Vice President Mike Pence has taken a lot of unwarranted criticism this week because his wife, Karen, revealed that he never dines alone with another woman or attends events which serve alcohol without her present. The surprising thing here is not that there is criticism. That is expected because it doesn’t really matter what anyone in the current administration does or does not do, the haters will find it wrong, distasteful, sexist, racist or some other socially or morally unacceptable idea. No, the surprise is that much of the criticism is from women. And that is also very sad.
To explain, the article in which this piece of information was reported, was a Washington Post piece about Karen Pence and her influence on her husband, the Vice President. From a female perspective, it would seem that Mrs. Pence would have earned the esteem and admiration from those who claim to promote those very things and wish to see women with clear thought and positive influence in the public discussion. But, sadly, somehow, this piece which highlights the extraordinary closeness and “enduring connection” between the Pences, has been twisted into a hit on Mrs. Pence as a controlling, jealous wife and V.P. Pence as an untrustworthy henpecked wimp.
So, let’s clarify. The Pences have been married for over 30 years…since 1985…and are devout Christians. Theirs is a marriage which has largely been admired and lauded as one of unique closeness and enduring love. Unlike so many marriages in politics and elsewhere, both the Pences have stated that they take their commitment to one another and to God seriously. They confirm that they work on their relationship. Because it is a priority to them. This begs the question then: what is all the fuss about?
Well, apparently, in today’s society it is supposed to be perfectly acceptable for a married man or a married woman to dine alone with a member of the opposite sex with whom they are not married. For what purpose? In what circumstance is this 1) appropriate 2) necessary 3) faithful to one’s vows?
- Appropriateness is, of course, a matter of perception. But that is part of the problem. For VP Pence, it would not in any circumstance be appropriate for him to dine with another woman alone. It would be perceived by some as him stepping out on his wife. The tabloids would have a great time with those stories. Fake news would abound. His marriage and family would be affected. In that case, it is inappropriate. Even if one was not a public figure, the appearance of something clandestine is enough to cause rumors and there are few marriages that are so rock solid, that these do not infiltrate and sow seeds of doubt. Why would one risk their marriage or the real threat of hurting their spouse because of it?
- Necessity is a bogus argument. There is nothing that can be discussed or achieved over dinner that cannot be done in the work environment. One does not need to have an “offsite” with a colleague of the opposite sex to discuss work matters or employee issues or company policy or any other matter regarding one’s occupation. If it cannot be discussed within the work environment, perhaps, it is best left unsaid.
- Faithfulness. Marriage and true commitment is not something one does to fit in somewhere in the parameters of an already full social life. If it is to be a lasting union, it must be a full commitment. One may say that they would never cheat on their spouse, never ever commit adultery or hurt the one they love. OK. When one shares their time or focus or attention on another person, other than their spouse, how is that not cheating? Cheating is not just a physical acting out. Cheating is emotional as well. It is the withholding of one’s time, one’s affection, one’s complete commitment to another. Having dinner is not about whether the person on the other side of the table is someone you want to sleep with or not. It is about whether that person is the one person in the whole world you could choose to have dinner with over anyone else…including your spouse. In choosing to spend that quality time with them rather than your spouse, you have just sent the message to you husband or wife, that they are not as important. That is cheating.
The bottom line is this: In today’s world, we are at a crisis point of infidelity, divorce, single parent families, sex addiction, sexual harassment litigation…and the list goes on. What one person sees as a harmless dinner, another may view as much more. . . a date, the first step to an affair, a way to “get ahead” in their job, an opportunity to influence. It is a risky and pointless road to travel. Avoiding this, as the Pences choose to do, is wise beyond words. And incredibly respectful. Mr. Pence is telling his wife that he not only loves and honors her, but that he would rather have dinner with her than any other woman in the world. His time with her is more important to him than to waste it on someone else.
Maybe that is why they have been happily married for so long and why she holds his heart and his respect as his most trusted partner. Maybe that too, is why many in D.C. respect their coupleship and commend them for their commitment. Rather than criticize them, maybe we ought to try to learn from them. No one can stand outside of someone else’s marriage and judge what happens behind closed doors. What one can do, is see the fruits of a happy marriage and take notes. And maybe hope for something similar in their own lives.