Al and Tipper Gore: When does divorce no longer mean a ‘failed marriage’?
Years ago — in 1994, to be exact — the late Barry White (who, of course, was still alive at the time) said something to me during an interview that I’ll never forget. In discussing the song “What We Had, We Had” from his then-current The Icon Is Love CD, he made an interesting observation about love and marriage. He said that we put unreasonably high expectations on both. Sometimes they last forever, but usually they don’t. And just because a romantic relationship doesn’t survive until someone dies, doesn’t mean it’s a failure. In the end, we should just enjoy what we have, and when it’s over, respect what we had.
The naive, idealistic 25-year-old romantic that I was at the time had never thought of it that way before. I wanted to agree, but were the maestro of love’s romantic expectations too low? What’s forever for if love doesn’t last till death do one of us part? And if it’s okay for love to expire early, must it at least outlive a certain waiting period?
These are questions I revisited in my head when I read the news that former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore and his wife Tipper are separating after almost exactly 40 years of marriage. Like most Americans (one would imagine), I was surprised by the announcement. I’d always assumed that the Gores would stay together. This wasn’t based on anything concrete. I think we tend to expect a couple in their sixties that’s still together after 40 years to remain that way. Splitting up at such a late stage in the game is sort of like dropping the ball on the five-yard line.
But then despite what the songs say, love is not just a game. It’s not about winning, losing or keeping score. At least it shouldn’t be. Statistics tell us that half of all marriages end in divorce, but how useful is this information? What about the non-married couples — and the ones that are barred from legally marrying — who stay together forever and ever, amen? What about the ones who do stay married but are miserable while doing so?
Let’s say life is a soap opera — and you’re not really living if yours isn’t — and relationships are story arcs, some lasting only a few months, some years, and others running throughout the course of the series. The shorter ones are not necessarily less successful (maybe they’re even Daytime Emmy-worthy, or the real-life equivalent); they’re just shorter. Or perhaps life is a dance, a marathon made up of various dances that can’t be qualified by duration. This may not be much comfort to the Gores, couples on the rocks, or ones on the brink of divorce, but for those that aren’t, rather than worrying about how to keep the music playing or whether you can side step the odds by tangoing indefinitely, maybe it’s best to just kick off your shoes and enjoy the dance.