By Nicolle

In keeping up with the news, you’ve likely heard about the widespread oil spill (have you seen the photos?), the World Cup (the United States apparently got gyped last Friday) and the economy (is it getting better?). You probably also heard about the political power couple, the Gores, who recently called it quits when it came to their marriage.

The news was as big as the number of animals dying in the Gulf; everyone was talking about the Gore divorce. “If Al and Tipper can’t make it, who can?!” a friend of mine posted on Twitter the day after the news broke. The New York Times, the local Minneapolis Star Tribune and countless celebrity gossip websites took a stab at identifying the reasons for the Gores’ marital failure.

If you know anything about the journalism world, you know that a story is only as good as its angle – what piece of the breaking news can you unveil that no one else has access to or insight about? In light of that challenge, many news stories used Al and Tipper as a springboard to talk about more broad societal trends in marriage.

One trend identified by both The New York Times and the Star Tribune is what’s being called the “third age” (first age: youthful sex; second age: child-rearing; third age: the period past both of those earlier stages). Divorces by the middle-aged and elderly are the fastest-growing, said Star Tribune writer Deirdre Bair. And according to her, that shouldn’t make us sad because new divorcees can easily find new partners and few of them have regrets.

Well, I’m sad. And I’d call her bluff on few of them having no regrets.

Divorce almost always leaves in its trail regret, confusion, pain, anger and suffering – even if both spouses were “unhappy” in the marriage. Think of your worst break up, whether or not you thought breaking up was the right action. Multiply that pain by 30 years of marital commitment, add in the dedication it takes to raise kids and then double all that to account for the loneliness of suddenly being single.

(Disclaimer: There are cases when divorce is the necessary and best option: serial infidelity, physical/emotional/spiritual/sexual abuse, drug use. But we often couple those extreme cases with our less serious ideas of divorce due to unhappiness, uncertainty or looking for something better.)

We’ve elevated ourselves as individuals above the lifelong commitment we’ve chosen in marriage. And when we put ourselves on such a pedestal, we make divorce practically inevitable.

There’s more to think about than just our own personal happiness when we’re contemplating marriage or divorce, and we need to begin to challenge the cultural norms and mores that excuse us from taking responsibility for the commitment we’ve made, whether or not we think we’d be more content in a different relationship. Marriage has to be about selflessness, or our marriages will never survive. Growing disenchanted by the personality, looks or disposition of your partner isn’t going to be magically fixed by divorce – and what’s going to halt you from future disenchantment with a different person? A new person can only be exciting for so long, and in the mindset that marriage is all about our personal happiness, we’re doomed to see divorce or break-up history perpetually repeat itself.

Marriage comes with few guarantees. What we can be guaranteed of is that there will be a time we wake up next to our partners and feel like we’ve fallen out of love. Instead, we might feel apathy and perhaps resentment. It’s at that point that the love and commitment we originally declared have to be a choice. It’s a tough, non-sexy, annoying choice, but it’s the choice that most accurately aligns with what marriage is about.

I don’t know the real reason for the Gores’ split, and I doubt I ever will. What I do know is that, even though they’ve been iconic in the public’s eyes for their marital strength, we can’t use their divorce as justification for any societal trends toward divorce. If they can’t make it, maybe we can show them how.

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