So Al and Tipper Gore are heading for separate residences. Forty years of a storybook marriage appear to be over. Many of us who have followed the Gores all these years are just shocked by this turn of events. If marriages are to break up, most will break up within the first seven years. It makes no sense for a couple to break up after forty years of marriage, particularly a publicly affectionate couple like the Gores who in 2003 wrote the book Joined at the Heart about the changing American family. Who would have thunk their marriage would now be disjoined at the heart?
Gosh darn it Al and Tipper, even if you were having marital problems, you were supposed to keep them in the closet and carry on. America needed to believe that both of you were committed to each other for life and that your marital bond was unbreakable. While a lifelong, happy marriage is apparently not possible for most of us, at least yours would be. With your separation, you have gone all human like the rest of us.
The good news is that according to the couple no infidelity was involved. At least that is what we are hearing now. Who knows what news reports we may read about in the next few weeks or months? How long before Al has some younger piece of arm candy, and the rumors start to fly? Rest assured if there were any dirt on their marriage, it would come out soon. For the moment, their marital breakup suddenly out shadows the doings of Sarah Palin and her extended family.
Still, if one were looking for signs of marital stress in Al and Tipper’s marriage, there were some tealeaves to read. For one, after Al Gore lost his presidential bid and took up the environment as his new passion, he was suddenly gone from home a lot. He was jetting here, jetting there, jetting anywhere and not coming home much. Could much of that time away from home, most of it apparently without Tipper, been his way of coping with a bad marital situation? A physical separation even if it was not a legal separation? Then there was his sudden weight gain. For most of his life, Al had been at normal weight, and suddenly he got all Warren Harding on us. Maybe he got so myopic about saving the planet that he forgot about eating healthy and exercise. On the other hand, since he spent so much time in airports maybe he had no choice but to dine on their greasy junk. Or perhaps there was a lot of marital stress at home and he compensated by overeating. Fortunately, he managed to take off most of the weight. However, a sudden and large weight gain in anyone is usually a sign that someone is under unusual stress. I know in my case I tended to weigh the most when I felt under the most stress. There were no such clues from Tipper, but then again we were not paying attention to her, as she prefers to spend most of her life offstage.
What went wrong? I frankly hope we don’t find out, but I suspect we will at some point. There must be enough cash some publisher will throw at them for one of them to write a tell-all book. I hope that neither succumbs. For the moment, close friends express bafflement. Whatever marital woes beset their relationship, they kept them far from public view.
What the Gore separation represents then has more to do with spoiling our illusions than the end of their long-standing marriage. With blood relations, you have little choice but to hang in there for life. I am fortunate to love and respect my siblings as well as my father (my mother died in 2005), but even in families where there is a lot of hurt feelings and rivalries, rarely will relations separate for life by choice.
Despite all the sober words at the start of a marriage, marriages are ultimately optional relationships. It is true that for much of human history marriages were for truly for life. This did not necessarily make them happier, but they did endure. Today, if you cannot work it out, you divorce and move on. If, as I suspect, your next relationship means you are largely revisiting the same issues you had in your marriage, then perhaps divorce is pointless. Any divorce is a gamble that your future you will be happier than you were in your marriage.
I also strongly suspect that marriages are not naturally meant to endure for life. Some do, and some percent of those that do are perhaps overall generally healthy and happy marriages. Marriages lasting forty or more years, like the Gores, are a fairly recent phenomenon. The primary purpose of marriage these days is to provide a stable and healthy environment to raise a family. Until recently, you often did not get a chance to see your grandchildren. Those that did were lucky to have their spouse alive after twenty or twenty five years. If, as it appears, the Gores had thirty-five years or so of a happy and healthy marriage, then they were probably extremely fortunate. Most of us will not be so fortunate.
I hate to characterize my own marriage for public consumption, but I suspect it is typical of most marriages nearly a quarter century in length. My wife and I love each other, but like all marriages, ours too has its issues. Neither of us is anxious to head for the exit, but neither are we the enchanted young adults that we were when we married in 1985. We do grate on each other, some days more than other, but apparently not to the extent that we want to live lives apart from one another. In any event, neither of us particularly embraces change, which helps keep us as a “still married” statistic. At the same time, neither of us are naïve enough to think that divorce could not happen to us. All marriages are consensual. For most of us old married people, success in marriage is about succeeding in scaling back expectations of what marriage should be.
So rather than get too upset about the Gores breaking up, why not raise a glass to what appears to be a really good and long run? It appears they had thirty-five years or so of a really good marriage. Most of us would be thrilled to have ten years of excellent marriage, let alone thirty-five. Divorce is not always a bad thing. It can also be liberating. It may be that at this stage in their lives it is the best thing for both Al and Tipper. If so, I’ll raise my glass for both of them having the good sense and the courage to move on.