr. Partilla invited her for a drink at O’Connell’s, a neighborhood bar. She said she knew something was up, because they had never met on their own before.

“I’ve fallen in love with you,” he recalled saying to her. She jumped up, knocking a glass of beer into his lap, and rushed out of the bar. Five minutes later, he said, she returned and told him, “I feel exactly the same way.” Then she left again.

As Mr. Partilla saw it, their options were either to act on their feelings and break up their marriages or to deny their feelings and live dishonestly. “Pain or more pain,” was how he summarized it.
This phrasing is interesting for a couple of reasons. For one, feelings are not fully in our control, though we have a will to choose what to do with them. So to "deny their feelings" would be to subordinate their emotions to their will, which should be integrated with their love for their spouse -- willing the good of the other. Additionally, the idea of living "dishonestly" is ironic. In fact, by denying their marital vows, the couple was living dishonestly by lying with their bodies. Instead of communicating free, total, faithful and fruitful love, they were ignoring the inherent language of their bodies to communicate authentic love.

“The part that’s hard for people to believe is we didn’t have an affair,” Ms. Riddell said. “I didn’t want to sneak around and sleep with him on the side. I wanted to get up in the morning and read the paper with him.”
If this is supposed to make the relationship sound better, I'm not convinced. Whether or not sexual activity was part of the relationship, the couple was not faithful to their vows in their pursuit of a new marriage-like relationship.

With that goal in mind, they told their spouses. “I did a terrible thing as honorably as I could,” said Mr. Partilla, who moved out of his home, reluctantly leaving his three children. But he returned only days later. Then he boomeranged back and forth for six months.
How does one do a "terrible thing as honorably as I could"?

The pain he had predicted pervaded both of their lives as they faced distraught children and devastated spouses, while the grapevine buzzed and neighbors ostracized them.

“He said, ‘Remind me every day that the kids will be O.K.,’ ” Ms. Riddell recalled. “I would say the kids are going to be great, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives making it so.”
This line is particularly difficult to read. Studies and real life experiences have shown that children of divorce are terribly hurt by their parents' decision. To believe that one's self-seeking, individual choices will not impact children is to continue to concoct an imaginary world where my own desires come first.

The problem was she could not guarantee that.

All they had were their feelings, which Ms. Riddell described as “unconditional and all-encompassing.”
Once again, love is not a feeling. It is a movement of the will, a decision to will the good of the other. Feelings cannot be "unconditional and all-encompassing," as feelings can change, ebb and flow in intensity, and be directed toward another person. The couple's first marriages should attest to the fact that "feelings" are not enough to make a marriage.

“I came to realize it wasn’t a punishment, it was a gift,” she said. “But I had to earn it. Were we brave enough to hold hands and jump?”
Try as I might, I can't even put words to my thoughts on the twisted logic of this statement. The poor "former" spouses and children!

They did jump. Both officially separated from their spouses by late 2008, though they waited until July 2009 before moving in together.

“I didn’t believe in the word soul mate before, but now I do,” said Mr. Partilla, who is 46 and in January is to become a chief operating officer of Dentsu, a Japanese advertising agency.

They finalized their divorces this year. “I will always feel terribly about the pain I caused my ex-husband,” said Ms. Riddell, 44 and working freelance. “It was not what I ever would have wished on him.” Or on her children.
If this is the case, then marriage has no meaning. Vows to commit to lifelong love for another (willing the good of the other) mean nothing if one can seek one's own good at the expense of another.

“My kids are going to look at me and know that I am flawed and not perfect, but also deeply in love,” she said. “We’re going to have a big, noisy, rich life, with more love and more people in it.”

On Nov. 15, the couple were legally wed at the Marriage Bureau in New York by Blanca Martinez of the City Clerk’s office.

Then on Dec. 11, Ms. Riddell donned a Nicole Miller strapless gown for a small ceremony in the presidential suite of the Mandarin Oriental New York hotel. As if on cue, the hotel room phone rang as she began to recite her vows.

Mr. Partilla’s 10-year-old daughter answered. “We’re in the middle of a wedding,” she informed the caller, while her younger two siblings and two soon-to-be step-siblings spun off like small planets freed from the pull of gravity.

“This is life,” said the bride, embracing the messiness of the moment along with her bridegroom. “This is how it goes.”
"Embracing the messiness of the moment" -- I guess marriage here really is what one defines it to be. And in this case it's a change in life motivated by "feelings." Feelings, in and of themselves, are self-centered, because they are focused on how I feel. So in a world like this, marriage is no longer a structure or form of love created by God, in which I participate. It's no longer an opportunity to commit my life to love and sacrifice for another person. It's no longer focused on the "other" -- both spouse and children. Rather, it's a change of life for my sake -- to define my own path of happiness. It's a sad state of affairs (no pun intended) if we celebrate a couple's decision to leave one marriage, so as to enter another. What's to stop this arrangement from being dropped in favor of a third?

1 comment:

  1. Another day, another night, another time to choice wrong or right. If only I knew, which is true. For good looks like bad, and bad looks good which is so sad.