The New York Times has a long story by Mireya Navarro that has been causing a stir among marriage supporters. “A Double Standard for the Triply Wed” asks two important questions. The first is the question in the title: are women who have been married three times or more judged more harshly than men in a similar circumstance – the current Mrs. Giuliani, for example, compared to her husband, presidential candidate Rudy.
This is a fair question. I think women usually are judged more harshly for their sexual history than men are. I disagree with this double standard. If anything, I think that men should be judged more harshly for cutting and running as a way of life, because they still have more options afterwards than the women they leave behind. This question is not so hard, really. There are few public defenders of the sexual double standard now.
The second question raised by this article, though, is of a different order. Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce and cited as a divorce expert in the article, says that the multiply-married face the judgment that “’Something must be wrong with you.”’ We haven’t gotten over that for second and third marriages.” It is not so surprising that Ahrons, who decided not to remarry after her second divorce but just cohabit with whatever partner she might have, would oppose judgment. Indeed, I think half the reason that the sexual double standard has few defenders today is not so much because the double standard is unjust, but because many people are afraid to voice a judgment at all.
Avoiding judgment is impossible and self-contradictory. Claiming that we ought to avoid judging is a judgment. Being against judgment is, I think, more of a tactic to avoid thinking a problem through than it is a compassionate response to the people with the problem.
I think people who have married, divorced, and remarried several times do have a problem. The thrice-wed make up only about 3 percent of the population, so it is not a huge problem. And that 3 percent includes remarried widows and widowers – not the same issue morally at all.
In any given case there may be a series of good reasons explaining multiple remarriages. As a group, though, I think it is reasonable to suspect that, yes, there is something wrong with the triply-wed. The main thing that I think is likely to be wrong is that they have the wrong idea of what marriage is. We should help them, and help everyone better understand what marriage is. Helping requires judgment.