I was stunned when I read that Al and Tipper Gore were separating after 40 years of marriage. But then five minutes later, their decision did not seem stunning at all. To paraphrase the late Ann Landers, "Some good marriages do not make it to the finish line."
There are understandable reasons why the Gores, with dignity and decency -- a consistent theme in their individual and married lives -- are changing their lives. The glib commentators who put them down, insinuating that the Clintons have succeeded where they have failed, don't know what they are talking about. Following a great deal of thought and discussion by a couple, a mutual decision to end a marriage is not a failure. It is instead an act of courage, a determination not to live a lie.
No four individuals or two couples could be more different in emotional and ethical makeup than the Clintons and the Gores. The Clintons are satisfied and content in what can best be described as a professional marriage, a shared devotion to their power, their legacy and their daughter. And they are both comfortable spending most of their time on separate public stages. This is where they find their energy.
This is surely not the case with Tipper Gore, who watched her mother suffer from grave depression, cared for her until her death, and has been candid about her own struggles with depression. Children like Tipper learn to focus on their inner world, and the inner world of their loved ones, often seeing what others do not and finding energy in solitary activity, family closeness, intimacy and quiet, artistic reflection and pursuits.
Tipper's marriage forced her onto a public stage, and those who have met her seem to ever talk of her kindness. Interestingly, she has turned to photography, reaching enormous accomplishment. This is her way of being there, seeing what many cannot, and also, camera in hand and blocking face, manage to maintain some semblance of safe, private distance.
The Gores have publicly stated that the horrific accident of their son when young, which put him in a coma from which he recovered, led to marital counseling. They explained that the counseling led to Al being more open with his feelings, a boon to any marriage.
Openness and intimate sharing is usually far easier for women than for men. But for Al Gore, raised by two extremely dominating, formidable, and formal parents who insisted on charting his professional course for him, the challenges must have been daunting. Despite how deeply he loved his wife and she him, sharing openly could never have flowed effortlessly. And it is an easy flow with a beloved that is the surest way to keep depression out of the world of one prone to it.
Although Al and Tipper Gore, like most couples in long marriages, navigated the waters of intimacy with great mutual effort, their ethical compatibility was effortless. They agreed with each other about right and wrong, and ever shared this deep ethical bond. Tipper was the first public personality to bravely confront the music business, demanding that impressionable adolescents and teens be protected from sadistic, rage filled lyrics. They are a couple who believe in hard and persistent work, and honorably pursuing their goals.
Consider the toll on Al Gore as vice president, when his most ardent rival became the first lady, whose husband had consistently misled him about Monica Lewinsky. Consider the toll on this couple and their marriage when Al Gore won the popular vote for President and watched his election stolen, with the support of the highest court of the land.
It has been written that Al Gore's depression following this "defeat" caused Tipper to implore him to dust off his old work on protecting the environment and move forward with it once again. The fruits of his labor were public respect, recognition, not to mention a Nobel Prize and an Emmy. Al Gore was finally on the public stage he was raised for, but for the first time on his own terms.
Just as I believe that had Robert Kennedy lived, we would have avoided the horrifying divides of Vietnam, I believe that had Al Gore been elected President, so much of today's terror and division could have been avoided. Plus the Gore marriage would have endured, and remained close.
But there have been too many pulls, exacerbating their emotional differences, on this extraordinary couple. Finally fulfilled in the work of his choosing, Al is not home, as he once had been. Nor, of course, are their adult son and daughters. Together Tipper and Al Gore have endured a world over run with values and ethics not their own. The compilation of these realities would be particularly hard on Tipper, who above all has sought harmony, understanding and intimacy her whole life.
The waves, smiles, and kisses of the Gores has been a presence in our lives for decades. Now these same waves mark an ending. Al and Tipper Gore have lost the closeness in marriage that both worked hard to achieve and maintain; and they have the courage, consistent with their ever present individual dignity and mutual respect, to say so.