Have you seen David Patterson, brand-spanking new governor of New York admit to an extra-marital affair during his marriage? I love the candor - and even more I love what a different picture he's painted about marriage than what the pundits sloshed around on the canvas last week about Silda Spitzer and other political wives.
The Pattersons are saying essentially that things were difficult and they both started to grow/move on in other directions, but then they decided to work on it and are happy now to still be together.
Thank you David and Michelle Patterson for telling that world that marriage, for you, is part of your lived experience, something you do well at sometimes and not so well at other times. It means the world to me that you aren't making a high horse out of the fact that this particular marriage might or might not have held together. However profoundly we feel about our spouses and the life commitments we make to one another, however "sacred" it feels to you, marriage is ultimately a human institution - ours to govern reasonably and with fairness.
Making marriage into an absolute and other-worldly thing is a trick of the religious right. We fall for it all the time, in part because that's how we viewed the world as children. Children like for rules to be absolute. And the fantasy view of one's parents' relationship being cemented by other-worldly forces is awfully comforting. It's not true, though, and it's a fantasy that is nearly impossible for most people to maintain.
To some degree, Eliot Spitzer's resignation was a matter of getting caught in that trap. There was genuine hypocrisy in his use of sex workers after his zealous prosecution of others who did the same. But he was also kicked in the ass by the right wing morality tale about having screwed up his sacred marriage.
What else can explain the press' obsessive focus on the scorned wife story last week? 'Poor Silda (and Hillary and all the others) having to stand by their men after they treated them so badly' Actually, when you see a political wife next to them at the podium sending whatever love to their husband that is left in their hearts, you are seeing exactly what marriage ought to be, the follow through on a relationship that has for years required understanding, forgiveness and support. We're supposed to stand by our families during hard times, especially during a period of attack by strangers.
So why would these media outlets be acting like it's remarkable that these wives are showing compassion and loyalty to their partners? One reason is that the whole sanctimonious marriage trip is a hoax. It's a set-up that leaves every single one of us eligible for tearing down whenever the talk show host, judgmental aunt, divorce lawyer or prosecutor decides to do some damage.
Understanding the kindness of these wives in these difficult moments would mean accepting the narrative of marriage painted by the Pattersons so bravely today: that we are human, we change, we make mistakes, and we are still amazing and worthy of unconditional love in these moments.
The other reason for the poor Silda stories could also be that the prostitution story wasn't on its own quite doing the job of eliminating Spitzer from public office. The relentless focus for a few days on Silda Spitzer tugged at all the trip wires in our hearts that want mommy and daddy to stay together forever. In the end, even though Silda was able to forgive him (on that particular day), we were not.