How do you spell conscious uncoupling? Where I came from, we always spelled it the way Tammy Wynette sang it, which is D-I-V-O-R-C-E.
I had one of them myself, several decades ago. That’s when I discovered that even uncontested divorces still prove bad marriages are like hell: It’s a lot easier to get in than it is to get out.
So when approximately 176 friends posted on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts that movie star Gwyneth Paltrow and rock star husband Chris Martin announced their “conscious uncoupling” via her website, Goop, I felt a moment of genuine sympathy.
Then I laughed so hard my sternum started to hurt.
Seriously? “Conscious uncoupling”? Posted on a website called Goop? From a woman who named her kid Apple? And who shills, at $425 a go (so to speak), a colon-cleanse regime also called Goop?
Forget about the movies: This is a woman who needs a scriptwriter to prepare her lines in life.
Paltrow needs to do what elementary school teachers call “exhibiting mastery” over her native language. She seems to be doing less well with using her own words than she did with singing in her own voice.
(And don’t you think the real reason they broke up is because she made that Country Strong movie? I do. She couldn’t just let her spouse have his music career without making a film where she played a character inspired by — I’m not making this up — music, um, personality Britney Spears? My money is that Country Strong, where Paltrow hams it up as a substance-friendly singer named Kelly Canter, although decidedly not the kind of cantor found in a synagogue, was the beginning of the end of that marriage.)
In addition to needing a writer, she also needs an editor — and maybe a therapist — because some of her sayings seem to have become infamous enough to generate their own line of snarky T-shirts. “I would rather die than let my kid eat Cup-a-Soup,” she announced on an episode of Conan. Here’s another Paltrow gem: “We’re human beings and the sun is the sun — how can it be bad for you? I don’t think anything that’s natural can be bad for you.” Guess Gwyneth never heard of melanoma, which is nature’s own sunshiny gift.
Actually, death is also natural (and organic!), but I hear that’s very bad for you, too.
But those declarations are violently sane compared to what Paltrow recently said during her interview with “E! News.”
Without irony, mind you, the woman whose net worth is around $140 million was all wistful about the simple lives of women with children who don’t have to deal with the hassle of being movie stars but instead work regular jobs: “I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening … I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as — of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”
And most working-stiff moms with regular jobs would, I’m sure, agree: There are challenges, and it’s not like being on a set. Unless, of course, we’re talking about the set of “Lockup: Extreme Dinnertime Tantrums.”
Making up words — Goop — and mangling phrases — “conscious uncoupling” — that render a significant event meaningless by bankrupting its significance doesn’t help anybody accept, understand or cope with life’s vicissitudes.
Calling something by another name doesn’t change what it is. Consider those buses you see at every airport with “Elegant Limousine Transport” italicized in flaking gold paint on their side. They are not really limousines, are they? They’re buses. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with them because they no doubt provide adequate transportation.
To refer to them by another name is, however, pretentious, misleading and disingenuous.
Sure, their owners can do whatever they want, and who really cares? Yet, if we contort and misalign words to fit eccentric meanings, we obscure rather than explain what we’re trying to communicate.
Life isn’t easy for anybody, and divorce is always hard. But it’s still probably easier if you’re brave enough to spell it out.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.
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