It was huge news when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin split in March 2014. They announced their “conscious uncoupling” separation on a Goop post, and for months following that, there were all kinds of stories about the sad state of affairs within their marriage. I also remember the complete drama of it all when, mid-uncoupling, Chris began dating Jennifer Lawrence. Gwyneth freaked out about that, I still believe that in my bones, just as believe that Gwyneth is the reason J-Law and Chris broke up. Anyway, Chris and Gwyneth’s divorce dragged out over the course of a few years as they negotiated child care and assets and all of that, and to their credit, they did raise two seemingly well-adjusted kids and Chris and Gwyneth seem very close to and loved by their kids.
Surely, the story of “conscious uncoupling” is over and done with, right? Wrong. Gwyneth Paltrow had to dust off the topic with an overwrought and overwritten British Vogue essay about how she invented divorce, conscious uncoupling and getting along with one’s ex. You can read the full piece here, and here are some highlights interspersed with my own asides:
It was my birthday, my 38th. My ex-husband and I were tucked away in the Tuscan countryside, on a hill in a beautiful cottage with a view of the forest. Fall was coming; the leaves were just loosening their grip on bright green. Inside, the cottage was perfectly appointed in the way you dream of for a birthday trip: cosy living room with a fireplace, kitchen table overflowing with spoils from the farm nearby – peaches, tomatoes on the vine, basil, eggs. I don’t recall when it happened, exactly. I don’t remember which day of the weekend it was or the time of day. But I knew – despite long walks and longer lie-ins, big glasses of Barolo and hands held – my marriage was over.
LOL. She turned 38 in September 2011, so basically she’s setting the scene for “we tried everything over the course of two-and-a-half years to save our marriage.” But the way she sets the scene, it makes her sound like she was just some privileged housewife with ennui.
What I do remember is that it felt almost involuntary, like the ring of a bell that has sounded and cannot be undone. The inadvertent release of a helium balloon into the sky. I tried to quell that knowing, to push it far down. I tried to convince myself it had been a fleeting thought, that marriage is complicated and ebbed and flowed. But I knew it. It was in my bones.
At first, I was moderately successful at turning the volume down on that knowledge. It would be years until we said the words aloud. But, that weekend, a dam had cracked just enough to hear the unrelenting trickle of truth. And it grew louder until it was all I could hear.
True story: both Chris and Gwyneth carried on affairs with other people during their marriage. Gwyneth ended up marrying one of the men she slept with during this whole period of time. I kind of wonder if Gwyneth only “knew” her marriage was over when she began her affair with Brad Falchuk.
Between the day that I knew and the day we finally relented to the truth, we tried everything. We did not want to fail. We didn’t want to let anyone down. We desperately didn’t want to hurt our children. We didn’t want to lose our family. The questions, both philosophical and tactical, seemed unfathomable: who sleeps where, how does bath time work, what do we say to the kids? I bent myself into every imaginable shape to avoid answering them. But one day, despite all our efforts, I found that I was not at a fork in the road. I was well down a path. Almost without realising it, we had diverged. We’d never find ourselves together in that way again.
In those early, dark days, I struggled to imagine what my life would be. I wasn’t sure how a mother goes about untangling herself from the man with whom her DNA has co-mingled. It seemed impossible, that kind of extraction or extrication. I had not grown up around a lot of divorce, and the divorce I had been privy to had been bitter, acrimonious, unending. With all my heart, I did not want that.
I told you it was overwrought. Again, divorce is stressful, I completely get that. It’s stressful and emotional for the married couple and for their kids and families. But Jesus, Gwyneth makes it sound like she’s the first person to ever contemplate divorce or have a “failed marriage.”
The day came. With a plan in place, we published a newsletter on Goop, simply called “conscious uncoupling”. It was our announcement to the public that we were ending our marriage. I remember trembling on the phone to Elise Loehnen, our content chief, giving the green light to send. We knew that the piece would generate a lot of attention – a celebrity couple ending their relationship always does – but I never could have anticipated what came next. The public’s surprise gave way quickly to ire and derision. A strange combination of mockery and anger that I had never seen. I was already pretty tattered from what had been a tough year. Frankly, the intensity of the response saw me bury my head in the sand deeper than I ever had in my very public life.
For the love of God, she announced her split on her elitist lifestyle site to drive traffic to the site and somehow, no white woman has ever been as harshly judged or mocked as much as Gwyneth! HOW DARE YOU!
Conscious uncoupling/separation/divorce, whatever you want to call it, has now permeated the break-up culture. Instead of people approaching me with, “Why did you say that?”, they now approach me with, “How do you do that?”
She started an uncoupling revolution!
I know my ex-husband was meant to be the father of my children, and I know my current husband is meant to be the person I grow very old with. Conscious uncoupling lets us recognise those two different loves can coexist and nourish each other.
I hope Brad Falchuk knew what he was signing on to.
Anyway, Gwyneth is definitely one of those writers who needs a good editor, and she did not find one at British Vogue! Enjoy.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid.
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