Ron Weinstein has only one thing in common with Bernie Madoff: Sheryl Weinstein, the woman he’s been married to for 37 years.
Last week she appeared on Good Morning America to discuss her mini-memoir, Madoff's Other Secret, an account of her affair with the Ponzi schemer. She has been accused of selling her soul, but the book is required reading, says Ron, for anyone seeking insight into who Madoff is and “what made this man tick.”
"I’ll wait a few months, let my emotions calm down and then I’ll see if I can forgive. Having an affair is not the end of the world, but writing a book and telling everybody about it is unacceptable."
“Who knows him better in this regard, other than his wife, than my wife? She’s known him for twenty years,” he says. “She slept with him for a year and a half. Don’t be so quick to judge my wife,” he adds, although he tried to talk her out of writing the book.
XTRA INSIGHT:• Allan Dodds Frank dissects the SEC's Madoff report. Citing the Judeo-Christian principles “this country was built on,” he says he told her, “I think the masses are not going to feel a whole lot of empathy for you. I don’t think they understand. I read blogs, I read the comments, and I get nauseous. As hurtful as [the book] is to me, it was probably necessary or she’d be a basket case. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with her, but I understand it. When people write these things on these blogs, what the hell do they know? They’re looking at the surface.” He describes the cliché-ridden attacks—“She cheated on her husband, she’s a money hungry slut”—stops talking in order to collect his emotions, then explains: “I dislike the choice she made. I am not okay with it, but I try to understand it.”
Ron Weinstein is a lean, youthful-looking salesman in his sixties with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair and a rather intense manner which he attributes to his ADHD. Now kept in check by medication, it was diagnosed after many years of marriage and discussed in detail in his wife’s memoir. Ron says Sheryl felt she had “the right to go have this affair” because ADHD made him impossible to live with. While complaints about his hot temper and his screaming (prior to his diagnosis and treatment) are “accurate,” he says, “what she doesn’t share is that she pushed the buttons.”
A week after the publication of his wife's tell-all, Ron is defending her authorial motives, even while protesting that he wasn’t given the opportunity to critique a story in which he happens to be a central character. (“She said it was her book and that if I wanted, I could write my own.") He's wondering how Madoff's Other Secret is doing at Borders, and looking for a way to tell his side of the story.
He finds himself in the bizarre position of being married to a CPA—“4.0 at Wharton, controller of Lincoln Center, we’re not talking small jobs here”—who has morphed into (and acquired all the quirks of) a professional memoirist. It’s an audacious transformation and probably the most unexpected event in their marriage. But crazy circumstances can strengthen a relationship, so I was curious to find out whether the Weinsteins have a secret recipe for staying together through tough times. Last December they discovered they’d been cleaned out after remortgaging their home to invest yet more of their assets in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Hadassah, the Jewish women's organization for which Sheryl served as CFO, also lost millions. In February (according to Ron, though his wife indicates it was January) Sheryl revealed the true nature of her relationship with Madoff to her husband. She was shopping her book.
Although he had joked in the past about the possibility of Sheryl leaving him for Madoff, he was surprised (“With him?!” he exclaimed), but it wasn't the affair itself that bothered him. “I can handle an affair,” he says. “It’s not a big deal. Okay, you jumped in bed with him because he was powerful and he was attentive and you saw a lifestyle that attracted you. And it’s exciting because an illicit love is a hot love.”
Because in many respects, Ron is a quintessentially liberal Manhattan husband. Although Fox is his “network of choice” and he voted for McCain, he’s hardly a social conservative. The Weinsteins move in circles where it’s tacitly understood that some wives play around, too, but they do it discreetly. An extramarital affair isn’t desirable, but Ron doesn’t think it should be the end of a marriage. “Affairs are commonplace and shouldn’t be such a big deal," he says. "However, having an affair with the person who is the biggest crook in the world and stole all my assets is another issue entirely.”
What makes the Weinsteins stand out in their social circle is that Sheryl's affair is discussed on the morning talk shows. “I haven’t come to terms with it myself. To see your wife talking about her affair on television and knowing people are watching it is not easy."
Another unexpected development: his wife’s allegations about Bernie Madoff’s penile dimensions. “I thought it was trashy," Ron says, "but I thought it was necessary to get insight into how somebody becomes a sociopath. What happens when they’re young that can cause somebody to be this horrible?”
Sheryl’s talk-show antics are as misleading as they are audacious, insists Ron. “She comes across as cocky,” he says, “but she’s like anybody else. When the real Sheryl emerges, there is a sadness. Going public is taking its toll on her.”
Ron is acutely aware that his wife’s professional ego took a hit. Finance was “her claim to fame,” he points out. As CFO of Hadassah, she cut costs and saved the organization millions of dollars before Madoff's scheme was revealed.
“What was taken from her was not only the money which she is responsible in our family for handling and investing. Not only did she make a bad financial choice, she slept with the guy that, while he was sleeping with her, was stealing her money.”
In January, he recalls, she was not so much depressed as comatose. “She was just staring into space and couldn’t eat or talk.” At first he thought it was all about the money, “until it came out that she had the affair with him.” Then, he says, she snapped. “This decision to write the book, yes, it was for money, but it also gave her the ability to get out of that comatose state and express herself.”
Now that her book is out “and the dirty laundry is being aired”—a decision he still opposes—Ron says he won’t do anything to hurt the book's sales. “Half of the profits are mine,” he points out, and he’s glad some of his friends are buying the book, even if its content rankles.
Not that he’s actually read it. After thumbing through it looking for his name, he came across passages describing Sheryl’s “sexual advances with Bernie” and decided it was best if he didn't know the details.
Some are comparing him to political wives like Elizabeth Edwards and Jenny Sanford, whose husbands’ affairs are being dissected in the tabloids. People who make such analogies "have too much time on their hands," he replies, pointing out that Sheryl has nothing in common with John Edwards or Mark Sanford. "They didn't lose their money. They're politicians and they're out there no matter what—everyone's looking. But we're just two working slobs and now we're out there. There is no comparison."
How insanely romantic is it to admire the Weinstein’s flawed solidarity? Many couples are torn asunder by financial devastation, not to mention the usual results of sharing too much sexual information.
“I have no recipe,” he says. “I have a commitment and I’m not going to leave her hanging out there. I’ll wait a few months, let my emotions calm down and then I’ll see if I can forgive. Having an affair is not the end of the world, but writing a book and telling everybody about it is unacceptable.”
When pushed to explain, he says, “It’s unacceptable, but it’s understandable.”
Maybe that’s the recipe.
Tracy Quan's latest novel is Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl, set in Provence and praised in The Nation as a "deft account of occupational rigors and anxieties before the crash." Tracy's debut, Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl, and the sequel, Diary of a Married Call Girl, are international bestsellers. A regular columnist for The Guardian, she has written for many publications including Cosmopolitan, The Financial Times, and The New York Times.