Thursday, June 03, 2010

Thoughts on Marriage

The dissolution of the fairy tale Gore marriage has inspired another day's post (the post about Facebook will have to wait until Saturday). This is due to an interesting debate on a friend's Facebook wall (yeah, Sean. I'm talking about you!). I was surprised how cynical some people are about the reason the Gores gave for their decision (that they've grown apart after forty years of marriage). With so much infidelity in the news lately (Sandra Bullock's husband, Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Mark Sanford to name a few), I guess its easy for people to believe that this is the true cause of why the Gores have decided to go in separate directions.

My defense of Gore led to charges of being biased in favour of his viewpoint because of my longstanding loyalty to and admiration of the man. Okay, I will own up to being loyal and having a tendency to believe Gore at his word. However, I'm also not blindly loyal (and I have a college paper that I wrote for my Washington internship program which criticized some of Gore's exaggerations to prove it). Gore is one politician which people did not hear any rumours that he strayed in his marriage. The reason why I identify strongly with Gore is because based on what I've read and my own impressions of the man himself during the few moments I've been in his presence, is that Gore's personality is similar to mine. We're both introverted, we both felt a conflict between a political career versus a writing career (mine is more along the lines of political aide, his was to be a politician). Gore was a pretty loyal Vice President. Some men are capable of fidelity. I'm certain that I am one of them. It takes too much energy to pursue women. I only want to be married to one. That's all. I've read accounts where women who found Gore attractive were disappointed that he barely seemed to notice them in ways that they were hoping for (sorry, ladies, but you'd have to go to Clinton to get that kind of attention!). Tipper was his rock. She's extroverted (I also had the privilege of seeing her in action and I can tell you personally that she has a very fun personality that lights up the room). An extrovert is a good match for an introvert.

In fact, I have a theory. A relationship between an extrovert and an introvert is the best kind of relationship and this is often what people see when they say "opposites attract." An extrovert is someone who feels energized by being around people, but feels drained when alone. An introvert is the opposite, naturally. They (we) feel energized in solitude while drained if we are in social situations for long periods of time. Speaking as an introvert who has experience dating extroverted ladies or hanging out with extroverted friends, the attraction is obvious. Extroverts are able to draw an introvert out of his or her shell. Its almost hypnotic or magical. When I interned in D.C., every time I went out with a certain extroverted lady, I felt more confident and more likely to engage strangers in conversation. In fact, I didn't worry so much about what others might think. I wasn't even aware of people around me, as my focus was on the good vibes I was feeling with the lady I happened to be with.

Extroverts need introverts to stay focused. The best example of this would be that the best kind of politician is an extroverted people-person (think Bill Clinton or George W. Bush). However, they need a loyal political aide to take care of the nitty gritty details, and that is why introverts make excellent personal aides (thus why it still remains as my dream job. I am perfect for a politician: loyal, knowledgeable about events, prefer to handle the details rather than the people, willing to stake my career objectives on the fortunes of a politician). Two of my extroverted friends have certain flaws that are inherent in their personality type, thus why I'm sure they value my loyalty and ability to offer an introvert's perspective. Its not easy to be an introvert, though. Especially in a society like America's, where employers and romantic prospects seem to prefer the loud, extroverted personality. An introvert would fit in quite naturally with the Asian countries, particularly Japan, where being loud is considered rude and standing out is something to be avoided.

An introvert-introvert relationship works pretty well, because they both understand each other and don't have to compete for attention all the time. However, an extrovert-extrovert relationship is generally disasterous. Extroverts need attention. Constantly. Introverts are happy to give attention...but maybe not as much as the extrovert desires. Having two extroverts in a relationship would be hell, because they'd both compete for attention and end up resenting each other for not giving it.

Its because of this extrovert-introvert dynamic in human personality that I really believe that is the root cause of the Gores decision to end their marriage. After having to share Gore to his government duties since 1977 (eight years as a Congressman, eight years as a Senator, and eight years as Vice President), she probably wanted to enjoy retirement in 2001 and spend time as a couple. First, though, Gore was incredibly depressed about the 2000 election (another thing I share in common with him. My depression over that election led me to write a novel to take my mind off of it, which I'm still hoping to find an agent and publisher for). Tipper has experience and knowledge about mental health related issues. She did what any loving wife would do: try to get her husband's life back after a devastating defeat. She suggested that he dust off his climate change slide show and pursue his passion. She probably had no idea that by pushing him towards his passion in order to let go of the 2000 election results, he would end up busier than ever. In fact, I just received an email from defeated Oregon gubernatorial candidate Bill Bradbury's campaign that Bradbury is going to China later this month with his buddy Al Gore to do a climate change presentation!

How does one reconcile a marriage when one person wants to relax, enjoy life and each other while the other has an almost messianic need to save the world from environmental catastrophe? Part of Gore's motivation might be to secure his place in history, with the hope that historians will one day ask how the people of our time managed to elect the wrong person president in 2000. I would suspect that someday, my unborn grandchildren might ask me such a question, similar to how my generation of Germans probably asked their grandparents why they didn't stop the Nazis from coming to power.

On the Facebook debate, some of the conservative types made fun of the "relativist" view, citing the common refrain "if it feels good, then do it!" I hate it when conservatives twist things that way. Its always a moral argument with them. Divorce is IMMORAL! Get it? Says who? The Gores' decision was mutually agreed upon. There was no injured party. Its a "no fault divorce." Each person wants to pursue a different path. How do you reconcile it? It's hard. Despite the devasting shock their decision has caused among friends, supporters, and foes alike, I really understand the reasons behind it. Tipper strikes me as someone who needs more attention than Gore is able to give her. Is it selfish of him to feel called on an important mission that he's uniquely qualified to fulfill? Is it selfish of her to want his personal attention and to spend more quality time with him? Was 40 years a waste? People who think that don't understand life or experience. A 40 year marriage is not a waste. It was a good run. The Gores' second daughter got divorced last year, after four years of marriage. I doubt many members of our generation will get to the 40-year mark.

Perhaps I'm too influenced by New Age spiritualism, but my view on marriage is that its up to the couple getting married to define it or redefine it, as it works for them. Its no one else's business what those agreements are. Some say that the Clinton marriage is purely political. If that is the case, so what? It seems to have worked well for them, most of the time. Would Hillary Clinton have ever been elected Senator in New York without the humiliation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal? She was quite unpopular until Clinton's betrayal moved public opinion in her favour. She rode that sympathy all the way to the Secretary of State position, and what a damn fine Secretary of State she is.

When Ted Turner divorced Jane Fonda, I read an interview he gave where he sounded really sad about it. The reason for their divorce was supposedly her newfound evangelical Christian faith, which she did not have when they married. He's a famous humanist / atheist and found an intellectual match in Jane. How does one reconcile a huge change such as that? I have to admit that my biggest fear in marriage is that the woman I marry will end up having some rigid / conservative religious views. To me, that would be an "irreconciliable difference." A deal-breaker. It would also be no one's fault. People change and its selfish to expect someone to change in the same direction you might change. Or, there's the problem with someone changing and the other person wanting to stay the same. You end up in a marriage with a stranger. There's no guarantee that the person you marry on your wedding day will not change in a way you disagree with. That's the scariest thing about marriage (for me). Conservative, religious types are hell to be with and sometimes a personal tragedy (such as the death of a child) pushes a person into embracing a more rigid spiritual worldview. There's no reconciling that "breech" of marital vows.

Since my Navy days, I've seen a lot of divorces, which has gone a long way in making me hesitant to jump into marriage. I've never felt like I was in a comfortable place to even remotely think about seriously seeking a woman to marry. My goal has been since high school to: (1) get an honourable discharge from the Navy; (2) get a college degree; and (3) land a career. I'm still stuck on trying to accomplish goal #3 before I begin a serious search for my lady love. Having a published novel under my belt would be awesome to accomplish before marriage.

So, perhaps my views are different from conservatives. I don't see divorce as a sin or as an excuse to sleep with a different partner (what seems to be implied in some people's comments). I've always hated the idea of divorce and always feel saddened when a couple I know decides to divorce. However, I also know human nature pretty well and the whole point of our existence is to evolve into better people. Sometimes, you can't get to where you feel you need to be or should be if your partner does not share your same priorities. Rather than resenting the other for holding one back, isn't it a sign of a mature love to allow the person the freedom to be who he or she is meant to be? Since elementary school, I heard that true love was letting the person you love go. If they come back, it was meant to be, but if they don't, you just have to accept that too. Sting even sang a song about that: "If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free)."

So...cynics and conservatives out there...divorce is not a sin. Let's get beyond the obsession with "morality" and realize that two adults deciding the next step in their relationship has nothing to do with your opinions or feelings. After all, there's no reason why marriages should end up like the couple below: