How About You … Could You Do What She Did?

This week, I’m straying a bit from my usual to share an interesting article that I recently read in Vanity Fair. As I read the article, I kept thinking about if I could do what Nan Talese did. She’s a powerful woman who has managed to have a successful career, a long marriage and two children … seemingly having everything she could want. But, did she really have it all?

As I read, I wondered where others would fall on this subject … and thought it might be a fun dialogue for us to have. So if you haven’t read the article, check it out. And then come back and here and let’s discuss! How would you approach her situation? What would you do? I’m anxious to hear your thoughts!



  1. Wow, what a story – I couldn’t stop reading it. Thank you Mary Beth for bringing it to my attention.

    During that era women obeyed me (I’m choking on that word) but that’s what happened and a marriage was a lifetime committment.

    I know many marriages I would not be involved in because even today their husbands expect their wives to be obedient. I haven’t been in a relationship for over 20 years because I have never met a man who would consider me his equal (I’m not saying there is no men out that that feel that way – I just haven’t met them).

    I love my life because I do what I want to do, and it certainly isn’t for everyone, I know many women who have given up basically given up the essence of who they are for a combination of money, fame, fear.

    The only thing I have a problem with is that both her daughters seem to have witnessed their mother being dominated by their father and I just don’t think that is a healthy family.

  2. Very interesting article.
    Short answer: No, I could not stay in a marriage like the Talese’s.
    Long answer: Sounds pretty crazy today, but back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, most girls were raised believing a wedding ring was the ultimate prize. Nan’s choice to marry a man who made her promise he would also have his “freedom” got her the all important wedding ring. It also assured that Gay would have the power in the relationship and their home life would revolve around his wants, needs and ego. Perhaps Nan made a success of her career because her marriage was ultimately unfulfilling?
    I don’t buy Gay’s statement that he has always respected Nan. If he respected her, he wouldn’t have made her choose between him and her parents and he wouldn’t have been so publicly unfaithful. It’s interesting that Nan’s daughters seem more critical of her for twisting herself into a pretzel to stay in the marriage than of Gay for being an unfaithful tyrant.

    • Jennifer Luisi

      I enjoyed reading your comment Barbara.. I thought about the era that Nan was from when i was reading the artical and definitely would have influenced her determined spirited to stay married. I especially liked your comment about Nans career and I agree.. maybe over compensating in her career for an unfulfilling marriage but whatever her reasons.. she is a remarkable women and I admire her desire to have it all. #monalisasmile #themovie

  3. Jennifer Luisi

    Interesting read🤔
    Nan and Gay are not your typical romance storey but they are committed to one another and I feel are suited in their own unconventional way. Reading through the artical I got the feeling their love for one another is unconditional in a conditional way if that makes sense? They both wanted to remain themselves in marriage and professional careers and both have what they want and it seems the reason for the longevity of their marriage and life together. I would like to hope I have Nans class and grace if I was to take on such a man and I believe Gay when he mentioned Nan is a women who knows exactly what she wants and I believe she is a women who has it all (but don’t get me wrong not without great sacrafice on her part I’m sure)..even if she does buy her childhood like dream home without telling her husband lol! A very unique couple and fierce individuals.

    I liked reading the part about Nans manuscripts all over the bed and floor like to say that was her way of infidelity in the marriage lol!

    Great blog this week MB🌻

  4. Connie D

    I have been married to a wonderful husband and father for almost 54 years. This type of marriage would not work for me, but to each his own!

  5. Georgia L

    Some people measure their happiness by how they feel. Some people measure their happiness by how their loved ones feel. And then there is everything in between.

    Clearly Gay lives on one end of this spectrum. Nan is a complex mix of both, caught up between her happiness and ambition, while willingly bowing to his needs. All this comes at their daughters’ expense.

    We need to draw our own lines in the sand on this one and be willing to accept the consequences that come with that decision.

    Like most of us here, marriage and having children is, for me, a total commitment and I would expect nothing less in return.

    That’s my line in the sand!

    Thanks for the conversation Mary Beth.

  6. Georgia L

    Some people measure their happiness by how they feel. Some people measure their happiness by how their loved ones feel. And then there is everything in between.

    Clearly Gay lives at one end of this spectrum. Nan is complex mix of striving to achieve her own happiness and ambitions while also willingly bowing to his needs. This has all come at their daughters’ expense.

    We all need to draw our own line in the sand on this one but be prepared to live with the consequences.

    For me, my marriage and having kids is a total commitment and I would expect nothing less in return.

    That’s my line in the sand!

  7. Mary Beth

    I love all the conversation! I often think if we had more women forums,where we could share our thought and feelings and collectively support each other, we would all be happier. Never under estimate the power of women…

    This I know … everyone’s story is different. Her story wouldn’t work for me. I joke that I am too immature. I want my husband ‘s love, care and attention 100%! It would make me crazy to think he was with someone else, let alone several different people over our whole time together So much hurt, I couldn’t take it.

    But I also know none of us knows what goes on behind closed doors. I mean how many people do you know that you you say OMG how on earth are they together? But somehow it works.

    As they say, different strokes for different folks.

    Thank you for all your contributions !!! Love it!

    • I totally agree that this forum for discussion is so needed and I love that your blog (and your work certainly) have brought so many different women together for respectful discourse!! A common theme in the comments seems to be “not for me but good for her” which is pretty cool in itself.

  8. Stacey AKA BraveWidowMama

    Mary Beth,

    My personal belief is that there is no point in getting married if you don’t plan on being faithful.

    I was with my husband from the age of 24 and became “single” at 42. I never looked at another man that whole time. I was a married woman. For me, it was a mind-set. It took years for me to bring myself to date without feeling exceedingly guilty. Loving someone that way, faithfully and completely, was a gift. I feel sorry for anyone who does not get the experience, because it is amazing…

  9. The husband says he’s never had a moment in all their years of marriage where he didn’t respect her.
    I don’t know MB. I have a problem with that statement. I don’t think a husband is respecting his wife while he’s out enjoying the company of other women all in the name of ‘work.’
    Could I do what Nan did? I’ve never been in the situation but I’d like to think I would not.

  10. Andrea Welmaker

    I have to say, this is a tuff one. Me…I’d say get lost!! Of course it’s real easy to say when you’re not in the situation. My grandmother, who I’ve posted on IG is my role model. The strongest woman I’ve known. She and my Papa raised four children. He was unfaithful to her. They lived in Charleston, SC until my dad went to college then moved to Florida. One of the reasons was because of his girlfriends. It didn’t change once they moved. He found new ones. The difference with him and Gay is, he came back to my grandmother sorrowful and repenting. My grandmother never made him leave. She didn’t have to let stay. She didn’t need him for his money. She was well to do on her own. But She had her own set of faults too. She was a very stern lady and could be difficult. Where he was the life of the party. We as a society can be very judgmental of people. I do not think I could stay in an unfaithful marriage. But until we’re there we just don’t know. It’s difficult to come down to hard on Nan as far as putting her husband and children first. I do that in my family. But I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up. Because like me, my husband puts me before him. I also tend to put others first in general. It might be her personality to do the same. What is hard is her husband. Is him not considering her needs like she does his. I felt partly sad for her but seems to be happy.

  11. This is not the kind of life I could live or the example I could set for my daughter or my sons. Respect must go both ways and I want my children to see what a healthy respectful marriage looks like. Unfortunately, they will not get to see that in our house as my husband died almost 2 years ago. But they know that I love them and will do whatever I need to do to raise them to be happy, healthy, loving, well-rounded human beings. Maybe her marriage and work-life are things that work for her, but it sounds like her daughters are a mess and are anything but happy, healthy and well-rounded. Although I love what I do and I love my students, my own children come first and I am their mother first and foremost. I wish her well, but no, I could never nor would I ever want to live the way she has lived and raised her family. And honestly, I feel sorry for her girls and what they had to grow up in.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed that story-thank you for pointing us to it Mary Beth. My feelings are that the marriage did succeed because they were in a partnership where both continued to strive to get what they wanted and they had the financial, intellectual and mental capacity to do so. How many of us would have withered on the journey if we didn’t grow when our partner did, albeit on parallel lines.

    It is mentioned several times that the children were/are in therapy and that they were clearly an afterthought in their parents lives-eating dinner separately for example and that Nan never saw her parents for decades after the wedding. Is that success? Or is the success two fascinating careers of the highest level with equal measures of fame and achievement.

    I guess you can’t have it all.

  13. What a great read while taking a break from writing final papers! I could not ever see myself staying in a scenario like Nan and Gay. I found it very interesting that he said he had respect for her, because it really didn’t seem like it in the ways that it was recalled that her attitude would change with her children when he was around, and also for how he kind of shut her down if she tried to give her opinion. I also just really think that the open relationship thing would be hard to accept, especially if there were children involved. Thank you for posting, definitely a thought provoking article!

  14. Christie L

    As women we frequently control much more in the relationship than even the hubs is aware of. Mine thinks many things were actually his idea (he’s so cute). I think this was an example of topping from the bottom.
    Like many above have said, it’s not for me, but I’m sure my relationship is not for most, too. Definitely a unique relationship.

  15. I’ve heard stories about open marriages that work, but they usually involve *more* respect, consideration, and sensitivity than conventional ones. The red flags for me are Gay never seeing her parents again after one dinner as newlyweds, and expecting her to act as a cook/butler/nurse/mother while he was writing… at the same time she had her own career! Not wanting to be faithful is just one symptom. It would not work for me to be in a relationship where one partner was doing all the accommodating to keep the other in the marriage, both have to be committed and giving to each other.

    But if it works for them, that’s their business. A lot of bohemian relationships from the 50’s and 60’s weren’t really based on equal partners. And there is so much to admire in her career accomplishments.

  16. Karen Weiss

    What a fascinating woman. You also have to consider the era that she grew up in, in order to understand her motivation for her actions. She grew in a time where women “came out” at debutante balls, and the entirety of their life’s dream was often to become s house wife. This is where Nan Talese is extraordinary. She wasn’t content with just being Gay’s wife. She wanted more and she chased her dream with intensity, ultimately making her husband jealous of her success. Could I do what she did and continues to do?, no. Infidelity is a huge no in the book of marriage for me. For many married people, it’s an acceptable practice and appears to cause no threat to the relationship. I’ll end with one thought…Jackie Kennedy was from the same generation as Nan; a great woman that endured and overcame many obstacles in spite of her husband’s escapades.

  17. This left me with a large range of emotions. I watched what years of infidelity can do to a person and their own self worth and respect. In turn since it was someone I looked up to, I lost all respect for both and I wonder how this truly effected their daughters? He stated he respects his wife but IMO his actions show differently. He may respect her on a professional level. Or maybe he has regrets and respects her for sticking with him, idk.
    With all that I really wonder if she feels she had it all. I know I am married to my best friend and I cherish that. We’ve definitely made mistakes and had to reevaluate a few times along the way, but it’s something that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But, I guess everyone is different.

  18. I laugh at the concept of how I would approach her situation, I think, because it is hard to empathize. I would not be happy being married to someone who had other partners, on a regular basis, and rather publicly to boot. Part of the reason for that is that my fulfillment as a human being, in part, comes from establishing the stable, functional family and home life that I never had. I can maybe understand that parts of her life, her pursuit of her passions, the love of her work, the ability for the last 80 years or so to do what she wanted in life at a time when such opportunities didn’t always exist for women were so fulfilling to her that she placed less importance on having a long term, committed partner in every sense of the word. It is interesting that she doesn’t seem to want that much credit for her work, in fact, wants to be “invisible” as her daughter noted, either. So you can’t argue that she compromises her own feelings solely because she is kept in the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed. For whatever reason, the partnership that she has with Gay works for her, despite how it might look to someone like me. She has a lot of power over her life despite seeming like someone who outwardly doesn’t want power. I noted, too, that he always has “respect” for her. On a deeper level, I suspect she internalizes a lot of power from being the more righteous, evolved, and seemingly stronger human being in her marriage. Very interested to hear your thoughts, MB, because I have heard you say several times that you have no hindsight or foresight, and Nan notes, at least, that she has no foresight either.

    • One more comment! I love reading stories of women who followed their own unique path to get what they wanted and needed out of life. This is a great one.

  19. Wow! I definitely could not have been like her. I guess it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal to “get the man” if I knew he wasn’t all in for a relationship. I don’t open my true self to people that easily and I can’t imagine being married to someone that wasn’t willing to give me back the same emotional support. I guess if it worked for her, good for her. However, I’m not wired that way. I would be fine with not being in the “public eye” but I wouldn’t be able to handle the feeling of being used or taken advantage of. That’s how their relationship felt to me. She gave everything to him and he took it. But, I guess she got what she needed from him. To each their own and what works for them.

  20. Joanne Conte

    I believe that Nan and Gay Talese’s do love each other, but above all they respect each other. I wouldn’t be able to be in a marriage like the Talese’s, but people handle situations in different ways. She made a deal with him that he would be free, and she has held up her end of the bargain. I feel that in a marriage one of the parties always has a stronger pull like a tug of war, even though we say that marriage is 50/50. Nowadays, marriages end up in divorce, but Gay and Nan are from a different era staying married almost 60 years. In the 50’s and 60’s marriage partners accepted their roles. But don’t kid yourself Nan had a lot more control of her marriage if you inspect the article more carefully. To paraphrase the end of the article, he’s writing a book about our marriage. What does he know about marriage!

  21. Wow! Interesting article Mary Beth. Thank you for sharing it! It’s not the life I would want to lead, nor have my children be a part of. I feel bad for her children, as I feel they didn’t have a great view on what a marriage should be. Nan was a role model to her girls in the fact that she made a name for herself in the publishing business, but at what cost? I feel she gave up a lot of herself to be there for a husband who wasn’t there for her or their children. I personally would rather have a successful marriage that is a partnership, and happy, healthy, well-adjusted children, than to be a huge success at work and have an unhealthy marriage and unhappy children. I realize that isn’t for everyone and that everyone has their own set of priorities in life, and they have to do what feels best for them, and what they can live with, without regrets.
    This article also brings to light that not everything you perceive is reality. Seemingly, having it all may not be what it’s cracked up to be.
    Thank you again for sharing this article Mary Beth. It helped me to put into perspective my life and how I want to live it. And it makes me realize my priorities and what’s really important to me and what isn’t.

  22. Roberta Struck

    I read the article and felt sorry for her, and her daughters, although perhaps I shouldn’t because she seems content with her life. I read about your life and it seems to me you “have it all”. I feel I “have it all”, because even though my marriage fell apart 30+ years ago when my kids were very young, I was able to get a job normally considered a “man’s” job that supported us and provided a retirement fund I will soon be enjoying. My children have grown up to be amazing adults in good solid marriages, and I have four wonderful grandkids. I’m also blessed at almost 65 to still have my mother around. I have a hobby in music that has given me years of pleasure. God has blessed my family many times over. I can’t think of anything I really desire that I don’t have. I “have it all”! I always enjoy your blog.

  23. Oh dear Mary Beth. How many of us have the time or the intrigue to read that oh-so-long article?

    There’s a tremendous story there waiting for a screenplay so that Nan can be honored at small art houses for being tenacious, bold and perhaps complacent with her life choices. Amidst the glamour there seems to be a love story. One that takes different form where the love is in the subtleties of daily life. Nan’s life illustrates the dichotomy we humans encounter so often. I want this, but I also want that and those things are mutually exclusive. She seemed to have found a way to merge her wants in a life that seems to be anything but boring.

  24. I don’t believe her daughter’s see their mother for the true “take charge” person that she is. She wanted Gay Talese to be her husband and she made it happen. During the years, even though she put up with a lot, she still got what she wanted… the husband, family and career. She had it all; however, she had to put herself second while her husband came first. I’m sure many of us feel that way. We have a wonderful husband and family, but we tend to put them first – before ourselves. I’m not sure I for one could tolerate his philandering though! She has brought the words “compromise” and “tolerance” to another level. Remarkable story.

  25. ILoveMySmK

    Well that was an interesting read. Being married to someone a lot older, I can relate somewhat. But we all make deals with ourselves and it’s no one else’s business to judge or question. Just b/c you wouldn’t put up with a certain behavior doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t either. We all have to find our “happy” and I can tell you mine most likely won’t be yours and yours wouldn’t be mine. And that “happy” is subject to change because we do and should grow as an individual. The result or consequence of that change? Who knows but you deal in a way to continue to find and/or maintain your “happy”. IMO

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