Coldplay’s music has become the default soundtrack to much of my life. Whether it’s the loop of music in my favourite coffee shop or the trailer for the latest BBC drama Chris Martin’s ethereal vocals and have become commonplace in our consciousness. The transcendent quality of Coldplay’s music has turned stadiums into sacred spaces and even train carriages into moments of quiet communion. Many a morning my commute has been a commune with the delicate beauty of a Coldplay riff, I try to suppress the urge to proclaim out loud
“God put a Smile upon your Face…”
“See Jerusalem Bells are singing…”
“High up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you”
Once I arrive at my local station Gwyneth Paltrow peers down at me from a billboard where she is non- ironically modelling perfume for me to buy. The promise of associative advertising implying that we can somehow connect with Paltrow’s charmed life if we smell like her. She has become the icon of domestic tranquillity and perhaps we can commune with her if we buy the incense that Hugo Boss are selling. Paltrow once described Boss Jour as a “ quietly optimistic” Fragrance. Paltrow offers hope to us mere mortals that we can achieve another level of existence if we heed her lifestyle instructions on Goop a cyber portal through which her wisdom is dispensed. We can buy the vestments of our worship through its online store. We can commune with Paltrow at table too – there are meals we can consume together that will allow us through eating quinoa to achieve the heavenly body Paltrow models for us.
Modern life is laced with new forms of worship. Gwyneth and Chris are just one denomination. Choose your own icon: Beyonce and Jayz, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian and ofcourse Will and Kate. Paltrow, somehow more than Martin has been on the receiving end of a lot of hatred. Jealousy has always had its monstrous side yet envy is such a powerful marketing hook that celebrities willingly take the risk and revel in our covetous cooing but are shocked when it gives way to hate.
As the news breaks about Paltrow and Martin’s decoupling no doubt some are enjoying the spectacle, enjoying the prospect of the poster couple for domestic bliss are experiencing the same woes as the rest of us. I don’t now want to be one of those people that have knives out.
But I do think it‘s worth pausing to think through the apologetic for why divorce is good that Paltrow has put on her website. Paltrow published a piece on Goop which describes her situation as a conscious decoupling. Now, divorce is a painful thing, Christianity describes marriage as becoming one flesh, so divorce is like trying to separate conjoined twins. Its painful, risky and no one leaves unscarred. Recognising the pain involved and we ofcourse don’t know and indeed shouldn’t know the full story. So I want to be clear that I am engaging with the ideas put forward in this piece not Martin and Paltrow’s decision to uncouple.
1. Promises should have an expiry date
The following excerpt is from piece was written by “Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami on the Goop site:
For the vast majority of history, humans lived relatively short lives—and accordingly, they weren’t in relationships with the same person for 25 to 50 years. Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be lifelong; but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans, perhaps we need to redefine the construct. Social research suggests that because we’re living so long, most people will have two or three significant long-term relationships in their lifetime.
It argued that because we are living so much longer the idea of “death till us part” is an unnecessary and unrealistic anachronism.
To put in plainly, as divorce rates indicate, human beings haven’t been able to fully adapt to our skyrocketing life expectancy.
This is not a great argument. I know how I feel when I have been promised a two year warranty for my phone only to find out that because of a technicality I am no longer eligible. We want to claim all the time we are promised in these circumstances. I watched A song for Marion recently which showed something very moving about a long lasting marriage. A friend of mine is a mother of four and her husband was in a catastrophic Rugby accident leaving him physically and mentally disabled. The vow she made to her husband was not rescinded by his age or his abilities. A promise is a promise.
2. True emotional maturity is independence
With an internal support structure, we can stand strong because our stability doesn’t depend on anything outside ourselves. …
There is a good point here. We need to examine the degree to which we find our identity and self-worth from being in a romantic relationship. It’s an argument for not getting married too young. From a Christian perspective one’s primary identity is found in our relationship in Christ. We don’t want to be over reliant on others. But the idea that you could be wholly independent of others can’t be a healthy one for a parent, a friend or a for building healthy community.
It also seems to cut against the grain of the messaging behind Paltrow’s books and most of Cold Play’s songs.
When we examine our intimate relationships from this perspective, we realize that they aren’t for finding static, lifelong bliss like we see in the movies. They’re for helping us evolve a psycho-spiritual spine, a divine endoskeleton made from conscious self-awareness so that we can evolve into a better life without recreating the same problems for ourselves again and again. When we learn to find our emotional and spiritual support from inside ourselves, nothing that changes our environment or relationships can unsettle us.
This sounds like a very instrumental view of relationships. We are the centre of the universe. Our relationships exists as a kind of scaffolding so we can achieve emotional maturity which leaves us in a kind of stoic isolationism.
The most respected leaders in history don’t measure up to emotional maturity on this scale. Nelson Mandella, Mother Theresa, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale poured themselves into others and relied on their friendships and family members to do so. So I reject the premise that relationships are a beetle like exoskeleton we need to grow out of. Relationships are the stuff of life.
Anne Carter puts it well:
No matter how it is euphemistically defined, the stark sadness of divorce cannot be masked by redefining it as ‘conscious uncoupling’. In an attempt to downplay the reality of a family severed by broken relationship, this less offensive phrase has been very carefully chosen. Ultimately, the children won’t be concerned by semantics. They will face the reality for what it is: their parents no longer love each other enough to live together anymore; their family unit has been broken
Lets hope for everyone’s sake that this redefinition of divorce doesn’t catch on. Let’s hope for Paltrow and Martin that there is a way forward for their relationship.
Photo “Beetle” from Flickr.