No one ever really knows what happens in anyone's house but her own.
A handful of my friends, some who've been together for decades, some for far less time but with seemingly no less depth of commitment, are splitting up. Gay and straight. Married or simply cohabiting. Some of them the kind of couple -- you know the type -- that cause a sharp intake of breath and the Really? They're splitting? Jeeeez response from those of us who'd like to think there are a few models out there, a few folks we can point to and say: Wow, those people found life partners. They're making it work.
It makes us feel better about ourselves when we see such couples. Like there's less reason to worry about our own lives, because someone, for God's sake, got it right. Like there's a reason to think, despite growing up with that crazy divorce rate hanging over our heads and dozens of adultery scandals and endless heartbreak, that there's a Right Way To Do It. "It" being long-term commitment. Marriage, if that's your bag. Babies and rings. Life markers. Holding hands like that annoying old couple in the diamond commercials who step aside for the fast-moving younger couple -- who are also going to stay together that long.
But if there is any take-away from the latest string of high-profile divorce and separation news -- most recently, the depressing example that Karenna Gore Schiff
and husband Drew Schiff have been taking a break for the last few months, and the elder Gores, who are also separating, have been helping Karenna out with the kids while the couple seek counseling and debate Next Steps -- it's that it's impossible to know what's happening in another person's home. But they seemed so storybook perfect
doesn't mean much.
In the case of the younger generation Gore family, they had managed to avoid the klieg lights. But, perhaps because Al and Tipper are pulling apart as well, the news was released. It all just seems sad, rather than prurient. This was the same Karenna who married, worked on her father's presidential campaign, finished law school and gave birth, seemingly all in one breath. As one friend told U.S. News & World Report that year
, "I sometimes look at Karenna as this über-woman." Except she wasn't.
There's much less schadenfreude than often accompanies such announcements.
For that, see also that Shania Twain
this week finalized her divorce from Robert "Mutt" Lange (rumored cause of the breakup: his infidelity with her former best friend and assistant) and the disturbing made-for-TV drama of Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt
(who seemed to split up to prep for a reality show about their splitting up).
Do you care? Thought not. (Well, maybe Shania Twain makes you feel kind of sad.) But it seems almost awful to group these couples into one category. News of celebrities breaking up -- other than Sandra Bullock -- somehow doesn't have the resonance of it happening in a family like the Gores, genuine do-gooders (who called themselves the Griswolds, f
or God's sake), who never seemed to lord it over us that they were so young and beautiful and blond. (Okay, when the Gore girls were young and Chelsea was in her mocked-on-"SNL"
phase, that wasn't the best moment for them. But they were teenagers then.)
But after a brief star turn during her father's run for president in 2000, Karenna stepped off the national stage. She's a Columbia-trained lawyer and was working on a documentary, but she's also got three young kids and for the most part is just "being a mom," as one of her friends said. Not the best phase of life to lose your partner, in any capacity.
As much as my generation grew up suspicious of marriage, skeptical of fairy tale romance and storybook endings, we were also told that we should not, by any means, settle -- the underlying message being that there is someone out there for us, someone "right." That we should find a partner who "completes" us. A soul mate, as Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks
wrote in the New York Times this week. All of which meant, ostensibly, that we wouldn't shack up until we'd figured it all out.
Pretty much as a nation, we wanted to think that the Gores, older and younger, hadn't settled. That they'd found love either in high school (Al and Tipper) or later (Karenna and Drew). The Gore kids seemed almost Kennedy-esque, Karenna marrying in the National Cathedral (in a Vera Wang dress later highlighted in a book about weddings), the same spot her parents had wed 27 years earlier.
With Al and Tipper, Rebecca Traister
pointed out on Salon last week, the universal response was "You get through forty years -- of ill-behaved children and ill-behaved bosses and stolen elections -- and then you split? This is precisely the kind of mysterious and inexplicable narrative of marriage thing that scares the bejesus out of people who are newly or not yet married. Forty years?"
But as my friend Michelle Cottle points out in the New Republic
, regarding los padres, "It is disappointing, of course, that the Gores didn't turn out to be the till-death-do-us-part romance that we, from the looks of the public response, so desperately needed them to be. (Perhaps no one craves marital idols more than we who spend our days watching self-important pols chase tail and discard wives like used Kleenex.) But still I can't bring myself to join in the chorus of Why now, after everything?
Al and Tipper are clearly thinking not in terms of the years behind but the years ahead. For them, there is still a whole lot of 'everything' to come. It may not be the fairy tale, but it is a classically American tale, with its themes of hope and promise and new beginnings."
And maybe they weren't all that happy. Maybe Karenna didn't want to wait until she was 61 to find a better path.
Time to turn back to our own houses and clean up our own messes.