I remember my marriage vows so vividly:
For better or for worse,
for richer or for poorer,
as long as we are able to grow together as a couple.
When I made my marriage vow, I recall thinking this statement, “as long as we are able to grow together as a couple,” contradicted “for better or for worse.” I mean, what could be worse than no longer growing together as a couple? Certainly none of these:
- you learn that your spouse has had a second family since before you were married to each other
- your spouse is diagnosed with cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, all at the same time
- your spouse announces he or she is transgender
No, certainly none of those rises to the level of a couple’s no longer being able to grow together. This realization finally allows me to grasp why Bill and Melinda Gates need to end their marriage.
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For a long time, Bill Gates was nothing more to me than a curiosity—what he accomplished with software, how he was one of the world’s most successful businessmen. Wow! He came off as a geek, with his always-tousled hair and a voice that sounded as if he were stuck in the final months of puberty. When he married, I thought Melinda must be an amazing woman to take him on.
Then, I began listening to him. And two years ago watched the Netflix series, Inside Bill’s Brain, where I also got to know Melinda. And I heard another extensive interview with her. And both of them impressed me as smart and wise, kind and generous, thoughtful and nice.
I liked them. I thought it would be splendid to live next door to them, to hang with them, to work with them. I thought that we need to listen to them, to emulate them, to have a lot more rich Americans follow their lead in working on causes that affect the entire world, and to put their money where their concerns are.
I admired Bill and Melinda Gates. I do not admire this—this reason they’ve given for ending their marriage.
I do not understand this: “We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives.” What on earth might either of them have in store for the next phase of her or his life that they cannot grow together in it? Is Bill intending to chuck everything he’s ever done and focus on his model train collection? Does Melinda have in mind to spend all of her time trying to find where pi finally begins repeating itself?
Is this it—that neither respects the life move the other is going to take, so they simply must part?
This reason for their ending a marriage that appeared to we Americans—okay, to this American—to be a union that was built on love and respect, sounds like two people who are not trying very hard. And these are people who’ve always shown me they try very hard.
Hey, Bill, if I’m not getting it, please explain. Melinda, I don’t mean to offend, but could you please provide some insight? I need more. So much more. Did you do a lousy job of explaining, so that I don’t get it? Or am I simply being dull about it?
I’m hurting over this. I am surprised at how deeply I am hurting over the end of the Gates’s marriage. If, after twenty-seven years, and a mountain range of success, this couple cannot make it till death parts them, what hope does the average American couple have?
If Bill and Melinda Gates can’t make it—this couple, who has every resource at their disposal, and a thousand times could purchase everything they need so that they might succeed and still have money left to buy ice cream for everyone—if they can’t make it, if they can’t find the strength, the savvy, the caring—the love—to stick it out, to show the rest of us what it means to vow for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and then to actually live the vow . . .
There are a lot of concerning things going on in our nation. For me, they all begin with people hunkering down and giving their all to each other—whether its fighting the pandemic, or making equitable laws, or respecting people of every color and creed and culture. If a rich and powerful couple cannot hunker down and give their all to each other . . .
Since we can’t give up, I guess we just have to show them. Let’s live the spirit of Todd Beamer on 9/11, who encouraged the others on the jet over Pennsylvania with “Let’s roll!” because it was better to die fighting than simply to die.
In 2013, when I presented my Julie with as big a thing as a couple will face, her reaction was to say, “Let’s roll!” Her actual words were, “We’ll figure this out.”
And we did. Together.
Together, Bill and Melinda, because that’s what “for better or for worse” means.