Friday, June 4, 2010

An Inconvenient Divorce

Al and Tipper Gore, once so mutually ga-ga over each other that Al claimed they inspired the best-seller Love Story, are splitting after 40 years of marriage.  The prevalent reaction isn't just shock, but "beyond shock," "shock of shocks," shocking like a bolt of globally-warm lightening.  Focus on the Family has come forth with offers to help the couple patch it up; bloggers are speculating with not much to go on beyond a terse email to friends saying the Gores' long-considered decision to separate was a "mutual and mutually supportive" response to "growing apart."

As a psychologist who wrote a book on the negative impact of divorce, I'm struck by the way people make consequential decisions to part based not on justifiable, unresolvable issues (drugs, abuse) but on cooling of passion or the ability to get away with "chopping and running" to what seems a greener-grass life.  When marriages are so cavalierly discarded, kids and society have no continuity, nothing to count on.

This is definitely an inconveneint divorce, for a couple who contrasted their romance with the far more distant marriage of Bill and Hilary Clinton.  It suggests to me that the Gores face much more than simply increasing indifference; there must be something truly irreparable, or the most face-saving course would be quiet counseling and reconciliation.  Rebuilding a relationship isn't simple, but for 40 years the Gores nurtured their image as a romantic and close couple.  Was that a political ploy?  You don't just turn around and look at a lifetime together and parenting four children and say "it doesn't feel good any more so we'll chuck it all."

Or, maybe you do.  When Al Gore entered politics, the electorate was generally older, and hadn't all embraced the Boomers' sexual revolution. To get elected you needed respectability. You needed marriage and family and even religion.  Al's got his Nobel Prize, he's "been there, done that" with politics, and found a niche in global warming...uh, "climate change."  Heck, he's even had his own movie and his own Oscar--the only human in history to earn both a Nobel Prize and Academy Award in the same year.  No need to stick around with Tipper.  On the other hand, a marriage is a complex thing. It could be Tipper who's had it with Al.

In either case, from the information available, it appears that if the Gores wanted to fix their problems and work on their marriage, they could.   Even they know that if you can "grow apart," you can "grow" back together if you're determined.  Love is a moment-to-moment decision; it's not "never having to say you're sorry."

That they consider it "mutually supportive" to ditch each other is one more illustration of the devaluing of marriage, an institution once the bedrock of every society and revered as the best place to nurture children while creating a bond like no other: the combining of the male and female soul, each with a unique contribution that only together form a whole.

Proponents of gay marriage (and I assume Al is one) seek to redefine marriage not as a permanent commitment to combine opposites into a fundamental family unit, but as a declaration of love.   So, when love fades, there's no marriage.

Al and Tipper's very public union not only produced progeny, but at their cultivation symbolized that even after 20, 30 years of teamwork, romance could prevail. Their lingering kiss on stage at the 2000 Democratic Convention was a public statement of their attraction and dedication.  And now what? A mutually-supportive shrug?

The norm in divorces is to look backward for signs that it was flawed all along.  Or that the split was inevitable.  Or that the personalities never really meshed properly.  I wonder if the Gore children would now say that Mom and Dad weren't really that close.  Or that they're glad Mom and Dad get to live out their separate lives.  Because they're "progressive," they probably have to.  Isn't it wonderful they had such a great ride for 40 years, and now can unclasp hands and walk into their individual sunsets?

No. It's sad, and tears apart not just two people but the edges of our most basic and important institution.


  1. I actually heard a commentator blame Bush for their breakup. Apparently, Al is still so upset at having the 2000 election "stolen" from him, that it caused him and Tipper to drift apart.

  2. Childs: Wow, folks are so used to hearing that every problem in the world is Bush's fault, of COURSE he must have been the eeeevil reason for the Gore "love story" demise! The idea of personal responsibility for one's life isn't in vogue right now. I'm always amazed at what commentators and a President grasping for straws can blame on Bush. Thanks for the contribution.

  3. Maybe there's more to it that we just don't know about?

    I kind of feel bad for public figures when it comes to this stuff. They don't really get their privacy.

  4. Erachet, I share your sympathy for some political and celebrity couples whose private lives can't stay private, but in this case, the Gores chose to take a prolonged smacker in front of thousands of stares. Al boasted the two were models for Love Story, and the fact even their closest friends are "beyond shocked" puts their particular marriage in a different category from nearly everyone else. Also, if they wanted to keep their split private they wouldn't have sent out a mass e-mail in wording that clearly was a press release. Or they could have said, "for reasons we'd like to keep private" rather than volunteering they'd "grown apart" and separate to be "mutually supportive," which are pure spin for public consumption.

  5. Is there a psychological or mental illness at the source of this? I've heard our favorite radio host opine on the sanity of one of this couple. The wife has a master's in psychology. Maybe separating is an intervention of sorts: Al, get help!

    Or not.

    There are now a few grandchildren and one of the daughters quietly divorced not too long ago. To my knowledge, the youngest son isn't married. Maybe Mrs. G wanted to be more involved in family and less involved in public life?

  6. Ruth Anne, yes, you're right that mental illness may be involved, though my wise source believes Al's got a girlfriend, and that's the root of this split.

    I don't think it's just Tipper's desire to connect with family. No need to divorce for that--in fact "growing apart" can be fairly benign. But if Al "grows" toward some other lady, I'd bet that's when Tipper draws the line.

  7. Forty years is a LONG time. I know because my husband and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary June 12th !

    There are so many ups and downs during that time but I wouldn't want to have gone through it with anyone else.