Cheating "Vows" Story Causes Scandal

Sara - posted on 12/21/2010 ( 7 moms have responded )

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WHAT happens when love comes at the wrong time?

Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla met in 2006 in a pre-kindergarten classroom. They both had children attending the same Upper West Side school. They also both had spouses.

Part “Brady Bunch” and part “The Scarlet Letter,” their story has played out as fodder for neighborhood gossip. But from their perspective, the drama was as unlikely as it was unstoppable.

Ms. Riddell was a reporter and anchor on WNBC television in New York and a mother of two. A glamorous, petite woman with a strong handshake and stronger opinions, she is not the type to be easily dazzled, yet she was struck by Mr. Partilla’s exuberance.

“He bounds into a room,” said Ms. Riddell, who was 40 when they met. “He doesn’t walk in, he explodes in.”

Mr. Partilla, then a 42-year-old triathlete and a president of media sales at Time Warner, recognized a kindred dynamo. “She’s such a force,” he said. “She rocks back and forth on her feet as if she can’t contain her energy as she’s talking to you.”

The connection was immediate, but platonic. In fact, as they became friends so did their spouses. There were dinners, Christmas parties and even family vacations together.

So Ms. Riddell was surprised to find herself eagerly looking for Mr. Partilla at school events — and missing him when he wasn’t there. “I didn’t admit to anyone how I felt,” she said. “To even think about it was disruptive and disloyal.”

What she didn’t know was that he was experiencing similar emotions. “First I tried to deny it,” Mr. Partilla said. “Then I tried to ignore it.”

But it was hard to ignore their easy rapport. They got each other’s jokes and finished each other’s sentences. They shared a similar rhythm in the way they talked and moved. The very things one hopes to find in another person, but not when you’re married to someone else.

Ms. Riddell said she remembered crying in the shower, asking: “Why am I being punished? Why did someone throw him in my path when I can’t have him?”

In May 2008, Mr. Partilla invited her for a drink at O’Connell’s, a neighborhood bar. She said she knew something was up, because they had never met on their own before.

“I’ve fallen in love with you,” he recalled saying to her. She jumped up, knocking a glass of beer into his lap, and rushed out of the bar. Five minutes later, he said, she returned and told him, “I feel exactly the same way.” Then she left again.

As Mr. Partilla saw it, their options were either to act on their feelings and break up their marriages or to deny their feelings and live dishonestly. “Pain or more pain,” was how he summarized it.

“The part that’s hard for people to believe is we didn’t have an affair,” Ms. Riddell said. “I didn’t want to sneak around and sleep with him on the side. I wanted to get up in the morning and read the paper with him.”

With that goal in mind, they told their spouses. “I did a terrible thing as honorably as I could,” said Mr. Partilla, who moved out of his home, reluctantly leaving his three children. But he returned only days later. Then he boomeranged back and forth for six months.

The pain he had predicted pervaded both of their lives as they faced distraught children and devastated spouses, while the grapevine buzzed and neighbors ostracized them.

“He said, ‘Remind me every day that the kids will be O.K.,’ ” Ms. Riddell recalled. “I would say the kids are going to be great, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives making it so.”

The problem was she could not guarantee that.

All they had were their feelings, which Ms. Riddell described as “unconditional and all-encompassing.”

“I came to realize it wasn’t a punishment, it was a gift,” she said. “But I had to earn it. Were we brave enough to hold hands and jump?”

They did jump. Both officially separated from their spouses by late 2008, though they waited until July 2009 before moving in together.

“I didn’t believe in the word soul mate before, but now I do,” said Mr. Partilla, who is 46 and in January is to become a chief operating officer of Dentsu, a Japanese advertising agency.

They finalized their divorces this year. “I will always feel terribly about the pain I caused my ex-husband,” said Ms. Riddell, 44 and working freelance. “It was not what I ever would have wished on him.” Or on her children.

“My kids are going to look at me and know that I am flawed and not perfect, but also deeply in love,” she said. “We’re going to have a big, noisy, rich life, with more love and more people in it.”

On Nov. 15, the couple were legally wed at the Marriage Bureau in New York by Blanca Martinez of the City Clerk’s office.

Then on Dec. 11, Ms. Riddell donned a Nicole Miller strapless gown for a small ceremony in the presidential suite of the Mandarin Oriental New York hotel. As if on cue, the hotel room phone rang as she began to recite her vows.

Mr. Partilla’s 10-year-old daughter answered. “We’re in the middle of a wedding,” she informed the caller, while her younger two siblings and two soon-to-be step-siblings spun off like small planets freed from the pull of gravity.

“This is life,” said the bride, embracing the messiness of the moment along with her bridegroom. “This is how it goes.”



There's some question as to whether the NY Times should have run this in their "Vows" wedding section, as some say that it glorifies homewrecking and diminishes personal responsibility to one's spouse and children in favor of selfish, self-centered love. Others say it's just honesty. What do you all think?

7 Comments

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Mrs. - posted on 12/21/2010

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Whelp, I can actually relate to the story. My fiance and I, even though we had work together years ago, starting hanging out when he had seperated/move out from his ex. We have a lot of mutual friends. Many of them didn't even know that he and his spouse had broken up, much less me and my bf of 8 years had too. Add to that, I got pregnant the first month we were seeing each other (quite by accident as my docs had said I was never going to be able to have children naturally) and had to announce my three month mark around the same time people were hearing about the break ups (many of them family members). Now, we were never seeing each other or even talking together when our breakups were occurring but everyone assumed we had. This was difficult because both of us tried so hard to make the last relationships work and they just didn't. As well, my fiance's ex went around saying some really awful things to solidify those rumours of our being unfaithful and even saying I got pregnant while they were living together.

Now, this was not put in the NY Times but we lost many people we thought were friends because they chose to judge the order of which we did things.

I always thought the soul mate thing was complete bunk too and then it happened. Unfortunately, when it does happen for some people, it is not in a smooth fashion.

Now some might think, yes that's true, Rebecca but must you really print it in the Times? Well, you are damned either way in my experience. Those who are going to judge you and going to judge you even if you try to bend, keep quiet to suit their ideas about the matter. They will never be okay with it. Those who say, who give a fuck, will probably just say, "Good for them." Your real friends and supporters will sort out in situations like this.

I actually really regret playing down my pregnancy because I thought people would think it was tacky or not right given the situation. Those people still think I'm a horrible person, it didn't win them over. In the end, I was the one who punished myself by missing out on the joy of a miracle pregnancy that was never meant to happen because a few people thought I was a whore. What a loss.

So good for them. I wish I had the courage to be that brash myself. I would have enjoyed my pregnancy and engagement a lot more.

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I think they went about it the right way and did their best in an awfully uncomfortable situation. Like the guy said, "Pain or more pain." Live without each other in a lie and in pain? Or hurt the ones you love....but do it honestly. I vote for honesty every time. If anything, they did their spouses a favor by giving them the chance to also find someone who loved them completely.

Amanda - posted on 12/21/2010

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I don't think it glorifies homewrecking or diminishes personal responsibility at all! was it selfish, self-centered love? sure, but i think it's brave of them to do the right thing and seperate from thier spouses at the time before starting an actual relationship. it would have been an awful thing had they stayed in marriages that were obviously not meant to be and not filled with love and passion. Their former spouses also deserved the chance to find love, which is why i think they made the right choice for everyone involved. i also agree with Krista, i would much rather know if my husband was in love with someone else.

Bonnie - posted on 12/21/2010

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I would need to know as well. It would hurt like hell, but I wouldn't want to be played like a fool.

Rosie - posted on 12/21/2010

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i feel the same krista. it would suck, but i would need to know! i don't care if it's printed in some newspaper, who cares? love IS selfish. no matter who it's with. it's all about you and another person. all in all i think this is an excellent story actually. it sounds like they didn't cheat, and sometimes you can't control how you feel. if you aren't happy then you need to work on it and if that isn't working, then you need to leave.

Krista - posted on 12/21/2010

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Quite honestly, if my husband were not in love with me anymore, but in love with someone else I'd want to know. Would it hurt? Hells yeah! But, I'd rather live my life on my own than with someone who isn't able to give me their whole heart.
I mean, can you imagine the stress your marriage would be under? It's not selfish to want to be truthful with someone about how you feel. And it's not selfish to allow them to find someone who will love them unconditionally.

I think this couple did all they could to be true to their first partners. I give them credit that they didn't act upon anything until they were able to separate from their significant others. It would have been all too easy to begin an affair.

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