There's an unspoken rule that spouses should never argue in front of others.But someone forgot to include that tidbit of information on my marriage license application.My husband and I have often forcefully disagreed with one another in public—at dinner parties,in taxis,and while we wait for the cashier to ring up our takeout Thai.We don't fight,per say,it's more like we bicker,usually over politics,ethical quandaries,or advice we'd give to friends.To us,it's simply a matter of curiosity about the other person's point of view and a willingness to get a little dirty in an effort to sort it out.But after watching us spat about hummus one night (yes,hummus),a friend told us that our bickering worried him,that we seemed unhappy with each other,and that our aggression was off-putting.After apologizing to him (nobody wants to make a friend feel awkward),we explained that our bickering is done in a weird spirit of love.He was resolutely unconvinced.Even to this very,very close friend and confidant,there was something amiss about the fact that we'd ever present anything other than a united front in public.
The recentsnippingsin the media about the over 20-year-old story of Hillary Clinton's wisdom/foolishness in remaining with her certified cheater of a husband have made me replay that conversation in my head.Obviously the scale is quite different—no nationally reported on dalliances and Congressional inquiries here—but both remind me of the way friends and onlookers,once privy to a less-than-innocuous bit of marital info,always wonder at and judge the interior qualities of a marriage.The way that every slight deviation from the norm in a marriage is fodder for other people's bemusement.All the gossip and musing,about friends and the famous,boils down to a simple point: no matter how broad or inclusive our view of marriage may become,it still does not strike most people as a fundamental truth that a marriage exists on the terms of both the parties,and not on the terms of the gazing public eye.
The Clintons' marriage has been so dissected,by so many parties and for so many years,that it almost feels foolish to dedicate more words to explaining or scrutinizing it.And yet here we are,forced to calculate how Bill's cheating and Hillary's seeming forgiveness could complicate "Hillary's feminist message" with pieces like Michelle Goldberg's "Why Bill's Past Could Still Hurt Hillary".Here we are reiterating that the faults of the husband should not have to be atoned for by the wife in pieces like Rebecca Traister's "Why Should Wives Have to Answer for Their Husband's Behavior?".
The Trump marriage too has come up for its fair share of prodding.AHarper's Bazaar featureon Melania released this week read like a public reassurance of her (and his,in turn) relative normalcy,a collection of possible answers for the oft-thought "Why on earth would she marry him?" (Nobody ever asks why the rich business mogul would marry the exotic young model.) Melania comes off as smart,savvy,elegant,and polished,and yet a constant refrain of "Doesn't she feel apologetic for her husband?" washes over the piece at every turn.
Let's just imagine for a moment that Melania Knauss did,in fact,marry Donald Trump solely for the luxurious lifestyle it would afford her.That her eyes lit up with dollar signs like a cartoon character's would upon meeting him.That the two agreed,either tacitly or explicitly,that for them an ideal marriage would mean that he paraded around a gorgeous and seemingly thoughtful woman,and she would be financially enabled to do,well,whatever she wants to do.That she too sees her husband the way many Americans see him: brash,loud,and wandering far over the line into sexism,racism,and downright inappropriateness.