You’re never too old to fall in love. Nor – as was illustrated by a story that ran in the “Vows” section of the New York Times a fortnight ago – too married.
According to the feature, 40-somethings Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla met in 2006 at an Upper West Side school where they both had young children in attendance. There, an instantaneous friendship was forged. Spouses and spawn were introduced soon after; and the two families began sharing dinners, hosting joint parties, and even taking vacations together.
All was kosher. All was kind. Until Carol and John began to develop romantic feelings for one another, that is. Then what could be the plot structure of a Disney movie took an unexpected turn down Woody Allen Lane.
To their credit, neither he nor she shared knowledge of their growing desire with anyone else, much less each other. Not at first. Instead, they toiled silently, painfully, until he invited her out for a drink one evening in 2008 and the climax of this real world drama was staged.
INT. O’CONNELL’S NEIGHBORHOOD BAR – NIGHT
Carol and John sit at a table, each with a pint of beer.
I’ve fallen in love with you.
She flees, knocking her glass of beer into his lap, as she told the Times.
TITLE CARD: Five minutes later.
I feel exactly the same way.
From there, “[They] did a terrible thing as honorably as [they] could,” John is quoted as saying. Officially separating from their spouses by the end of 2008. Moving in together, July 2009. And finally, marrying at the City Clerks office this past November before staging a small ceremony for family and friends the following month.
So began the rest of their lives…and, as the U.K. Daily Mail Online reported last week, an onslaught of critical feedback.
“Is it a sign of our times that personal responsibility to one’s spouse and children takes a back seat to selfish, self-centered love?” one reader is said to have written in to the New York Times.
Considering that divorce is far from a new trend in American society, the true sign of our times is not so much the subject of the previously summarized feature, but the feature itself.
We are living in the Age of Over-sharing…and Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla are
-4,308 over the 140-character limit.
They have since expressed regret, telling the Daily Mail “…if we had had an indication afterwards of the nerve it would have struck, we obviously would not have shared our life in any way publicly.” Yet, like a Tweet forever lodged in Google’s cache, there is no retracting a factually sound piece of journalism. And anyways, harm done, parties fouled –
This is a love story.
Sure, its telling may appear a bit self-serving. Especially since Carol did say that “the part that’s hard for people to believe is we didn’t have an affair…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.”
For a pair of A-list stars this would be a standard public relations move. One at which many would certainly scoff, of course. But still, when it concerns a couple of only-somewhat prominent people – she is an award winning New York television news anchor and reporter, he the chief of operations for a large Japanese advertising agency – far fewer folks seem willing to find merit and redemption in their actions.
Carol and John’s reputations aside, this could also be read as an extreme, 21st century take on sitting your children down for the “it’s not you, it’s us” talk.
“My kids are going to look at me and know that I am flawed and not perfect, but also deeply in love,” she told the Times. “We’re going to have a big, noisy, rich life, with more love and more people in it.”
Certainly not the route one would expect a journalist who launched a weekly segment focusing on family and parenting issues to take; but at least they – as well as John’s kids – know the truth behind their parents’ splits.
And it’s not like there is any empirical evidence proving that children suffer from too much communication. A severe or complete lack of honest dialogue between the young and the old, however, the absence of an open discussion about the complex realities of being married, of being in love, of being HUMAN – the effects of that reticent approach to child rearing can be seen in and sited as largely responsible for the dysfunctional relationships of hordes of people from every generation.
The kids will likely be all right. It is Carol and John’s former spouses that are sure to be the two most affected by this story. Although Carol’s ex-husband, Bob Ennis, told Forbes that his concern was mostly for his children, even in text his tone wafts of bitterness.
But again, duh.
It is hard enough for one to see that a lover from his or her recent past has changed their relationship status from single back to “In a relationship,” on Facebook. Imagine having to read in the third best-selling newspaper in America – as John’s ex-wife did – that the father of your children, “…didn’t believe in the word soul mate before, but now [he does].” Not even a preventative installation of the Ex-blocker – a free and easy browser add-on that hides any mention of your former flames from the Internet when surfed from your personal computer – could have protected her from that knife to the heart drive.
Yet, as painful as that revelation would be, it doesn’t mean that John never truly loved his first wife. Perhaps the feelings he had for her were the strongest he had ever felt for anyone before Carol came into his, into their lives.
Regardless, the hard truth behind marriage is that it is not “till death do us part,” so much as, “I love you enough to make leaving you an expensive and frustrating hassle.”
Cynical? To some, maybe. But ultimately we can not really help with whom we fall in or out of love. That is not to say that we can never completely trust those we love. Just that part of hearing “I love you” means allowing ourselves to believe that even if the love fades, the memory of what we once shared will ensure that he or she who rescinds the sentiment will take care to break our hearts into as few pieces as possible.
“Pain or more pain,” is how John Partilla says he and Carol Anne Riddell saw their options.
And whether or not everyone may agree with the decision to share their story, hopefully it will inspire others in a similar predicament to make the humane, albeit complicated, choice, as well.