(Why, oh why, is this couple of 40 years separating?)
Many were shocked to hear of the separation of former Vice-President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper Gore. Forty years of marriage ending in divorce, a phenomenon that is becoming more and more common.
Many were distressed about this news. Forty years of marriage and they are giving it up? Why? What for? How could they? What about the children?
Many were apathetic. Who cares? They’re wealthy and famous, they’ll be fine.
Many were catty and wanted to know WHY. “He must have had an affair, surely he had an affair.”
This curiosity, distress, cynicism and maliciousness are all normal reactions by human beings who want to know why anyone would seriously consider divorce after forty years.
These responses do not extend only to the famous. When I went through my divorce ten years ago, people I hadn’t heard from in years were suddenly calling me in droves. They called so much I would be relieved to find the occasional telemarketer on the other end.
At first, I was innocent and naïve and was touched by these phone calls. Divorce is a lonely matter and I grabbed onto these connections like a love-sick teenager.
However, it soon became clear to me that none of these people were interested in me and how I was doing. They wanted the scoop, the dirt, the “facts”, and the reasons. Lord did they want to know the reasons.
If I’ve learned one thing from my own divorce and the many couples I’ve worked with over the years, no one seems to be able to agree on why the divorce happened, especially the couple themselves! Each person has their story and because our culture is so ridiculously judgmental and nosey (there's a reason "People Magazine" has been in business for 35 years), the story had better sound good lest we end up looking bad, immoral, lazy or morally corrupt.
One of the things about divorce that sucks so much is how much judgment there is. The divorce wounds are deep and raw, and the continual assumptions made by others, often by friends and relatives, are like pouring salt to the wound.
It seems that our culture...we...us...demands that someone needs to be blamed when two people divorce. Or if they divorce, there needs to be an “acceptable” reason for the divorce.
There must be infidelity, abuse or mental illness. And even if those elements are present, there still needs to be more blame. “Couldn’t you have worked it out? Couldn't you have gotten her into treatment? Couldn't you have forgiven?”
In the movie “It’s Complicated” (and believe me, it is), Meryl Streep’s character wisely tells her widowed friend she is lucky her husband died. Sound insensitive? Maybe, but it’s the truth. In our culture, it’s much better to be the grieving widow than the immoral divorcee.
So the Puritanical attitudes towards divorce stubbornly persist. Odd given that almost half of adults end up divorced at some point in their lifetime.
Is it so difficult for us to grasp that some marriages have a lifetime within a lifetime?
Is it so difficult for us to grasp that perhaps people divorce because the marriage is no longer what is ultimately best for them? That they want to pursue their own dreams, their own goals without being tethered to another?
Is it so difficult to grasp that those who remain married, yet unhappy, do a terrible disservice to their children by modeling marriage as something one must endure, tolerate because “it’s best for the children”?
Back to the Gores. I don’t have a clue as to why they are divorcing and I don’t care. It’s none of my business. But I do have this to say.
Is it so difficult to look at the glass half full when it comes to the 40 year marriage of the Gores?
Can we say, “Good job for being married for 40 years, having four children and raising them in the best way that you could!”?
Can we say, “Being married for 40 years is something to be proud of. You two went through a lot of crazy tough times and good for you for staying together all those years.”
The Gore’s divorce will never negate the union they had for forty years. It will not negate the love they once had (and possibly still do) and the family they created.
The Gores may stop being a married couple, but they will always be the parents together with their four children.
Like marriage, divorce isn’t going anywhere. Next time your friend, relative, acquaintance or what not divorces, have some compassion and mind your own business. Keep in mind that most people agonize, often for years, about the decision to divorce.
Instead of assuming the worst, assume the best. If you had known me when I divorced, you would have been stunned, shocked. I was a living billboard for "family values". I have experienced no greater grief than the changing of the structure of my family…of giving up the “mommy and the daddy living together in the house with their children”.
Divorce is a death, a loss. And as such, those who go through it deserve to grieve with dignity and support.
It’s about damn time we start normalizing divorce and quit looking for salacious juicy tidbits to falsely help us feel better than, superior to, above…”them”.
After all, wise, intelligent, thoughtful people divorce every day. And the Gores are no different than them.