February is usually a time many of us reflect on our relationships, what with the pressure of Valentine's Day upon us! But I don't usually write about relationships, unless it's about my increasingly unhappy one with do-nothing politicians! The release of Jenny Sanford's book Staying True, however, has me rethinking something, though.
You remember Jenny Sanford? The wife of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who coined the now-euphemistic phrase "hiking the old Appalachian Trail?"
I Initially applauded her decision in the wake of the bizarre outing of her husband's affair to refuse, as many other political wives have done before her, to give a free relationship pass to her husband. It seemed that Jenny Sanford was a strong woman who wouldn't take any crap from a man who walked all over her and who made it clear that he had no concern for her, their relationship, or the example he was setting for his sons. I wrote at the time that Jenny Sanford might even be a potential role model for my daughter, at least in terms of taking a stand.
Now that I've read excerpts of her book, I take it back. And it's yet another lesson that even when we think we know who someone is, we really don't and should be careful about jumping to any conclusions.
Jenny Sanford may not have been standing by her man as he embarrassed her and their family with talk of his Argentinian soul mate, but by her own admission there was a mountain of evidence that she ignored over her entire relationship with him that should have sent up big red flags, blaring horns and might even have caused a brass brand to go by with a banner that read, "GET. OUT. NOW. THIS. SCHMUCK. IS. NOT. WORTHY."
In her review of the book, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post suggests that instead of of choosing the title Staying True, the book should be titled Smart Woman, Foolish Choice, after the 1980s self-help book. Her review recounts story after story of crazy warning signs in the relationship from the get-go -- how Mark Sanford presented Jenny with a faux pre-nuptial agreement that required they take the promise of fidelity out of their wedding vows. Shortly after their wedding, he gave her a birthday gift of a drawing of half of a bicycle, giving her the other half of the drawing at Christmas and months later presenting her with a used bike he bought for a pittance. Mark Sanford refused to attend her grandfather's funeral. When visiting with family, he insisted on sleeping in a room with his brothers just months after their marriage, leaving her to bunk with others. And my favorite, two weeks after one of their children was born, he took off to hike with some friends, leaving Jenny to deal with the newborn on her own.
Hm, what's with all the hiking?
All these anecdotes have me asking, what kind of example has she set for her sons about how women should be treated in relationships? By marrying him and allowing her sons to see her treated in such a casually neglectful way, it sure doesn't seem like she stayed true to herself or to her obligation as a parent to give her children an example of what a healthy marriage should look like.
I'm hardly perfect, but Mr. PunditMom and I try hard to make sure our ten-year-old daughter sees that we love and respect each other, treat each other well and that we can have disagreements and still love each other. I guess it's hard for me to not sound like I'm judging the Sanfords here, but there just are certain expectations that it's OK to have in a relationship, especially when it comes to respect. When we let go of those expectations, others will walk all over us.
Clearly, their marriage was lacking. One could say, well that's just between them, but it isn't -- they have four sons who've watched and learned about what a woman is willing to put up with for the sake of keeping her man, even a louse who acts like he couldn't care less.
There's a reason I'm not married to the boyfriend who thought it was a good idea to give me a set of kitchen knives at Christmas, a coffee maker for my birthday and thought it was OK to continue seeing his ex-girlfriend "just as friends" when he was dating me! Clearly, there was something missing in terms of his grasp on what was acceptable in a healthy, two-way relationship. Apparently both Sanfords did, as well.
Even worse is that the publisher believes there are loads of women who will relate to this story and will buy the book. And this Valentine's Day, that makes me truly sad.
Joanne Bamberger is a professional writer, political analyst, the founder of the political blog, PunditMom, and a principal in WomenOnline. Her book about increasing political involvement of mothers will be published by Bright Sky press this fall.