When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced in 2014 that they had decided to “consciously separate,” the world responded with a groan. The general sentiment was: “Just say divorce!” The phrase seemed to echo a particular brand of Hollywood well-being. that didn’t resonate with the public. But it took on a life of its own, to the point that Paltrow herself reflected on its use in a 2020 essay, writing that it has “permeated breakup culture.” of breakups” is now a concept, and it has its own very strict rules.
It was hard not to think back to the moment of “conscious separation” when Jason Momoa and Lisa Bonet announced their split. His language was careful, not scathing. There was no blame, and although they recognized that they had distanced themselves, they attributed it to a normal effect of the passage of time, not to a specific personal change. “We have all felt the pressure and changes of these times of transformation,” read a joint statement shared by Momoa on Instagram. “A revolution is unfolding and our family is no exception… [Estamos] feeling and growing from the seismic changes that are occurring. And that is why we share our family news, that we are going to separate.
They decided to share the news, the statement added, “not because we think it’s newsworthy… but so that as we move forward in life, we do so with dignity and honesty.”
“The love between us continues, it evolves in the ways it wants to be known and lived,” added Bonet and Momoa. “We free each other to be who we are learning to be, with our unwavering devotion to this sacred life and to our children.”
In summary, two adults recognize that they have accepted that it would be better for both of them to end their relationship, they remain on good terms and want the best for their family. Does he seem…mature and healthy? So healthy, in fact, that it makes me wonder if we were wrong about “conscious separation” all this time.
The phrase became so important at the time of Paltrow and Martin’s breakup that it’s hard to remember that their statement also included more standard language. “It is with heavy hearts that we have decided to part ways,” said the first sentence of Paltrow’s statement. “We have been working hard for over a year, part together, part apart, to assess what might have been possible between us, and have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much, we will remain apart.”
The part about knowingly separating, in fact, did not appear until the final sentence of the statement, which read: “We have always kept our relationship private, and we hope that as we knowingly separate and co-parent, we can continue in the same way.” manner”. Were we so used to belligerent celebrity divorces that we just couldn’t handle this attempt at goodwill between an ex? Or have I simply become too insensitive to Hollywood wellness culture talk that this statement no fills me with cynicism when I read it in context?
Paltrow and Martin didn’t even coin the term that everyone loves to hate; was Katherine Woodward Thomas, a marriage and family therapist, in 2009. The breakups, she stated for Guardian in 2018, they are “one of the biggest traumas we can experience”, and conscious separation is “particularly for anyone who is going through a difficult time and at risk of starting a negative cycle that can end up harming them in the long term”.
Paltrow herself admitted that she found the phrase “conscious separation” to be “a little smug, painfully progressive and difficult to understand”.
“I was intrigued, not so much by the phrase, but by the sentiment,” she added in her 2020 essay for vogue uk. “Was there a world where we could part ways and not lose everything? Could we be a family, even if we weren’t a couple? We decided to give it a try.”
I am not a believer in the wellness culture. I think the wellness industry is problematic, not least because it places too much emphasis on individual effort when societal failures are the problem, for example by imposing meditation apps and self-care routines on us as an “easy fix” when it is. What we need is continuous mental health care in a fair and affordable system. There is much to criticize in the terminology of wellness culture and wellness-oriented companies, like Paltrow’s own Goop. But our scathing treatment of the “conscious separation” approach to breakups may still be unfair.
It may not be for everyone, but maybe it’s not a bad thing to accept the idea that breakups are by nature traumatic events that we can try to manage so that they hurt a little less. And maybe it’s also not a bad thing to normalize the idea that exes can be polite, and maybe even nice, to each other.
Bonet and Momoa’s announcement certainly suggests that’s where celebrity culture is headed. And this time celebrity culture might be right.
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