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'Brady Bunch' Meets 'Scarlet Letter': NYT 'Vows' Tale Ignites Firestorm

4 years ago
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The romance between a dynamic, attractive Manhattan TV news anchor and a hunky triathlete and ad exec was called "part 'Brady Bunch' and part 'Scarlet Letter'" in the New York Times' Sunday Vows column.

Collectively, Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla had five young kids and two spouses when they met in 2006 at a pre-kindergarten classroom on the Upper West Side. The families became close enough to dine and vacation together.

You know, of course, where this is leading.

They fell madly in love, finally admitted it to each other but say they refrained from having an affair. Instead, after much see-sawing, soul-searching and second-guessing, they broke up their marriages, lived apart, lived together, and tried to cope with all the devastation. They were divorced from their respective spouses last year, married each other last month, and then held a celebration attended by their offspring and dozens of well-wishers.

Yes, it happens, but usually not with such tortured and tortuous detail in the prime media real estate known as the Vows column, although New York magazine tracked a trend toward including two-timing twosomes last year. One could argue convincingly that Sunday's saga seemed better tailored to the angst-heavy, confessional "Modern Love" column than the often sappy-happy-obstacle-overcoming wedding section, particularly if one peruses blogs such as YouBeMom, written by a couple of ex-New Yorkers.

Was there any newsroom debate at the Times about the pain such a big story might inflict on the children and the aggrieved exes? Any attempt to contact the unnamed first spouses?

If there was, no one is talking. Instead, communications director Danielle Rhoades Ha offered this breezy explanation:

"The Vows feature gives a close-in account of a wedding every week. Every one is different. We don'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."

On Monday, however, the bride happily chatted with Forbes.com, saying they chose to be featured in Vows "because we just wanted one honest account of how this happened for our sakes and for our kids' sakes. We are really proud of our family and proud of the way we've handled this situation over the past year. There was nothing in the story we were ashamed of."

Bob Ennis, Carol's ex, begs to differ, telling Politics Daily Tuesday that the account was a "whitewash" of the romance and that he worried about the story's affect on the five children involved.

Not surprisingly, there has been a firestorm of reader reaction, some outraged, some empathetic. It ranges from "Why does the Times glorify home-wrecking?" to gratitude for "the honest reflection" of two adults "who did not actually cheat on their spouses" to "Soul mates indeed. And people get up in arms about gay marriage."

Riddell called the backlash "sort of surprising to me. I think people are focusing a lot on the negative, but there was a lot of positive. We've had a lot of people say to us how brave we are to do this, how commendable it was that we were as honest as we were."

She wouldn't say whether she and Partilla gave their exes either a heads-up or veto power, although the former spouses are now easily findable via Forbes' links to their original Times wedding announcements.

For a little perspective, I called Stephanie Coontz, an Evergreen State University professor specializing in marriage and family issues, who e-mailed her thoughts while in Hawaii.

"I am disturbed by the tendency to use the marriages and divorces of people we don't know as an ink-blot test for our own anxieties about love, marriage, commitment, and parenting, so I don't think the world needs to hear my opinions on this particular story. What does concern me, not just with this couple, but with so many other marriages and divorces, is people's willingness to invite such commentary by taking their piece of the story public, instead of working with the other adults involved to develop a narrative that doesn't require their children to take sides or to hear things about their parents that they really do not want or need to know."

Meanwhile, the guy with potentially the most to gain from the story going viral is Times nuptial chronicler Devan Sipher, a four-year freelancer who, having told his employer he was working on a novel, just sold a thinly veiled roman a clef about, well, a wedding writer who can't find a bride to call his own.

If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, think "27 Dresses," the Katherine Heigl comedy about a perennial bridesmaid.
The poor thing is smitten with her sister's fiance, but ultimately finds love with the reporter who outs her "never-the-bride" life in the hopes the story will get him promoted.

Who knows -- maybe Ridell and Partilla can introduce Sipher to Ms. Right. And if she has to leave a husband or boyfriend to find happiness with the wedding writing novelist, Vows will be all over it.

Click play below for analysis from two psychology experts on MSNBC:

Filed Under: Republic of Dish, Woman Up

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