That ugly cawing sound, and the dark shadows wheeling over this week’s news, are caused by marriage vultures. In the days between the passing of a Bill broadening the scope of marriage and the romantic excitements around St Valentine’s Day, the vultures have been offered a feast. Thanks to a court case, and the release of thrillingly private emails, texts and taped telephone conversations, they have been able to pick over the bones of the marriage between Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce.
There are many varieties of marriage vulture online and in the press. Some have been divorced themselves and now share with the world details of how well they managed it all, or how badly, or why the end of their marriage was the best day of their lives, or the worst. Some will say they understand Chris’s position; others will admit they felt just like Vicky.
Those who have experienced the break-up of their parents’ marriage will recall how they were every bit as hurt and confused as the Huhnes’ teenage son. That great army of gabby opinionators who like to study the lives of the famous for parables of good and evil (mostly evil) will pick over the juicy titbits of bitterness and hurt, before reaching a suitably weighty conclusion.
Everybody, it seems, is an expert on what goes wrong in a marriage. Or, put another way, the miserable, sometimes grubby and often undignified events and conversations which occur when a married couple start to hate one another is now a branch of public entertainment. It is quite acceptable for intimate, shaming details to be shared with readers and viewers.
When a royal or Hollywood couple break up, lawyers and publicists can protect them. The Huhnes are easier prey. Not only has their agony been revealed in court, but as a couple they combine fame with ordinariness; their marital misery could be that of any of us.
The truth is that no one, sometimes not even the two involved, fully understands why a marriage becomes unbearable. If love is mysterious, so is the end of it. Yet increasingly, onlookers adopt the villain-or-victim attitude favoured by lawyers. If those involved are well-known, their behaviour is reviewed as carefully and brutally as any new West End production.
The end of a long-term marriage is one of life’s great tragedies – a source of rage, sadness and, above all, guilt. Those writing about their own marital failures can do so with wisdom rather than exhibitionism, but those who like to sit in judgement upon the marriages of others are playing a nasty new game.
When tweeting is a silver bullet
Here is a small but invaluable tip for those who are suffering bad service from a public utilities company: get on to Twitter. The effect is miraculous. Earlier this week, I lost telephone and internet contact with the outside world. The BT helpline repeatedly and politely told me that nothing could be done for four days. Since I rely on the internet for my daily work, it was not what I wanted to hear. I mentioned the problem, via a mobile, on Twitter. My fellow-columnist Deborah Ross suggested I contact BT through the same medium.
The result has been remarkable. I even received solicitous calls from BT staff. Quite why one form of social media should provide this advantage is a mystery, and seems vaguely unfair, but just for a change I am not complaining.