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Jewish World Review / May 27, 1998 / 2 Sivan, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Romance in the '90s

THE STYLE PAGES OF THE PAPER are where manners and mores are defined -- where the acceptable is carefully limned and the unacceptable ruthlessly suppressed.

The New York Times had an entry in its "Vows" section recently that quite neatly summed up the state of morality on the subject of marriage.

Carolyn Bender and Louis Sagar first met six years ago at a party. They were, the Times tips us, "as different as yoga and high-impact aerobics." Nonetheless, cupid being a crafty fellow, "they had such an instant connection that when they left the party, they went to a cafe and talked late into the night." Boy meets girl.

Now, the next installment: He was married. "So we became very good friends," Bender explained. "Then, we had some sort of fight and didn't talk for months. I think I was falling in love, and he wasn't available. So I went on my merry way, and he went on his."

But a year later, Sagar phoned, saying that he had gotten a divorce, and was Bender free for dinner? "I said 'Great, let's go.'"

You knew these two were meant for each other because even though they had very different ideas about decorating and gracious living -- her apartment was full of rundown furniture, whereas his was adorned with ecologically aware fresh flowers -- they decided to move in together on their very first post-divorce date. Oh, did I fail to mention another detail? When Bender returned home from that dinner with Sagar, she told her boyfriend to move out. That's amore.

The Sagar/Bender wedding was a lavish event. Each table was decorated with Japanese river stones, moss, flowers and candles -- all red, the bride's favorite color. Red moss? Well, as long as it's ecologically correct.

A bit of traditional wedding reporting does creep into this story in the description of the bride's dress, but with a twist. "Ms. Bender," writes Lois Smith Brady, "wore a sleeveless silk taffeta gown with a plunging neckline, a wrinkly skirt, a tiered organza overskirt and a furry boa." And then this: "'Carolyn didn't want to hide that she was pregnant,' said Mary Adams, the Manhattan couturier who designed the dress." Due in August.

Such a breezy, approving tone teaches lessons. The primary consumers of wedding news are young women, dreaming of their own wedding days. And here is the tale of a home-wrecker presented as courtly love. (Did I fail to mention that he reads love poetry and serves breakfast in hand-crafted cereal bowls?)

How dare she "become very good friends" with a married man? And let's not be deceived by the term "friends." Whether or not sex was involved, this was clearly a sexual relationship from the start. Ordinary friends rarely get into the kind of fights that cause them to stop speaking.

Bender is clearly not one for tradition. Described as a "superserious career woman," she prefers to cohabit first, get pregnant second and get married third. One wonders whether they did the honeymoon before the wedding.

As for Sagar, at 45 (she is 31), he is very likely to be a father, most probably of young children. This is not mentioned in the Vows column.

Actually, one cannot read these wedding stories without the impression that the title of the column must be intended ironically. What of Sagar's vows to his first wife? What of his obligations to his children? His first marriage seems to have been treated by bride and groom alike as a temporary inconvenience. They are like teenagers, moving from one boyfriend to the next, first wearing Tom's letter sweater, later Harry's. A marriage is treated like the adult version of going steady.

The whole notion of an elaborate second wedding was once considered in bad taste -- for good reasons. There are the feelings of children and former spouses to consider or, in really ancient history, respect for the deceased spouse. It didn't mean second marriages couldn't take place, only that a slightly more restrained and decorous wedding was the rule. (Teddy Roosevelt, whose first wife died in childbirth, felt guilty about remarrying at all, though he did do so, quite happily.)

Bender is happy now. But her husband has a lousy track record -- as do so many marriages undertaken in this modern spirit.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.