Splitting after 40 years. Why? That’s what everyone wants to know, including Politics Daily Editor in Chief Melinda Henneberger and a few of my Woman Up colleagues. Gotta say: Me too.
But I’m just curious. Sort of. Really, isn’t the reason predictable? As a friend observed: If you live long enough and meet enough people, eventually you’ll meet someone you like better than your spouse. (Not to say there’s a third party involved in this split. I’m just quotin’ my old pal.)
Like many others, I winced at the long kiss on the stage of the Democratic Convention in 2000, a rebuttal of sorts in the wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Comedian Bill Maher labeled the Gore kiss as code for: I f*** my wife.
My own marriage just clocked in at 33 years. In truth, though, if you count the brief periods we left each other, we’re on our 7th (8th? 9th? I lose count) marriage. We just didn’t go through with the paperwork.
My husband and I got married on a whim. I had $50 in my pocket. He had a guitar and equal parts talent and attitude. Naturally, poverty dogged us for years, along with the accompanying stress. But unlike other couples we never fought over money. Or housekeeping. (Two slobs — what’s to criticize?) Or children, since we had none. Instead, we fought over the kinds of things that enrage high school sweethearts. Which tells you something about us, I guess.
After 33 years I believe we’ve finally sanded off all the rough spots, but you never know. A woman can not predict how she’ll react to a transgression or illness, or how a partner will react to hers.
The phrase “I lost interest” would cover so many perceived failures in life, but people rarely use it for anything other than blogging and collecting model trains. The phrase is tainted with the stain of the word quitter, aka loser.
But to some, quitting is a virtue. To quote the The Lost Art of Quitting:
As human beings, we change. Our lives change. Our opinions change. Our habits change. Our thoughts change. Our perspectives change. Our ideas change. Our goals, dreams and aspirations change. And with that needs to come flexibility. If, on the other hand, we are constantly in the process of change, but are also constantly trying to stick to our initial commitments and try to avoid being a quitter, we’re going to be pulled in both directions, never making progress in either.
The zen master of quitting would be author Evan Harris. Harris is such a quitter — she even quit quitting, apparently — the most relevant site you can find dates back to 1996. She wrote, “Quitting is a hallowed American tradition: The country was settled by Puritans, a group of separatists who quit England. The Declaration of Independence is a quitter’s document. Westward expansion was one big locational quit.”
Harris explained that at one point she’d built her whole life around quitting.
I signed no lease, started no love affair, and took a job as a waitress, which is nothing if not highly quittable. I acquired no kitchen equipment, did not hang a single picture on the wall; none of the bills were in my name. In the absence of the things that had formerly defined and given structure to my life — the companion, the job, the permanent address — I made a home of impermanence and non-attachment.
It’s a sentiment echoed in the final song of the Gen-X masterpiece, the musical “Avenue Q.” The song is titled “For Now.”
“Why does everything have to be so hard?” asks the character Princeton. “But then, I don’t know why I’m even alive.”
“Well, who does, really?” replies a friend. “Everyone’s a little bit unsatisfied.”
The song continues: “For now we’re healthy, for now we’re employed.” For now there’s life, love, sex, your hair. All are just for now.
George Bush made the just-for-now list. “Avenue Q” premiered off-Broadway in 2003, and oh how true the impermanence of health, employment and hair has proven to be in the decade known as the aughts. George Bush was a bit more resilient than the show’s creators might have wished, but in the end Bush too was just for now.
On the Gore separation, perhaps the most appropriate answer to the question “Why, after 40 years?” is the one Al Gore himself gave to his father. In 1970, after 32 years serving in Congress, Al Gore, Sr. lost a brutal campaign for re-election. What now? he wondered. What could he take away from this? Al Gore, Jr. answered, “Dad, I’d take the 32 years.”
In the case of Al and Tipper, make that 40 years. Something to celebrate, if you ask me.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2010]