"The author is ending her marriage. Isn't it time you did the same?" So the Atlantic Monthly provocatively introduces its July/August feature "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." It comes at a propitious moment. This seems to be the week for TMI -- too much information. South Carolina's Gov. Mark Sanford has told more, much more, than we needed to know about his mistress (how he met her, how their relationship ripened), his views on God's laws, on the Appalachian Trail, and on forgiveness.
Why must wayward American public figures stage these auto autos da fe -- these self-immolations on TV? Dignity, which arises from a proper sense of keeping private matters private, is a lost aspiration apparently -- along with so many other virtues, like dignity's companion restraint. Yes, Sanford needed to apologize to the citizens of South Carolina for going AWOL. But as for the messy private details, a simple written statement that he was having marital issues would have sufficed. At least Mrs. Sanford showed some sound judgment by declining to pose next to her straying spouse as he fielded queries about his extramarital activities. But even her statement -- and it goes without saying that she finds herself in this situation unwillingly -- strayed into TMI. She told the world under what circumstances she would consider repairing their union: "I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance." That's the sort of thing that should be communicated to one person only.
The Atlantic's Sandra Tsing Loh -- not content to cheat on her husband and file for divorce -- compounded the betrayal by writing about it in cringe-inducing detail. Her account begins in the office of the couple's marriage therapist, where Loh recounts the moment she decided she couldn't "work" on her marriage despite having two young sons. "We cried, we rent our hair, we bewailed the fate of our children. And yet at the end of the day ... I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family's domestic construct back together." Does the whole world need to know that? Do her children? Her children's classmates?