A (Post)Modern Love Story

Wedding announcements in the Sunday New York Times provide a glimpse into the lives of the glamorous and cosmopolitan of high society. For many readers, it provides a form of escapism to read how a handsome Princeton educated bond trader swept a Columbia educated interior designer off her feet with a wedding proposal at The Four Seasons restaurant coupled with a lucida shaped three carat diamond engagement ring. Other notable details usually include the floral designer and the location of the exotic African safari honeymoon.

Last Sunday, the Times ran an announcement of a wedding along with the story of the relationship between former WNBC anchor Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla, president of media sales at Time Warner. When they met, each was already married to someone else. Each had a child in the same pre-kindergarten class. They soon struck up a friendship and their families even vacationed together. One evening, Mr. Partilla informed Ms. Riddell over drinks that he had fallen in love with her. Ms. Riddell responded that the feeling was mutual. The two realized that, “all they had were their feelings,” and that, “their options were either to act on their feelings and break up their marriages or to deny their feelings and live dishonestly.”

Mr. Partilla and Ms. Riddell then decided to divorce their current spouses. “I did a terrible thing as honorably as I could,” said Mr. Padilla. Ms. Riddell said, “I will always feel terribly about the pain I caused my ex-husband. It was not what I ever would have wished on him.” What is interesting about this saga is there is no mention of any behavior by the former spouses which generally precipitate divorce, such as abuse, infidelity, or even weight gain. In fact, Ms. Riddell actually felt bad for her ex. Both former spouses happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mr. Partilla and Ms. Riddell just found an upgrade, kind of like going from a reliable Hyundai to a new Lincoln.

The story of Mr. Partilla and Ms. Riddell raise some interesting questions. The first pertains to the story’s physical location in the Times. Why was this story placed in the Weddings/Celebrations section? Are we as a society “celebrating” the fact that two individuals decided to inflict long term emotional damage on their, in the article’s words, “distraught children and devastated spouses?” Perhaps a more appropriate placement would have been the Obituaries, as Mr. Partilla and Ms. Riddell’s romance signaled the demise of two families and the death of their children’s innocence.

And forget any commentary on the state of marriage, where the divorce rate is now north of 50%. What does this story say about a society where one’s quest for happiness supersedes previously made promises and vows? If society condones, and even “celebrates,” Mr. Partilla and Ms. Riddell’s relationship, it is difficult to believe that the search for happiness will remain there. Once accepted, and there is some evidence that this is already happening, the natural outflow is that it will incrementally advance through the rest of culture to the point where each impulse will need to be satiated with the justification being happiness.

The Times story happily concludes with Ms. Riddell wearing “a Nicole Miller strapless gown for a small ceremony in the presidential suite of the Mandarin Oriental New York hotel.” Hopefully, neither will have to choose again between those pesky feelings and living dishonestly. However, should Mr. Partilla and Ms. Riddell decide to follow their wish for happiness with another, I am sure I will be able to read about it in the Weddings/Celebrations section of the New York Times.

Courtesy of Guest Blogger Joseph A. Kohm, Jr., J.D., M.B.A.

1 comment:

  1. "Happiness" has become the god of modern society and I would venture to say many have even become slaves to happiness. It is ironic that anyone would be a slave to the emotion which many believe is the feeling defining the pinnacle of life. As this blog displays, happiness is often used as an excuse to justify any action that is actually selfish to its core, such as divorcing your current spouse merely for an upgrade. Present society has become obsessed with happiness to the point of chasing every high that seems to promise “happiness.” The truth is that this couple will probably grow unhappy with each other and try to move on again to the next best thing. Even If they do remain happy it cost them the happiness of everyone else in their family. They spoke condescendingly of “living in dishonesty” when what that really means is to live with the choices that you made.
    The location of this article in Times shows that this type of behavior is not abnormal, but expected, recognized, followed, and accepted. There is not shock because the search for happiness has become the dictator of modern day society. That is not to say that the search for happiness is wrong in itself, but when making choices that harm others “in the name of happiness” is accepted, it is evident that some priorities need to change.