Last Sunday night, I watched part of the Grammy Awards broadcast with my wife. It was a night full of poignant tributes to Whitney Houston, who tragically passed away the day before. For me, though, maybe the saddest moment of the evening came courtesy Katy Perry, who debuted her new song “Part of Me.”
Perry, of course, recently announced her divorce from British actor and comedian Russell Brand after just 14 months of marriage. And as she marched through her new hit with venomous gusto at the Grammys, her pain and contempt for him seemed evident when she hurled accusations such as, “’Cause you chewed me up/And spit me out/Like I was poison in your mouth,” and “Throw your sticks and your stones/Throw your bombs and your blows/But you’re not gonna break my soul.”
Then there was this zinger, which prompted Rolling Stone to label the new song “The Official Katy Perry Divorce Anthem”: “You can keep the diamond ring/I never liked him anyway/In fact you can keep everything, yeah, yeah/Except for me.”
Now, I personally don’t look to celebrity marriages as models of stability. I don’t think many of us probably expected a marriage between these two famously volatile performers to go the distance. Still, and maybe this is the romantic in me, I was kind of hoping maybe Katy and Russell would prove the naysayers wrong. Because of that, I couldn’t help but wince as I pondered this high-profile celebrity couple’s publicly shattered union. And I wonder if there might be a lesson, albeit a cautionary one, buried in that sad outcome.
The days leading up to Russell and Katy’s marriage brimmed with reports of their infatuatory bliss and how thrilled they each were to have found their soul mates. Once they were married, Brand talked candidly about how he had traded in his dissolute ways — porn addiction, promiscuity — for a real relationship with a woman he loved. His confessions seemed earnest and genuine, as much as one can measure such things, and I actually found myself hoping that his growing maturity was the genuine article.
Even as late as December, Brand was still denying fast-flying rumors that there was trouble in his marriage. He told Ellen DeGeneres, for instance, “I’m married to Katy. Perpetually, until death do us part was the pledge.” A month later, the pledge was sundered: “Sadly, Katy and I are ending our marriage,” Brand’s press release said. “I’ll always adore her and I know we’ll remain friends.”
Or maybe not. With his ex spitting lyrics like, “You can keep the diamond ring/I never liked him anyway,” bitterness and recrimination, not ongoing mutual admiration, seem a more likely legacy.
The thing that strikes me most about Katy and Russell’s story is how quickly it swung — in public, anyway — from one extreme to the other. One day everything was sweet, fulfilling and terribly romantic. The next day, metaphorically speaking, it was simply terrible, with the once-happy couple splitting over “irreconcilable differences” and hurling nasty insults. It’s enough to give you whiplash.
There are a couple of things worth noticing here.
The first has to do with our expectations regarding marriage. Most couples go through a season of deep, soul-tingling thrill that they have finally found “the one.” It’s an incredible, intense, deeply satisfying time as you begin to step into the fulfillment of long-cherished hopes and dreams.
At some point after stepping across the matrimonial threshold, though, the intensity of those feelings quietly begins to yield to the more mundane rhythms of life together, day in and day out, year in and year out. You learn about yourself and about your spouse. Conflict may creep in here and there. Dishes need done. Diapers need changed. And the lifelong task of building a marriage commences in earnest. I suspect most married couples, if they’re telling the truth, have at some point had to reckon with a shock when there’s a disappointment or some unexpected discovery: “I didn’t know it was going to be like this.”
So I have to wonder, given the whiplash nature of Katy and Russell’s relationship, if they even began to make that transition before plunging from wedded bliss into irreconcilable differences. Because most of the time, marriage exists somewhere between those two extremes.
And that brings me to the second lesson in this cautionary tale. When we do hit those inevitable bumps in the marital road, sometimes we need outside help. Lots of rumors have flown regarding the reasons for this couple’s split, none of which matter for our purposes. What matters is that Russell and Katy apparently didn’t have anyone to help them navigate the potholes they faced, obstacles that cratered their marital union almost as soon as it began.
If we hope to live faithfully with our beloved, then, we’d do well to cultivate healthy expectations about the daily realities of marriage. We’d also do to cultivate relationships with friends and mentors who can help us successfully navigate the challenges we will face … instead of simply yielding to “irreconcilable differences.”