The sorry saga of Tipper and Al Gore’s separation continues to fill the airwaves. After the initial shock came the speculation: Why? The scandal – with The Star reporting details of an alleged affair. And the contagion, with their daughter announcing a split from her husband of 13 years.
But more than all these issues (which are real and relevant and each deserve their own column) are two prevailing emotions: sadness and fear.
The sadness reflects a loss of hope. Despite the rising divorce rates, we remain optimistic. Young girls still dream of marriage (even high-powered career women still dream of marriage) and couples still get married in record numbers -- just ask anyone who has tried to book a hall in June! We like stories of love and happily ever afters. We believed in the Gores, we believed in the power of their 40 years together and we feel hurt by their split.
This leads us to the deeper consequence -- the anxiety and fear. “If it could happen to them…” It’s a threat to our stability and world view. Certain couples made us believe it was possible to have long, loving relationships. The dissolution of their marriages threatens our whole belief system, throws us off, challenges our expectations.
We begin to second guess -- first them, then ourselves. We start to analyze and overanalyze. Was it too many years? Did they lead separate lives? Did they take each other for granted? Even the absurd -- did they never recover from the 2000 election loss?
We are desperate to get to the bottom of it – to learn what went wrong, not to titillate but so we can avoid the same mistakes.
But perhaps it’s not necessary. After all, who can really understand the ins and outs of anyone else’s relationship? And who can judge?
Yes, there are times when divorce is necessary. It’s the “after 40 years” that stuns us. I have no idea what happened inside the Gore home but I can comment on some of the common reactions to their break-up.
Perhaps the most frequent response has been to suggest that marriage was never meant to last this long, people are not created to be monogamous for that many years, our longer life spans permit us to lead two separate lives, one after the other…
This is a convenient excuse for the lack of one thing -- a true understanding of the meaning of commitment. And it can’t be blamed on longer life spans. Our world is full of people who lived to a ripe old age and stayed married for a wonderful 60 years, and sometimes even longer. Our forefather Abraham and his wife Sarah had their first child when she was 90 and he was 100 – their marriage survived hardships and challenges that we can’t even imagine. There is no suggestion of boredom or the need for novelty – that is the part that is new. Sarah never says “What about my needs?” That is the part that is new. Their friends don’t encourage Abraham to dump Sarah for a younger model. That is the part that is new.
Not only did Abraham and Sarah understand the meaning of commitment, they also knew what gratitude was. They would be shocked by the all-too-common phenomenon of the woman who puts her husband through medical school or raises the children while he’s jumpstarting his career and is then cast aside for a trophy wife. They didn’t focus on variety or witty repartee or drifting apart. They just dug in their heels, faced their challenges, and made it work. They were willing to put in the effort – constantly, always – for as many years as they had.
We’re disappointed by the news about the Gores. And we’re frightened. But are we willing to deepen our own understanding of commitment and to really do the hard work for the long run? Perhaps their unwillingness to do that, perhaps the unwillingness of many of us to do that, is the most inconvenient truth of all.