By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
After Vice President Al Gore lost his bid for the White House, their marriage cracked and he and Tipper went their separate ways. I was so crushed and hurt by their divorce. To me, they were the ideal couple, their divorce was so unexpected that it taught me great lessons on relationships. It eroded my confidence in the resilience of marriage. I have been with Uncle Demi for 34 years and married for 29. Through my marital journey, I have learned a lot of lessons. I have rejoiced at my fortune at marrying a good man. Yet, I refuse to discuss marriage as an authority because of the Gore’s divorce. If Tipper and Al can split, who can’t?
The Bezos were first in this new Billionaire epochal divorces. What that shows is that money can complicate marriage either for the lack of it or for too much of it. It also tells us that it does not matter who we are and what we have achieved; relationships are difficult. It requires a lot of nurturing and tendering to thrive. Dealing with another is fraught with issues given individual differences.
In the 29 years since I have been married, I have come to know that marriage and love are two different things. Some have both. Others have one or the other while some have none. What sustains a marriage? My answer is not love and I have no apologies for that. My answer is unequivocal. What keeps a marriage is your ability to manage familiarity and sameness. Can you handle familiarity? Love is a different kettle. What sustains love is tolerance, mutual respect and understanding.
I believe the Pandemic buried the Gates’s marriage. These days, most marriages survive because couples spend most times apart at work. A reflection on our hunter and gatherers life, shows that, finding food kept us busy. When we developed into agrarian societies, we kept working for food, only going back home to have sex when we can and sleep. Same with the industrial revolution, at the time, we needed more brawn than brain to power the engines. All that is fading! Now, ideas rule world. Technology drives everything. The iron triangle of sex, marriage and child bearing has been dismantled forever by contraception. With that done, women can work, make money, decide to have sex without getting pregnant and pursuing an independent destiny. Worse, men are losing testosterone.
Midlife is a confusing time. With so much going on, there is no manual on how to navigate it. Once children are grown, women often find themselves alone, helpless, rudderless and with a diminished sense of purpose. With same education as a man, if not better, what should she do? That is when women become Church workers and prayer warriors. For those who are not cut from that cloth, it is A very confusing phase.
The Pandemic highlights human emptiness regardless of socioeconomic status, our lack of real control of our lives confronts us, it forced spouses to stay together and notice the flaws that were overlooked for one reason or another. It forced a reckoning. A reckoning no money in this world can prevent.
Many of us are up there in the Maslow hierarchy of needs. Bread and butter is no long an issue. Shelter and esteem stuff were done with at birth or sometimes in early adulthood. What we struggle with is purpose, meaning, self-actualization. Covid-19 revealed us as thoroughly impotent. It forced a search for meaning, purpose and happiness.
I can hear that voice pounding my brain that Bill and Melinda are actualized. That they have committed billions to philanthropy and built it from scratch. I know. I understand. Since their children became adults, what else? Have they had to stay at home facing themselves since they were married? Bill was always working. Do they really know each other? Think local, how many of Nigeria’s richest has a happy wife? How many has a wife at home? Women want attention and some money. Money can’t replace that attention.
I have been telling my fellow women, if you want your marriage to survive, invest in a hobby or hobbies in middle age. Volunteer. Keep your friends and schedule time with them the way men do. If you don’t, you will get bitter and angry when the children are gone. Midlife is tough when you are not in a circuit. Build one today. I wish the Gates’s well in this new phase. May they find what completes them and gives them peace, joy and happiness.