News of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s impending “conscious uncoupling” hit the internet this week. I thought I’d toss my opinion into the mix, ‘cause it’s super fun to comment on other people’s failing marriages, particularly when one lacks all the salient facts. My basic translation of the situation is: “We’re getting divorced, but we’ll try not to be jerks about it,” a goal easier to accomplish when each partner is equally financially independent to the tune of 140 million apiece.
Paltrow and Martin refer to (without crediting) the work of LA author and therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas. Thomas talks about human longevity, how in the past people weren’t stuck together for seven decades. Yeah, they died off in childbirth and war and from vaccine-preventable disease and poor water quality. So really we can blame advances in public health for the birth and subsequent demise of the long-term marriage.
Of course, I’m speaking of marriage in the United States, where the legal recognition of a union is generally not considered a property transaction. It’s easier to remain married indefinitely when your marriage was arranged and you have little formal education, no political power, no independent means of financial support, and no cultural acceptance of divorced women. Oh so much easier. (If you’re not catching the sarcasm, rest assured it’s there.)
Well, I have news for Paltrow and Martin. It’s unlikely to be easier with someone else.
Almost fifteen years ago, Ace and I went on our first date. A mutual friend set us up after some prodding on my part. (She was afraid I might hurt him.) Ace reluctantly agreed to the meeting, figuring he needed a “practice girlfriend” after the implosion of his first marriage.
We met for a dogwalk. I learned years later that Ace had walked his labrador retriever, Iris, for at least an hour prior to the date to ensure that she had completely evacuated her rectum. Right in front of my house, Iris squatted for a poop and wound up with a stringy grass glob hanging out her anus for which she required assistance. I thought it was hilarious. Ace, who falls off the introverted end of the I/E bell curve, was silently mortified.
A block away, in front of a brick fourplex, a random woman emerged from her apartment to warn us about a burglar in the neighborhood. She said the burglar was about five foot eight, blond, and – she stopped and pointed at Ace. “He kind of looks like you!”
Naturally, I took this as a good omen. After a couple months (Ace claims fourteen), when he realized I might stick around longer than a “practice girlfriend”, Ace insisted that we go to a couples counselor to “run the relationship by a professional”. Unconscious uncoupling makes a person skittish like that. I fired our first therapist – too new-agey. We found Paul, and delved into what would become our recurrent themes (“She’s too outspoken!” “He never emotes externally!” “Why does she need reassurance?” “Why won’t he kiss me in public?”).
At one point, Paul said: Look, you guys are fine. You’re good people, you love each other, you share the same values. Yes, these themes will wax and wane over the course of your relationship and you’ll get better at handling them, at building bridges. And by the way, it wouldn’t be any easier with someone else.
Ace and I stared at him. Seriously? Epiphany! I’m delighted to report that we are still (happily!) working on our themes.
According to undoubtedly reliable internet sources, Martin and Paltrow remain “best friends”, firmly committed to co-parenting. Call me crazy, but that sounds like part of the foundation for a great marriage. So what’s the trouble? I can think of three situations in which it might truly be easier with someone else.
1) Partner refuses to work on the relationship. At all.
2) Partner is abusive.
3) Partner has medical issues (emotional, physical, whatever) for which s/he is not willing to seek help.
So who knows what’s going on with Paltrow and Martin. Appropriately, they are asking for privacy as they “consciously uncouple”. And let me just state for the record that Eleuthera is a lovely setting for most activities besides Nordic skiing, so a Pal/Mar “family vacation” at a luxurious rental house should soften the uncoupling blow at least somewhat.
Assuming that my above three situations do not apply, we are left to ponder: Are they bored? Has the novelty worn off? Are they tired of their partner making out with other people as part of their job? Do they lack the creative energy to work together on something they supposedly believe in? Is the blush off the proverbial rose?
Dry the damn rose petals and make some potpourri. It’s not gonna be easier with someone else.