Ever since the allegations of sexual abuse by Bill Crosby have been coming fast and furious, I — and many others — have been thinking about his wife of 50 years, Camille.
We have all seen images of the long-suffering wife standing by her poorly behaved man, from Hillary to Silda to Huma to Dina. And now, once again, it’s Camille’s turn.
I have tried to find the same image of a long-suffering husband standing by his philandering wife as she explains herself or apologizes before the public, but I am hard-pressed to recall a time that happened — are you?
Six of the now 15 sexual-abuse allegations against Bill date to when the comedian’s newfound fame and fortune skyrocketed, offering wealth and a lifestyle that, she admits “changed our lives” and led to Bill’s “selfish” behavior — including an affair that resulted in an extortion attempt by a woman who claimed to be his daughter.
As we watch yet another wronged women stand by her husband’s side, people can’t help but ask, why did she stay?
“Bill and I were very young when we married; he was 26, I was 19. We had to mature, we had to learn the definition of unselfish love, and we did. When we committed to each other wholeheartedly years ago, our marriage became healthy and solid. Also, we blossomed as individuals. Our marriage encompasses mutual love, respect, trust and communication. Sound relationships must have positive reciprocity; they can’t be one-sided and strong.”
One has to wonder about that “respect” and “trust” thing when one party is cheating on the other. But, OK, it’s what she believes, and it’s clear she came to a place of forgiveness, or maybe takes her vows — for better or for worse — seriously.
“You cleanse yourself of all of that baggage, and you look at each other and determine whether the relationship is worth salvaging, whether you really love each other and want to be together.”
It is one thing to cleanse yourself of baggage when it’s infidelity; it’s quite another when it may be rape. Did she know? Did she know how many times? When did she know? In truth, spouses don’t always know what’s going on with the other. Sometimes they just are incapable of hearing it. And sometimes, as Erin Gloria Ryan writes in Jezebel, spouses chose to believe (it’s kind of the deal we make when we say “I do”):
Maybe Camille Cosby is standing by Bill for a reason entirely different than one considered out here. Maybe she believes him. Not because it’s rational, but because it’s easier to believe the word of a person you know and love than it is to believe the word of a stranger, or 15.
It’s all too easy to imagine ourselves in the shoes of a woman whose husband is cheating and know exactly what we’d do — throw the bastard out! But maybe we wouldn’t. Maybe we’d cleanse ourselves of all of that baggage and determine, yes, the relationship is worth salvaging. And we’d salvage it. Or maybe we’d just chose to believe because we want to.
In discussions with newlyweds about commitment and what they will and won’t tolerate in their marriage, none told me that they would stick with their spouse if there was infidelity — except the times that they might.
So why do women stand by their man? There’s isn’t a universal “right” or “wrong” answer about; there’s just a right and wrong answer for ourselves. Ultimately, we will have to live with our decision. As uncomfortable as it may have just become for her, Camille is.
Here’s how we imagine it will be: We stand before our beloved the people who matter to us — parents, relatives, friends — and we vow to love, honor and cherish our beloved “until death do us part.”
Except, many of us have decided to replace “until death do us part” with “for as long as our love shall last” or something along those lines, which has made some people nervous. “They have divorce in mind — they’re wary. It’s just realism,” says the Rev. Bonnie Nixon, a Torrance, California, non-denominational minister.
But the new report also highlights an important fact that conservatives would do be smart to pay attention to — the people who are having second and third marriages tend to be those with high school diplomas only:
Newlyweds with just a high school diploma are almost twice as likely as those with a bachelor’s degree to be entering their third marriage (9% vs. 5%, respectively). Some 8% of newlyweds without a high school diploma have been married at least twice before.
Say what you will about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” or Jewel and Ty Murray’s “thoughtful and tender undoing,” but if they lived in Oklahoma, they’d be forced to kowtow to legislators who think they know what’s better for couples than the couples themselves.
As of Nov. 1, Oklahoma’s married couples with children younger than 18 have been required to pay for and complete a marriage education program before they can split.
There’s a movement to make divorce harder in the U.S., and it’s wrong.
To be sure, there are many who believe making divorce harder would save more marriages and provide the children in those unions with stable homes. I have no doubt that the founders and supporters of the Coalition for Divorce Reform, which promotes the Parental Divorce Reduction Act, and the Institute for American Values, which endorses the Second Chances proposal, are sincerely concerned about the number of young children being disrupted by divorce every year. About a million children experience parental divorce each year, although not all are minors — a staggering number. I also don’t doubt that these groups sincerely believe that the required marital education classes and waiting periods would get parents to see the bigger picture of their split and help them reassess their perceived marital grievances.
But people divorce for all sorts of reasons that don’t necessarily fit these groups’ assessment of “unnecessary divorce,” marriages ending because of some vague unhappiness or a lack of commitment, and that fall outside of the few reasons they consider valid — physical abuse, drug or booze addiction, incarceration and abandonment. In some cases, marriages are never salvageable, like when a spouse comes out as gay or a spouse is emotionally abusive. Should a man or woman be forced to reconcile with a serial adulterer, emotional abuser, petty thief, or porn or gambling addict? Not only would such measures prolong suffering for the spouse, but the very children legislators are desperately hoping to protect may be subject to even more parental conflict. What’s the sense in that?
According to sociologist and author Pepper Schwartz, 53 percent of U.S. women aged 18 an older are single and many may stay that way for good. Why? She suggests that marriage just isn’t a good deal anymore for women, especially now that we have so many options.
When women’s life choices were highly constrained, they had little negotiating power. They had to marry or were seen as damaged. … It’s different now. While most women still want marriage, they don’t want it at just any price. They don’t want it if it scuttles their dreams. … women want to craft a life instead of having it pressed upon them. And that means some of us will be single for a long time, and some of us will be single for life.
And this appears to be true for women all over the world, not just here in the United States.
The divorce rate in Iran has been skyrocketing since 2006, with about 20 percent of marriages ending in divorce. Why? “There has been a big growth in individualism in Iran, especially among women. Women are more educated and have increased financial empowerment,” according to Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a sociologist at Tehran University. “It used to be that a woman would marry and she would just have to get along. Now if she’s not happy, she’ll separate. It’s not taboo.”
Ditto for China, where the divorce rate is about 19 percent, nearly five times the 1979 rate. Divorce, once a dreaded fate for women in China, is now considered almost as a civil right for young women. No surprise that it is the women who are initiating divorce (although a new law may hurt divorcing women, or maybe even keep them from marrying altogether).
What does that mean? I have no idea. We know from studies that men benefit from marriage — married men tend to be healthier and better off financially than unmarried men— but suffer the most in a divorce. But I have to question whether marriage is good deal or a raw deal for women. What do you think?
Despite the belief that marriage is “until death do us part,” the truth is many of us are serial marriers. How many? Well, a recent study indicates that about 30 percent of newlyweds have been married before — almost a third of those tying the knot — and it’s more than 40 percent in places like Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas.
While people in Southern states tend to marry young, thus explaining some of the multiple marrying, there may be more to the stats than just youthful indiscretions. Like infidelity. Considering that infidelity is among the main reasons couples split, I wonder how many of those second (or third or fourth) marriages are an outcome of people touched by cheating.
Suzanne Shaw married Cook shortly after Brinkley divorced him in 2008, after it was revealed that he’d had a year-long affair with an 18-year-old. At the time, the supermodel warned her about his wandering eyes. She ignored her, chalking Brinkley up as just another crazy ex. Now Shaw’s divorcing him because he allegedly cheated on her, too. And she wished she listened to Brinkley.
In a letter she’s made public, Shaw writes:
“Christie and I have talked recently and I have privately apologized to her, but, given the public nature of their divorce and custody battle, I feel a public apology is also appropriate and deserved. Christie was wrongly vilified as being an embittered ex-wife. I’m deeply sorry for my part in causing Christie any unnecessary pain.”
Let’s face it — being the new spouse of a philanderer is a leap of faith, even if he or she cheated on the former spouse to be with you.Once a cheater always a cheater? Not necessarily, but it certainly makes a would-be spouse pause. Do you risk it? Shaw did and now regrets it.
But given the high rates of infidelity, chances are we will meet and fall in love with a cheater. Deen Kharbouch, estranged wife of rapper Karim “French Montana” Kharbouch, has words for new girlfriend Khloe Kardashian — “be careful.” They’re still an item. Tiger Woods’ former wife Elin Nordegren warned model Yvette Prieto that marrying womanizer Michael Jordan, whom she blames for turning Tiger into a cheater, would be a mistake. Prieto married him anyway. Jesse James’ former mistress Michelle ‘Bombshell’ McGee, whose affair with James broke up his marriage to Sandra Bullock, warned new fiancee Kat von D to stay away. The tattoo artist listened and called off their engagement, but only after she discovered he cheated on her, too.
I’ve often wondered why so many people are willing to risk marrying a known adulterer. At the same time, I know it’s not that simple. People change — I did. But how would any man interested in me know that for a fact? Honestly, he wouldn’t. He would have to watch my actions and listen to my words, and then decide to trust me or not. I can understand why some might be hesitant even though my former husband isn’t publicly or privately warning anyone nor am I.
But should we have listened to the people who have been cheated on, and heard their side of the story? Is it the former spouse’s responsibility to tell a new love the truth? Of course not. I don’t know if a new love would listen to him or her, quite honestly. As for “the truth,” I know that after x-number of years of dating, relationships and marriage, there’s his story, her story and their story, and “the truth” is somewhere in the middle. Former spouses aren’t always as horrible as someone makes him or her out to be.
I have been upfront with every man I’ve been with since that long-ago affair, including my former husband — a second marriage for both of us. He was honest with me, too, and I remembering feeling at the time that our level of honesty and shared bad behavior gave us a certain special something that connected us more than other couples — Yeah, we both cheated, we know the warning signs, we know the damage it does and we don’t need to go there again.
Except he did and I didn’t. Did I make a mistake? Yes and no. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and so I believed him. But I also ignored warning signs. I own that.
I have friends who cheated on former spouses and haven’t said a peep to their new love interests nor do they plan to — and their partners asked them not to tell them anything. Foolish? I don’t know.
The past is the past and it may or may not inform the future. But talking about monogamy — have we been good at it in the past? Do we willingly choose it or do we just expect it? What’s hard about it? — is a great start, as I advocate in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. And it’s a conversation that should never end.
But listen to a former spouse’s “warning”? I don’t know. What about you?
People talk about good divorces and bad divorces, but what most of us consider a bad divorce typically has to do with money or nastiness and manipulations. I’ll agree that those can be pretty ugly, but there are some divorces that are beyond bad divorces, the “who would do that?” divorces, the Mother of All Divorces divorces. Those would be when splitting causes an additional incomprehensible pain to a spouse and the children.
For instance, John and Elizabeth Edwards. They separated after 32 years and Elizabeth filed for divorce within days after John admitted, yeah, I did father a baby with Rielle Hunter — at the same time that Elizabeth was battling the incurable cancer that ultimately killed her. How painful is that?
Sen. John McCain’s divorce was no better. His was schtupping a younger babe while wife No. 1, Carol, was barely recuperated from a devastating and disfiguring car accident. Then he dumped her to marry his mistress, now Mrs. Cindy McCain. Nice.
It seems especially callous to cheat on and divorce a partner who’s sick or suffering. And yet, it isn’t all that unusual. Not too long ago some doctors noticed an odd pattern in their oncology practices — too many of their patients, female patients that is, were suddenly getting divorced. A study last year, “Gender Disparity in the Rate of Partner Abandonment in Patients with Serious Medical Illness,” backed their observations.
The odd thing about the aptly named “partner abandonment” is how big a role gender plays in it. Women who are diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis are six times more likely to find themselves separated or divorced shortly after their diagnosis than if they were a man, according to the study.
As if that wasn’t enough, the older the woman, the more likely she was headed for splitsville, resulting, not surprisingly, in some serious impacts on her health and quality of life. Great! And women get called out for initiating divorce more than men; maybe we sense men don’t fully buy into “in sickness … for worse” thing.
What would drive a man to abandon his wife at the time she needed him most? The study’s authors don’t quite answer that — who can really know? – but they cite other studies that indicate men are “less able to undertake a caregiving role and assume the burdens of home and family maintenance compared with women. Thus a woman becomes willing sooner in the marriage to commit to the burdens of having a sick spouse.”
As a twice-married and twice-divorced woman, I know what the researchers are talking about. One of my fantasies is that my partner wouldn’t mind — dare I say enjoy – pampering me just a little when I’m sick as I so willingly do when he’s feeling crappy.
What gives, guys?
Another beyond-bad divorce scenario is when a cheating spouse ends up shacking up with or marrying his or her lover and there are kids involved, as in McCain’s case. I can’t even imagine how to begin that conversation with your kids let alone spin it to be a good thing, especially if they now have to live with the woman or man who helped destroy their family. A few of my friends have been those kids, and the anger and resentment even decades later haven’t totally gone away.
Not that I think explaining why you dumped Mom when she was sick would be any easier.
Then there are the double betrayals — think Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn. Losing your spouse to a good friend — or to your own child — would pretty much suck.
All of which makes me so thankful that my divorce from my kids’ dad fell into the “good” category. Sure, there are many times that we’ve been frustrated and disappointed with each other, but his betrayal was just the good ol’ fashioned kind — an affair that eventually ended.
But in some weird stroke of luck, I ended up following Nora Ephron’s sage advice: Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.
What does that mean for us, the women and men of a certain age?
A number of us have gone on to have loving partner-ships, which is great. But it’s also left many in dire financial straits, according to the study. And it has other ramifications, such as who will take care of all those divorced boomers? As one researcher noted:
“Now that they no longer have a spouse, divorced older people have less social support. Relationships with their older children could be compromised as a result of the divorce. As they age and experience health declines, who’s going to take care of them? Especially if they’re not able to afford the level of care that others with more economic resources have?”
It’s a complicated situation, and one that I’ve thought a lot about since my parents got ill and then passed away. But my parents weren’t divorced; they were married for 61 years, although a few bad things happened that led them to live apart for about half a year and that had me flying back and forth every few weeks to Cleveland, where my mother had heart surgery and then suddenly died, and to Florida, where my dad lived in a nursing home not far from their condo.
As complicated as that may have been, it may not be as complicated as the situation I may face as I age. Despite the 70 percent of adult children polled by in-home care provider Senior Helpers who said they’d happily have Mom move in with them, daughters were more likely than sons to do so, as were children living in the Northeast and Southeast. I have two sons and I live in California. Bummer for me. And I have another, bigger, strike against me — I’m divorced, so it’s likely I may be fending for myself during my golden years.
Children of divorce tend to be less involved in the daily care of aging parents, according to a study by Temple University researcher and gerontologist Adam Davey. Not necessarily because they don’t want to but because they often live far away from each other. Except I wasn’t a product of divorce and yet I still lived on opposite coasts from my parents for decades, and I don’t think that’s all that unusual nowadays.
Others often struggle with having to care for an aging estranged parent and perhaps aging stepparents with whom they may or may not have been close, says Elizabeth Marquardt, director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values and author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. I have certainly seen that.
With low birth rates, high divorce rates, a burgeoning population of single mothers — including single mothers by choice — and about 60 percent of second marriages ending in divorces, “our families, our nation will soon confront a never-before-seen shift in how we die and whom we’ll have around us when we do,” Marquardt says. “And the likelihood is that on every level, we will be dying much more alone.”
For boomers already caregiving divorced parents, stepparents and sometimes multiple stepparents, it’s making “an already complex and emotional situation” even more problematic, says Suzanne Mintz, president of the National Family Caregivers Association. As When the Time Comes: Families With Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions author Paula Span writes in “Years Later, Divorce Complicates Caregiving” on the New York Times’ The New Old Age blog:
Years after parents split, their children may wind up helping to sustain two households instead of one, and those households can be across town or across the country. Further, unmarried women (whether single, widowed or divorced) face significantly higher poverty rates in middle and old age, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that AARP published last year.
I can understand why some might not want to care for an estranged parent, but honestly there are no guarantees that children from intact families are going to care for their aging parents, either. There are plenty of people who have such troubled relationships with their still-married parents that just thinkingabout calling them — let alone caring for them one day — is enough to send them to a shrink. And it isn’t just divorce that’s complicating things; there are still many under- or unemployed boomers who may not be able to help their aging parents — or themselves.
Of course, the truth is that divorced, widowed, never-married, married, parents or not, close or far, we all die alone, or so psychiatrist Irvin Yalom says in his book Love’s Executioner:
“Though we try hard to go through life two by two or in groups, there are times, especially when death approaches, that the truth that we are born alone and must die alone, breaks through with chilling clarity. I have heard many dying patients remark that the most awful thing about dying is that it must be done alone. Yet, even at the point of death, the willingness of another to be fully present may penetrate the isolation.”
Who is that other “fully present” person? Yalom doesn’t say. It could be anyone.
If you’re lucky, maybe a new partner. Or your child.
Look at any website or magazine geared toward women and you’ll most likely see advice from “experts” — everything from “9 Ways to Save Your Marriage” to “10 Marriage Rules You Should Break” to “21 Secrets to a Happy Marriage” — to prevent a marriage from sliding into complacency and perhaps divorce.
The secrets, tips, tricks or rules will no doubt cover the usual suspects — go on date nights, appreciate each other more, boost communication, resolve conflict better, laugh together and schedule sex (or maybe have sex, period).
While I don’t have any objection to that kind of advice — who doesn’t want to have more sex or laughter? — the underlying message is that if couples just try harder (or maybe just the women, as saving marriages seems to be women’s work), things will turn out great and you’ll once again be the loving, happy and lusty couple you were when you first met.
Honestly, how much faith do you actually have that it will? Yeah, me neither.
As Albert Einstein is famously — and incorrectly — quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Regardless of who said it, it’s true. The problem isn’t that couples aren’t working at their marriage; most are. The real problem is that all that work will only go so far because the traditional marriage model itself is broken.
Rather than telling couples to “work harder” — when throwing the same tips, tricks and secrets at it clearly isn’t working —why not tell them to try something different?
What might that look like?
Sex up by opening up
You’re in your fifth, 10th or 20th year of marriage and your sex life is ho-hum, if you’re even having a sex life anymore that is. You’ve tried new positions, all the latest sex toys, sexy lingerie, watched porn, maybe even dabbled in a little BDSM. It helped for a while and then, boom, you’re back to your old habits. What would really invigorate your sex life is to have sex with someone else. No, I’m not suggesting an affair; as exciting as that might be, it’s often incredibly damaging to a relationship. But you don’t need to cheat to fulfill your sexual desires.
Stay connected by living apart
About 20-something years into her marriage, my mother moved to Miami, bought herself a condo and got a job — leaving my dad and our Yorkie in New York City. The two came down to visit her for a long weekend every month for about 10 years, when my dad finally joined her and they lived in somewhat peaceful marital bliss until they passed away. My mom was a marriage rebel, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that you do what my mom did, but living with someone 24/7 can create all sorts of conflict, disappointments and resentments, not to mention that couples start taking each other for granted. Why not give each other space and live apart, whether permanently in separate spaces, temporarily or sporadically? Research indicates couples that live apart feel just as stable, satisfied, committed and trusting as couples that live together do — and often more so. Other studies reveal that women who don’t live with their partners retain their sexual desire much more than women who do. That alone makes the arrangement mighty tempting!
From lovers to co-parents
Perhaps you are miserable in your marriage and at the brink of divorce but one thing stops you from making the leap — your kids. If your kids are young, that’s a valid concern. But as research has indicated, it isn’t divorce per se that’s bad for kids — it’s conflict, and it’s just as damaging to kids if that conflict happens in intact families as divorced families. So much for staying miserably together “for the kids.” But there are other concerns, financial among them, that often keep parents stuck in miserable marriages.
Thankfully, there’s an alternative to divorcing — a parenting marriage. Instead of viewing yourselves as the soul mates you once imagined each other to be, see yourselves in an entirely new role — co-parents. Instead of expecting your spouse to fulfill all your needs, remove romance from the equation and replace it with respectful and loving co-parenting.
The truth is kids don’t need their parents to love each other in order for them to thrive — they need their parents to love them, as well as have a conflict-free and stable environment. Becoming good co-parents can give kids exactly what they need. And isn’t that what you want for them, too?
Susan Pease Gadoua and I had a fantastic book launch Oct. 5 at the wonderful Book Passage in Corte Madera for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, with more than 70 people in the audience, bubbly, petits fours by Dragonfly Cakes and two flower bouquets made by Bloomingayles. We were flattered that Book Passage sold out!
Susan and I talked about how the book came to be, and our own experiences with societal judgment based on our marital choices — a late first-time marrier (43), Susan was barraged with questions by people wondering what was wrong with her whereas I, a twice married and divorced woman, was seen as someone who “failed” at marriage (twice!) and who obviously is damaged and unable to commit.
That is exactly the kind of blaming and shaming we wish to end.
Then, we read select passages from the book and after, opened up the floor for questions — and there were many. Not surprisingly, several people wondered about love.
As in, where does love fit into our marital models?
For the record, Susan and I are not against love. We’ll both admit love was very much on our minds when we said “I do” to our husbands. At the same time, marrying for love has made a mess of marriage, as sociologist Stephanie Coontz has exhaustively detailed in Marriage, a History.
In truth, all of us are a bit flummoxed to describe love although we all have a vague idea of what it’s about. Isn’t it scary to think that we are hitching our lives, finances and children to love — something we can’t even adequately describe?
Last week I wrote a story on celebrated doctor Grace Dammann, the subject of a new documentary, “States of Grace,” that looks at how surviving a near-fatal head-on collision impacted her family. Dammann and her partner, Nancy (Fu) Schroeder, the abiding abbess at Green Gulch Farm in Muir Beach, had long stopped being romantic partners, but agreed to stay together to co-parent their wheelchair-bound daughter Sabrina, Isabel Allende’s step-granddaughter, whom they adopted as an infant — born drug addicted and with cerebral palsy, and not expected to live long. But she did, and Dammann took on the mommying role. Then came the accident. As Schroeder faced caretaking her daughter and her former romantic partner, she came to this realization: “Love, it’s something more about devotion.” So she committed to be Dammann’s caretaker for five years — a time-limited contract, as it were. Sabrina would be 19 at that point and on her way.
Is that love? Or, is it being loving? Is there a difference, and if so which matters more in a partnership — especially one in which children and caretaking are involved?
So, as we answered people’s concerns about love, we explained it’s OK to love your partner, but romantic love needs to be booted from the top spot it’s greedily held onto for the past 200 years or so as the reason to marry. It certainly can be among the top five reasons, but couples need a little more to go on than love, especially if they want to become parents and raise their children in a respectful, loving, stable and conflict-free environment.
And we talked about the lessons we can learn from arranged marriages (not forced or child marriages), where common backgrounds, interests and goals matter more than love at first — although as some women in arranged marriages wrote us, love occurs when you see your husband caring for your children, being a good provider (OK, I have some thoughts on that but I’m just quoting here) and treating his family with respect and kindness.
Which takes us back to, what does love mean when we’re talking about marriage? And, what kind of love do we want or expect in a marriage? It’s an important conversation. How clear about it are you?
Want to keep up with The New I Do? Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!
Susan Pease Gadoua’s and my book is finally out (yay!), and for those of you who are curious what we’re talking about, her’s a nifty flowchart that our publisher Seal Press put together. There are many more arrows that could connect the dots (or bubbles, as it were), such as a Parenting Marriage connecting to an Open Marriage, since the point of a Parenting Marriage is to marry the best co-parent — not necessarily a soul mate or the love of your life (in fact, we encourage you not to; don’t we all know how love leads to disappointments, resentments and frustrations?)
So, what do you think?
Want to keep up with The New I Do? Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!