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Gwyneth doesn't break up like us

Ever since Gwyneth Paltrow became famous in her early 20s, she has made women feel bad about themselves. As Gwyneth's former high school classmate told a New York magazine reporter in the mid-'90s, "Even people who don't know Gwyneth measure themselves against her success. … Gwyneth makes us feel extremely lame."

And so it was Tuesday, when Paltrow and her husband, Chris Martin, announced their split in the most Gwyneth way possible by telling the world about it on her website Goop, with a personal note and an accompanying essay about something called "conscious uncoupling."

The gist of the essay — by Habib Sadeghi and Sherry Sami, doctors who integrate Eastern and Western medicine — is that divorce doesn't mean your relationship wasn't successful. It just means that this particular relationship has come to its conclusion; you may have two or three of these successful relationships in a lifetime. Instead of a rancorous separation, you just need to have a "conscious uncoupling." You need to recognize that partners in intimate relationships are our "teachers."

Underneath that psychobabble is the message that goes along with all Goop productions: Even Gwyneth's separation is better than yours. The announcement of the split is accompanied by a gorgeous photo of the couple lounging in the grass. After the news broke, a friend of mine texted, "Honestly it made me want to get divorced! And I am not even married."

New-agey as it all sounds, Gwyneth's sun-dappled breakup announcement is just the same tired keeping up appearances that wives and mothers have long been expected to do. Certainly for the sake of their children, it makes sense for Paltrow to refrain from bashing her husband in public. But there is no admission of pain (besides a nod to "hearts full of sadness") or any other emotion that might be messy, inconvenient, or real.

I was thinking about Gwyneth when I read an article in Bethesda Magazine about another "super mom," a woman named Melissa "Missy" Lesmes. She's a partner in a big-name Washington law firm, a "party maven," and mom of four children ages 11 to 18, one of whom has Down syndrome. She's pretty, blond, and fit. She wakes up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and doesn't go to sleep until midnight or later. She wears makeup when she's working out.

Just as Gwyneth presents herself as an ideal to strive for, Lesmes is also offered as something of a model woman. Their stories are meant to make mere mortals feel inadequate, but I had the opposite reaction reading about Paltrow and Lesmes in the span of an afternoon. Both of their lives sound like a nightmare to me. Paltrow's because she has to behave outwardly as if everything is perfect all the time lest she ruin her "brand." Lesmes because she doesn't get any sleep, and because while she buzzes around being übermom, her husband "lounges on the couch at the end of the great room, watching the day's tennis matches at Wimbledon on a huge, flat-screen TV."

Granted, these are all just images of people, whose real selves we don't really know anything about. But as aspirational idols go, can't we do better? It's time to evolve past the 2014 versions of Betty Draper that continue to clog up our media space.

A layman's guide to 'conscious uncoupling'

Gwyneth Paltrow used the New Age phrase "conscious uncoupling'' to describe the end of her marriage. Therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas is credited with popularizing the concept through her 5-week Conscious Uncoupling program, which aims to "release the trauma of a breakup ... and reinvent your life." On Goop, Paltrow linked to a long treatise from two of her advisers, Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami, on what, exactly, conscious uncoupling is. Here's a quick breakdown.

1. It's about "changing the concept of divorce." Divorce doesn't have to signal failure. You can use this difficult time to work on yourself.

2. Mating for life was easier when life was shorter. Cavemen and women lived about 33 years. Now we live much longer, too long maybe to be hooked up to one person. "Living happily ever after for the length of a 21st century lifetime should not be the yardstick by which we define a successful intimate relationship,'' say Sadeghi and Sami.

3. Marriage brings up issues from your childhood and past relationships. After the honeymoon period, "we stop projecting positive things onto our partners and begin to project our negative issues onto them instead," Sadeghi and Sami write. Conscious uncoupling is a time to examine those issues and move beyond them.

4. There are skeletons involved. "Life is a spiritual exercise in evolving from an exoskeleton for support and survival to an endoskeleton," Sadeghi and Sami write. "Our intimate relationships ... are for helping us evolve a psychospiritual spine, a divine endoskeleton made from conscious self-awareness so that we can evolve into a better life."

Got it? Insects have exoskeletons. Humans have endoskeletons. Bugs are rigid and inflexible. Humans should be flexible.

Gwyneth doesn't break up like us 03/26/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 6:10pm]
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