Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Marriage and divorce: Clintons or Gores?

posted by Rod Dreher

Gail Collins, snarking on the Gore dee-vorce:

I think the nation as a whole is thinking that if Al and Tipper split after 40 years, no marriage is ever safe. And the fact that Hillary and Bill outlasted them means that we’ve been lied to by a generation’s worth of Lifetime movies.

Heh. OK, but seriously. It has been widely noted that in the political iconography of the 2000 election, the Gores were supposed to be the decent, happily married couple, in contrast to those skeezy Clintons, with their marriage-as-business-merger. That was what the Kiss was about. Well, well, well, here were are 10 years later, and the Gores are splitting the sheets, while the Clintons are still husband and wife. So what does that tell us? 150px-Al_Gore_wedding.jpg
Let’s stipulate that almost no one outside the couple itself knows what really goes on in any marriage, so all speculation is mostly bunk. But why should that stop us, right? Here’s what I’m wondering: which couple offers the wiser guide to how to handle a marriage that has gone south? I think it’s safe to say that Bill and Hillary Clinton lead separate lives — the reason the Gores have given for deciding to end their marriage. The Clintons, for reasons known only to themselves, have elected to remain married. Surely nobody would begrudge the Clintons a divorce, given, you know. Besides, the idea that Hillary needed to stay married to Bill for the sake of her own career made cynical sense at one point, but it no longer does. She’s well-established on her own, to say the very least. The two almost never see each other. So why stay married?
It’s possible that they have reached an agreement, formal or not, that they’ll live separate lives within marriage — a very European sort of arrangement. The Gores could have done the same thing, but chose not to, preferring instead to formalize with a separation the private reality inside their marriage.
Again, we don’t know what really has gone on inside either marriage, but I want to use this comparison to poll the room here. I’m interested in who provides the better example for how to handle a marriage in which the spouses, for whatever reason, have begun living separate lives? [Let us assume for the sake of argument that the children have all grown up.] The Gore example has about it a sense of honesty. Why pretend that we have a real marriage when we no longer do? Why should we stay together when we are no longer happy together?
bill-hillary-clinton.jpg
On the other hand, the Clinton marriage, however hollow from the inside, still honors the “till death do us part” formality. Besides, if there is no deceit or abuse inside the marriage, is it so wrong for them to agree to stay married, honoring their partnership as a social institution? Where is it written that a married couple must have romantic affection for each other for their marriage to be worth something — and worth preserving?
What do you think? Clintons or Gores? Explain your reasoning.
UPDATE: Folks, judging from the comments thread, I’ve not made myself clear. I don’t really want you to reflect on the Clintons versus the Gores themselves. I’m using them as real-life examples of two different ways to handle a marriage in which to all appearances the partners have grown far apart emotionally, and lead separate lives. The question I’m asking is not, “Who’s better, the Gores or the Clintons?” I’m simply trying to tease out reflection on whether it’s better to end a marriage in which both partners have emotionally separated, or rather to keep the marriage together, with diminished expectations about what marriage is. I have deliberately left religion out of the reckoning, because neither the Gores nor the Clintons appear pious, and I have left children out too, because both couples have children who are grown. Religious belief, at least among pious Jews, Muslims and Christians, would have to strongly condition one’s response, as would having young children in the house. Anyway, please get it straight that I’m not actually interested in the Gores as a couple, or the Clintons, but rather both as a model for how to handle marriage that has, at an emotional level, failed.



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Richard

posted June 3, 2010 at 6:47 am


Why on earth would anybody look at either couple as an example of how to ‘handle marriage’?
And if your ‘marriage has gone south’ there’s really not much to be done; once gone, it’s gone. There’s a lot you can do if you recognize that your marriage is going south, but why one would look to the Gores or the Clintons for wisdom is beyond me.
This is all too “People”-magazine-ish.



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thehova

posted June 3, 2010 at 7:40 am


To be completely honest, I think the Clintons are still together for Hilary’s political career. I think she still has ambitions to be president. Bill wouldn’t mind being in the White House either. It’s a lot harder of a feat if they divorce.
Maybe I’m being too cynical here.



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thehova

posted June 3, 2010 at 7:47 am


My fault, Rod did cover that. Anyways, I disagree with his premise that a unmarried or divorced person can become president in the immediate future. I’m sure it’ll happen sometime in the future, but not soon.



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Think!

posted June 3, 2010 at 7:48 am


The racist, xenophobic and downright ignorant slander of a ‘very european’ sort of arrangement needs to be removed. There are many countries in both Southern and Eastern europe where marriage is an infinitely more traditional institution than America. Europe is a diverse and complex continent, remember that before you casually insult over 731 million people.



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Dan Berger

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:06 am


I disagree with his premise that a unmarried or divorced person can become president in the immediate future. I’m sure it’ll happen sometime in the future, but not soon.
If you define “the future” to mean minus a century-plus. An unmarried man with an acknowledged illegitimate son was elected president. Twice.
Captcha: Our dragons



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Liam

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:28 am


Well, in the 19th century, few conceived of the President’s family as a model first family, and there was no broadcast media to support the iconography involved. That changed mightily in the 20th century, and Americans remain quite in the grip of that dynamic+.



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Anduril

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:33 am


I disagree with his premise that a unmarried or divorced person can become president in the immediate future.
Reagan was divorced.



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Coleman Glenn

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:37 am


Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Jesus say, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery”? Granted, not all married partners are Christian, and granted, not all Christians read Jesus’ injunctions the same way. But for any Christian in a “failing” marriage, what the Bible says has to be a primary consideration (as naive or childish as that might sound to some). I don’t see any justification in the Bible for divorce based on the fact that a couple doesn’t feel close anymore. Now Hillary DID have every legitimate reason to leave Bill – but in general, if, as you said, “There is no deceit or abuse inside the marriage,” I think it’s more in line with Jesus’ teaching to stay married and live separate lives, rather than divorce.



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Rick

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:39 am


Clintons.
For Christians, there is nothing necessarily wrong with married couples “leading separate lives.” Jesus and St. Paul assume some married couples will have cause to separate. Heck, all the married Apostles, such as Peter, apparently began “living separate lives” as part of their ministry.
What is wrong is remarrying, or asserting one is free to remarry, while one’s spouse is still alive and one’s vow of fidelity still binding.
Personally I doubt the Gores are simply leading separate lives. I suspect one or both are leading new lives with someone else…but for the sake of decency this won’t be made public until they have divorced or been separated for some time. If this is true, then I at least respect the Gore’s for having this sense of decency, and I feel no need at all to pry.



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KMac

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:47 am


Who cares?



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cirdan

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:55 am


My first reaction is that it’s slightly squicky to discuss (and compare!) marriages as though they were beauty-pageant contestants.



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Indy

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:57 am


If you read biographies of Bill and Hillary Clinton you get a sense that they developed a very, very strong intellectual connection and partnership early on. That appears to have been sustained by both over time. Whatever else has happened with their marriage, that type of continued conneciton doesn’t point to a “hollow” relationship.
There’s a third alternative to the Gore and Clinton approach to growing old and growing apart in some areas: Maurice Tempelsman and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Tempelsman was unable to divorce his wife but reportedly formed a strong, companionable relationship with Jacqueline, from what I remember seeing reported in the news at the time of her death. I personally think it is best to just divorce in such situations (if both parties are willing to acknowledge that there is no point in holding on to the legal bond.) But it seems there are all sorts of complications that lead couples to calibrate these things differently and to make various choices. As Rod says, none of us can know what is going in within someone else’s relationship with another.



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Peter

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:08 am


Is the Clinton marriage hollow? Based on what criteria?
Marriage has never traditionally been about love, companionship, and romance. Those are very modern concepts. 2000 years of tradition shows marriage was primarily about an arrangement of care, the shifting of responsibility for women from the family to the husband. Marriage was “till death to us part” mostly out of fear about what would happen to the woman who had no status.



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Al-Dhariyat

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:09 am


Does hallmark-card worthy romance really have to be the standard for a marriage? It appears, as one other poster has noted, that the Clintons have a strong intellectual connection. While I wouldn’t condone infidelity, that seems a stronger connection than roses-on-vday type love. Ideally one would want both but I’d take the intellectual connection over the romantic for the long haul.
Most traditional arranged marriages start with an intellectual (and cultural) connection. While romance often does develop over the course of years, it isn’t the basis for the relationship. And these marriages (as my parents could attest) are often as strong as ‘regular’ marriages.



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Hank

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:22 am


I really don’t have anything to add to this conversation, seeing as I am not married and am not planning on being married anytime soon.
But I do want to say that that is an absolutely amazing photo of Bill and Hillary you got there. Wow. Is that from the 60s? 70s? Cause dang man, they look awesome.



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crowhill

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:41 am


The first comment by Richard is right on. Looking to either of them as a model of anything doesn’t scan.
I wish the Gores the best and hope they can work things out.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:46 am


People. People. Come on! I’m only using the Clinton/Gore comparison as a way to raise the question of which approach to handling an emotionally dead marriage is the better one. Does the couple formally admit that the marriage is broken, and go their separate ways? Or do they find a way to renegotiate and readjust their relationship, and stay together?
It should go without saying that if one is a serious Christian, Jew or Muslim, there are religious issues in play. Inasmuch as neither couple has given evidence that they are particularly pious, I didn’t bring that up. I’m simply trying to start a discussion about the meaning of marriage.
And Think!, I’m dismayed to see from your deranged post that the attendants are letting residents have access to the Internet. This can’t possibly end well.



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jhodi

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:07 am


Anybody answering the question? I will, because I feel like I’ve answered it before. During the scandal years, I had more conversations than I can count in which I defended Hillary Clinton. Most of the friends who said “How can she put up with that? Either she’s sick or it’s just because of ambition” were themselves in happy marriages.
I kept trying to explain that there are lots of reasons a sane, emotionally healthy person might choose to stay in a bad marriage. I was doing it myself (although we never had the Clinton’s exact problem).
Now, years later, I am still married. Although my husband and I never “fell back in love” and in some respects lead separate lives, we get along fairly well. By many criteria, we aren’t really married—but we absolutely are partners, a household, even a family.
There is no doubt in my mind that our lives have been better together than they would have been apart. Sure, I would have loved to have had a happy marriage, but that didn’t turn out to be one of my options.
I vote Clintons, and can’t help wondering (even though I tell myself no outseider can ever know) why the Gores, with more than one residence, couldn’t make a friendly semi-separation work.



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stari_momak

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:16 am


I can’t tell if “Think!” is being sarcastic, but that is exactly the sort of thing we Euro-Americans (and I include Anglo-Saxons in that) need to be doing, always and everywhere our people are slandered – on this side of ‘the Pond’ or that side, by one of our own or by others.



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stari_momak

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:18 am


Somewhere Frank Zappa is indulging in a little Schadenfreude.



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Alicia

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:23 am


Hi, Rod. As I’ve considered the Gore separation announcement over the past few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is curiously refreshing for a couple to separate not because of marital bad behavior, but because they have come to have different values and goals. Divorce is not the ideal, but this seems like a “good” divorce from my perspective.
My take on it is Tipper Gore wants to enjoy the fruits of a long career in public life, to relax, take it easy, enjoy life, and Al Gore wants to save the Earth. I don’t disrespect either person’s goals, but I do prefer Tipper’s more modest approach to aging.
As for the Clintons, I don’t believe theirs is a loveless marriage. If anything (as the famous chair-throwing rumor attests) their may have been an excess of passion (plus loads of frustration) in that marriage. I think they truly love each other in their fashion and share very similar goals and ambitions. If they’ve arrived at a compromise that works for them, more power to them.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:25 am


I can’t tell if “Think!” is being sarcastic, but that is exactly the sort of thing we Euro-Americans (and I include Anglo-Saxons in that) need to be doing, always and everywhere our people are slandered – on this side of ‘the Pond’ or that side, by one of our own or by others.
Absolutely not! If a perfectly anodyne observation about the way marriage tends to be seen in European culture, versus our own, prompts a hysterical p.c. outburst about “racism” and “xenophobia,” then it’s not at all what we should be doing. One of the most tiresome aspects of political correctness when indulged by ethnic minorities is how it makes it impossible to make a commonplace observation about behavior and mores without having to qualify it to death to anticipate every possible objection by the witless and easily offended, or (as happens more often) how it stifles discussion by making people afraid to venture an opinion, for fear of being called racist. I fail to see what is incorrect, or immoral, about observing that Europeans generally tend to have different expectations of marriage than Americans do, owing to our different cultures. Is this even controversial? Good grief.



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kenneth

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:31 am


40 years is a pretty good run when you consider how many people never marry, and how many don’t even make the 10, or 5-year mark. “Till death do us part” used to mean maybe 15 years, for most of human history. Now it can mean 60. That’s a very long stretch to be with someone 24/7, and a lot changes in one’s own life over that time. Marriage is not something that runs on auto-pilot either. You have to work at it everyday as hard as you did when you were courting.
I think people are projecting way too much despair onto this situation. “If they can’t make it, no marriage is safe..” There are no lifetime guarantees in this world, for love or life or health or money. Each day you have right now to do your best and hope for the best. The Gores might just be showing a deeper respect for the institution than we realize. For every longtime couple who are still happy, there are many many more who stay together for financial reasons or inertia, people who hate each other or are totally indifferent to each other. I suspect they are counting their blessings for a good run and parting on terms of respect.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:31 am


Here’s what I’m wondering: which couple offers the wiser guide to how to handle a marriage that has gone south?
Sorry, Rod, but the answer is always neither.
Along with the “cult of entitlement”, the ills of our culture can be traced to the “cult of celebrity”. One can trace accomplishment to character, and thereby learn something that might be useful, but the correlation is weak at best. We have a long list of scoundrels (Haggard, for one) whose success had little to do with what we might consider moral character, and much to do with what I’d call a Machiavellian mindset… not the most conducive approach to marriage, in this context.



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Al-Dhariyat

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:42 am


Did I answer the question? I’m not sure if I was clear so I’ll state it moreso – the Clinton’s approach is one I’d prefer. They appear to share interests and bonds outside of the romantic/emotional bond. So they’ve re-tooled their marriage to suit those connections. I think it’s a good way to go.
The Gore’s, on the other hand, may have discovered they didn’t have many connections outside of the romantic/emotional bond. So, all the better for them to get deevorsed.



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elizabeth

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:45 am


We don’t know that the Clinton marriage is dead.
The Clintons may be more united in their intellectual life and a commitment to public service than the right is willing to credit them. Maybe that was the basis of their marriage all along.
The idea that theirs was a loveless arrangement was an uncharitable political rumor floated in the 90s. How anyone came to know this is beyond me and should be beyond you as, you concur, no one but the two partners in a marriage really know what the marriage is like.
So if this is a beauty pagent, I vote Clintons. (Bill probably looks more natural in the swimsuit than Al does.)



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Zathras

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:49 am


To generalize from what elizabeth said, it is impossible for an outsider to know what is really going on within a marriage. And by “outsider,” I mean everyone who does not live in the same house as them. There are too many relevant micro-connections between a husband and wife to really know. I’ve been surprised too many times to be surprised anymore.



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Your Name

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:51 am


Sorry for being suspicious, but I believe this all comes down to infidelity. Yes, I know friends have said no one else is involved, but no one really knows about someone else’s marriage and friends have covered for each other before. But given they are fabulously wealthy and have 4 or 5 homes, it isn’t credible to me that they separated after 40 years because they “drifted apart” given they could give each other as much space as desired & the pain -publicity, money, heck, just cleaning out & dividing 40 years of stuff would give most pause. So given the negatives, the motivation must be powerful.
If there is not currently a 3rd party, I believe one or both of them want to be with someone else. They probably want the crazy, can’t keep your hands off each other infatuation feelings and are looking outside the marriage for them.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:57 am


Re: the update.
Rod, my citation of the two “cults” is the general answer to your query. The logical consequence of celebrity — and using it as a source of exemplars for society-at-large — rubs my inner curmudgeon raw. It wants to shout “Why the heck are you letting others do your thinking for you?”
I think a better clarification at this point would be: There are way more than two ways to skin that cat. Abstracting the two couples’ “approaches” does nothing to validly define the spectrum, let alone provide useful examples of points on that spectrum. The real question, for me, and no offense intended, is how much of your (general) personal morality is filtering your examination of the examples? That filter prejudices your perception in ways that invalidate the information being discovered. It almost guarantees that potentially useful facts will be missed because they superficially fail to pass that filter.



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Judith

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:01 am


Stari, about your assertion:
“but that is exactly the sort of thing we Euro-Americans (and I include Anglo-Saxons in that) need to be doing, always and everywhere our people are slandered – on this side of ‘the Pond’ or that side, by one of our own or by others”
I am of Anglo German extraction myself, and I do have a concept of “my own”, but it is based on attributes other than ethnicity. And I do feel the responsibility to defend people who for some reason can’t seem to defend themselves. But I don’t feel the need or responsibility to just strike out and defend an image of “myself” everywhere I look.
So while we appear to both be of European origin, we appear to be quite differently constituted, in ways that I consider much more important in the long run than our common ethnicity.



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Your Name

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:06 am


I’m curious about what is meant by marriages that stay together by “arrangement”. Do you mean marriages that have fallen on hard times emotionally; the couple may need to spend increasing time apart, but they stick it out even if they aren’t “feeling it” and remain true to their vows?
Or do you mean an “arrangement” where the couple has second families, mistresses, harems, prostitutes but outwardly stays together? So they never divorce but they aren’t true to their marriage vows either? They don’t want to be true to their vows, but they do want to “keep up appearances”.
I’ve had friends argue because they announced a separation ; they are still married and thus are not free to pursue other romantic interests. Are couples who have separated but not filed for divorce considered married?



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daisy

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:19 am


Oh for Pete’s sake. The Clintons stay legally married because they know too much about each other to ever let it be exposed in a courtroom. As for the Gores’ well, maybe Tipper got tired of her old windbag, or maybe it was Viagra syndrome striking again.



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Anglican Peggy

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:24 am


I don’t really have an answer to the question at the moment, just a comment.
Making a marriage work for 40 years takes a lot of negotiation and other skills necessary for making it that long. Why the breakdown in those skills now?
The only thing I can think of is that that 40 years was just some kind of coincidence, something convenient for both of them while it lasted. I just can’t see it meaning that much to them to let it go now.
I think that we were seeing something all along that may not have reflected the reality. How much could marriage have meant to them in the first place to throw away 40 years of it?
Its just weird and I can’t help but sense a cold-bloodedness about it.
I never invested much in either of the Gores or their marriage but I can’t help but be disturbed by their separation. Something about it, maybe the above mentioned cold-bloodedness, really bothers me.



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Lord Karth

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:28 am


Your Name @ 10:51 AM writes:
“If there is not currently a 3rd party, I believe one or both of them want to be with someone else. They probably want the crazy, can’t keep your hands off each other infatuation feelings and are looking outside the marriage for them.”
I really have to question that. There comes a point where the “fires” must and probably should be banked, for a variety of reasons: children, inheritance/Line issues, physical changes associated with age, and just plain sheer exhaustion. It just makes life less complicated–one less THING to worry about.
This is especially so in the case of really, really public figures like the couples described. “Want[ing] to be with someone else” often leads to actual “trying” to be with someone else”, which in its turn leads to all sorts of potential problems. There’s the prospect of divorce (and its Bigger Problem of property division), potential new children and resultant child support obligations. There’s the legal costs, both monetary and “hassle”-wise. Especially for men, there are “partner satisfaction” issues (everything from physical problems to attractiveness issues), emotional-attachment issues and all the rest of that stuff we once thought was reserved for teenagers and followers of certain “reality television” programs. Not to mention the bother of the possible publicity.
Who on God’s green earth needs the complications ?
I think that a very strong argument could be made that for anyone over 40 (especially men), trying to maintain ANY kind of sexual relationship, in marriage or without, borders on the unethical. There is simply too much at stake—family, finances, simply maintaining the stability of one’s own life situation—to run such silly risks.
If one party comes to that conclusion, and the other one does not, then there are two choices available: both sides live with the problem and maintain the status quo (like the Clintons may have done) or honorably and peaceably part company, as the Gores may have done. The “crazy, can’t-keep-your-hands-off-each-other-infatuation feelings” are probably the LAST things to come into play here.
Your servant,
Lord Karth
captcha: “attributes teensier” The irony here is interesting, if somewhat oddly flavored.



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stari_momak

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:28 am


Well Judith, that’s too bad, because just about every non-European (or white or whatever) group in the US does mobilize to protect their own group. To paraphrase Trotsky — you might not be interested in race, but race is interested in you. Maybe when your kids are forced to do the ‘white privilege’ walk in their mandated ‘critical whiteness studies’ course you’ll change your mind.
As for Rod’s original assertion — I think I know exactly the image he had in mind, Mitterand’s mistress and bastard showing up at his funeral. Well, I’ve lived for extended periods of time in four European countries, and in none of those is an ‘open marriage’ accepted. In Spain there is legal prostitution, and men sometimes indulge and wives seem to accepted that, but a long term mistress would cause scandal. In Germany, at least Bavaria, the stereotype is that men are more interested in their cars, tractors, and football than in women (including their wives). In ex-Yugoslav space, some degree of whoring is expected but again, long term mistresses are out. In England politicians still resign over sexual affairs.



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Anglican Peggy

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:48 am


I don’t really have an answer to the question at the moment, just a comment.
Making a marriage work for 40 years takes a lot of negotiation and other skills necessary for making it that long. Why the breakdown in those skills now?
The only thing I can think of is that that 40 years was just some kind of coincidence, something convenient for both of them while it lasted. I just can’t see it meaning that much to them to let it go now.
I think that we were seeing something all along that may not have reflected the reality. How much could marriage have meant to them in the first place to throw away 40 years of it?
Its just weird and I can’t help but sense a cold-bloodedness about it.
I never invested much in either of the Gores or their marriage but I can’t help but be disturbed by their separation. Something about it, maybe the above mentioned cold-bloodedness, really bothers me.



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Connie Connie in Wisconsin

posted June 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm


neither the Gores nor the Clintons appear pious
I wonder if Rod can name any famous couples who do.



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stari_momak

posted June 3, 2010 at 12:26 pm


Think of all those twenty-something echo-hotties that Gore surely must have had to resist. The flesh is weak.
Capta: kind wends [not sure if that latter is the verb or the isolated slavic peoples of eastern germany]



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Judith

posted June 3, 2010 at 12:36 pm


Stari:
“Well Judith, that’s too bad, because just about every non-European (or white or whatever) group in the US does mobilize to protect their own group”
True. Their empty enterprise, not mine. I have no plans on joining. I can see from your email that you think I will pay a price for not joining. There are lots of things I don’t join, and I expect to pay the price, and that’s all.



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Geoff G.

posted June 3, 2010 at 12:50 pm


It all gets back to that question that’s been floating around now for quite some time: what exactly constitutes a marriage?
The Gores have seemingly decided that a true marriage implies consistent emotional commitment and some form of monogamous love in the relationship. Take that part away, and what’s the point of being married? After the kids have grown up (assuming there are any), there is none.
I suppose that’s the current generally accepted version of marriage out there in American society right now. We see it on both the left and the right (although conservative politicians tend to be more hypocritical about it).
The Clintons, ironically enough, really do seem to have the “traditional” version of marriage going (as both Peter and Al-Dhariyat point out), especially for people their age and social class. And traditionally, a lack of sexual fidelity, at least on the part of the husband, has not been much of an impediment to the maintenance of a successful marriage (again, at least within the confines of a certain social class).
It is curious to consider that social conservatives really do seem very wrapped up in defending a vision of the institution that is, historically speaking, quite a novelty.
Personally, I like the Clinton’s view on marriage better too. Stained blue dresses and all. I’d add a bit more honesty and openness I suppose, but on the other hand, in case like that, sometimes the best thing to do really is to allow the other spouse the ability to turn a blind eye.
The real question for some of the more socially conservative folk here is, since marriage is really only about procreation, and since both couples’ procreating days are over, what’s really the point of keeping their marriages going at all?
None at all, of course. Funny how when you set out to merely deny marriage to a small group of people, you end up making arguments for things like the Gores’ divorce. Unintended consequences and all that.



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Geoff G.

posted June 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm


Connie Connie in Wisconsin
Newt Gingrich? Mel Gibson? :P



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stari_momak

posted June 3, 2010 at 1:00 pm


That should of course be eco-hotties versus echo-hotties, but the latter works in a sort of perverse way.



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Jillian

posted June 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm


I’m only using the Clinton/Gore comparison as a way to raise the question of which approach to handling an emotionally dead marriage is the better one.
IIRC there were some sort of minor psychiatric issues involving Tipper during the Nineties. Al, though tin eared, may well be the one that hung in there for as long as he coule.
As for alleging that the Clintons constitute ‘an emotionally dead marriage’, I think that presumes a conventional asymmetrical codependence relationship (like your own marriage) as its core that precisely isn’t the emotional core of functional two career marriages.



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Your Name

posted June 3, 2010 at 1:16 pm


I agree with Geoff above. All these traits of “traditional” (i.e. heterosexual) marriages are ALL “arrangements”. NO two marriages are exctly alike.
Franklin Evans had an interesting perception: “how much of your (general) personal morality is filtering your examination of the examples? That filter prejudices your perception in ways that invalidate the information being discovered.”
This same statement applies equally to Rod’s perceptions of non-”traditional” marriages (specifically, but most assuredly not limited to, same-sex marriages). They get filtered through Rod’s personal version of morality – one which simply is not shared by the entire populace at large.
Rod said: “I’m only using the Clinton/Gore comparison as a way to raise the question of which approach to handling an emotionally dead marriage is the better one. Does the couple formally admit that the marriage is broken, and go their separate ways? Or do they find a way to renegotiate and readjust their relationship, and stay together?”
First off, I’d like to know why he believes EITHER marriage is “emotionally dead” and/or “broken”? There’s not much evidence to support either claim.
Next, I’d like to suggest that absolutely all of the characteristics – both good and bad – described in this piece can and DO apply to same-sex relationships. Perhaps same-sex marriages are about just as “traditional” in that regard. In fact, the ONLY difference is that SSMs consist of two people of the same gender. ALL else is identical (keeping very vigorously in mind that procreation is not a requirement of marriage).
My $.02.



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Hector

posted June 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm


Re: It should go without saying that if one is a serious Christian, Jew or Muslim, there are religious issues in play.
Not Muslims. Islam has a very tolerant/permissive attitude towards divorce, indeed apparently there’s a recent trend of Egyptian Christians converting to Islam in order to get divorced.
I have no idea about the Jewish position on divorce- for Christians of course, Jesus explicitly condemned divorce.



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Coleman Glenn

posted June 3, 2010 at 1:22 pm


I’m simply trying to tease out reflection on whether it’s better to end a marriage in which both partners have emotionally separated, or rather to keep the marriage together, with diminished expectations about what marriage is. I have deliberately left religion out of the reckoning, because neither the Gores nor the Clintons appear pious, and I have left children out too, because both couples have children who are grown.
I guess a lot of this hinges on what you mean by “better” in “whether it’s better to end a marriage…” If that’s not a moral “better” but a “better” in the sense of giving each partner the maximum emotional satisfaction, that’s difficult/impossible question to give a general answer to, since it will vary case-by-case. A recent study in the New York Times magazine seemed to show that staying together in general leads to a longer life, but this is not the case if the marriage is particularly acrimonious (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/magazine/18marriage-t.html?pagewanted=1). That does seem to indicate that there are serious staying together in an OK-but-passionless marriage is more likely to lead to greater happiness/utility (to the extent that that can be measured, which is (I believe) much less than many utilitarians suppose).
But if you mean “better” in a moral/ethical sense, I’m not sure how you CAN leave religion out of it. If you’re polling us readers on our own perspective, I’ve already shared mine – it’s better morally / ethically to stay together, because a Christian marriage is a commitment not only to each other, but to God and society. True, neither couple has shown particular piety, but they DO espouse to be Christian, and presumably held their marriages to be Christian marriages, which means that they were making more than a commitment just to each other, so they cannot ethically dissolve their contract.
On the other hand, if marriage is nothing other than a contract between two people saying, “I promise to be faithful to you,” then a mutual decision to dissolve that contract can’t be seen as unethical.
Maybe the reality is usually somewhere in between. The couple makes a commitment to be faithful to each other – but also a commitment (to a new entity that is created, their marriage? To God?) to try to keep the marriage together even if at some points neither one of them feels very committed.



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Erin Manning

posted June 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm


Given the evils of divorce, I think it’s much better for a couple to stay together and work out the relationship from within. This does not, of course, include “permission” for either spouse to play the field; openly adulterous couples might as well be divorced, because they’re already doing plenty of harm without it.
Now, what “harm” is there when children are grown, etc.?
Have you ever spoken to grown children of divorce? Just because a “child” is eighteen, twenty-two, thirty etc. when Mom and Dad decide to split up (and, often, marry other people) does not mean that the divorce has no impact and does no harm. The harm that is done spills over into the lives of the adult children in a different way than it does to young children, but it is there. Every happy memory of childhood is reevaluated in light of the divorce; the adult child wonders how long his parents lied to him, and how fake those smiles at Christmas and birthday parties really were. A deep fear that the adult child’s own ability to form and sustain lasting relationships will grow, and even impact the adult child’s own marriage. Grandchildren suffer the confusion about why Grandma and Grandpa don’t live in the same house anymore, and that confusion only grows when the situation becomes “Grandma and Bob,” and “Grandpa and Betty.”
And those situations also impact the adult child, who is pressured to attend holiday functions at both houses, to treat two new adults as family members (and possibly those adults’ children from their own former relationships or marriages), and to do it all with a smile pinned firmly on, lest anyone commit the cardinal sin of incivility.
The fiction we maintain that divorce isn’t such a big deal for small children and is no problem at all for adult ones is not grounded at all in reality–which is reason enough for heterosexual marriages to continue when the partners are past the childbearing ages, by the way, though I don’t want to get into the gay-marriage debate with Geoff just now, as that isn’t this thread’s topic.
Bottom line, for me: adults who get married have a responsibility to each other and to their children which doesn’t end just because the kids have grown up and moved out of the house. I wish our divorce laws were much more strict than they are, and that couples who wished to divorce would have to show that they had actual grounds beyond “We just don’t feel like being married anymore.”



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Rod Dreher

posted June 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm


That’s a good point, Erin. There’s a piece in the new issue of Vanity Fair about how Ben Bradlee’s marriage to Sally Quinn deeply damaged his relationship with his sons from a previous marriage, because Quinn was so nasty to them.



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Geoff G.

posted June 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm


Coleman Glenn
But if you mean “better” in a moral/ethical sense, I’m not sure how you CAN leave religion out of it.
This idea always really bugs me because it is such an artifact of modern Western thinking.
The whole discipline of moral philosophy in the West was invented by men who almost completely neglected conventional piety (One of the charges against Socrates, in fact, was that he was an atheist). They sought to use rational argument to determine the happiest form of life, which in turn dictated a certain moral code.
Right up to the time of Christianity (which adopted vast swathes of moral philosophy wholesale), religion had pretty much nothing whatsoever to do with determining proper moral conduct (except insofar as piety was considered to be a trait to be cultivated).
It’s only because Christianity intertwined itself with moral philosophy so thoroughly and for so long that we cannot imagine things any other way. But it ain’t necessarily so.
For another example of moral philosophy that is independent of religion in much the same way, I’d submit Confucianism and Taoism (specifically that of Laozi and Zhuangzi rather than some of its later manifestations)



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Geoff G.

posted June 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm


Erin Manning
So supposing that the marriage really is broken, you’re saying that it’s better to simply maintain appearances and continue to lie to your kids (and keep stoking and feeding your resentments, anger and even outright hatred toward your spouse) right up ’til death do you part?
Damage can be done in lots of ways. Do you mean to say that allowing a bad marriage to turn you into a bitter and twisted human being won’t have a bad effect on adult children? That their observations of how miserable you are (which no matter what you may think, you cannot hide—even young children can be pretty perceptive that way) somehow won’t poison their future relationships?
I do sincerely envy you your wonderful family, Erin, but I do think that your combination of good fortune and perspicacity in choosing your husband may well have led to rose colored glasses about the nature of families in general.
Recaptcha: gas towhead…hey! I resemble that remark!



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Anon for this

posted June 3, 2010 at 4:12 pm


Divorce can hurt adult children, yes. But it can also bring great peace when the parents’ marriage was filled with tension and resentment.
My husband’s parents are divorced, mine are not. Visiting with his family is much more peaceful than visiting with mine is.
There is no good answer when two married people of good will (meaning no abuse or adultry), despite best efforts, simply do not love one another or get along any more.
Life is complicated and messy.



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Anon for this comment, too

posted June 3, 2010 at 4:50 pm


I wish my parents had been able to get a divorce. But, my mother would have raised Holy Hell if my father had ever asked her for one, because my mother has the expectation that she will have her needs met perfectly 100% of the time. Anyone who tries to help her sooner or later finds she turns on them when they express their own human needs or rights. Sorry if this sounds excessively snarky. My father has been dead for 10 years, and I have many times in the past decade wanted to tell my mother that I would have divorced her if I’d been my father. But, of course, I never will say that to her. Just think it.



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M.Z.

posted June 3, 2010 at 5:23 pm


I must confess that I’m a bit baffled by all the talk of forces beyond one’s control. We have to deal with difficult people in our lives all the time. Sometimes they are even our boss, and sometimes we are even married to them. I think all the pablum about a partner completing you or making you whole bears some of the blame. A lot of unhappy people are in unhappy circumstances (out of work) or just choose to be unhappy. A lot of times it turns out it isn’t the boss’s fault or the spouse’s fault for the person’s unhappiness. I swear people put more effort into pleasing their bosses at times than they do their spouses. Marriage is something to be valued for its own sake. So indeed the Clintons are the better model. The Gore’s stopped caring about marriage. It’s nothing atypical for that generation.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 3, 2010 at 5:29 pm


Well, I do have a healthy respect for personal and anecdotal examples, but Erin and Rod: Is there no room in your philosophy for the damage a couple do to each other in the name of staying together for the children?
Rod, your Bradlee example is just wrong. It wasn’t his marriage to Quinn that hurt the children, it was Sally Quinn who was personally responsible for that damage. There are plenty of real-world reasons she could have hurt them just as much without being married to Bradlee. The marriage was not definitional.
Mature adults who have an actual, demonstrable commitment to caring for and raising children do not casually dismiss that commitment. No personal offense taken, but I find Erin’s assertions insulting.
Speaking of anecdotal, mine cancels at least one of Erin’s asserted examples: I was 13 when my parents divorced (actually, when they separated, the divorce was finalized a year later), my elder sisters 20 and 23. Of all the people who showed our mother compassion and support during that period, my sisters were the ones at her side every moment they could spare, giving her support of the highest quality for the simple reason that they knew firsthand exactly the damage our father was doing to her and the children.
I don’t mean to start a pissing contest here. There is a spectrum of motivations out there, some people really are cavalier about their marriages (and their children), but some of them are actually doing exactly what you accuse them of ignoring: They are protecting their children. To ignore either group (and the many gradations between) to make a point is, please forgive a momentary lapse in civility, contemptible.



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Coleman Glenn

posted June 3, 2010 at 6:07 pm


Geoff G.,
I’m not saying that you can’t discuss morality and ethics without involving religion.
What Rod asked was for his readers to share what they thought was a “better” model, or, “which couple offers the wiser guide to how to handle a marriage that has gone south”?
As a Christian, my answer to that question HAS to come from religion – I believe that one of those two choices (if there’s been no infidelity) is objectively better and wiser. Now, it might be different if they were simply a couple of people who had promised each other they’d stay together forever – then I would be more in doubt. But by formalizing it as a marriage, and especially as a Christian marriage (which I assume both couples did, even if they’re not very pious), my thoughts on which is better and wiser are clear.
Now, you could ask me to divorce my moral reasoning from my religious thought, and I could pretend to, but it wouldn’t be real. If you ask, “Which is likely to lead to the greater overall happiness,” I would answer, staying married – if you take into account the effect on society of staying together vs. viewing marriage vows as disposable. I could bring out all sorts of evidence backing up my view, and you could bring out evidence backing yours, and it might become clear to us that this whole business of calculating maximum happiness for the entire human race for all time is an impossible task. I trust that listening to what God’s given us leads to the greatest possible happiness. Not that I’m opposed to bringing out that evidence – in fact I think it’s a good idea – but at its root it will have my religious conviction.



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Indy

posted June 3, 2010 at 7:31 pm


I agree with Franklin Evans that there are way too many gradations and complications for anyone to do anything but say what they’ve seen and observed and concluded, based on their values, and certainly not to impose their standards on anyone but themselves. Once you start giving outs — divorce for adultery or physical violence ok, divorce for mental cruelty, treating each other with contempt and cruelty and emotional harrassment not — then you’ve basically already said some divorces are ok. Which enables others to say, ok, well instead of going with your narrower interpreations, let’s go with my slightly broader ones. Either divorce should never, ever be all right or it should be all right under certain circumstances, especially if people have tried counseling, etc.
That, and the fact that the divorce prohibitions stem from a patriarchical society when a women was assumed to need her father’s or husband’s protection, lead me to conclude that there simply are situations where it is better to divorce than to be a party to cruelty within a family.
Other elements of the family sometimes split up — some siblings never speak to or see each other. Some parents disavow their children. Some children become alienated from their parents. Let’s face it, some people just are toxic. That isn’t always apparent. I cannot say that the sort of bitter acrimony and splits among unmarried relatives, sans piece of paper, is better than an amicable divorce, in which people stay in touch but no longer are bound by marriage. To say that married people are the only ones who cannot split up overlooks the fact that people can treat each other equally badly within a marriage as in a parental or sibling situation but that they must remain trapped.
We change jobs when we lose trust in our bosses. That we chose to accept a job at 22 doesn’t mean we’re stuck until 65, if we misjudged the person or they treated us badly or the environment turned toxic and our situation untenable. Yet some of us expect a standard we never would apply to our professional judgments to apply to marriage, always, no matter how young we were when we entered into it. I hadn’t thought about it until I read the comments here, but perhaps the best thing to do, after all, is just to marry in a civil ceremony. I’m not saying divorce should be taken lightly. Or that we should change spouses as easily as we change jobs. No, absolutely not, especially if there are young children. I just can’t argue that divorce never should be an option.



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Indy

posted June 3, 2010 at 7:59 pm


Rod, have you read any biographies of Hillary Clinton? Some of what I’ve read suggests to me that she has a much stronger (Methodist) faith than many people assume from outside observation.
Captcha: renegade families
Hmm must have read my post from 7:31



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Erin Manning

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:12 pm


Franklin, all due respect, of course. I do know that there are marriages which have become toxic situations for all involved: abuse, serial adultery, alcoholism or drug addiction which the addict refuses to confront, that sort of thing. Even my Church, which does not permit divorce, will permit a separation in the event that the situation is causing harm to the innocent parties.
But we’re not, primarily, talking about those situations here–merely ones in which the couple has neglected their marriage, grown apart, grown bored with each other, lost interest in the relationship, or some similar thing. To get divorced for no other reason than a kind of mid-life ennui, a sense that perhaps there’s “someone else” out there, or to recapture a sense of youthfulness or freedom, etc. seems to me to be the height of selfishness.
Here, I really agree with what M.Z. wrote. We *do* have to deal with difficult people all the time, and this includes compromise, negotiation skills, tact, the occasional avoidance technique and the like. I found a little book rather helpful in this regard, though it’s certainly not a scholarly work. Titled “Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People who Drain You Dry,” and written by Albert Bernstein, this book outlines some of the more common types of personality disorders and what to do if you have to work with (or are married to) any of the types listed.
For married couples, there are many ways to make a marriage work. Couples’ therapy or counseling should not be seen as a step on the road to divorce, for instance (again, assuming you’re not talking about one of the toxic situations I described above). This little look from a Catholic perspective at seven habits of a happy marriage is interesting, too:
http://www.europe4christ.net/index.php?id=606
Finally, there’s a great difference between a “toxic” situation leading to divorce, and a divorce merely because the spouses no longer get along. In the first, there’s a natural tendency of the children to rally around the innocent party–the wife who endured her husband’s cheating or emotional abuse, the husband who begged his wife to get help for her alcohol addiction, etc. There will not be, as there is in the “companionable” divorces, that constant tug-of-war over where the children (and grandchildren) will be spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.; the guilty party to the divorce will recognize that he or she has to accept his or her lesser status in the eyes of his or her children–or, if he/she doesn’t recognize it, the children learn to ignore his/her irrational demands or tantrums.
I think that most of us expect adults to act like adults. Barring those circumstances (not as rare as we’d wish) where one spouse is wrecking the marriage through adultery or addiction or abuse, I think that too many couples divorce because they entered marriage with the mindset of children who expect everything to go their way, and are disappointed and surprised that marriage involves things like sharing and partnership.
Geoff, you’re right in that I’m blessed beyond anything I deserve, and that after fifteen years of marriage I still tell my husband all the time just how lucky I am to have him. But I’m also realistic about the fact that it takes work to keep any marriage running smoothly, and that if Thad and I were neglectful of that work we’d be in the same danger as anybody else. Most importantly, for us, is that we see God’s hand in our lives, and try our best to follow His plan for us together, with the humility to realize that we’re not really in charge. I don’t mean to minimize the unhappiness of others–but divorce takes such a toll on children even when there are “toxic” circumstances present, that I can’t imagine what leads to that choice when they are not.



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Erin Manning

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:16 pm


Dhimmi Moor, I am laughing and nodding at this that you wrote: “…what you want is someone that will watch your back as you go thru the knife fight in a dirt floor bar that is life.” So true. So true.
[Captcha: last families.]



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Indy

posted June 3, 2010 at 8:42 pm


Erin, I’m struck by the fact that you refer to drug addiction and adultery but not other forms of toxicity. I’m not divorced and never have been so I can’t claim to be an expert. I do know what I’ve learned from talking to friends and loved ones, however.
I don’t know what type of people you work with on the job, or where you work, but the one thing that I’ve observed is that for professional and personal relationships to work, both or all sides have to work equally hard at them. If one side gives up, or is toxic by temperament, it doesn’t matter how hard the other one works. Some people simply are mean and cruel or self-absorbed. Some are able to hide it from the people they are engaged to until after they are marriaged. Just as some bosses seem like they would be great when they interview you but turn out to be emotionally harrassing and toxic once you sign on to work for them. Maybe you’ve just been lucky in your bosses, too, I don’t know.
As Rod has said about Ruthie, one has to give to get. Some people start out with hope and optimism but fundamentally don’t understand their partners and don’t know how to give them what they ask for, no matter how hard the one yearning for something works at the relationship. There are degrees of toxicity in relationships. Haven’t you noticed that at work, also, as well as among people you know socially? I certainly have.
There are many marriages in which there is no addiction, no adultery, but one of the people simply stops giving or stops trying to give. They withdraw and become strangers to their spouses. Sometimes there are reasons for it that they cannot articulate and for which they do not feel they can find a solution. Not everyone is equally self aware, so it can be very hard to sort those things out. Sometimes they just stop trusting the partner emotionally. Sometimes they lose the sense of home as a safe place, emotionally. Sometimes the person who is rejected doesn’t seem to deserve it. Pasted on smiles are much more likely to come when people for whom love is irrevocably lost are forced to stay together by convention or family pressure, painted on smiles don’t come necessarily from divorce.
But even there, we don’t really know what happens behind closed doors and how different people calibrate their needs and adjust to each other. There are people who comment in these comboxes who are happily married but would make some of the rest of us miserable, if we were married to them. People don’t always match up. Ideally, one realizes that while dating but not always.
That’s what we don’t know about the Gore and Clinton marriages, what each is or is not giving the other now. Or how hard they did or did not try before they reached this point. I cannot call that selfishness because I just do not know what the split is based on. I don’t have the right to call other people selfish because my needs may differ from theirs. So I hesitate to rush to judgment about anyone’s divorce, at all.
Right now your married life is balanced. I too find sufficient balance in my equally cherished relationship. People with balance are lucky but even for us, balance happens to describe what we have now, nothing more, nothing less. No one ever knows what is going in someone else’s life or even what twists and turns one’s own life may take.



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Hector

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm


Re: I remember being told once, upon my engagement, that eventually the sexual fires will burn low, and what you want is someone that will watch your back as you go thru the knife fight in a dirt floor bar that is life. Who better than Hillary Clinton?
Um, I generally vote Democrat, and can’t see myself ever voting Republican in the foreseeable future, but I wouldn’t trust either of the Clintons as far as I could throw them. Not Hillary and not Bill.
I wan’t aware that there were conditions attached….the way I generally heard it described (particularly by my Hindu relatives) is that you could say, ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ on a whim and then you were home free. As you can see, devout Hindus and Muslims often can’t necessarily be relied on to give the most fair-minded and balanced account of each other’s religions….
Regarding the original post- for me the question boils down to whether the parties involved are Christian, and had a church marriage. I don’t necessarily think it’s _naturally_ or _intrinsically_ wrong for a couple without children, or with grown children, to get divorced when they no longer love each other- in some ways it seems like the reasonable thing to do. Of course adult children can (though certainly not always) suffer from divorce; they could also suffer as much, or more, from living in a family full of mutual animosity.
Remarriage after divorce is, of course, generally wrong _for Christians_, in particular when they had a marriage in church that involved the ’till death do us part’ bit. That has less to do with any negative effect on the children and more to do with the fact that marriage means something different and more demanding for Christians then for the world at large- in particular we are bound by what Jesus Christ said on the matter. I’m a Christian, of course, so in their place I would expect that my future wife and I would do like the Clintons did- though I can’t promise we would be very happy about it. But I don’t think the rest of the world is bound by the Christian teaching on the matter.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:35 pm


Thank you, Erin. There was a bit too much unspoken behind my reaction (and shall remain there, unnecessary here), but there is another thing to the point that Indy and I are working at: The prohibition against divorce, the various ecumenical “advice” and general suggestions, while all very reasonable, fail to address the fact still not addressed here: Every relationship is different, and formulas and such work very well for the mundane aspects of life, and fail miserably for the intense moments where personal survival — and I mean much more emotional than physical — prompts each person to think and act in defense, not in some rosy view of grace and forgiveness. Indeed, my life experiences — still admittedly anecdotal — show that its the intensity that leads to divorce, not the laziness and self-absorption on which you seem to be focusing.
There is an almost pompous judgment behind your writing, Erin. I know you well enough by now to not make assumptions about it, but as a general statement it is quite familiar to my memory. It is empty, superficial, and the reason why in the UU congregation in which I grew up the many ex-Catholics could almost all be heard to say some variation of “I am not a bad person. Why must my church automatically label me as bad when I am hurting and leaving is the only option left?”
I hasten to add, though I do have strong opinions about this topic, that I truly do not wish to judge them or you. It’s just not an easy thing to talk about, and with that I’ll step back and ponder more before adding to this discussion, if I do so at all. Be well, friend.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:40 pm


I post this separately to distance it from my remarks to Erin. While they carry some logical connection, this is not intended to be a response to her.
The conflict I see is between the notions that, for some traditions, marriage is between the couple and God; but in our discussions, and in my experience, I believe and I get the sense that others agree that marriage must be first and foremost about personal trust between the couple. Excepting those self-absorbed people I think most of us can agree don’t deserve trust, I fail and continue to fail to see how faith in God can replace broken trust.



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Erin Manning

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:42 am


Franklin, your comments are always thoughtful, and certainly I don’t mean to come off as pompous. I have known many failed marriages, including some in my extended family; if I don’t get into specifics it’s because these are not my stories to tell, and sharing them without details is no different than merely talking about statistics.
One now deceased relative (who can’t be hurt in any way by my sharing this) was divorced after a long time of marriage by a husband who was unfaithful and married his mistress after the divorce. You would think she would consider herself the innocent, wronged party–but she used to say, simply and with dignity, that it takes two to make a marriage, and acknowledge that she had been a part of the problem. She never remarried, and remained a practicing Catholic all her life.
Indy spoke of “balance,” which is a good understanding–except that “balance” isn’t something which magically happens. The balance in a marriage isn’t like two people standing on opposite sides of a scale; it’s like two people seated on a child’s see-saw–in other words, it takes constant effort, flexibility, the willingness to give and to move to maintain that balance. People with balance are not lucky–just persistent.
And that’s what I think the real difference is–those people with a traditional (often religious) view of marriage view the marriage vow as unbreakable. When my relative went through the divorce, she didn’t consider herself no longer her husband’s wife, because in the eyes of God before Whom they had made that promise, she still was. That her unfaithful husband left her and contracted an adulterous faux-marriage outside the Church with another woman did not change that reality in the least, as far as she was concerned.
This is how Catholics, generally speaking, always used to view marriage (before the days of horrible catechesis and the resulting annulment-mill which, sadly, is probably justified given how many Catholics get married in the Church with no real understanding of what it is they are promising). When you view marriage as an unbreakable vow, two things happen: one, you’re a lot more careful about whom you marry, and two, you are at least theoretically willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the marriage, through the intense periods and through the quiet ones.
These days, though, marriage is taken to mean something that’s one step up from cohabitation (because, hey, if you get divorced that big party you threw was a total waste, and it can get expensive to divvy up the stuff if lawyers get involved). It’s easy to walk away if the individual feels as though his/her needs aren’t being met–and that goes back to that thing I posted earlier about Zimmerman and family types; the atomistic and post-atomistic family never, ever subordinates the needs of the individual to the needs of the family group.
Does any of this mean that I don’t feel any sympathy for people in unhappy marriages? Sure, I do. But I think that people are too quick to give up on the whole thing more often than anyone would like to admit. I recall a story a while ago (I can’t find it, just now) about a woman whose husband was going through a bad time and wanted to move out–and she simply refused, and slowly drew him back into the family’s life. Maybe that wouldn’t work for everyone–but would it work for more people than we know?



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Charles Curtis

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:38 am


Looking at the Clintons, we all assume that the spark is dead, and we all know Hillary’s been humiliated. But what if they’re still friends? In any case, every marriage is in the legal sense business relationship, and “Clinton” is a blue chip, marquee political name. Hillary couldn’t escape their common history and all the people that hate them for it, even if she shed it. Keeping it has a lot of benefit for her, still. Losing it gains her nothing, and may even cost her a decisive slim margin of support in a future presidential run.
Their sticking together may be the only thing I admire them for, even if it’s only based in calculation on her part. Tipper on the other hand isn’t running for anything. If there is no “business” upside, like there is for Bill and Hill, and the passion is dead, what’s the upside for her? Receiving mash-mouthed kisses from Al like she got on stage back at that convention?



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Indy

posted June 4, 2010 at 6:30 am


Erin, I think some of these differences stem from differing life experiences (the extent to which one has had to deal with toxic personalities on the job or at home or not) and some from where one goes to church. As you probably recall, I’m Protestant. So I look at second marriages from a different perspective than you do as a Catholic.
You say that your relative considered herself still married after a divorce in civil court and you call her former husband’s second marriage “faux.” Someone such as I may say that if someone’s (anyone’s, I’m speaking generally) second marriage succeeded and a first one did not, who am I to say which one really is or was “faux” and which one was real and based on something honest and true? This thread was triggered by events involving politically well known families. Certainly, Ted Kennedy’s second marriage seemed to be much more a marriage than his first. (Granted, that one took place in a very different day and age. Given his political duties on behalf of his brother, Jack, then still a Senator, he barely saw his fiancee in the months before he married his first wife. Not the best foundation for a marriage, but in a family such as his, in those days there was a lot of family pressure to “find a wife.”).
I know of marriages among Catholics where one spouse appears to give off a vibe of “I’m good, isn’t that why you chose me, and if you don’t think so any longer, tough, because I’ve got that ring on my finger and I’ll always consider myself married to you no matter what.” It’s almost like an immunity shield for them, a get out of jail card. And I know of relationships among people who have shared no marriage vows of any kind, civil or religious, where each acts much more Christian towards the other than the smug married spouse I just mentioned. And works much, much harder on the relationship in part because there is no sense of “I have got you, you chose me so you owe me, I’m never letting go, mission accomplished once I got you to the altar.”
We probably agree that that is not the way to look at marriage but the truth is, a view of marrige that centers so strongly on the means by which the people were joined together in reality can lead to that type of “I’ve got immunity” thinking. Just as there are people who go to church regularly but really aren’t very Christian in how they treat their fellow human beings. Some of them seem to believe that “following the right steps” externally is enough, whereas they’re really just going through the motions and checking off a checklist, while others, less frequent in their church going, and some not even religious at all, actually are working harder to live Christian lives.
Captcha: It erode
Yep, it sure can!



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 9:20 am


Erin, Indy speaks (very eloquently!) for me at this point, and I’ll just add one thing in praise of your overall logic: Balance is indeed the point here, that it is a dynamic process and not a static state is emphatically the point of conflict… and I submit to you and your fellow believers that the very term “unbreakable vow” is a direct contradiction within that dynamism. I also echo your and Indy’s citation of the level of “investment” each person makes before and during the marriage. If that investment is lacking of missing, I suggest, the vow itself is flawed.
Life progresses, change happens. Unchangeable conditions can be a haven, a place of solidity to which a couple can retreat in difficult times. It can also be a trap, a place from which either or both can look out at the rest of the world and say: Why did I cut myself off from life? Is this pain really what I chose with my vow? And, echoing those ex-Catholics I knew: Is this what God wants for me, and what is it about me that God decides makes me deserving of it?
That last question, needing a better abstract-generic phrasing to be sure, for very many people cannot be answered by “You must not question God’s will.”



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Dan Orr

posted June 4, 2010 at 10:25 am


I don’t think there is any significant moral difference between mutually agreed upon altered-promise (with many conditions of the original promise altered), and a mutually agreed upon ended promise. The issue concerning whether the marriage promise is or should be for a complete life, it is a different matter. If marriage is (or should be) for a complete life, both the weakened and the broken promise are as bad. If not, both are just as acceptable.
With life-expectancies and health prospects till later periods in life ever increasing, this is all to be expected.
I like extreme cases to think about. Imagine an immortal couple. Each person would have to take on multiple, and possibly radically different, life projects to avoid profound malaise. Would it be at all reasonable to expect them to make an eternal marriage promise, knowing the extreme likelihood that the selection of life projects could make life together impossible? Clearly not. It’s one of the reasons I am repulsed by the idea that eternal life is anything like this life. I mean, if it were and marriage were eternal, would anyone get married? Only the most ridiculous romantics would, those with no conception of the work and compromise involved, and so the least likely the succeed.
That’s not to say that a lifetime promise is an unreasonable thing to ask of people who merely expect to live as adults and work for, say, 60 years. But I’m not inclined to pass judgement on people who mutually decide to relax or dissolve a partnership, especially when the work of raising children is completed. Unless someone can plausibly argue that senior divorce will have a profound moral effect on a society, I don’t see the trouble.
On the other hand, seeing a grandparent hooking up in the corner might be a bit uncomfortable.



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Judith

posted June 4, 2010 at 10:31 am


I think anyone who has achieved any sort of “balance” anywhere in their lives, incredibly precious, is crazy to talk about what model they believe produced it. Jeeze. Thank your lucky stars instead.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 10:52 am


Judith, I find myself in the very ironic position of disagreeing with your cynicism. ;-)
The ongoing effort to maintain balance is not a matter of luck. One’s progressive steps through success and failure (in being balanced) are part of the process, not opportunities to praise or fault it.
Part of the effort, too, is in recognizing that the model/method one found successful turns out to be not so successful at some point. Further is the notion that one made a mistake in trying a different model/method — even if it succeeded where the old one failed — because circumstances dictated a return to the old one.
This, IMO, is one example that supports the cliche that the journey is more important than the destination. :-)



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Hector

posted June 4, 2010 at 11:04 am


Re: Imagine an immortal couple. Each person would have to take on multiple, and possibly radically different, life projects to avoid profound malaise. Would it be at all reasonable to expect them to make an eternal marriage promise, knowing the extreme likelihood that the selection of life projects could make life together impossible?
Dan Orr,
Well, that’s a very good reason to thank God that we aren’t immortal. :)
“And the Lord said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever…” Genesis 3:22.
Re: It’s one of the reasons I am repulsed by the idea that eternal life is anything like this life. I mean, if it were and marriage were eternal, would anyone get married?
Eternal life is better than this life, in all ways. The good things of this world are mirrors of even better things in the next world. We are told that there will be no marriage in heaven: “But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage…” That could mean various things- some think it means a sexless existence, Milton thought it meant some kind of free-love deal going on. But either way, it will be better than what we experience in this life.



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Judith

posted June 4, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Franklin,
Thank you for responding. I didn’t intend my, slightly flippant, comment to sound cynical. I agree with every single thing you just wrote.
I do not view what people “are”, “seem to be” or seem to have, as being the result of luck. Most of it is the product of a lot of hard work, and courage, and not knowing ahead of time what the outcome will be. This includes also, people’s personalities. A person with a specific personality bent, like a sunny disposition, is typically viewed as having good DNA, and does not get credit for work they do to be that way, and make the contributions they make to the people around them.
I also agree that working our way through successes and failures is what produces whatever balance we have, although it often doesn’t seem that way at the time.
And PS, did the cosmos choose the 2 captcha words to have some esoteric meaning-they sure seem to.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:31 pm


Thanks, Judith. I like flippant (as well I should, some would add).
Captcha: idealize concern. Nothing esoteric to see here. Move along… ;-)



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Erin Manning

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:06 pm


Well, this thread has fallen off the main page, but I wanted to make a final point: seeing marriage as an unbreakable vow is not some kind of smug supercilious Catholic thing. Until the very recent past, it was how the vast majority of Christians viewed marriage, and how marriage was viewed by a huge percentage of human beings for a couple thousand years (give or take).
We’ve lost the idea that marriage is any sort of promise or vow in the real sense of those words. I’m sorry, but standing before the community with one’s intended and saying, “I promise to be with you, to remain faithful and true–but only as long as this feels good for me,” is NOT a vow. It’s an insult.



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Hector

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:17 pm


Hey Rod,
My post was swallowed by Captcha, apparently because I used the word ‘sexual’ (logically enough, in a thread about divorce). Can you free it up?



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Hector

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:18 pm


Re: Until the very recent past, it was how the vast majority of Christians viewed marriage, and how marriage was viewed by a huge percentage of human beings for a couple thousand years (give or take).
With respect, that isn’t true. It’s never been true for Muslims, nor for Zoroastrians. I have no idea about pagan Greece and Rome, but it wasn’t the case for much of northern Europe (they had something called a temporary ‘Gaelic marriage’). I don’t think it’s traditionally been the case for Jews (as the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees indicates; Hillel, Shammai and Akiva all acknowledged grounds for divorce). It certainly wasn’t true for a great many African, Pacific Island and Native American cultures in which marriage was something relatively casual. It was true for Hindus, so ok, you’ve found one example. The idea that divorce is something _ontologically impossible_, and that a marriage vow is literally and totally unbreakable by any human agency except death, is something unique to Christianity. Chesterton acknowledges as much in his ‘Everlasting Man’. There’s nothing ‘natural’ about indissoluble marriage- if you believe in it as an ideal, which I do, then it’s a _supernatural_ ideal, not a natural one.
And not to all of Christianity, either; the Eastern and Oriental churches permitted divorce since a fairly early date, as did Lutherans and Calvinists. (To be fair, the argument is sometimes made, convincingly, that the early church in both East and West forbade divorce, and that the Orthodox Church only permitted it later under intense political pressure).
Don’t get me wrong- while I don’t totally agree with the RC view, I’m fairly close to it (I think it follows logically from the words of Jesus and from the idea that marriage is a sacrament). I think that the best thing to do, for a Christian couple in a Christian marriage, is to stay together, and if they happen to divorce then each party ought to stay celibate during the lifetime of the other. If I had my way, my church wouldn’t recognize second marriages, and would encourage divorced people to abstain from any sexual or marital relationship. Divorce and remarriage is always an evil, for Christians. But this is specifically a Christian ideal, and I don’t think there’s any reason why non-Christians should be bound by it.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:14 pm


Erin, I think you and I are in basic agreement, if for no other reason than vows — oaths, actually — have long been a core tenet of belief and ethics, predating Christianity by quite a long term.
I must join Hector in criticizing your usage, though. His reference to the Celtic (Gaelic is a linguistic reference, at least modernly, because “Gaulish” was restricted to the Celts of the continent) view that handfasting (the ceremony included the symbolic binding of their hands together, which survived into Christian marriage ceremonies and morphed into the wedding ring and the custom-idiom “ask for her hand in marriage”) was not temporary so much as the first step towards requesting the blessings of the gods, the primary proof being children. Indeed, in many cultures the lack of at least a pregnancy during the handfasting period (typically set to “a year and a day”) was tantamount to an annulment. See also this as a foundation of dynastic cultural traditions, and the later political ramifications amongst the Christian monarchies, not to mention some cultures where marriage couldn’t even be asked for unless the woman was pregnant.



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Dan

posted June 4, 2010 at 9:26 pm


Hector said:
Eternal life is better than this life, in all ways. The good things of this world are mirrors of even better things in the next world. We are told that there will be no marriage in heaven: “But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage…” That could mean various things- some think it means a sexless existence, Milton thought it meant some kind of free-love deal going on. But either way, it will be better than what we experience in this life.
I say:
Either way, sexless or free love, for eternity, would completely suck. Really it’s just metaphor lost on me, or useless speculation.
d



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cathy briggs

posted June 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm


It escapes me why people do not see that alcohol is the third party in the Gore divorce.



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Jen

posted June 12, 2010 at 11:03 am


I found myself reflecting on the nature of marriage recently, and I came to the conclusion that after awhile, your spouse is family. You don’t divorce your adult siblings even though they may be irritating or even toxic. There are huge variations in extended families-from those who see each other almost every day, or even live together and are very close, to those who are estranged.
I think our society could benefit from more flexibility around the idea of what is a marriage. My parents divorced after 18 years of marriage; my in-laws, equally unhappy at about that point, did not. Theirs was never a very happy marriage in the conventional modern American sense, but now at the age of 80 they are each other’s comfort and refuge. They are in poor health and I know that when one goes, the other will be lost.
Had they divorced back in the ’70′s they would not have this comfort of somebody who has known them longer than anybody else living. Watching them has changed my feelings about my marriage and made me grateful for the blessing of having my husband to travel this next phase of life with me.
I’d vote Clinton all the way–seems like they have the long view and know that they are family to each other, and that the bonds of family are indissoluble. I believe that is what Jesus was trying to tell people when he spoke about marriage.



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Charles Dennis

posted April 21, 2012 at 12:55 am


Who’s saying at an emotional level their relationship failed? They don’t.. Do they? Time and time again I hear business couples say they don’t have sex like they use to. Also normally men like sex more and some wives understand that even more so if they really don’t want to. What if Clinton’s relationship was just seen as a long distance relationship? People don’t have problems with someone saying they have a relationship like that normally, would we accept hearing that coming from the Clinton’s?



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