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The Gates Divorce Is What’s Called A ‘Gray Divorce’ Phenomenon – Here’s What That Is

Posted: May 25, 2021
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The Gates Divorce is cited to be a ‘gray divorce’ phenomenon, where a couple splits without any real, traumatic acrimony, but because they can no longer compromise for each other.

When the celebrity philanthropist couple Mr. Bill Gates (65) and his wife Mrs. Melinda French Gates (57) announced their divorce after a 27 year long marriage on May 3 with a tweet, it triggered considerable public debate across the globe. Their joint statement read: “After a great deal of thought and a lot of work, we have made the decision to end our marriage.”

Though most of the public discussions are revolved around their property details and who would get what, there is also a sense of bewilderment on what must have gone wrong between them, after having 3 incredible children, enormous wealth and 27 years of companionship, not to mention 7 years of dating prior to it. Their split is more intriguing, as it doesn’t seem to be a result of any extra marital affairs from both sides, which has led to many celebrity divorces.

The ‘gray divorce’

So, it is interesting to explore ‘gray divorce’ phenomenon, which has gone up in recent times.

In this regard, some psychologists opine that, due to improved living standards, a large number of people above 50s remain healthy, financially strong and are able to manage themselves independently now. As a result, they do not want to compromise with their partners beyond a point. If a divorce is inevitable, they are open to the idea.

Empty nest syndrome?

Some interesting observations on the gray divorce phenomenon reveal that, normally when children are young, couple tend to spend a lot of time together bringing up them. Indeed, this process brings the couple together. However, as children grow up and become independent, there is a greater level of emptiness created between couple.

This ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ might have affected the Gates couple too, as their 3 children ranging 18 to 25 years are doing higher studies, away from home now. Further, if the couple don’t share similar interests at this crucial phase of their togetherness, the distance might grow as well.

Do most Indian couples stay ‘together, but separate’?

Quite interestingly, most elderly Indian couples have resolved this issue with wife, mostly a home maker, involving in spiritual activities and husband, mostly a retired professional, spending time with his friends. However, if both of them had a hectic professional life before retirement and don’t have similar interests to share now, then the problem arises.

It might lead to a parallel life journey in pursuit of better meaning. Sometimes, too much proximity in post-retirement days, might breed contempt for each other. Paradoxically, if couples have constant arguments over partner not paying enough attention to personal life prior retirement, post- retirement has its own share of too much annoying proximity.

The relationship journey and fortune of the Gates

Amidst the present tumult of the Gates couple splitting up, their love journey makes a great movie stuff. As French Gates (Melinda prefers to be addressed so now) revealed long back, she joined Microsoft in 1987 when Bill Gates was its CEO.

Melinda was the first woman MBA graduate to join the company as a project manager and went on to become a general manager later. Within a few days of joining it, they shared a dining table at a company dinner accidentally. This initiated their future bond and their love became so intense eventually as Melinda confessed later: ‘We started to care about each other. There were only two possibilities here – either we would fall apart or get married.’ Eventually they got married in 1994, but only after Bill Gates decided in favor of it, on making a big list of pros and cons of marriage. He was quite apprehensive of efficiently managing both his personal and professional life.

Interestingly, after years of hectic professional life, in March 2020 Bill Gates decided to spend more time with Melinda, helping her in their Gates Foundation’s global aid programs.  Until then, Melinda was managing it mostly. They have differences in their preferred areas of investment in charity initiatives, which has become more evident in recent times. While Bill Gates has interests in climate change, science and health programs, Melinda’s field of interest is women empowerment projects.

Currently, the Gates Foundation has offices around the world, with over 1,600 staff, spending over $ 5 billion annually on global health, education and other development sectors. According to its staff members, the couple have worked very hard for this foundation since last 20 years.

The public is also curious to know, who will get their 66,000-sq. ft. grandiose house on the shore of Lake Washington. Ironically, the Gates couple, who had spent most of their married life globetrotting, finally moved into it since the last year’s lockdown and are coming out of it with a joint statement of divorce now.

The lockdown in 2020 has actually triggered cases of gray divorce

This BBC article shows how the lockdown has put a lot of pressure on many vulnerable marriages across the world. (Do check out some more interesting data from the US especially, here.)

All these studies reveal that, nearly 50% of fence sitters have decided to terminate their marriage. Because, these prolonged moments with oneself have put people into self-reflection and awakened their personal dreams. Perhaps, the Gates couple too might have reflected on their marriage and decided to take separate journey ahead.

Lastly, it is natural for people to be intrigued with celebrity divorce cases. But it is time to treat them as a natural phenomenon, because such gray divorces make a bold statement on their self-confidence and self-worth. We live mostly amidst couples who suffer silently, but celebrate their wedding anniversary with a fake smile on their faces.

Marriage as an institution can be celebrated if both are happy. Again, what would children benefit, caught in an unhappy marriage of their parents?

Love alone should bind the couple together, not the fear of loneliness or financial loss. Thus, instead of pointing fingers at the splitting couple, we need to respect their decision. Time has arrived to welcome the marriage break ups too with a lighter note, as we have celebrated marriages all these years.

Image source: YouTube

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Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor of English, Tumkur University. Has been a teacher of English and

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