I didn’t start the rumor. I’m only repeating it. I read it today on dlisted.com which copied it from a gossip blog called “Crazy Days and Nights” that specializes in sending out vaguely-worded clues about celebrity hook-ups. A recent entry speculates about the wife of a tennis pro who is apparently cheating with an Academy Award actor. The clue reads as follows:
“This married Academy Award winner/nominee for Best Actor is sleeping with this A list pro tennis player's wife. Guess all the visits to watch him were so he could sit next to the wife in the box.”
I am not going to engage in idle speculation. Whoever this couple is, I wish them all the best. Marriage is hard enough without having to fend off unwanted intruders. I not only wish that this couple finds a way to sort out their differences, but I hope that any fallout does not unduly damage the tennis player, whoever he is. And of course this may be an entirely false rumor with no basis in reality at all.
But reading about it provided for me a launching-pad to write about how difficult it must be to be married to a tennis pro. As much as I adore tennis, I cannot imagine being married to someone whose career would require him to spend months away from me. Of course it could be worse – like being married to a Special Forces soldier whose first wife would really be the military. Under such circumstances, I too might struggle to avoid flirting with guys at the gym just to get some male attention.
This is not by way of condoning any of the actions of the allegedly cheating spouse, but more to acknowledge how difficult fidelity must be for many parties who spend so much time geographically separated. It’s the curse of any two professionals who are independently dedicated to their careers and must therefore spend time apart in separate pursuit of their individual ambitions.
There was a time when this was not an option for many women. Women in my mother’s generation stayed home and took care of their husbands and children. They were called “housewives” for a reason. Which is not to say that many of these women – my mother included – did not aspire to be more than wives of the house. But back in the day many women would squelch their own ambitions in support of that of their men.
And I’m not saying that this is necessarily what Mirka did – after all, she left tennis because of her own injuries not because of hooking up with Federer – but certainly her availability to be his supportive mate has made all the difference in Federer’s ability to achieve his dreams. Of course he may have achieved his ambitions without her support, but it’s hard to imagine that her direct management of his schedule and the other demands on his attention did not play a critical role in his success. Certainly he has always credited her and always seems deeply appreciative. And she too seems comfortable in her role.
From the outside, their partnership seems to resemble the traditional model in which the woman subsumes her own ambitions or thirst for glory under that of the man’s. Women have been standing by their men ever since Eve got punished for rebelling.
Other women find that maintaining a marital relationship alongside a career may be more of a struggle than either spouse can handle. I am not privy to the circumstances of Justine Henin’s divorce but I have always wondered how much her husband’s discomfort with his wife’s gritty ambition may have compromised their marriage. Notice that I am not blaming either the woman or her ambition.
But the simple truth is that not every man has the inner self-confidence to support an ambitious woman who is motivated to achieve her unique glories. Some men come to resent having to play what they perceive as second fiddle to their spouse’s career. In such cases the demise of the marriage may be a reflection of both the man’s insecurity and the woman’s ambition. Of course understand that I am not claiming that this is what happened in the Henin-Hardenne coupling. I’ve just always wondered, you know?
Some women get around this by marrying after their first career is over. Andre and Steffi’s relationship seems to be the perfect example of such a compromise. Again I am not privy to Steffi’s thinking, and she may very well have been willing to marry the race car driver for all I know. But can you imagine how much more difficult it would have been for her to build a relationship with Andre if she had not happened to retire before him? When tennis players date each other, at best they can hope to meet a few times a year at the major Slam events. They would often to be lucky to be in the same country, much less the same city at the same time.
It must therefore be that much more difficult for tennis pros who marry outside the faith. (Yes, I think that tennis is a religion; all that talk of Eve has left me feeling sacrilegious). How on earth is an actress/ accountant/ school-teacher/ model/ [insert profession here]/ supposed to accommodate fulfilling her own ambitions while being married to a successful tennis player? It must be difficult. But there must also be better ways of communicating this difficulty than by sleeping with another man. Especially one whom your husband trusts to invite into his player's box. Assuming of course that there is any truth to this sordid rumor.