I suspect you’ve seen the news by now that Bill and Melinda Gates are getting divorced.
Even the most peaceable divorce is a tragedy and a major life event for the people involved. I’m sure theirs is no different. (If this strikes a chord, you’ll enjoy my free ebook, Best Stuff So Far, which covers many similar themes.)
In their twin statements, posted simultaneously on their individual Twitter accounts, both Gateses, ages 65 and 56, said the same thing (although it’s worth noting that Melinda Gates changed her Twitter profile to read “Melinda French Gates”):
“We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”
That’s about the most bland, neutral announcement I can possibly imagine to end a marriage, and I suspect there will be speculation, curiosity, and maybe even new information about what happened.
But, when I heard about this news, I immediately thought about something else.
It’s a quote — attributed to so many people: the authors Brad Meltzer and Tim Ferriss —- heck, even all the way back to Plato. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter who said it; it’s the truth of what it means.
“Everyone you meet in life is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Not a day goes by it seems that we don’t get a chance to revisit that sentiment.
I thought about it in 2019, when Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott announced their divorce, and I thought about it after the death of Tony Hsieh earlier this year.
I’ve thought about it as I’ve reconnected with friends during the pandemic — some of whom were struggling valiantly with issues I hadn’t realized.
And, it was probably at least in part the rationale for my experiment earlier this year, when I decided to say, “I love you” before every interaction I had with people, to condition myself to act with empathy, since you can’t ever know what’s going on with them behind the scenes.
Now, I think about what’s been going on behind the scenes with the Gateses.
Of course, we’ve all been through a year for the ages, between the pandemic, the isolation, the turbulent economy, in some cases the very real losses people have endured.
The Gateses — especially Bill Gates, as far as I can tell — have been caught up as few others, especially given how Bill Gates more or less predicted the pandemic in a 2015 TED Talk, dove headfirst into vaccine research, production and distribution — and wound up the target of Internet conspiracy theories for his trouble.
I think many of us have probably had times when our personal lives interfere with our work.
What would it be like to be going through the breakup of a 27-year marriage, to say nothing of whatever led to it, while your work has to do with things like managing $50 billion in assets for the largest private charitable foundation in the world?
It’s so easy to stop thinking of people like the Gateses as people. They don’t have normal people problems, for example. They don’t have money issues; they never had to be concerned about where their children would go to college. I can’t imagine either of them being concerned about whether they’ll be remembered after they’re gone.
The will. Yet, until now, I would have thought that many of the big questions people spend their whole lives settling, were for them, quite settled.
I’ve written before about how starting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was Bill Gates’s second act, and maybe one that will wind up more memorable, in history, than the work he did founding and leading at Microsoft.
Now, I suppose, there will be another act for both of them. And, perhaps: another, and another, and another.
(Don’t forget the free ebook, Best Stuff So Far.)