Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Building codes and breakups

I'll just go ahead and say it and get the embarrassment over with: the separation announcement of Al and Tipper Gore in the same year that Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins broke up is just too much for this liberal romantic to bear.

Cue my US Weekly-level shame about investing emotion in the pairing of strangers. For good measure, let's go ahead and swoon at this for a second, shall we?

Two weeks ago, stealing a moment during the Mexican state visit

At least we have the White House. Sigh...

As this piece so succinctly summarizes, it was Al and Tipper's image as stalwart partners - white-bread and boring and safe and completely thrilled with one another - that's put me so on edge. That sort of crumbling - a fatal flaw in the architect-scoffed but engineer-proofed structure made to last - makes me feel, well, a little heartbroken. I mean, if even Newt Gingrich is sad about the Gore breakup, you know this is not politics or Hollywood as usual. It's your parents. It's you. It's us.
From Salon: "There is oil gushing into the ocean and people are killing humanitarian aid workers and the earth is still warming. Those things are on a different plane of sad and have already left us all terribly afraid and depressed and angry this early summer. I didn't know I had any room at all to care about the Gores' relationship, but maybe because it's something so much smaller, so much more personal, a headline so much easier to absorb than the other larger tragedies playing out around the globe that this small piece of political gossip turns out to be such an unbelievable freaking bummer."
And so here I sit, unable to watch footage of oil leaking into the Gulf and full of uncoolness by actively mourning a public couple's decision to part ways. I am a useless citizen. I keep thinking of the word "structure," and have equated Al and Tipper as the city hall to Susan and Tim's skyscraper. That unchallenging but safe building was supposed to be there forever, serving its purpose for generations with quiet, reassuring grace. Meanwhile, the skyscraper soared overhead, full of challenge and drama and verve, and as much as you envied it for yourself, you did so with a tiny seed of fear about how long it would be relevant, or would remain standing at all. Skyscrapers are reinvented, but city halls last forever. Longer than we'd like, in most cases.

This morning on NPR, a spokesman from the Council of Contemporary Families offered a new way of thinking about these sorts of separations. Why is a 40-year marriage that produced four kids considered a failure just because it ends? Shouldn't we recalibrate our expectations a tad, given that we are living longer than ever and having what amounts to at least two marriages within the span of what used to be just one? According to the spokeswoman, a quarter of all divorces last year consisted of couples who'd been married two decades or more. There is something to that, to be sure. I know several examples first-hand.

But here's the thing. I want the weekend adventures, the fishing boats through Alaska, and the safaris to Africa that my empty-nester parents are so good about taking whenever they get the chance. I want to stick around long enough to see T embrace his dapper old man self, with big hair and no need to justify wearing a seersucker suit every day. I want side-by-side front porch rocking chairs, making each other giggle the same way we do now, through all the grays and wrinkles and aches and pains. I love the idea of growing old with him.

I like to think that T and I took enough time on the front end to make sure we settled down with the right person so that we won't need extra time on the back end to be apart. But that's just wild speculation, of course. Good couples do separate, and bad couples do stay together, but more than we'd like to admit, things really do fall apart.

I'm lighting some candles over here for the celebrated partnerships whose lights have dimmed, but doing so with purpose. One candle for carrying on the quiet fun of Tipper and Al. One candle for carrying on the electric connection of Susan and Tim. Candles for all the fantastic couples we know, still burning brightly. And another candle just for us: to being us, through thick and thin, and to giving this thing our best shot.


  1. Oh shug, I know just what you mean. I don't know why I get upset about people I don't know breaking up, but it really affects me. You just root for everyone to be together forever, I suppose.

  2. I've never commented before, but have changed my mind with this post. You seem to echo my thoughts pretty regularly. This to me, in its composition, was absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    We, too, spent enough time finding the right person that I hope we don't have to lose any time at the back end as well. :)


  3. OH, Maggie. Hearing that yesterday broke my heart too, and for just the same reasons. This is a beautiful post. Let's light some candles for all of us.

  4. Beautifully written; I wholly share your sentiments. Here's to growing old with the men we love.

  5. Love this post. There's not really much else to say - you've already said it so beautifully!

  6. this was a soul-grabber. i agree. you start this marriage thing with the ideal but all it really is, is giving it your best shot... every day.

  7. An interesting piece on late-life divorces, for those interested:

  8. very well written. I loved what you wrote and completely agree.


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