Monday, July 14, 2014

Jewel’s “Personal Growth” Divorce

When Gwyneth Paltrow, the celebrity-everyone-loves-to-hate, announced in March that she and Coldplay front man Chris Martin were making a “conscious uncoupling” – that’s “divorce” to us mere mortals – it seemed to take celebrity pretention to a whole new level. Now singer Jewel has coined another unique euphemism as she and longtime partner Ty Murray announced their own “tender undoing.”

Acculturated’s Ryan Duffy initially applauded Paltrow and Martin for doing “the mature thing,” “recognizing the limitations to lifelong coupling,” and getting out before the “misery kicked in.” Acculturated’s Ashley E. McGuire rebutted with a fierce denunciation of the couple’s “new age ridiculousness,” asserting that “’lifelong coupling’ is not antiquated” and divorce is nothing to take lightly.

It certainly isn’t. It’s tempting to guffaw at the pomposity of celebs who use phrases like “tender undoing,” but divorce by any other name is still emotionally brutal – not to mention financially, physically, and every other way – and it’s sad when it happens to anyone, celebrities or otherwise. Even when you know that it is necessary and the right choice to make, divorce is wrenching and wounding, and can feel like an epic personal failure. If children are involved, that makes it exponentially more damaging and painful, particularly for the kids.

In all fairness, at least Jewel, unlike Paltrow, didn’t shy away from using the “d” word in her statement, correctly describing divorce as an “enormous and heartbreaking step.” She and her professional rodeo star husband had been together sixteen years, almost six of them married. That’s a lot of history together to tenderly undo. And they have a three-year-old son, Kase (Paltrow and Martin have two daughters). Yes, Jewel promised that “our dedication to our son is unwavering and we are both committed to being the best partners in raising our son,” but that simply won’t be the same parenting experience for Kase as having a mommy and daddy together at home in the security of a committed relationship.

The reason for the divorce? As Jewel explains it,

The very thing that Ty and I sought in coming together is the very thing we seek in separating. We both value growth. And growth became tragically and undeniably stifled as a couple, and we believe we can find it again in setting each other free. We truly believe we can find greater happiness apart than together, and this is why we are taking the enormous and heartbreaking step of divorce.

Now, I don’t want to judge her unfairly. We don’t know what may be going on behind the scenes of Jewel’s breakup. We have to take at face value her statement, which may not be entirely truthful (I don’t mean that as a criticism; she can and should be only as open about her marriage difficulties as she chooses; unlike what the paparazzi may argue, the public doesn’t have any right to know those private details).

With the caveat then that I may be misreading Jewel, I must say I have trouble with her explanation. Divorce is an enormous step but so is marriage, so if your number one priority in life is personal “growth,” depending on how you define that, you may need an adjustment of values in order for your marriage to work.

Everyone goes into a marriage expecting it to last forever, even in the entertainment biz, which is notoriously ruthless on relationships. And yet too many people today seem to consider marriage just another phase in their personal evolution, just another life lesson, and if and when they feel their “growth” is being stifled or isn’t sufficiently self-centered, they reach too quickly for the divorce option and move on.

I’m not talking about couples struggling with serious issues like infidelity or domestic violence, which can be insuperable, or situations in which miserable partners can find no way forward; I’m referring to people whose rather New Age-y expectations of self-fulfillment don’t align with the synergistic orientation of marriage.

Marriage is personal growth, but it must occur within the sphere of that union. You have mystically become one, and though you may have different careers, the two of you now must grow together, not as the separate individuals you were before. And once your union produces children, they come first. Don’t worry, though: parenting will provide you with a freakin’ metric ton of personal growth – perhaps not the kind you had planned, but it will surpass anything you ever expected.

I wish the best for Jewel, Paltrow, and their exes. Mostly I hope that their children, who were at the mercy of their parents’ choices, absorb lessons from the breakups that will help them avoid their own conscious uncouplings one day.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 7/11/14)