Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Gift of freedom

Q: To the shock of even their closest friends, Al and Tipper Gore have announced their separation, after 40 years of marriage. And this is the couple that openly showed affection and wrote the book "Joined at the Heart." Can a marriage that comes apart still be considered successful? And if Al and Tipper can't make it, is there hope for the rest of us?

They're not dead. Some of the mawkish commentary trailing the news of Al and Tipper Gore's breakup sounds like eulogies. C'mon, folks, here are two mature adults starting new acts in life!

They're not my parents.... or yours. The funereal commentaries slog dangerously close to fan obsession, with writers mourning the separation as if the Gores were their surrogate parents. Why do we feel we have a right to fill the private emotional space of public figures with our own baggage?

Marriage is a wonderment. I say that as someone who has never been there, but who admires and even marvels at those who are, those who manage to keep the flame burning -- sometimes bright, sometimes the merest flicker -- through years of children and work stresses and economic despairs and personal triumphs and tragedies.

The wonder is not why the Gores have separated, but how they had the strength and courage to stay together for 40 years, a very long time by modern marriage statistics, and most of that time in the white hot glare of public life.

No one should deem the Gores' marriage a "failure" as if the moment of separation wipes out 40 years of reality, some of it very happy, surely some of it worrisome and stressful, and probably a lot of it quite mundane. In a society where half of all marriages end in divorce, frequently in the earliest years of marriage, the Gores actually managed to beat the odds of a breakup for much longer than most couples.

Conventional wisdom tells us that nobody really knows what goes on inside the separate, private life that two people construct at the most intimate intersection of their personal realities. Frankly, it's none of our business. While it's a favorite contemporary pastime to ascribe motive, meaning and even mendacity to the private lives of public figures, absent evidence of crimes we should leave them alone.

The Gores appear to be splitting in a most amicable way. We have reason to believe that they may remain friends forever. Perhaps each is giving the other the gift of freedom at a moment in their lifespan when they still have the ability, energy and vision for one final great act or far-flung adventure before the real retirement years set in.

But isn't there some legitimate instruction here? Some people are wondering aloud if, in light of the demise of the apparently happy Gore marriage, can any marriage really last?

To answer that question I have two words: The Clintons.

By Patricia McGuire  |  June 7, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Marriage and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Great viewpoint well said. Thank you.

Posted by: AlexandriaAnn | June 10, 2010 12:07 AM
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This is rediculous.

Posted by: wfdeacon | June 9, 2010 11:14 PM
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That's right, Ms. McGuire! Life begins at 60.

Posted by: moiraeve1 | June 9, 2010 12:26 PM
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