I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: When long-running marriages fall apart, it’s often useful to remember what marriage was, once, as a cultural institution: A way to establish paternity for offspring, so that wealth can be handed down and protected within a family. A business partnership, basically. Only in recent years have we spoken of love matches and marrying your best friend and all that. Also remember that people didn’t live nearly as long, once upon a time.
So when people like Al and Tipper Gore, or Bill and Melinda Gates, call it quits, I don’t think we should speak of their marriage “failing.” Rather, they outgrew it. The Gores had four children, the Gateses three, all of whom were/are adults when their parents split up. That is not a failure. That is a partnership that worked as intended. It provided stability and structure for offspring, and presumably for both the people who signed the marriage license. Now they move on to the next thing, separately.
If you think that’s cold-hearted, I offer Exhibit A: The marriage of Donald and Melania Trump, which is about as business-focused as it’s possible to be, right down to the renegotiated prenup post-2016 election. Melania, it was said, was interested in protecting the interests of her son, who she feared would be pushed out of the family wealth pile by his older, craftier siblings, once Fatass went to his reward. After all, they learned from the master of inheritance-grubbing.
So don’t waste any time worrying about the Gateses. I don’t know what Melinda is like, personally, but she can’t be worse than her husband. (OK, maybe she can.) They’ll be fine. Their children will be fine. I find it interesting that they appear to have already worked out the property split, and she declines spousal support, “despite no prenup,” as People magazine gasps. Good for them.
All that said, I am grossed out — no, I’m offended — by some of the social-media commentary, about how much of “his” money Melinda Gates will get. It’s not his money. It’s their money. True, Microsoft existed as a world-straddling force before they married, but she is absolutely part of his success, and fuck anyone who says otherwise.
Tangentially I’m also reminded of a hilarious seminar we had when I was fellowshipping in Ann Arbor, by a legendary law-school professor. He said we err when we refer to life being “cheap” in poor or undeveloped countries, because the opposite is true. Life is cheap in the U.S., and that’s what’s good about it. If you lose a finger in a work accident, you don’t have to extract a finger from the factory owner in return; you collect the insurance payout. And if you dissolve your marriage, there’s no need for honor killings or death feuds over a dowry. It’s a financial settlement.
I just googled the professor. Here’s the description of one of his books:
Njals saga, the greatest of the sagas of the Icelanders, was written around 1280. It tells the story of a complex feud that starts innocently enough–in a tiff over seating arrangement at a local feast–and expands over the course of 20 years to engulf half the country, in which both sides are effectively exterminated, Njal and his family burned to death in their farmhouse, the other faction picked off over the entire course of the feud. Law and feud feature centrally in the saga, Njal, its hero, being the greatest lawyer of his generation. No reading of the saga can do it justice unless it takes its law, its feuding strategies, as well as the author’s stunning manipulation and saga conventions. In ‘Why is Your Axe Bloody?’ W.I. Miller offers a lively, entertaining, and completely orignal personal reading of this lengthy saga.
He was one of the last speakers of the year, or I totally would have audited his class on blood feuds.
Njal. What a great name.
OK, then. The first part of the week is over, I’ve actually accomplished something, and more work awaits in the middle and end parts. But for now, we confront: Wednesday. I hope yours isn’t too…confrontational.