Family Matters

Has Infidelity Gone Legit? It Nabs a Starring Role in The New York Times

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What’s Sunday morning without a frothy latte and The New York Times’ weddings section? Readers scan the announcements, but what true devotees really relish is the “Vows” column, which profiles a different batch of lovebirds each week.

The Times being The Times, the love stories are usually pretty compelling. But that doesn’t even begin to describe last Sunday’s feature, which highlighted a couple — Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla — who dumped their respective spouses for each other and ranked up there with the most scandalous of soap opera scripts. No doubt, it resulted in more than one spilled latte, or as Gawker put it, “this story caused a bunch of people to spit orange juice all over their Sunday Times.” (More on Who Needs Marriage? Men, Apparently)

The story has sparked no shortage of blogosphere buzz; the article even made the Today show on Tuesday. In an age when straying from convention is all the rage — think gay marriage and out-of-wedlock celebrity births — America is showing its conventional colors.

Riddell and Partilla’s tale unfolds more or less as you’d expect it to. After meeting at a Manhattan preschool where they each sent their children, they became friends. Somewhere between the family vacations they all went on together and the pre-kindergarten play, they secretly fell for each other. Riddell sobs in the shower: Why am I being punished? Why did someone throw him in my path when I can’t have him?

Partilla professes his passion in a neighborhood bar. They ditch their spouses. She dons a Nicole Miller gown and — with their five kids — they celebrate their marriage in the presidential suite at the Mandarin Oriental New York hotel. (More on One Person’s Divorce Is Another’s Investment Opportunity)

Most Times readers, who tend toward the libertarian end of the spectrum, were outraged that the paper of record trained a spotlight on two homewreckers. Some, however, appreciated Riddell and Partilla’s candidness. One commenter writes: “This is a situation that happens every single day around the world. It’s devastating, painful and quite frankly, there’s just no easy answer no matter how you look at it … I wish them a long and happy marriage.”

A subsequent poster responds: “So you’re telling me, as long as I’m happy, who cares what happens to my legally wedded spouse and kids? This story reeks of selfishness.”

The Times issued a statement that when it comes to “Vows,” the paper doesn’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.”

Still, by giving their union such a public platform, the Times outraged plenty of people. Diane Sollee, a marriage and family therapist who founded, dispatched a disgusted email to 10,000 marriage educators with a link to the story (the Times doubtless appreciated the extra page views) and this comment: “Auuuuuuuugh.”

She’s not impressed that Riddell and Partilla “got each other’s jokes and finished each other’s sentences.” All this talk of “soul mates” makes Sollee a little sick. “You see this couple and they think they found their soul mate, but they thought they found their soul mate the first time around,” she says. “You create soul-mate status after many years of being together.”

I take Riddell and Partilla to task — not for doing what they did, for that’s not for me to judge — but for crowing about it in the Grey Lady. I wonder: did they pitch their story to the Times, or did the Times come to them? Either way, they’re hardly the first people to leave spouses and shack up together. But why further humiliate their ex-spouses? And what about their kids? It’s tough enough to be a child of divorce; why make it harder? (More on Do Kids of Divorce Have Strokes More Often?)

As one reader comments, “It is one thing to leave your partner for another, and we all understand how this can happen, but it is absolutely tasteless to tell the tale in your wedding announcement in the New York Times!”

The happy couple was apparently so blissed out that they didn’t consider the ramifications. “I think if we had had an indication afterwards of the nerve it would have struck,” Partilla told the New York Post, “we obviously would not have shared our life in any way publicly.”

You can chalk that up to bad judgment — which may be the same thing that led them to the neighborhood bar, and ultimately the Mandarin Oriental, in the first place.