News that Bill and Melinda Gates are to get divorced after 27 years of marriage, hit me hard. Not because I know them or their children, but because if any couple stood a chance of growing old and miserable together, it was them.
These are good people. They have focused on philanthropy, try valiantly to get rid of their money to good causes and will no doubt be leaving the world a better place than they have found it.
That said, they are also a bit dull.
As a couple they are not captivating. They are not the best dressed or particularly cool looking and have not gifted us with any of their personal drama. On social media or otherwise. Their children seem ridiculously ordinary and stable and have to date not embarrassed their parents by embarking on a reality TV project that in the penultimate episode would see them sobbing into their pumpkin lattes while wondering why life is so cruel.
None of the children has to date had a failed clothing range or has tweeted anything wildly inappropriate. Even mildly so. In fact, in a desperate attempt to find something remotely interesting, people have had to resort to inventing conspiracy theories just so we don’t forget who they are.
So ordinary are the Gates’s, that I am convinced that I would have rolled my eyes and packed a hip flask had my wife told me that we were expected at their home for a Sunday braai.
Their statement was unsurprisingly bland: “We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives.” What on earth does this even mean? The bloke is 65 years old, in good shape and health. Of course they can ‘grow’ together! Putting on weight takes work. It doesn’t just happen!
Consider a recent survey that found half of South Africans had gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 69% of them now bordering on obese. Some of us are no longer even bordering. Growing together is the one thing that almost any of us could do. We can’t build Microsoft. We can’t solve world hunger. But we can, whilst solving our own (hunger), grow together.
In terms of this same national survey conducted in the past two months among almost 2000 South African adults, 43% of respondents attributed their change in eating habits to stress and anxiety over what the future holds, 42% said being confined to their homes led to more snacking and impulsive eating, and 28% simply ate out of boredom.
To be fair, if the pandemic is indeed a factor that contributed to the failure of their marriage, they are not alone. Lockdown, it would seem, has placed a significant strain on marriages across the world. In December 2020 the BBC already had picked up on the trend. At the time they interviewed a leading British law firm, Stewarts, who had already logged a massive 122% increase in enquiries between July and October, compared with the same period last year.
Charity Citizen’s Advice reported a spike in on-line searches on ending a relationship. In the US, a major legal contract-creation site announced a 34% rise in sales of its basic divorce agreement with newlyweds who’d got married in the previous five months. There’s been a similar pattern in China which had one of the world’s strictest lockdowns at the start of the pandemic.
A happily married attendee of a recent Masterclass that I ran, thanked me after the session. His gratitude had less to do with the content of the talk and everything to do with his marriage. He clearly loves his wife, has nothing but respect for her, but is working remotely. “My wife and I don’t have much to say to each other at the moment,” he told me, and your Masterclasses helped in that regard.”
I had no idea whether to be offended that my content was irrelevant or to add ‘marriage facilitator’ to my CV, but I did recognise that he spoke an honest and hard truth for so many whose world has suddenly been reduced to a few hundred meter squared.
I am aware that Bill and Melinda Gates are not the average. They don’t live in a small home and they do not have the financial stress that most of us have. But it is no less sad when after 27 years they decide to go their separate ways.
I for one wish them success, joy and love and hope that they find the right person with whom to grow borderline obese.