The Happily Ever After Myth – Comparative Analysis of the Speidi and Gore Marital Separations

Last week, the nation was collectively stunned when news broke that the Al and Tipper Gore were separating after 40 years of marriage.  Media commentary and the response on the blogosphere largely focused on the changing nature of marriage in society, and especially within the baby boomer set.  Apparently, till death do us part takes on a whole different connotation when Americans are living longer more complex lives.  Accordingly, pundits are interrogating the institution of marriage with renewed vigor.  When the culture is dominated by messages of personal fulfillment and happiness as an end game, can traditional conventions of marriage still work and what does “work” really mean?

While news of the Gore’s break-up dominated headlines, they were not the only famous couple announcing a marital separation last week.  Perhaps more infamous than famous, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt collectively and nauseatingly known as Speidi announced their separation, after only one year of marriage.  Unlike the news of the Gore break-up, the imminent demise of the reality couple was first met with delight and then immediate skepticism.  With the fame hungry couples’ reality show—The Hills— slated to end,  much of the entertainment media is reporting the separation as a hoax.  While it may very well be a publicity stunt for Montag’s upcoming  reality show, the Gore and the Speidi separations represent why this is a unique cultural moment for the institution of marriage.

The Gores lived as man and wife for forty years.  While the public face suggested they were the quintessential happy couple, there is no way for us to know the extent of the joys and pains,  dreams fulfilled and promises broken that this couple would have no doubt experienced.  Unlike Speidi, the Gores  private lives were not being documented for a reality TV show.  Accordingly, we can only conjecture that after raising children and pursing individual ambitions, they simply grew apart.   I believe that there is authenticity and dignity in the way they handled this very  private matter and I’m sure they are shocked that their personal choice has resulted in a public outcry on the state of baby boomer marriage.

In contrast, Heidi and Spencer, who bear a striking resemblance to The Flowers in the Attic, have after one year  separated in a calculated move to remain relevant in this cultural moment.  Blogs are calling the split as fake as Heidi’s surgically enhanced mammaries.  Yet, I would argue the couple is doing “marriage as spectacle”.  It is a uniquely American proposition that marriage and love go hand and hand.   Marriage is an economic contract, as much as it is a partnership based on myths of often fleeting emotions.  Therefore, what Heidi and Spencer are doing, as they play with the conception of marriage, may be more representative of marriage throughout most of history: an economic partnership about survival, more than any kind of romantic notion.  As they seek to enrich themselves by being obnoxious, blithely stupid, and most importantly ubiquitously present, their marriage simply becomes another means of production.  We can only hope these two don’t decide to procreate, in an effort to commodify parenthood ala the Octomom and the Gosselins.

I was only married for a little less than five years, before I cried uncle—but I can tell you unequivocally that it is probably the most challenging and selfless endeavors one can make next to parenthood and say monasticism.  And despite the brevity of my first marriage, I still believe in the convention and I consider my “failed” marriage successful because it taught me the beauty of resilience.

Marriage is a religious, civil, and yes economic arrangement between a couple that will become characteristics of which will evolve  in our increasingly complex world.  How we “do marriage” is representative of our time in history and the larger culture? So what represents a successful marriage to you? Is longevity the only metric?  It is a civil or religious arrangement, or could it be both?



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