Breaking up is hard to do. It is ugly, it is messy, and it is costly and spirit crushing. Very often this involves children and teenagers. When a celebrity couple splits, they have the added burden of having their private lives scrutinized by the media voracious for juicy details and evidence that, despite fame and wealth, the celebrity couple did not “have it all.” They, just like the rest of us, have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and that includes the jagged barbs that puncture the hopes of 50 percent of all who have sworn lifelong marital devotion.
In the case of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, who have chosen to go their separate ways, they appear to have found a new way to dodge this devastation. The Oscar-winning actress and Coldplay frontman announced on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop that they are “consciously uncoupling,” not divorcing or admitting defeat, but embracing an opportunity for personal growth. At the same time, as intensely private people, they have asked for privacy during this difficult time.
Now, here is the thing. Throwing in a New Age curve ball and adding an entirely new word to the lexicon of marital separation is bound to make everyone curious. What is this “conscious uncoupling”? Paltrow and Martin thoughtfully provided the answer, with an extract from a book called Conscious Uncoupling by Drs. Habib Sadeghi and Sherry Sami. Far from damning, or even stemming the tides of gossip, this intriguing tome has unleashed a tsunami of coverage. If this couple is justifying their breakup in a new and different way, we want to read all about it. They want us to read all about it, too, surely, or they would never have posted about it. It seems to invite comment, even as it attempts to deter us.
The concept of unconscious coupling is intriguing. It starts in the upper Paleolithic period, which, to readers of Goop, was probably associated with the caveman diet. It is not recorded that men and women in those times partook in the holy rituals of matrimony, but the salient fact is that they only lived up to 33 years old. The idea is that “til death us do part” was a realistic expectation back then.
Fast forward a few eons, and life expectancy has zoomed right up. Being stuck with one partner until you “dance the funky chicken at your golden anniversary” is still a nice thought, but an increasingly unlikely outcome. Having two or three significant others is the assumption for a lifetime. Therefore, divorce should be expected and not seen as a failure.
Now the treatise turns to beetles and their exoskeletons. Insects could have ruled the earth “millions of years ago.” They were all enormous, but they failed to evolve because their rigid shells prohibited their flexibility. Luckily, for humans, their skeletons are internal, and although this means the soft outer parts are vulnerable and can be damaged, the strength is within. People, however, can still get trapped in exoskeletons of their own making, namely anger.
With conscious uncoupling, this will not occur, as both Paltrow and Martin recognize each other as a teacher, and every argument and falling out as a lesson. When this is understood properly, “it’s how we relate to ourselves internally that’s the real issue not what’s actually happening.” Crucially, it is only by following this paradigm that “loving co-parenting can happen.” This is possibly the most contentious phrase from the book, as, by implication, the less consciously uncoupled are making a mess of raising their kids.
This is the school of thought that predicts that sometimes when things are falling apart, they are falling together. It brings “wholeness to the spirits of both people,” and the endoskeleton becomes an “internal cathedral” built with trace elements of selfhood, from self-love to self-forgiveness and self-acceptance. This is quite an architectural accomplishment for the self.
The concluding paragraph is unfortunately subtitled “Coming Together,” and recommends the cultivation of feminine energies during the process.
It has only just become possible to read this book, as the server for Goop had crashed due to high traffic. The call for “privacy” could not have been less ignored, as the hook of the announcement proved irresistibly quirky. As parents, Paltrow and Martin wished only to shield their children from the public glare and yet, the results have drawn massive attention to their separation.
Look, we are doing it better, it could be said if one is reading between the lines. This has long been a criticism of the tone of Goop, which offers advice on how to live outside the remit and the budget of most mere mortals. Featured on the site at the same time as the Conscious Uncoupling post are a plug for celebrity fitness instructor Tracy Anderson’s new DVD, a wide selection of detox cleanses (during which you can “try some cucumber or celery slices with lemon and a touch of Maldon sea salt”) and a book review that “promises to demolish any idle beach hours.” Beach hours? Yes, because it is spring break and that inevitably means a beach vacation, right? In which case you might want to buy a pair of white shorts from the shopping section at a cute $350, along with an $895 blazer.
Whether the Goop broadcast tactic has backfired or not, the former couple has certainly added a neologism to the dictionary of divorce.
It has been a long time since Bridget Jones and her “little skirt” came to symbolize all that was painful and pitiful about being a singleton. Through her diaries and on the screen, Bridget was a one-woman, pajama-wearing, Chaka Khan singing, vodka slurping, heroic voice against the vapid and chronically dull world of the “smug marrieds.” Her “singleton” status came to dominate the language, but now comes a breakthrough for all those who are not or no longer in a relationship with a significant other. Singles the world over can rejoice in a whole new catchphrase for their condition. Single? Heavens, no. Consciously uncoupled, thank you very much.
Where conscious coupling sounds a lot like something you might do with someone else when neither of you have had too much to drink, but you go ahead and do it anyway, conscious uncoupling is clearly a much more enlightened and spiritually healing thing to go through.
Paltrow and Martin may have tried to deflect negativity with their plug for conscious uncoupling, but they have also provoked, deliberately or not, a conundrum in how to consciously ignore such a self-promotional separation.
Opinion by Kate Henderson