Since Al and Tipper Gore announced their separation, a flurry of news articles have attempted to make sense of their very public partnership. Hardly a headline has gone by without mention of the marriage’s duration of forty years. In the absence of a stated affair, the duration of the Gore’s marriage has become a primary target of exploration. My question is what does 40 years really explain about anyone who decided, at one point, to spend the rest of their lives with someone else?
The media’s emphasis on the duration of the Gore’s marriage is situated within a statistical framework. While most marriages make it past the seven year itch, there is a much steeper divorce rate after ten years. Further, most marriages in the United States do not last longer than twenty-four years. That makes 40 years of marriage appear miraculous or divorce after 40 years bizarre.
I don’t think the significance of temporal increments of 40 was lost on the Gores when they announced their separation last week. Think about Noah’s forty days and forty nights on the ark or Jesus’ forty days in the desert. These cultural associations with units of 40 may have provided a catalyst for the Gore’s decision to separate. The Gores become somehow more spiritual or historical in their quest for separate lives after 40 years of due diligence.
With this fixation on duration- forty years of marriage– there is an implicit sense that marriage ensures a gradual journey toward deeper and mutual understanding, that somehow one knows how to deal with one’s mate better after forty years than five. Unfortunately, forty years does not inoculate any partnership from its possible demise.