I have this friend whom I love very much, and whose marriage sometimes makes me feel like there is something wrong in my relationship. She and her husband found each other early in college and have been together ever since. They both have excellent taste in homewares and complementary domestic skills. Recently they bought a dog. I want a dog. Sometimes, when my partner does not hold my hand at the movies, I think about how once I happened to see my beautiful friend and her good-looking husband walking down an avenue with their arms around each other's waists. Her head was on his shoulder. It was sweet, and also a little sickening, in that rom-com sort of way. From a distance, they looked perfect.
You have probably heard that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Hollywood's most elite Perfect Couple, filed for divorce yesterday. Around the same time, an actual earthquake shook Los Angeles. I'm not suggesting that means anything, but it does make for a good cherry on top of the fallout. Pitt and Jolie — or Brangelina, as they've been cloyingly portmanteau'd over the years — obviously did not share the reason that they split up, and it is unlikely they will, not least because they don't owe the world that answer. But I also suspect that — like most people who were once in love and now want out — they might not have a clear-cut explanation to give, even if they wanted to. Based on my own experience, people break up not because of the One Big Thing, but because of the aggregation of little things — death by tiny cuts — that are enough on their own, or make the One Big Thing impossible to get over. It's been tempting all these years, ever since they were spotted on a beach together after the making of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, to assume the Jolie-Pitts do not have little things — at least not the same ones as "normal" people. They are both beautiful, for one thing, a fact that we often think of as an inoculation against everyday problems (which, to be fair, it can be). They are freakishly rich, which removes the stress of the number-one thing most couples reportedly fight about: money. And for the last decade, they have shored up their commitment status, adding one kid after another to their brood and traveling with the whole family around the globe as ambassadors and advocates in developing nations. On top of all that: They've been good, in the saintly sense. Angelina Jolie is lecturing at Georgetown this year. Brad Pitt builds eco-friendly low-income housing. He stood by her through some very intense surgical procedures. When they do a red carpet together, they always seem to be holding hands. From a distance, they look perfect. But that illusion of perfection has fed the schadenfreude machine this week. People seem to be feeling a certain glee in seeing the veil of infallibility lifted to reveal what is — shocker — a real relationship, with real irreconcilable differences. I am guilty of this myself: I remember once, when my friend told me about a particularly nasty disagreement she had with her husband, I said all the right things, but I was secretly satisfied to find out that her relationship had the same minefields as my own. Jealousy is an emotion that seems to make me uncharacteristically petty. Looking back, I think I was relieved that the bar for perfection wasn't as high or unreachable as I set it up to be in my mind. In fact, it doesn't exist at all.