The report that Mark Sanford didn’t want to include a vow of fidelity in their wedding vows is the least surprising, and the saddest, news I have heard in a while.
According to his wife, the discredited governor of South Carolina whose liaisons with an Argentinian woman last summer were a national scandal was worried about his ability to keep such a commitment. His premonition, unfortunately, came to pass in an unseemly and destructive way.
It is tempting in such situations to become cynical about marriage, and its prospects. Sandra-Tsing Loh took that route after her own failed marriage, while Caitlin Flanagan weakly tried to avoid it.
I offered my own take on marriage and divorce in the latest issue of The City. This was my final paragraph (though you should read the whole thing):
This is why Mark Sanford and the Gosselins matter. As Caitlin Flanagan points out, they reinforce our common cynical disposition toward marriage. But in doing so, they also reinforce that marriage still matters. This is the territory of subversive truth: it is precisely the threat of infidelity and betrayal that provides so much drama in modern marriage. The covenant could really be broken, a man’s word could come to nothing. And when it does among our society’s most visible members, we collectively identify with their moral weaknesses and justify our own failures and shortcomings. But only within a world steeped in marriage is that sort of cynicism possible—a world that doesn’t care would have ignored Jon and Kate altogether.
When I wrote the article, I had no idea the next scandal that would capture our attention would be Tiger’s. But that had its own unique dynamic, in that Tiger was a manufactured man from beginning to end, which only heightened our fascination with his undoing.
But we’ve reached a point where the obvious needs saying, and repeating: a lack of interest in vowing to remain faithful isn’t a “moment of self-doubt” or cold-feet. It signifies a lack of courage and a gross misunderstanding of marriage itself. The whole thing hangs on the very vow that Sanford wanted to cut out.
The stream of public figures ending their marriages is never ending, and neither is the threat of cynicism about marriage. Defending the glory and romance of marriage is a battle that requires vigilant repetition. I hope to play a tiny part in that fight.