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For whatever reason, there are private events that happen to public figures, which become watershed moments for the general population. They act as a litmus test for the national sensibility. People weigh in, as if reacting to a referendum. Often the issue resonates on a very personal level, bringing up situations that as individuals we might have faced personally. While some judge from the luxury of being outside the actual experience and attendant circumstances, others are empathetic.
It’s been almost three weeks since the May 9, 2011 news of the Shriver —Schwarzenegger split. I was working late and first saw the report on my Twitter feed. I clicked on a link and read the terse joint statement. After 25 years of marriage and four children, the couple was “amicably separating.” They were living apart while they worked “on the future” of their relationship. The following day, the New York Times had a short article, deep into the first section, with the curious headline, “Schwarzenegger and Wife Say They Are Separating.” I found it very strange that Maria Shriver’s name was omitted, and that she was relegated to the simple nomenclature of “wife.” The piece pointed out that Shriver had been instrumental in pushing Schwarzenegger over the top in his 2003 quest for the California governorship. How? By specifically defending him against allegations in the Los Angeles Times, detailing incidents of groping and inappropriate sexual behavior by six women in the Hollywood community.
My reaction to the breakup was shock, yet I was not totally surprised. Throughout the years, my own opinion about their bond was always in the realm of incredulity. I just didn’t get it. The totally disparate politics would have been too much for me to get past. The standard response to the coupling was the sexual attraction card. I didn’t relate to that either. Schwarzenegger’s thick-necked, cartoon muscularity struck me as totally unappealing. I remember reading an interview with Shriver where she related that Schwarzenegger had once told her not to depend on him for all of her happiness and fulfillment.