Monday, September 20, 2010

No Silver Lining in Gores' Separation

Heard of the "third age"? Neither did I until I read some of the op-eds on the Gores' separation. Forty years of marriage and now they should explore their freedom and pursue someone new and exciting? This Op-Ed really got my blood boiling.

Here is my monthly parenting column from the Home News Tribune:

When a high-profile couple like Al and Tipper Gore separate from each other, we feel sadness that a 40 year marriage has failed. After 32 years in family therapy, nothing shocks me, but I, too, was saddened by this separation.

However, Dierdre Bair's column in the New York Times on this subject quickly brought my blood to a boil. She authored a book on late-life divorces and described a term that I was not aware of … "the third age,'' which refers to life after divorce. Bair described the "courage'' that these divorcing couples showed as they left the supposed security of marriage. "To them,'' she writes, "divorce meant not failure and shame, but opportunity.''

Bair describes that most of the couples she interviewed did not divorce "impulsively". They mentioned freedom and control for themselves for the rest of their lives. In the true tradition of our consumer-oriented society, these longtime married couples now want "someone new and exciting.''

She alludes to the idea that we leave the "it's-all-about-me'' phase of our youth to get married and raise children. Then, when our adult children leave the nest, we should seek that all-about-me time again. "Women and men alike wanted time to find out who they were.'' Many of her interviews ended with, "It's my time, and if I don't take it now I never will.'' She concluded her column but saying, "So let us not feel shocked or sad about the end of Al and Tipper Gore's marriage. Let us, instead, wish them well and hope that they might enjoy their third age.''

In response to Bair's column, John W. Curtis observed, "There is no mention of the effect on the children, albeit adult. One wonders if the children are in fact happy to see their parents pursuing their third age. And there is the clear implication that those who remain married for life are benighted, craven losers without the guts to pursue their Zen, rather than those whose love and devotion deserve our respect.'' In Bair's all-about-me world, there is also no consideration for the many stakeholders in each marriage: parents, children, and even grandchildren. Their lives, in my view, will never be the same when the patriarch and matriarch divorce.

Another respondent to Bair's column, Susan Stern explained, "The assumption here is that one comes to self-discovery in something approaching a vacuum; free of responsibility, we finally managed to understand ourselves. There are sound reasons for ending a marriage at any time of life, but those Ms. Bair acknowledges, seem both misguided and shallow.''

Now that I understand the third age, it baffles and nauseates me as much another term that has been popularized in recent years, the starter marriage. That's when you give marriage a try and hope for the best, similar to a starter house which presumably you will quickly outgrow. When marrying, couples stand before their family, friends, and God to pledge a commitment. We all need to take steps to assure that our marital commitment doesn't simply fade like the furniture.

Tara Parker-Pope said it well: "If there is a lesson from the Gore break-up, it's that with marriage, you're never done working on it.''

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his website