Perspective: What we’ve learned about spouses and friends from Melinda French Gates
Sometimes we are blind to the faults of our friends in ways our partners and spouses are not
“Dear Abby: I’ve been with my husband for eight years, married for one. ... We moved to a bigger city where I found a better job and made new friends. I go out with them occasionally, but when I do, he is very rude and snide to me. ... We fight every time I go out. I’m tired of all of it. Do you have advice for me?”
It is hard to overestimate the number of advice columns that start like this: My partner doesn’t like my friends. What should I do?
The answers are fairly uniform, too. To this one, the columnist responded: “Recognize that you married an antisocial, deeply insecure and verbally abusive man. He views any relationship you have with someone other than him as a threat, so he is punishing you for it.”
In other words: Ditch these partners who want to control who your friends are.
Of course, there are difficult, even abusive, people out there; people who prevent their husbands and wives from seeing other people so they can control them further. But there are also reasonable and wise people who really don’t approve of their spouses’ friends.
And maybe they’re right.
Just take Melinda French Gates, who told Gayle King in a recent interview about her divorce from Bill Gates: “I did not like that he had meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, no. I made that clear to him.” She said she met with the convicted sex trafficker, who committed suicide in prison, “exactly one time” because she “wanted to see who this man was.”
As she noted, “I regretted it the second I walked in the door. He was abhorrent. He was evil personified.” It makes you wonder how many other wives warned their husbands against associating with the man.
Epstein, of course, is an extreme case, but the interview is a reminder that there are some times when we are blind to the faults of our friends and the ways we behave when we are around them — and sometimes our partners are not.
This runs contrary to the modern understanding of marriage where many people believe they should have the freedom to do what they want as long as they’re not cheating. But in fact, in a healthy marriage, we should care about our partner’s opinions and both seek out and trust our partner’s judgment.
How our partners act when we’re not around, including whom they associate with, came up a few years ago when we all learned that former Vice President Mike Pence refuses to eat alone with women besides his wife — even for professional purposes. This became widely known as “the Pence rule.”
Though few people accused Karen Pence of being abusive or controlling — critics were much more concerned about what this meant about Pence’s libido or the implication that he treated women and men differently at work — the discussion did raise questions of how much our spouses should be able to tell us what to do when they are not around.
Having a girls’ night out, for instance, seems perfectly fine. And sociologists and psychologists sometimes worry about the soulmate model of marriage where we depend on our spouse to be everything to us, to provide our every emotional need.
It is healthy to have other people to confide in. It’s nice to enjoy hobbies with other people even if your spouse doesn’t happen to like them. But there is a delicate balance at work here between two people leading independent lives and leading separate ones.
Melinda French Gates has said she is still “friendly” with her former husband, although she said there is still “healing that needs to happen.” Her interview makes clear that, while our spouses shouldn’t pick or control our friends, their opinions about the people with whom we associate should matter. Otherwise, down the road, you might not be spouses anymore, just friends.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives.”