Matt Miller - The Archives
The Gore divorce: Talk about inconvenient truths
The Washington Post, June 4, 2010

Maybe the Clintons gave us too much information about their marriage, but the Gores can't get away with so little. Or so says my wife. In Jody's view, the Gores's decision to split after 40 years has unleashed doubt, fear and an uneasy permission to exit into every couple's relationship. The country is left scratching its head, not knowing what it means for the possibility of going the distance in marriage, or whether that's even a worthwhile goal. Depending on how we process this event, Jody says, there's a good chance the Gores are about to do for late-in-life divorce what Bill Clinton did for young adults' attitudes toward oral sex—mainstream it in ways that have unhappy consequences. But without understanding more about Al and Tipper's motivations, it's impossible to know what conclusions to draw.

We have no right to intimate details, of course. But given the role the Gore marriage has played in the public mind—a role many married couples probably couldn't have articulated until word came of its demise, but also a role the couple carefully nurtured over the years—it would be nice if the Gores came clean on one simple question. It's this: Are you splitting mostly because (a) one or both you is involved with someone else and wants to be free to be public about this new relationship; or (b) there's no one else yet, but you've grown apart and realized that you want more from a partner than you can find with each other. And this desire for more spark or enthusiasm or passion or shared interests trumps whatever bonds have been forged over decades. No details, please—just tell us if it's (a) or (b).

Why does this matter? If the answer is (a), it's nothing new. If it's (b), however, it's scary and threatening. The Gores's example would mean that couples later in life, despite what appear to be profound ties and genuine affection, won't feel obliged to stick it out if they're not getting what they want. No matter how meaningful the memories, you don't need to settle. You're only 62, after all! The silver lining is clear, and involves a liberating (if intimidating) new standard for relationships: You only live once, so why not live as fully and passionately as you can? Still, the prospect of legitimizing this question even for couples 40 years in suddenly has every married person nervously reassessing.

So just tell us, Mr. and Mrs. Gore: is it (a) or (b)? We can handle the truth, however inconvenient.