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What Al and Tipper Gore's Separation Means to the Rest of Us

News that Al and Tipper Gore were splitting up after 40 years of marriage blew up the Internet yesterday. In a carefully worded email sent to friends, and forwarded to the press, the couple announced that “after a great deal of thought we have decided to separate. This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together, following a process of long and careful consideration.”

Mutual for whom? Al and Tipper didn’t consult us. We should have been consulted! And what is a “mutually supportive” break-up, anyway? She’ll kick in for his bachelor pad if he’ll keep her on his health insurance?

Do you feel the sadness, the confusion, the anger? Along with the rest of the Web, we’re in something of a Kubler-Ross freefall — somewhere between Stage 2 (Anger) and Stage 3 (Bargaining). How could they?

We expected Al and Tipper to stay together forever, making out like teenagers on the world’s stage and proving to the rest of us that when the kids are grown, and the soul-sucking jobs are in the past, romance can — and will — endure. Al and Tipper made it past the hard stuff. Why, then, why are they giving up now?

And, having never met the couple, why do we care so much?

Salon’s Rebecca Traister lists 6 reasons she’s taking the Gore’s break-up so hard, and it’s No. 2 that resonates with couples deep in the parenting trenches: Al and Tipper no more? What does that say about me?

Forty years. 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 it’s not just the numbers. Plenty of couples have been married for decades and you wouldn’t mind at all if they went their separate ways ( The Clintons, anyone?) Why are we so invested in the Gores’ once endless, now ending, love?

Probably because the Gores seemed to truly like each other. Even after four kids, they seemed to be the manifestation of every supportive, lasting couple we ever admired. It didn’t hurt that every member of the Gore clan was good-looking — not too good looking in a Brad and Angie way, but just, well, lovely.

They were polished, but flawed (Tipper’s depression, Albert Gore III’s drugs and drunk-driving). They were the cool couple down the street when you were growing up — they listened to the Grateful Dead. She played drums. They recycled!

They were the fun family in the neighborhood — the Mom and Dad that dressed up in themed costumes every Halloween and gave out full-sized candy bars.

We like those kinds of couples. We needed those kinds of couples. We thought we could be those couples.

But Tipper was apparently never really happy being the political spouse.  And Al, in his current incarnation as media entrepreneur and global statesman, traveled all the time. Still, it’s not as if they had been obviously struggling. As we forwarded links and tweeted the headlines yesterday, the Gores’ real friends cried at the news.

The  surprise announcement caught us off-guard not only because their marriage was a given, but also because we hadn’t thought much about them in awhile. Their wholesome, strong coupledom has been overshadowed the past few years by another swoon-worthy and handsome political family.

Now we have to ask ourselves: Will Michelle and Barack make it? The Obamas have got years to finish up in D.C., two girls to raise and a couple of more decades until they reach their 40th anniversary.

We still need to believe that they will.

Photo: uk.reuters.com

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