The XX Factor

Why Ask Why?

Amanda, you’re onto something about this odd national pietà for the Gores’ marriage. But I think the answer for a lot of people to your “Why such sorrow?” question is not complicated-this one just hits too close. People believe they need to know why and need to know how, and they despair.

The appeal of splashy, ugly public divorce doesn’t lie in the ways that we are reminded of ourselves, but in the comfort we take that these people are different: This wouldn’t happen to us. Catastrophe provides confidence, though the distance it lets us place between ourselves and those scary, immolated couples. We’re hungry for these stories to make sense-as things that happen to other people. Just look at the spectacular Getty divorce : billions of dollars and allegations of a swamp of cocaine, physical abuse, and multiple affairs. Your own marriage might have problems, but … damn .

Then a thoughtful couple like the Gores Liza describes , who look more or less like a lot of us, separates without public drama or apparent scandal. It’s harder to maintain the fantasy that you’re safe. This morning’s conversation points to an unverified upward trend in ” late-stage divorces ” as the explanation. That’s not nearly as satisfying as learning that Al Gore is a compulsive gambler. Writers point to the Gores’ separation, in light of the Clintons’ enduring marriage , as a personal foul in the fantasy divorce leagues. No fair! To paraphrase Bill Clinton himself in 1992, if you work hard and play by the rules, don’t you at least get the security of knowing what lies ahead?

Emily wasn’t alone in suggesting that the basis for the Gores’ split must be more than the gentle diversion of interests that “growing apart” suggests. Everyone’s speculating about when Al will show up in public with a date and about what the real story is. Of course we’re interested in part simply because … come on, it’s interesting. But mostly, we’re eager to turn over every stone to find a deus ex marriaga that will show us no, no, they weren’t like you after all.

And as part of that scramble for an inconvenient truth, the wait begins for Tipper’s divorce memoir (It’s a genre Amy Sohn discusses in a new piece, and one which my friend Lizzie Skurnick has written about brilliantly ). I’d like for once, though, to read the male politician’s take on his marriage and the end thereof. On that subject, can we please consider that even if this all is tawdrier than it looks, maybe Al hasn’t been stepping out? Tipper Gore appears to be a lovely, gracious woman. Perhaps a Chad is hanging around her. Who knows?