Within minutes of its hitting the internet, the jokes started coming. Had Chris finally found out that Gwyneth wasn’t actually British? Had she finally listened to a Coldplay album? Who would get custody of Beyoncé and Jay-Z? Then, when it became apparent that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin had announced their marriage break-up as a feature on her lifestyle website Goop, describing the process as a "conscious uncoupling," the real trolling began.
Of course it did. This is an actress who also used Goop to advertise for a private tutor who would work weekends to teach her kids ancient Greek, Japanese, philosophy, tennis, sailing, and chess—lessons they were being heinously deprived of at their private school. The children were five and seven years old at the time. The husband is the frontman of a band who sells millions of emotionally tweaking records and who was personally described as a "wanker" on live radio. By Bono. Imagine being described as a wanker by Bono. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say it would be like your dog standing up on its hind legs in your kitchen one day and suddenly laughing at you for being a dog.
So not only does "conscious uncoupling" sound pretty funny, especially if you’re more familiar with the unconscious kind, when you go out and get so drunk that you can’t even remember getting dumped, but Gwyneth had added a 2,000-word essay from two of her gurus on the spiritual aspects of a healthy break-up. People don’t usually try to rebrand the entire concept of divorce while announcing that they’re having one, but then Gwyneth is, as my friend Bim put it, a total gangster. The thing about everything these gurus say about conscious uncoupling, though, is that it is true.
OK, so this Goop essay contains some unanticipated real talk about insects and their exoskeletons versus the endoskeletons of us vertebrates (and how there was a time, millions of years ago, when a dragonfly’s wing measured three feet across, leading to a Russian theory about the creation of insects being a failed attempt by nature to evolve a higher form of consciousness). But more important than the arthropodology is the sense that these are two very famous people who had two very human children and are trying very hard to find a way to still be a family, to let the crack down the middle of them feel like more of a seam.
The idea of failed marriage, as theirs will now be described, is so old and rotten that I think I prefer these brave new words of "conscious uncoupling." What’s a failure about more than ten years and two new human beings, raised in love? We've got to get over this idea that only "forever" counts. People used to die at 47, and now that's when they remarry. The life cycle has changed, as Gwyneth's cheery newsletter points out.
People don’t fail—machines fail. Marriage is not a machine; there is no success, there is no failure. Was Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s marriage a failure? She preferred women, and they didn’t have children, or sexual intercourse. One day she wrote him a note, filled her pockets with stones, and threw herself in the river. Yet the letters they wrote each other, over the years, are among the tenderest things I’ve read. “You have given me the greatest possible happiness. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been,” she said to him, and that’s just in her suicide note.
Life is like a big bag of raw meat, by the end dripping with piss and blood, ill-defined pauses, and a cinema reel of moments lost and moments gained. I can see why people are laughing at Goop. Positive thinking is a truly helpful tool in so much of life, but sometimes, just sometimes, you want the perfect blond movie star to stand back and say, This is the pits. My feelings are smashed across the floor like a broken bottle of cooking oil. The future is gray. My brain aches. I’m through.
And yet, personally speaking, conscious uncoupling sounds a hell of a lot better than what I’ve managed in my own life. Falling out with the person with whom you created children is a heartbreak that I can’t even describe. You can’t drink it away or find someone else so that it doesn’t matter anymore. It will always matter. It’s a feeling you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, although you don’t even have to, because the person you loved has already slipped into that role. Your very own angry ghost.
So if those cheery blond quinoa-munching celebrities Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin can consciously uncouple, and teach the rest of us how to do it, then please go ahead. I for one will listen. The angry silences can burn a hole in your heart otherwise.
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