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…Or Until A Better Offer Comes Along

It’s the holiday season and I sort of hate to do this but Good Enough Mother is going to have to bestow the second “I-call-Bullshit” award upon Carol Anne Riddell and her new husband John Partilla (Wanna see the first award recipient? Click here.

Here’s why. I came across Carol and John’s story in the Vows section of The New York Times. That’s the part of the paper that reports about glowing weddings and announcements.  But this one was different; while the people in it were smiling and happy, there was an underlying theme of sadness and selfishness.

You see Carol Anne Riddell was a TV news reporter; the man she dumped her husband for, John Partilla, was president of media sales at Time Warner.  The two were deeply entrenched in domestic life with their children and respective partners when they met at a function where their kids attended school. Though initially platonic, they fell in love, confessing their feelings to one another at a bar one night. ANNNNNNND this is where the music swells and abruptly stops as the needle drags across the LP playing the love ballad.

After confessing their love for one another, Mr. Partilla summed up their choices: As John 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. I read this New York Times puff piece three times before I’d had enough. Really John? REALLY?

I’ll be honest I’m really torn about this. Part of the Good Enough Mother philosophy is to do what makes you happy. And clearly these two make each other happy. But what responsibility do you have to the other people in your life, particularly the ones who count on you? John Partilla talks about pain; but what about the pain he caused his three children when he walked out on them because he fell in love with someone else? What responsibility did these two have to their former mates whose quotes are conveniently missing from the wedding announcement?

I’m going to let you in on a secret. This piece came right on time for me. Without going into great detail (and he’ll probably kill me if he knows I even admitted this little bit) I’ve had a tough couple of months with my friend, husband and soul mate. Buff and I are coming up on 17 years of marriage. That is something to celebrate and be proud of. But it has not been easy, particularly this year for some reason. Our jobs have been stressful, the kids more demanding, our time together has dwindled and I find myself wondering, is this is all?  Just a few days ago, we had a blow out so major I couldn’t even sleep in the same room with him that night. And I secretly wondered, as I tossed and turned – is this what my life will be from here on out? Is this the horse I’m gonna ride in on? What if I cut and run?

Last night, when Buff came home from work we all sat around the kitchen island chatting about everything and nothing (that was one of the things that came out in our argument, that we don’t spend enough time together as a family). Everyone was feeling good about the holidays and our upcoming trip where we’ll have more togetherness than we can possibly stand. As I looked at my husband, fatigued from the day’s work but honestly making an effort to be engaged in the conversation, I realized once again that I married a good man. Yeah sometimes he’s too tired to talk about 8th grade math with Casey or to lie on Cole’s bed and discuss attack strategy for Halo 3. That’s not really his style anyway. That’s how I do things; the fact that he relates to those kids differently doesn’t make it bad. Just, well, different.

Yes, Buff makes me angry. He also makes me happy. And without question I know he feels the same about me. You know that whole “don’t go to bed angry advice?” Well, I’ve done that more times than I can count. But I’ve also gone to bed smiling like the village idiot because of something he’s said or done (get your mind out of the gutter right now. This is sweet, not sexual).

Back to the piece in the Times for a minute. The thing that struck me about it was how they talked about “falling in love” like it was something that they had no control over.  So that means this could happen again?  You’re just wandering the streets of Manhattan and POW! you’re hit with Cupid’s arrow and forced to act on it? Now I’m really rolling my eyes. I’ve been married for a long time but married doesn’t mean blind or dead. In my travels I’ve come across a few hotties. Maybe if I got to know them better, feelings would develop, who knows? But are any of them worth imploding my marriage, home and the lives of my children over? In a word, no.

The way I see it, lasting love is about growth. It’s not this maelstrom that you get caught up in. Sure, that’s fun, initially. Then when you come out on the other side, your hair is a mess and with the thrill of just trying to survive over, you establish a routine. Routine is predictable and predictable can sometimes be boring. But there is also a comfort in that. Buff and I have a relationship full of ups and downs; that heart-pounding, breath-taking love has grown into a richer, deeper, more meaningful love. Predictable yes but special nonetheless.

A quote from the piece: “This is life,” said the bride, embracing the messiness of the moment along with her bridegroom. “This is how it goes.”

Well, maybe for you and your new husband Carol Anne. My messy life is worth sticking it out for, including the times I cry or am frustrated.  That’s because the pendulum is in constant motion; it will swing back to the blissfully happy direction too. That, Carol Anne, is life.

What about you? What’s your take on this story and the fact that the Times glorified it with a great big glossy piece? Are you remarried – or have you ever had an affair? Fire away!


  1. Smarty P. Jones

    December 21, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    “The grass may be greener on the other side but it’s just as hard to mow.”

    That was the “Thought for the Day” I gave as a part of my Easter morning welcome to visitors as a kid and I never forgot it. It works for so many things in life, especially relationships of all kinds.

    You are absolutely right, GEM, relationships do go in cycles. When my married and attached friends consult me, the single one, for advice, I tell them that relationships are just like seasons. Spring is when it’s new and fresh and everyone is on their best behavior. Summer is when things get all hot and heavy. Fall is when they start to see each other flaws because the leaves are falling off all those pretty trees and flowers they planted in the Spring and Winter is when things are so bad they want to call it quits. The thing about Winter, Spring is always next. So I tell ’em to brave the Winter, enjoy the Spring and Summer and prepare during Fall.

    If you got married, that means you’ve found the person with whom you WANT to make it through the Winter. Just my $.02, tho. *shrug*

  2. Auntie Lisa

    December 21, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    When you said, “The thing that struck me about it was how they talked about ‘falling in love’ like it was something that they had no control over. So that means this could happen again? You’re just wandering the streets of Manhattan and POW! you’re hit with Cupid’s arrow and forced to act on it?”, you hit exactly on what I was thinking! They are both VERY susceptible to doing this all over again.

    They have built their *new* marriage on a shallow and flimsy foundation. How can they trust one another knowing they both have a history of unfaithfulness? Trust is the biggest block in the foundation of marriage. If it’s not strong, that house is falling down.

    True love (unlike the “falling in love” kind) is an ACTIVE VERB. Not a passive thing that happens to you. It’s something you DO. You have to remain active, committed and engaged in it, or it will *feel* like you are no longer *in love*.

    Do not follow your feelings. They are shifting sands. They cannot be trusted. Don’t bow down to instant gratification. Do what is right and the feelings will follow your lead. Eventually. That is how to build on a solid foundation.

  3. Irene

    December 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Boy that is a complicated one…I don’t know G.e.m…it is just ashame that our culture has turned to the “do what makes you happy” express.

  4. Shauna

    December 21, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    First, it’s sad that the NYT felt the need to celebrate an illicit affair and two marriages in ruin by turning it into a romance novel. Second, I understand that sometimes the need to be desired/wanted by someone when the spouse lives his/her life like an angry/asexual stranger creates a conduit for what could be conceived as love. I hope these two stay together until one of them throws dirt on the other’s casket but to publicize their personal life like that makes me queasy. Rene, you and Buff have a sustainable, loving relationship that still has some life in it. These people were in dead marriages and felt righteous enough to walk away from them. I hope it works out. It’s hard to find a good, strong love in these microwave, disposable times…

  5. Suzanne

    December 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Interesting take on all of it Rene….
    Several things come to mind. First- would I want my husband staying here with me if he really, truly fell in love with someone else? Heartbreaking as that may be to wrap my head around, don’t do me any favors buddy. I actually do think one can fall out of love with the person they married, and then meet and fall in love with someone else, it IS possible and I think that it’s terribly deceptive to pretend otherwise. I don’t think unless we have been in the position to have those feelings for someone other than our spouses can we say one way or the other what is the right thing to do. Personally, (big confession here….) if I did fall in love with someone else I would not act on it until my daughter was 18. I am not going to do that to her. I am committed to raising her in a 2 parent household- and I can honestly say he is a REALLY good parent- he has WAY more patience than I do …of course that is provided that my husband doesn’t suddenly become destructive to live with somehow.

    Know what I think? I think old married couples just miss that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling- that NEWness in a relationship…. it is wonderful to experience but they also tend to forget that it doesn’t last forever. Going through a midlife crisis is also part of it… facing the reality of aging and coming to terms with the fact that very shortly we aren’t going to be so hot to look at! Receiving attention in that way feeds the ego and makes us feel young again.

    I have to laugh though- “Pain or more pain”? The difference is he could have chosen to be in pain all by himself vs. inflict pain on his ex wife and kids. What a cop out.

  6. Roberta Lasky

    December 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I wonder how Carol Anne feels when John leaves her for another woman he “falls in love with” next. Or visa versa. I believe that you only live once, but if you decide on the man who will become your husband, you cannot worry @ the others who you will meet & be attracted to own the line. They seem like very selfish people. I wouldn’t want that kind of person in my life.

  7. Sue

    December 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I’ve known two women in recent years who have left their husbands and children for one of those “once in a lifetime” loves they claimed to have found. Yep, left their children. That’s the part that really got me. I know many couples who have divorced and yes, it happens. Those ex-couples, for the most part, have worked hard to keep their kids as primary focus in the situation and make the best of it all. The two I know who left for their hot romances did not. They were so wrapped up in their newfound frolic that they moved out into apartments with their new mates, had no intention of having the kids stay with them or be a part of the new relationship and subsequently divorced with little or no visitation. In both cases, it has taken years for any of the kids to want relationships with their mothers. In one case, the relationship that was “important” enough to leave her marriage and kids for, imploded after only 4 months. I was not privvy to the deeper parts of these women’s marriages prior to their splits and I know there were probably issues running deep. However, I have never understood, never, ever will, how they both turned their backs on their kids because they were so wrapped in some selfish love-fantasy.

    The couple you’ve written about has *chosen* to ignore the pain they definitely caused their families and exes, herald their tale to the world as if it’s one to envy, and fully immerse themselves in their own selfish fantasy. I, for one, am saddened and disgusted by the whole thing. And, yes, I’ve got one of those predictable, comfortable, frustrating and wonderful 17 year marriages, too. Wouldn’t trade it for the world — the good and the bad.

  8. Rene Syler

    December 21, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks Jana. As I said I was so torn by this because on the one hand, I think everyone deserves to be happy. But it’s definitely not cool when you leave collateral damage in your wake as you rush headlong toward that happiness. I hope these two are happy and can work it out for the sake of their children. And in the meantime, for the sake of those children, they might not want to crow about their new found love in one of the oldest and well read papers in the land.

  9. Brava, Rene!
    There’s an old movie (so old that it’s in black-and-white and not because the director was trying to be artsy) called Intermezzo. In it, Leslie Howard plays a happily married violin virtuoso who falls into a passionate love affair with his comely young accompanist, Ingrid Bergman. At one point in the movie I remember this line of advice given by someone to Ingrid Bergman — or maybe to Leslie Howard: “You can’t build happiness on the unhappiness of others.”
    I do realize these things happen and life isn’t always as tidy as we’d like it to be. I have many friends who have begun anew and then spent years working it out. But it occurs to me that Carol Anne and John are not just attempting to build upon the unhappiness of others; they are delightedly trampling on the misery of their former spouses by allowing a New York Times reporter to memorialize their narcissistic romp. This isn’t just bad taste; this represents the most corrupt of human values.

  10. Rene Syler

    December 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Barbara: yes, I guess that’s what sort of unseemly about the whole thing. I think they said they never had an affair, but they tossed their respective partners aside because they “fell in love” with each other. Seriously, what happens when Carol Anne falls in love again (you know after the new wears off this relationship?) or when John gets tired? We see the same thing happen time and again in Hollywood; people get married and call it quits when they reach the first speed bump or challenge. I’m not here to say married life is perfect, in fact I said that in my piece. But there are things that are worth sticking it out for. And if you’re not going to stick it out, how about having a little class and decorum and think about those other people affected before you go pooping off in the NY Times..

  11. Danielle

    December 21, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    I think, given the indulgence to do so, any number of us “old marrieds” could easily fall in love with someone other than our spouses. This is where commitment comes into play. You can’t give anyone else enough access to you that you develop emotional ties and feelings which can lead to “love.”

    Speaking as a remarried divorcee who did “fall in love” with someone other than my now former spouse, I say, “Run away from anyone other than your spouse who gives you butterflies. Butterflies have VERY short life spans.”

    Happy ending. Thankfully no children were involved in the first divorce, and I’ve matured and remarried since my disasterous early 20s!

  12. Irene

    December 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    You know I was thinking about my aunt and my mom. Both stayed married to their spouses for 35+ years. My mom jokingly said once she and my aunt for years would say, “I would leave but I am not going to ruin the kids Christmas” so they would make a pact to ride it out until the new year. lol

    Oh, Lordie bee…could you imagine how mortified we would be as kids if she splashed it all over a major newspaper??

  13. PiecesOfEight

    December 21, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    In the end the question is whether you want pain now? Or later?

  14. dianthe

    December 21, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    these people kill me:
    “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.”

    well of course the kids will be great – because you said so! PUH-LEEZE!!! never mind the fact that you’ve already caused your kids to be the center of neighborhood gossip, but now the whole freaking world knows – and because you said so, it’ll be okay *rolls eyes*

    “But it was hard to ignore their easy rapport.”
    oh sure, everything is great and everyone gets along and loves each other now – but eventually it gets hard – it was probably easy with the original spouse and that’s why you married them – cause they were SO easy to talk to … once the honeymoon is over, they’ll be right back in the place they were when they “fell in love” – only with another new set of spouses

    i’ve been married 4 years and we have 2 kids under 2 – times get rough around here often – i stay at home with our kids and some days i love every second and some days i’m ready to run for the hills the second my husband walks through the door – and sure, i wonder what it would be like to be a single mom … for about 2 minutes – it sounds great because i won’t have to cook a full meal every night – but after that, not so much! falling in love takes almost no effort at all – staying in love? that shit is hard work!

  15. Rene Syler

    December 21, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    The BEST line… falling in love takes almost no effort at all – staying in love? that shit is hard work! LOVE IT!

  16. healthrider elliptical

    December 22, 2010 at 7:40 am

    I agree 100% staying in love is hard work ! But ultimately it is worth it, to grow old with someone and be able to remember things that you did together 35 years ago.

    Narcissism is an ugly thing…and in this case the kids suffer the most.

  17. Natalie McNeal

    December 22, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Family vacations together. Really? How can there be any trust in that relationship?

  18. Sonya Van Sickle

    December 22, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Part of being an adult is living with and owning our choices. That sometimes means living with difficulties and yes, even pain. The task is finding the diamond in the pile of manure. It’s called maturity and part of it is living responsibly to and FOR those people to whom we have made a committment. We live in such a ‘feel good, instant gratification’ kind of society these days, that some of us have become monumentally selfish – disallusioned by the idea that ‘As long as I’m not physically holding someone’s head under water, whatever I do, doesn’t hurt them.’

    It might take them awhile, the bubble they live in is probably well-protected with sycophantic friends and a newspaper desperate for readers, but this selfish couple who have left the bodies of loved ones in their wake, will eventually butt up against the damage they’ve done. The sad thing is that meanwhile, someone on the brink of a similar situation will now be inspired to act as they have.

  19. M.E. Johnson

    December 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    All you posters are right. It has all been said thousands of times & will continue to be. My problem is with them going public. Why? I feel for the children who are not only hurt, perhaps feeling abandoned, but embarrassed. I cringe on their behalf. Perhaps I’m wrong, I hope so.

  20. Stacey Torres

    December 25, 2010 at 10:00 am

    True, you have to want something to work in order to work at it. My case was somewhat different. We too were married 17 years (would have been 18 last month), but there were so many things wrong on so many different levels. The fact that we have salvaged our friendship through our divorce is something I will always be grateful for, but we were both unhappy with the relationship – I can’t/won’t go into details here, but I made the decision to end it. But, I can’t imagine going out and accidentally falling in love with anyone – that didn’t happen. I can’t even phathom that concept. Some things are worth salvaging, and some are best walked away from.

    With regard to the couple in the story – the picture says a thousand words – nobody really looks happy, and the couple looks like they’re working to convince everyone it’s the right thing …

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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