A few years ago, the New York Times told the incredibly moving story of Robert Kennedy Jr. courting a woman who became his third wife but only after he divorced his second wife who later hung herself in the family barn after being harassed by Kennedy apparatchiks. None of this was included in the Times story.
A few weeks ago, the Times published another triumphant love story, this about two writers and how “the road not taken beckons anew,” how star-crossed lovers finally found each other after years of email and longing. It is the story of how Michael Ruhlman and Ann Hood found each other down through the years and how wonderful it all has been.
Michael Ruhlman writes books about food and cooking. He spent a year as a writer/observer/student at the Culinary Institute of America and in 1997 produced a remarkable book called The Making of a Chef. More than a dozen books followed.
Ann Hood I never heard of except for a column she published in 2006 about the death of her five-year-old daughter from a rapid and virulent form of strep. In the New York Times piece, Ruhlman remembers reading that column and weeping. I remember, too. Hood mostly writes novels, best-selling ones at that.
However, their story begins long before, in 1988, when Ruhlman, then only an aspiring writer, spied Ann Hood at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont and, on an emotional whim, shouted out her name. Hood was just then coming into first fame with her novel Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine. He told her he wanted to write novels and she said portentously, “you will” and they parted for 20 years, though all along Ruhlman would maintain and nurture a “literary crush” on Hood.
In 2008, at yet another writers’ conference, this time in Ruhlman’s hometown of Cleveland, Ruhlman rose in a room crowded with influential writers and announced he had been in love with Hood since 1988. He offered to cook her dinner the next time she was in Cleveland. They pledged to stay in touch via email and text.
Six years later, this brings us to 2014, Hood published her novel An Italian Wife and to promote the book Hood asked Ruhlman, by then a noted food writer, to interview her at an Italian restaurant about her Italian background and her grandmother’s cooking.
Sometime during dinner, Hood asked Ruhlman if he could recite any poem from memory and he recited “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost. Hood remembered, “A feeling rushed over me, like I was hit by a tsunami.” Later that day she left Ruhlman a message on his machine that included lines from Dickinson’s “There’s a Certain Slant of Light.” Ruhlman said, “I began to feel as if I had known her my whole life.”
Things sped up from there and Ruhlman proposed to Hood last December on her birthday, offering her an engagement ring made from a pearl he had bitten into while eating oysters on a previous date. They married a few weeks ago in the park at Abingdon Square in New York City. Hood read from Robert Frost’s “Master Speed”: “Two such as you with such a master speed cannot be parted nor be swept away.”
Well, maybe they couldn’t be swept away, but both Hood’s and Ruhlman’s spouses could be swept away and they were. What the Times skips over lightly and quickly is that Hood and Ruhlman were both married with children. In fact, Ruhlman was newly married when he shouted out Hood’s name at Bread Loaf in ’88. He was many years married and with children when he announced his love for her at the Cleveland writers’ conference in 2008. At the time of what turned out to be their first date at the Italian restaurant in 2014, Hood had three children with her husband, one of them newly adopted.
They spent years falling in love, even cheating emotionally on their espoused wife and husband and even on their children.
One cannot know what goes on in someone else’s marriage. One cannot know what drove Ruhlman from his wife and professional partner of 25 years, nor what drove Hood away from her second husband and their three children. And it should be noted that Ruhlman has expressed great sadness on his blog and elsewhere about what happened to his marriage.
But I do know that when you are married, it is profoundly dangerous to develop a fast friendship with someone of the opposite sex. Above all, married couples must protect their hearts. One may not be footloose with your heart. In fact, it is no longer yours.
And I do know that no matter what the situation in the marriage, it is always best for the children for parents to stay together. There is voluminous data that supports even the notion that it is better for a child to live in a broken home than to come from one.
Ruhlman should have read the memoir of his friend Eric Ripert, who runs a New York City restaurant considered one of the best in the world. Called 32 Yokes it is one long cry of the heart about his parents’ divorce decades ago.
The marriage culture broke down decades ago with the rise of what Barbara Defoe Whitehead called “expressive divorce” where adults feel they will find happiness with that someone else. Generations are now harmed by that search for happiness away from one’s spouse and family. A decade ago, social critic Mary Eberstadt sat down and listened to the music of young people and discovered that, too, was not much more than a cry of the heart, like Eric Ripert’s, for lost fathers.
I am an enormous fan of Michael Ruhlman. I have many of his books. I have learned a great deal about food and cooking from him. Somehow, I got his email address and have written to him from time to time, occasionally in a kitchen crisis that he talked me through. Once I told him his book on schmaltz, rendered chicken fat used as a cooking medium or as a spread like butter, had helped a mom I know whose daughter’s malady rendered her unable to eat very much but found she loved and could eat schmaltz. Who would have thought such a thing? Ruhlman was moved by that. And so it is painful to read this “joyful” story about his new romance and to comment so negatively on it.
Ruhlman told the Times, “I get the sense that from the moment I was born, I started knowing her. There is the platonic notion of love in which Plato postulated that one soul is separated from the other at birth and they each spend the rest of their lives searching for the other half. Well, if that’s true, then I’ve found the soul I’ve been searching for.”
Oh, Michael, what romantic and philosophical bosh!
This is not a triumph of love; platonic, romantic, or any other thing. It is a tragedy and is very likely not to end well. More than that, it is the death of two families and the beginning of pathology, most especially for the children. Studies show overwhelmingly there is no such thing as a happy divorce for the kids. There will be a permanent hole in their hearts and souls, a hole they may try to fill with people, places, and things that will only harm them.
As a final silly coda, the Times reported that crime-novelist Laura Lippman became a Universal Life minister so she could officiate at their wedding in the park. It is all so heart-breaking and, I regret to say, so utterly unserious.
(Photo credit: Dolly Faibyshev for the New York Times)