The Gores and the state of the union

I just heard the news about Al and Tipper Gore. I’m shocked. Yet I’m not.

I won’t sink to speculate on the cause of their separation. To suspect Al Gore is another link in the chain of celebrity cheaters didn’t even occur to me. (Okay, it did– but just briefly).    Whether fame and power are factors in this case, there could be a myriad of other reasons.

Marriage is always a mystery.  And 40 years is an eternity in marital years—way longer than dog years. Assuming the Gores truly remain on friendly terms,  40 years of marriage could be seen not as a failure but as an accomplishment.

I’ve come to wonder whether our species is meant to mate for life.  Mating has to evolve as we’ve evolved—now that our lifespan has multiplied the years spent under the same roof (or cave). We don’t require a mate to survive—and the challenges to survival are less threatening to the individual—and more threatening to the institution. ( does anyone else wonder about the idea that we refer to marriage as an “institution” to which we “commit” ourselves?)

I confess I sound cynical—and that extends to authorities on “successful” marriages. I don’t buy the idea that there is a recipe for something that will be tried and tested and tortured by life—often through no fault of the people involved.  Over the years, if there’s anything I’ve learned—-I’ve learned I know nothing.  It’s impossible to predict what brings people together—-or what holds them together.

Personally, (15 years married; one divorce; a second marriage of 15 years and counting) I’ve come to believe marriage is a no-brainer. As in: don’t think too much.  So much about marriage is not found in the brain—or the heart. It’s a function of timing, circumstances—and just plain luck. You have to wonder whether marriages worked equally well when matchmakers or parents did the job of finding the right mate.

Equally impossible is to assess the institution itself—when one size doesn’t fit all, it doesn’t seem possible to measure the meaning.   I can’t believe any theory of what makes marriage work when it works in a unique way for each unique couple.

Take the Gores and the Clintons. The Gores locked in a passionate kiss at the Democratic convention at the moment the Clintons were mired in the morass of Monica.    Which couple would you have predicted would stay married?   And what does that mean to them, anyway?

As for finding that perfect mate, I’m also cynical about that.  Some people say marriages take work; others claim it’s a piece of cake. Some say opposites attract; some say people should be like peas in a pod. Some couples thrive on separation; others are joined at the hip.   How do you know who —and what—to believe?

Ironically I just finished reading Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love–who in her new book applies her considerable energy to examine the institution of marriage. Her personal experiences are engaging, still she doesn’t really come up with any answers. Not that Gilbert claims to be an expert—and neither do I.

I’m leaning towards a theory put forth by a friend (definitely not a marriage expert.) She speculates that couples who endure —look at each other with less than clear vision. In other words, her theory is that in order for a marriage to last— when it comes to feelings about each other, both people involved need to have a screw loose.

I love it. Definitely offers a new way to think about the state of the union:   Are we committed—or screwed?

Also posted on the Huffington Post

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  1. Ruthie says

    Great blog! I heard that couples from countries or traditions that use a matchmaker turn out happier over time; whereas couples that marry for love are happier initially but eventually are more dissatisfied. It’s about expectations, it seems, and acceptance of one’s lot in life…. But I like your screw loose theory!

  2. susan thacker says

    I believe the answer to this question: we are committed to getting screwed, all puns intended.

  3. Ruthie says

    My mom is convinced she knows the reason for the break up: she says Al Gore is gay. I never saw it, but she says she has always thought so.

  4. says

    Elizabeth Gilbert discussed some of the differences in her book between a closed society and open one, like ours. NO question it’s harder when there are so many options.
    Definitely after reading so many studies and experts on marriage all these years, I think the loose screw is the best explanation I’ve ever heard for what makes a marriage successful.

  5. says

    Such mysteries in every marriage….Lots of discussion among pundits etc. about whether there was someone else involved (answer seems to be no)—but your mom is the first I’ve heard to suggest that.
    I’ve met him twice BTW–he was charming and warm.

  6. Richard says

    Great. A screw loose! Makes perfect sense. Re the Gores, I must admit I had the same thought as Ruthie’s mom … but equally for Tipper or Al. Whatever it is or was … I wish both Gores well and hope they will still make time to laugh together from time to time. You know, the kind of laughter that warms the heart. My sense is that these are good people and they deserve as much. It would be sad to lose that.

  7. says

    I was saddened to hear this news too. Somehow it helps me to know that somewhere out there are some stable marriages and relationships. And I thought the Gores had one of these.

    We may never know what the “real” reasons are behind this split. But (on the hopeful side) the news did not say “divorce” yet…. but (on the realistic side) most of the time, separations turn into just that.

    Great posting, Darryle, and there is much food for thought in it too.

  8. says

    Thanks–I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought people had a stable, happy marriage only to find out they were splitting. I bet everyone has seen this happen. You just never know what goes on behind closed doors.

    AS for divorce re: separation–apparently the Gores recently bought a house together in California. Maybe an indication they don’t plan to divorce so fast—or ever. If they are friendly and don’t plan to remarry, they might just stay separated–like many other couples. Again, every couple has to figure out their own unique path in a relationship. I wish all the best for the Gores in whatever way they choose individually or together.

  9. Stephanie says

    Well done!!
    Marriage is an “unnatural state” wherein you expect two people that grew up in completely different households to live “happily ever after”…
    don’t think so….

  10. Anonymous says

    Loved it. I”ve always been annoyed by “recipes” for a good marriage. You hit the nail on the head. No formulas please. There’s luck, a myriad of mysterious random stuff, and the willingness to suspend critical faculties–as in your friend’s theory—plus who knows what else.
    It must vary from person to person and even day
    to day.
    Remember the Beatles song “I’m looking through you”–with the depressing but true line: “Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.” I think we all experience that moment that goes something like: who is this moron I’m married to?
    Hopefully the shades fall and the moment passes.

    Still, hearing about the Gores saddened me–what happened?

  11. says

    I heard something on the news, that no president/vice president had ever divorced after leaving office. I think that if a political spouse has survived that long, then after the spotlight, it’s a piece of cake. But being cheated out of the presidency, Al was not fulfilled. He pushed on with global warnings issues, never slowing down. I think Tipper felt like she had already given forty years of her life to supporting Al’s work and felt that time was getting short for her to pursue her own passions.

    A bigger question for me, is it possible for both spouses to fulfill their own needs and passions and still be successfully married? This saddens me to say, but I think one spouse always has to give.

  12. says

    Exactly–growing up in different households means absorbing two unique views of marriage in the formative years, just the beginning of all that goes into the formation of our expectations of marriage. Such a complicated stew–if not screw.

  13. says

    I so appreciate your words and thoughts–which inject more reality into what is involved in a marrage, day by day, year by year. Especially appreciate the Beatles reference–and line “who is this moron I’m married to?” Maybe the future of every marriage depends on the frequency of that fleeing thought….

  14. says

    I didn’t hear that on the news but it’s an interesting fact and makes some sense. I think you’re right that Al Gore’s case is so completely unique–none of us can ever imagine how it must feel not only to feel cheated out of winning what is rightfully yours, but at such a crucial time in history–to sit back powerless for 8 years watching Bush let the environment and our nation spiral downwards. WE can’t even begin to guess the toll on him or on Tipper—you have to admire both of them just for surviving, period.
    I tend to agree with your idea that Tipper initiated the separation, (although who knows?).
    But as for your last question, leaving aside celebrity couples and thinking about the rest of us—I think it’s definitely possible for both spouses to pursue their own passions. It’s one of those challenges that couples work out in their own unique ways—whatever works, works.

  15. Lynn says

    Oh, how I agree with your friend! …”She speculates that couples who endure —look at each other with less than clear vision”. In marriage, we wake up one day, look at our mate and think when did he start holding his arms like that when he walks? Does he really have to go through that crazy ritual doing his hair? It bugs the @#*@ out of me! MY GOSH, I hear him eating his cereal on the other side of the house; he sounds like a starved pig! When did he start drinking so loud? I can hear the gulps from upstairs! My question is –were the goggles on when we were dating and then one day the goggles fell off? I guess some couples happily pick up the goggles and put them back on or go out in search of a new pair that clouds their vision even more?? Darryle, I really enjoyed your post and all of the comments! I think we all can relate to this topic in some way. I agree with you that we all have challenges that we need to work out in our relationships and whatever works, works. Some choose to work on it and others choose to move on. In the case of the Gore’s maybe one of them decided to keep the goggles off—of course a new pair of goggles will be used with the next person…

  16. says

    Thank you for your comment—hilarious and thoughtful wrapped up in one. I LOVE your image of the goggles—what a perfect way to think of the way we look at our mates. All we need now is to figure out a way that we can manufacture and sell goggles that will stay ON.

  17. says

    In her bio, Cynthia does not mention if she is mrraied. Interesting. She is relatively secure since she did go to Harvard noting the cost it would take to go there. I am not attacking her, honest just considering the author’s viewpoint. From my observation and studying of women who have gone through this experience, she doesn’t seem to be considering some cultural aspects of women who went through “The Women’s Movement in the ’60s and the ’70s”. The bright light of the ‘parallel’ marriage, where the wife is living in one world, believing all is right with the relationship yet the husband is living a different experience ..” The women that I have spoken still were raised in the 50s and 60s. They observed their parents staying together.Many believed once they mrraied; they would stay mrraied. Some still believe in ‘the story of Ruth’ and believed that marriage is the ultimate team sport. It is not that they are blind-sided, but the marriage is their job to hold together. When it falls apart, they work very hard and morph to the supposed needs of their man. The Women’s Movement didn’t open doors fast enough for some of them. Some of them didn’t go to college because their fathers did not believe women should go to college. If they did, the vocations that were open to them were teachers, nursing, and secretarial. They fought hard to advance and most had to manage the child raising on their own. The society of Alan Alda types were still forming. The courage to maybe have money of their own and the security of their own credit is still beingnervously considered. Tipper and Al Gore are wonderfully grown up, etc. But they may be in an income bracket that will allow their behavior. Most likely they have been decent to each other their whole lives. This is not the case in most likely in the majority of cases that women over 50 are finding themselves in.

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