Harmful Hysteria

I wasn’t planning to write about the Mike Pence non-story concerning his commitment to his wife because that is exactly how I saw it—as a non-story. To protect his marriage, he doesn’t dine alone with women other than his wife and, unless he is with his wife, Karen, he doesn’t attend parties where alcohol is served.  This very basic personal marital agreement was treated by feminist and liberal outlets with the same hysteria they would have accorded to the revelation that the Vice-president was actually Jack the Ripper.  Since hysteria on steroids has become the hourly response of many since November’s election, I decided to ignore the story.

I changed my mind and wrote the following because I remembered an encounter I had with a bright, conservative-leaning, religious young woman back in 2007. She explained why she was going to vote for Barack Obama and I was so taken aback that I was unable to respond. Later, I realized that her youth was leading her to believe campaign statements that sounded wonderful, without having the tools to judge them against history or reality.  Along with that recollection, I became aware that Karen and Mike Pence’s commitment had become a target of comedy shows. Laughter harnesses tremendous power that, if used negatively, is hard to combat and silence didn’t seem an option for me any longer.

Most of those mocking Mike Pence as someone who is liable to attack any woman across the dinner table if Karen isn’t there to serve as a brake, have an agenda.  That is the most charitable explanation for their idiotic statements. However, there actually could be people hearing them, especially young women, who are so inexperienced and naive in the way that the world really works that those statements sound plausible. They may not even be so young. In her book, Committed, author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) relates that she was well into her thirties before she realized that infidelity does not ‘just happen.’ Neither does it happen only to people of low character or to those swept away by uncontrollable forces. It was a revelation to her that one can actually set in place boundaries in a marriage that protect you from the seemingly harmless, tiny steps that lead on a path that can end in marriage betrayal.

Setting those boundaries in place is exactly what Mike and Karen Pence have done. While the particulars may differ, in concept they are in sync with ancient Jewish wisdom. Marriage, it says, is so valuable to both individuals and society that it must be protected just as you would protect a valuable, irreplaceable piece of art. Should you, let’s say, own such a masterpiece, you wouldn’t set up a system chiefly to deal with the aftermath of a theft. You would set up all sorts of protections in advance to make theft, or even damage to the piece, difficult in the first place. The fact that you don’t disable the system when a six-year-old girl comes to view the piece doesn’t mean that you suspect her of being a felon in disguise. The system stays in place regardless of who comes near.

I would ask anyone who even felt a shred of indignation or scorn at Vice-president Pence’s principles or who saw a funny lampooning of his marriage to read the following two accounts.

  1. Rabbi Aryeh Levin (1885 – 1969), was known as “the tzadik (righteous one) of Jerusalem,” for his tireless efforts to care for the poor, imprisoned and sick. Stories abound reflecting his caring, Godly nature. Yet, one of the most circulated stories of his life relates not to his public works, but instead, to his marriage. At a doctor’s appointment for pains his elderly wife was suffering, he explained their presence in the doctor’s office with the words, “Doctor, our foot is hurting us.”
  2. In 1990, Robert McQuilkin retired from the presidency of Columbia Bible College and Graduate School in order to stay at his wife’s side while she dealt with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2005, my husband and I, along with over 6,000 other married couples, watched a video where he talked about his resignation, including these words:

The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health…till death do us part.” So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me–her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continuing distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

If there was any woman in the crowd who didn’t choke up, I didn’t see her. I did see many women murmuring a silent prayer asking for a marriage as blessed as that one. Fewer men had tears rolling down their cheeks, but I saw quite a bit of nose blowing.

I absolutely believe that marriages such as those can and do still exist. What’s more, I believe that most women know that they crave such marriages.  At the same time, I think that today’s cultural milieu make these marriages less likely and harder to achieve. Late night comedy shows, partisan politics and foolishness about gender and sexuality masquerading as cutting-edge wisdom that is paraded not only in universities but also aimed at young children, imperil the chances of such enduring devotion and love. We can’t simply ignore or dismiss those things unless we are willing to fall under their spell as well as bequeathing them to our children. And so, I write.

59 thoughts on “Harmful Hysteria”

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you so much Marsha,
      We too have our favorites; the ones that Susan and I discuss for hours. Some of them utterly absorb us and we probe all possible permutations and consider all combinations. Others, truth be told, we write but don’t connect with passionately. This one really absorbed us.
      We appreciate you reading (and especially for writing)

  1. Just as many women of Hollywood ‘prove’ their comfort with their bodies by exposing them for public consumption, so too is any healthy marriage ridiculed for protecting itself. The issue underlying this is that of boundaries. Many of the hedonistic and materialistic- well, addicted- need to attack boundaries and try and wear them down. It helps that we set our boundaries based upon our reasoning, our faith, and our own decisions rather than measuring up against the worldly views. Ours is in many ways a consumptive culture, and it takes a God to guide us through to the high ground.

    1. Lora, you are so correct. In our culture the boundary line keeps on moving further and further, which means that only time separates, “This is wrong,” from, “This is wonderful.”

  2. Having lost my husband of 38 years a year ago to cancer, I can only say those mocking or critical of committed marriage are robbing themselves of a great blessing—-nurtured, honed and grown firmly in reality. Cancer can’t love anyone….we can and do…we win.

    Having known that blessing,frankly, I carry a mental cattle prod to stave off the jackals and hyenas nipping at the heals of everything sacred, lovely, wise, and good.

    I consider your words timely, carrying weight which is not heavy, and a personal blessing to me.
    Thank you

    1. Without minimizing your loss or pain in the slightest, Dee, you are blessed to have known the richness of marriage for 38 years, too short as they may have been. I think our society is robbing so many young people of that opportunity.

  3. Hey Susan,

    Your article came at the right time for me and my young family. I’m 32 yrs old,married and with young children. I’m also a SAHM and I agree with you,my generation seems to think that ‘leaving all doors open’ is a mark of freedom and sophistication. Boundaries are good and I pray that we will learn to respect wisdom – even and especially when it is ancient wisdom,because human beings rarely change their motivation even when a long period of time passes. I will pray that Jehova covers our young marriages and forgives our folly. Waiting for your next article all the way out here in Nairobi,Kenya. God bless you.

    1. You sound like a wise woman, Grace. How lovely to hear that you are reading from so far away. God bless your family.

  4. Another home run, my friend. You have such an amazing wit and ability to hit the ball out of the park! I love you! Shabbat Shalom! ?

    1. My last comment before I turn off for Shabbat! Thank you, Martha. I love hearing from you.

  5. Thank you for sharing so calmly and eloquently. I am usually very even tempered, but this attack on committed marriage has riled me up so that I can hardly speak about it. Commitment and boundaries (and a sense of humor!) have kept my husband and me safe through thick and thin, and our love has been able to be nurtured through the 45 years we have been married.

    1. Kathy, we can be riled up from morning to night with all the evil/idiocy that is beaming out to us. I think that couples like you, with 45 happy years under your belt need to see yourselves as spokesmen and role models. Even when you don’t know that you are making an impact on those around you, you are.

  6. I wonder if some of the mockery dispensed by the left, especially by so-called “feminists”, has more to do with jealousy. I doubt strongly that the likes of Lena Dunham have met a man who has shown them as much respect as much as VP Pence does his wife. His conduct is rooted not just in having Godly principles and an understanding of human nature, but also in respect for marriage AND the person to whom he’s married.

    1. What a wonderful point, Jean. I once wrote about a woman who was known for her, “You don’t need children to be happy,” stand and was in a terrible dilemma when she decided she desperately wanted a child and spent tens of thousands of dollars and almost destroyed her marriage in her quest for a child. (I have been searching for that piece and if it strikes a bell with anyone, please remind me if you saw it or have a copy.) I think the popularity of Jane Austen, Downton Abbey and other similar books and shows along with most of chick lit points to women whose inner desires conflict with their outer beliefs and stances.

      1. Thank you Susan for a beautiful and timely commentary! We’re going into our 49th anniversary in June, I have to admit to learning a few uncomfortable lessons along the way. I grew up having no idea about boundaries and assumed that women generally had their own good sense of propriety. It’s taken some time to realize that is a misconception and that flattery is dangerous, so is making eye contact and smiling at a member of the opposite sex which can open doors that should remain closed.

        1. We all learn lessons along the way but it seems that we are moving the starting line in the wrong direction in our culture. If your bank of wisdom comes from the culture and academia you don’t even get to the starting gate before lots of mistakes on the way. Best wishes on your upcoming anniversary.

  7. I always love your articles!! I wish that I’d have know you and your wisdom all my life to have spared me a lot of nonsense, but perspectively I’ve learned the hard way many things that I wished I hadn’t but still it’s useful. Honoring marriage and chosing the right relationship is the most important decision that you’ll ever make in life!!
    Thank you Susan for such an outstanding article, your reads are always worth the time!! God bless Mike Pence and the stance he takes in his personal life and let it continue to flow into his leadership.

    1. I wish I had my accumulated wisdom all my life too, Marie. It would have spared me grief and nonsense as well. And my hope is that as each year passes I’ll accumulate more. Amen to your wishes for Mike Pence.

  8. Oh, and my husband and I are enjoying the fruits of 42 years of loving and committed marriage!

  9. It’s so wonderful to know that people still believe in the covenant of marriage! Our youngest daughter’s husband of 17 years left her three years ago for another woman. Living now with our two grown daughters and our two granddaughters, we see daily the destruction of trust and love in the wake of a world that only caters to self!

    1. I am so sorry for you and your daughter, Ellen. While there have always been rogues and good people who make bad choices, society used to exert a pull against those thing. Now it gets accepted and even applauded. I’m glad your daughter and granddaughters have you in their corner.

  10. Dear Madamme Lapin,

    First I want to say I think you are a real inspiration, I posted a comment the other day and I was asked if I knew that you and sir Lapin have a show. So I watched it and I love your personality and wisdom so much, you really radiate kindness and I see in you someone I hope to become like. I really struggle with feeling like I matter and how my efforts matter because I was always treated like what I feel, want or strive towards is not worth discussing. Your family is really blessed to have you.

    I really attest to your post because a good marriage where one can learn from by it’s example seems to be rare these days. When I watched your show what really touched my soul is how respectfully and gleefully you and sir Lapin communicate with one another. It seems to be in fashion these days to do the very opposite. I hope I can bless my husband but also other people in my life by trying to follow in your example.

    I wish you a blessed Pesach and Shabbat shalom,

    Kind regards,

    1. I truly appreciate your words. I grew up in NY where the culture is very much one of sarcasm and witty, but cutting, replies. (Yesterday’s paper told of Don Rickles’ death and while he seems to personally have been a wonderful man, his career thrived on insults and put downs.) So, I have deliberately aimed over the years to try to choose respect and kindness over getting a laugh. I don’t always succeed in remembering before my mouth opens, but I have certainly improved.
      You do matter as do your efforts and desires. I hope you find a worthy group of friends who help you become who you want to be.

      1. Dear madamme Lapin,

        Thank you so much for your reply, I agree deeply about this culture of put downs, it is quite mad that people can make a career our of it, lunacy. Even though he might have been great in private he polluted many minds through his platform.I really admire you leaving behind the wrong example and change and so become a leader for other women. I look for inspiration in people who do the opposite like you. Thank you so much for your encouragement, I will definitly make an effort to look for such people. Though even a kind word from you makes an impact. I wish you blessings, thank you much,
        Kind regards,


  11. Susan , I love hearing someone defend this. My mother had taken a part time job at Sears for a month to buy my father a Christmas present . They had a very good marriage. My mom came to me , I was 9 years old , and said that at lunch she had gone out to eat with a handsome co worker. That they had discussed their marriages, and laughed , and had such a good time , and that she had gone back to work and quit the job on the spot. She said ” no present ” was the best present she was giving my father that year. This made a huge impression on me , that even in a great marriage temptations come.

    1. Karen, your mom had great insight and I’m fascinated that she shared that story with you when you were 9 and that you were able to process it at that age. Thanks for sharing that story.

  12. Thank You Susan , For commenting on V.P. Pence’s Stand for a Godly marriage. This is something we all need to be reminded of regularly. And isn’t it refreshing to hear this reminder from an elected official. Bravo to V.P. Pence & you!

    1. I have to think, Joe, that there are some staunch liberal women who can’t stand Mr. Pence but who have also suffered because of a man in their life betraying them, who may yell publicly about his policy but are privately envious of his marriage.

  13. You are VERY right in commenting about the sheer power of humor–for good or evil. As a bachelor, I can only view with admiration and longing the testimonies about good marriages.
    However, as one raised in Military and Political circles, I know from experience the manipulative power of ‘humor’. Mockery, satire, and the like are rarely Godly arts. Most people know of or recall the tv series MASH, but how many realize it was year after year of the mockery of the US armed forces, morality, our government and the embattled South Korean nation? Yet, the cruelties of North Korea were never, ever mentioned. The ‘hero’ was a drunken womanizer.
    In the same way, Mike Pence is mocked, and to the social/political left is a horrible freak worthy of their concentrated torture through humor, precisely because of his virtue. Unfortunately, most people respond to, and form opinions through this ‘humor’.
    Please pardon my long comment, but allow me to submit some ‘Gentile Wisdom’ here:
    When I was in Junior High/Middle School there was a mock election program in which classes selected ‘candidates’ who portrayed and represented actual state politicians. After classroom elections, by speech, some went on to do the same in a school assembly. Sounds good so far, right?
    One dignified and prepared girl then represented a local Republican senator of good reputation–whom I actually knew. Her speech was very informative, if dry, accurately portraying his platform and views.
    A boy then came on stage as the liberal democrat challenger. He was all smiles and laughs, immediately garnering the support of many. He opened with: ‘Roses are red, violets are blue; if I were (here the name of the Republican) I’d live in a zoo!’
    Thunderous laughs and applause echoing through the building! He then went on this similar absurdity, and no substance or truth, just jokes, insults, and promises that were as impossible as they were unconstitutional. The young lady who had studied and prepared could make no traction against this, and lost in a landslide of juvenile applause. I despised the cowardly teachers who let this happen and did not even comment upon it afterwards in the safety of their own classrooms.
    This is the power of mockery. Beware of it.

    1. What a terrible story, CK, and what a lost educational opportunity those teachers let slip by. I’m sure you’re right about MASH. There were a slew of shows at that time, such as All in the Family too, that did change the culture. We actually explore laughter/mockery in a few of our teachings. Both the Hebrew word and the places it is used explain much about its power. It goes to the root of the Israel/Arab conflict as we discuss in Clash of Destiny; there’s a chapter on the Hebrew word in Buried Treasure; and we discuss the first verse of Psalms about mockery on our Ancient Jewish Wisdom DVD, Volume 2.
      When you can’t win through reason, you can often achieve by mockery.

  14. I had heard about Mr Graham and his wife setting up these boundaries.
    VP Pence. Good on him. Walking his Christian talk.

    The bigger issue to me is
    How dare people comment is such a vulgar way about how they choose to live their lives?
    Is there nothing sacred, out of bounds?

    The hate I read more from the Left then Right is astounding.
    I don’t think anything the R does would ever stop their caterwauling.

    Live and let live seems to be forgotten

    Baruch HaShem for the wisdom of Torah for times such as these

  15. My sister and her husband also held to the boundary of never being alone with someone of the opposite sex. Not even the UPS guy dropping off a package was allowed in the house when her husband wasn’t home. She told me about being teased and added, “When gossip was spread about the affairs in town, our names never came into the conversation.” They trusted each other absolutely in that regard, even when a few women attempted to breakup their marriage. She admits they struggled with other things, finances and other issues, but that trust was never broken and they’re still married, over 40 years.

    1. Judy, I didn’t expand on ancient Jewish wisdom on this topic, but that is very much on target with your sister and her husband’s policy. Every marriage is going to have struggles but if you don’t trust each other everything is harder.

  16. Thank you for the wise words. As a man married for 26 yrs, I have fallen for the pop wisdom. And do regret it. I’m currently in a fight for my marriage, brought on by myself. With God’s grace we will strengthen or union.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Mark–
      I do hope you manage to weather the current storm at which you hint and that indeed, you emerge stronger in union than ever.

  17. The Reverend Billy Graham and his wife Ruth placed similar boundaries in their lives to those of Mike and Karen Pence. The Graham’s recognized the tremendous impact that their example would have on so many. Billy Graham would not so much as ride in an elevator alone with a woman other than his wife.

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Mike Pence was one of those impacted by Reverend Graham’s testimony. For that’s truly what it is that the world hates is the testimony of men and women of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    I’ll be forever grateful that back in the 1990s, the Good Lord saw fit to allow me to operate an elevator for Mr. Graham.

    I happened to step onto the elevator at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina on my way to dinner at their 10th
    floor Sunset Terrace when I realized that the elevator was headed down to the parking level. No matter, just another minute, I thought. As the doors opened at the parking level, into the elevator stepped none other than Billy Graham along with several others on their way to dinner with him.

    Mr. Graham smiled at me with his iridescent blue eyes and extended a warm handshake. I’ll never forget watching his party exit and walk away as I held the “door open” button for them, just as I’ll never forget the sterling testimony of the lives of Billy and Ruth Graham..

    1. Zig Ziglar had the same policy. One of the “funny” things about the attacks from the Left on Mr. Pence is that for so many Americans how he and Mrs.Pence conduct their marriage is the norm. I do think it’s important to see that these policies (or similar ones) should be in every marriage. They are not unique to those in public or leadership roles. A lot of heartbreak would be avoided if every couple had a discussion of boundaries.

  18. Randy R. Werner

    Well said – I so much appreciate the wisdom of your words and the tools it provides me in the event I am involved in such a conversation.

  19. Thanks for this wonderful analysis of the pact between these two vulnerable, public servants. We shouldn’t discount the likelihood of the famous AND righteous being framed for drugging drinks, making indecent proposals or other reputation-busting incidents. You story about Rabbi Levin is also portrays the intent behind Jewish marriage agreements from Abraham and Sarah through the present.

    1. Boundaries to help guard against false accusations, Barbara, and clearly those in pubic view can get targeted for political reasons, but all of us need these marital pacts, in my view.

  20. Richard Bulger

    I agree with your insight completely, and I am reminded that revelation without an encounter with God is only information. As a result, I pray that those who have such quicksilver emotional reactions receive an encounter with God, perhaps of the type Paul had.

  21. It is important to set boundaries early in the marriage sothat trust can continue to build. Boundaries should also be set for your children so they learn proper God like values.
    I salute the Pence’s and pray God’s continued blessings on their marriage especially at this time.

    1. By the time you NEED the boundaries, it is often too late to set them. And, June, when your children see that you too have boundaries, it makes it easier for them to accept ones you place on them.

  22. Thank for your insight. I admire the Vice President’s commitment to his God ordained covenant. His example used to be a pillar of honor.
    The world is slouching towards Gomorrah (from the book by Robert Bork) at such a break-neck speed, that I see barely any hope for mankind. Every story I read about todays culture leaves me feeling like I’m swirling around the bowl headed for the sewer to drown in filth.
    The coming of the Messiah would be very welcome about now.

    1. The rate of descent is amazingly rapid today, James. That is our challenge and opportunity.

  23. I am Blessed to have a marriage like the ones you have described. Thank you for reminding us of the true meaning of marriage.

    1. Rhonda, a good marriage is a blessing. But we humans are amazingly competent at rejecting and polluting blessings.

  24. After 52 years as a happily married Catholic, I greatly appreciate the wisdom in your wonderful article! Thank you! I enjoy reading everything you write!

    1. I’d love to hear your wisdom, Martha. May you have many more happy and healthy years together.

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