Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Perfect Marriage

Yesterday Al and Tipper Gore announced they would be separating after forty years of marriage. The reaction from the media has been one of sadness and disappointment. They had, by all accounts, a perfect marriage, if they couldn't make it who could?

The response to the news of the Gores splitting reflects a deeply held belief in our culture that we are meant to go through the world coupled to one person and any other combination is failure. Even now when statistics are showing young people holding off on marriage into their thirties and women deciding to have children later in life, we cling to the notion that the only life worth having is paired with someone else.

It is common knowledge that back when the institution of marriage was formalized, people didn't live well past forty. A marriage in your teens would pair you with someone for a little over twenty years. As our life spans expanded our concept of marriage did not.

There are happy marriages and unions that last for decades. The couples I have known that have that are grateful and serious about the sum of their parts being greater than the individual. I am in awe of those partnerships and enriched by their commitment.

I am not of the mind that those are the only successful unions and maybe it is because I have never been married or I am the product of my parents passionate but turbulent marriage, I think any kind of love shared between two people that lifts the spirit, produces children and a commitment to parenting, invests in the future or builds a home is equally worthy. When people realize they cannot go the whole journey paired as they had hoped, it is not a failure, rather it is a choice and a shift of understanding.

There are few people any of us could imagine being paired with for over forty years and while it is always sad to see something end, it is also a moment to reflect on all that was, on what their partnership built and created and what, hopefully, their continued love and support of each other will do for them and their families. The logistics of a relationship can end but the connection and love shared does not have to.

It is heartbreaking to reflect on the ending of many of my own love relationships. What started as something joyous often ended badly with bitter feelings and anger. A person I loved deeply is not even part of my life anymore. And, sadly, there are far too many children caught in the middle of these kinds of toxic endings.

People do bad things to each other, and the most awful things are often in the name of love. Ending a marriage, especially when there are young children involved, must be one of the most difficult things to endure, even harder though is to try to find a way to shift your spousal relationship to a parenting partnership. To demonstrate love and respect for each other in spite of the hurt feelings. It isn't always easy or possible but it is ideal. I know a few couples who have done this and admire them as much as the ones who have stayed together.

These were the thoughts I had when writing my second novel. I was curious about the nature of love between two people and the often limited ways we think that love can be expressed. There are as many ways to express and experience love as there are people. We need to release ourselves from the notion that there is one way and try to define all the ways love can enrich our lives. The love and pride between two parents is a wondrous thing, the support of friends enhances our lives, and even sexual relationships that are respectful and fun can be just that. Why should we expect all of those things to come in the package of one person and never change? It is a tall order for any of us to fulfill.

So to Tipper and Al I say, well done and safe travels on your new journeys. The way they appear to be handling their separation is for me, another way of having a perfect marriage.

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