Among the many norms broken by the media in the last year is the relative lack of profiles of the wives of the president and vice president. So it was nice to see a basic profile of Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, in the Washington Post. Even though Mrs. Pence holds political and religious views different from those held by most in the media, the article is mostly respectful of her as a person.
A problem arose when the story’s author marketed the piece on social media:
This particular tweet was one of many that Parker sent out to promote her story. This one went viral. People of various political stripes all assumed she was mocking the Pences for their marital conduct. On the Left, people found the protective mechanism horrible. Here’s a sample of their response:
So the GOP is up in arms over Sharia law, yet Mike Pence won’t have a business meal with a woman that’s not his wife. Sure, that checks out.
— Philip Sherburne (@PhilipSherburne) March 29, 2017
Mike Pence never eats solid food that his wife hasn’t chewed first. https://t.co/rEQKl7WvZ4
— (((Joshua Malina))) (@JoshMalina) March 29, 2017
To respect his wife, Mike Pence refuses to use a toilet after a lady has used it. He also does not eat at restaurants with lady mascots
— Jason O. Gilbert (@gilbertjasono) March 29, 2017
Sincere question. How is this different from extreme repressive interpretations of Islam (“Sharia Law!”) mocked by people like Mike Pence
— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) March 29, 2017
@commiegirl1 who knew Mike Pence had uncontrollable sexual compulsions so serious he can’t be alone w a woman who’s not his wife?
— Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) March 29, 2017
Still other Twitter sages expressed profound disgust with Mike Pence calling his wife “mother,” though I can’t post their vile tweets so you’ll just have to trust me. My parents didn’t call each other “mother” or “father” and my husband and I don’t do it, but I’ve certainly encountered it across the country and globe, so the reaction against it suggests a certain lack of reading or travel.
Anyway, is Mike Pence a monster for not dining privately with women who are not his wife? What about not boozing it up at parties unless his wife is around?
Not only is he not a monster, he sounds like he’s a smart man who understands that infidelity is something that threatens every marriage and must be guarded against.
All these people mocking Pence for the protections he puts on his behavior must not know the people I know or suffer the temptations I face. They must not read the headlines about marriages ending due to infidelity. I have far too many friends who found their inhibitions lowered by alcohol and distance from a spouse. The end result of their lapse in judgment has in some cases been the destruction of their marriage.
I do a lot of work with religious people and used to be a religion reporter. In that capacity, I spent time in close proximity with clergy. When clergy in my church are sexually unchaste, they are removed from the clergy roster. My church also teaches that all people are inclined toward sin, so we tend to just treat it as a fact of life rather than something that doesn’t exist or only affects bad people. Anyway, I noticed that many of these clergy will leave a door open when women are meeting with them. Not only does that not bother me, I respect the heck out of it. That they do it universally doesn’t make me feel like it’s a comment on our particular relationship, but simply a temptation to guard against at all times.
Infidelity destroys intimacy, happiness, and marriages themselves. But it happens because of the strong temptation that exists every day for most healthy people. When marriages end, the associated costs are financial, emotional, and physical. Divorce tends to be hard on men, women, and children. It harms economic and health outcomes for children, and decreases women’s standard of living over the course of their lifetimes. Guarding against it is smart.
My husband and I have a wonderful marriage, one we’ve put a lot of work into. We adore each other and spend a lot of time with each other. At the same time, we meet people and form relationships with people of the opposite sex all the time who are attractive and interesting. We of course have rules for engagement. My husband likes to tell people he’s married early on after meeting them. I do the same. We both tell each other when we’re having meals or drinks with people of the opposite sex. And we make sure that we’re serving each other regularly, if you know what I mean and I think you do. (I’m talking about knocking boots.)
Physical proximity is important for that last part. Emily Belz wrote in 2010 about Mark Souder’s marital failure that forced him out of Congress. He was an Indiana representative who shocked everyone by stepping down after the revelation he’d had an affair with a part-time staffer who was also married. In her article, she notes that Dan Quayle had told Souder to move his family to Washington when he was first elected. Souder didn’t do that. Also mentioned in this article is one Mike Pence, also a congressman from Indiana at the time. Pence did move his family, and it paid off. In the article his wife discusses how he needs the kids and the kids need him.
If divorce rates weren’t sky-high and if infidelity weren’t a problem faced by millions of couples, mocking Pence for the means by which he keeps his marriage intact might make more sense. Heck, if the human condition weren’t such that we all find it difficult to do the right thing, the mockery also might make sense.
As it is, Pence’s smart tactics for avoiding the kind of marital failure that could destroy him, his wife, their family, and the lives of those around them is to be commended and celebrated.
Yes, men and women are sexually attracted to each other, and alcohol lowers inhibitions. And yes, that’s true even when dealing with friends or workplace relationships, because that’s how sex works. Good on Mike Pence for acknowledging these truths and knowing his limits. All married couples should develop their own guidelines to protect their marriages from the threats that we all face.