Since late March, a bizarre new term has been seeping its way into our cultural vocabulary: "conscious uncoupling." It's all thanks to something called goop, the singer behind "Yellow," and actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
To talk about it, though, we need to go back to the beginning.
1. Who is Gwyneth Paltrow?
Gwyneth Paltrow is an American actress, born into a Hollywood family, wooed by blockbuster heroes such as Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt, and noted for her blonde, lithe beauty. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role as an author's muse in Shakespeare in Love (1998). She appeared in dozens of movies including Emma, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Iron Man. And she currently holds a recurring guest spot on the popular television series Glee as substitute teacher Holly Holliday. She also, since 2008, dabbles in lifestyle blogging with her weekly newsletter goop. It's a letter that encourages readers to "nourish the inner aspect," adeptly barters in product placement, and provides a glimpse into the lives of a rotating cast of rich and famous friends.
2. Who is Chris Martin?
Chris Martin is the lead singer of the band Coldplay. Coldplay released their first album Parachutes in 2000 to international success. Since then, the band has released six full albums and two live albums including A Rush of Blood to the Head, X&Y, Viva La Vida, and Mylo Xyloto. He is noted for his piercing blue eyes.
Here's the video for Coldplay's breakout hit "Yellow," which features Chris Martin walking on the beach a lot:
Chris Martin met Gwyneth Paltrow backstage at one of his concerts in 2002, just three weeks after the death of her father, Bruce. In December of the next year, the couple announced Gwyneth's pregnancy, and days later were married in a private ceremony.
Like most celebrity couplings, people have watched the Paltrow/Martin relationship from the beginning, though Paltrow and Martin took great pains to avoid the paparazzi over the course of their relationship. Paltrow and Martin made a pact early in their marriage to never appear together publicly. They left the house at different times, did their errands separately and had little tolerance for cameras. Because of this, their marriage has always been a somewhat private affair. Even their wedding was a private elopement not announced until days later.
When rumors began in late 2013 that the Paltrow/Martin marriage might be ending, interest skyrocketed:
3. How did the Paltrow-Martin marriage start falling apart?
The secrecy of the Paltrow/Martin relationship makes it impossible to judge exactly when the beginning of the end took place. According to the statement the couple released announcing the separation, they had been "working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us." Martin spent that year working in the studio to produce the new Coldplay album (release planned for May 19, 2014), and Gwyneth appeared in the third Iron Man movie and several episodes of Glee.
Martin has been accused of cheating throughout his relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow and in 2009, he made a public statement in order to shut down rumors that he was having an affair with actress Kate Bosworth. Because he is not as polarizing of a figure as Gwyneth, his potential infidelity held much less interest for the public.
In September of 2013, though, Paltrow caused a stir when she was spotted at a LA Dodgers baseball game with her children kissing Donovan Leitch on the lips. Paltrow and Leitch dated briefly in the early 90's before her relationships with Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck. Both parties remained silent on the kiss. This small scandal snowballed into the mess that arrived in December 2013 with Vanity Fair.
4. Wait, what happened between Paltrow and Vanity Fair?
In early 2013, Vanity Fair, under the editorship of Graydon Carter, planned to run an cover story about Gwyneth Paltrow during their 2014 print cycle. Vanessa Grigoriadis was assigned to write a story explaining why Gwyneth Paltrow is such a polarizing figure in American culture, according to the magazine , and she began calling sources in Hollywood to comment. This would have been Gwyneth's sixth Vanity Fair cover; her first ran in 1995.
Gwyneth did not react warmly to the idea of the magazine running an article about her without talking to her, and in May, 2013 she sent an email to all of her friends asking them to boycott the magazine and to refuse to speak to Grigoriadis. "Vanity Fair is threatening to put me on the cover of their magazine," she wrote. "If you are asked for quotes or comments, please decline. Also, I recommend you all never do this magazine again."
This email, of course, ended up on Page Six of the New York Post, blowing the event into a Vanity Fair v. Hollywood saga. Many people made the assumption that she had something to hide, and media articles began branding the upcoming Vanity Fair article as an epic takedown of Gwyneth Paltrow, showing exactly the animosity toward the actress the magazine was hoping to evaluate.
After months of anticipation and excitement, Carter and the magazine decided not to publish the article. In an editor's letter, Carter explained that because the article was not the takedown people were looking for and he did not want to run the evaluative article the publication had. "The fact is," Carter wrote, "the Gwyneth Paltrow story, the one we ordered up, delightfully written as it was, is not the one the anti-Gwynethites expect."
5. What is it about Gwyneth Paltrow that makes her so polarizing?
There are very few people who follow popular culture who do not have an opinion on Gwyneth Paltrow. She is either a beautiful master of style and a talented actress, or a pretentious elitist celebrity without context for reality. In 2013 alone, Paltrow was named Star's "Most Hated Celebrity" and People's "Most Beautiful Woman."
Theories abound as to why Gwyneth rubs people the wrong way. The Guardian's Tanya Gold argues the hatred is because she appears so beautiful and happy. Vogue's Jeffrey Steingarten agrees, attributing the hate to her "impossibly perfect life." The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon claims it's just because she's annoying. BBC's Fraser McAlpine blames Paltrow's habit of pretending to be British.
Critics also fault Gwyneth for appearing out of touch with people without her level of wealth and privilege when she says things like, "Every woman can make time [to work out] — every woman — and you can do it with your baby in the room." Gwyneth haters note that they too could work out if they also had a nanny, a personal trainer and an in-house cook.
"Are you picturing Gwyneth as a single mother getting home after a 12-hour shift at the local factory or dealing with asshole customers all day?" John Cheese at Cracked writes. "Do you see her letting out an exasperated sigh as she realizes that her day isn't done because she still has to cook dinner, go over homework with the kids, do the dishes, start the laundry and clean the house?"
The single biggest contributor to the downpour of criticism that has rained on Gwyneth Paltrow's ash blonde head is her lifestyle blog goop. This weekly newsletter arrives in readers' inboxes to recommend everything from yoga pants to weekend vacation spots. It's so polarizing that a recent article recommended unsubscribing from goop as the first step to not hating Gwyneth Paltrow. This wasn't a gradual phenomenon; goop was widely loathed from the get-go. "There was brouhaha there in the beginning ... because people don't like you to step outside your box," Gwyneth told Harper's Bazar.
That's a polite way of putting it. For Gwyneth detractors, goop is a weekly reminder to readers of her outwardly perfect life: the money, the fame, the kids, and Chris. As The Hairpin's Liz Coville put it, goop is "a dreamcatcher belonging to someone else, a colorful web hung high upon a hook just out of reach, which ensnares all our wishes to be rich and perfect in someone else's fine sticky (actually string) threads, then displays it for us to look at and admire, but never touch, though we might yet try, and try again."
6. So the Vanity Fair article was never published. Why is that still causing a stir?
Many translated her vehemence to speak to Vanity Fair as an attempt to quell rumors about possible infidelity. When Graydon Carter published his March editorial online explaining the magazine would not be publishing the article, Whisper responded. Whisper is an iOS and Android app that allows users to share secrets anonymously by superimposing text over images, and has been causing a stir with its somewhat salacious secrets among smaller tech circles. This time, though, the app purported to getting the celebrity scoop many readers thought Vanity Fair was after. Whisper's editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, posted this Whisper post to his personal twitter in February:
Normally, a post on Whisper would not have any legitimacy. Anyone can create an account, build a Whisper post, and make it live. But by promoting this post himself, Zimmerman gave its premise legitimacy and shared it with more people than might have seen it initially.
The post claims that Paltrow was cheating with Kevin Yorn, an entertainment publicist, rather than Donovan Leitch. Immediately after the Whisper post was linked, Paltrow's publicist denied its claim, stating,"The only time Gwyneth has even recently seen Kevin Yorn (who she knows only casually through business contacts) was on a flight from NY-LA. Gwyneth was flying with her assistant and the CEO of goop and Kevin coincidentally was also in the first class section... I cannot be more clear with you when I say she is NOT having an affair with Kevin Yorn and I will be notifying her attorneys as well."
7. What does this have to do with goop?
goop is Paltrow's personal blog and seems to fuel much of the resentment toward her.
It is also where she and Chris Martin chose to announce their split. On March 25, a Tuesday, a goop email arrived with the subject line "A Note from GP." Any pro-Gwynethite knows that goop comes on Thursday and only on Thursday. Inside the email was a link to the site where she and Chris Martin made their announcement.
8. What is "conscious uncoupling"?
Conscious uncoupling is the term that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin used to announce that they would be separating after almost ten years of marriage. The term was coined by psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, who has offered online seminars on conscious uncoupling since 2011.
Conscious uncoupling means confronting their irreconcilable differences without blaming the other partner. The goal of conscious uncoupling is to separate while recognizing that each partner is at least partly to blame, and that the two will continue to try their best to live in harmony despite their differences.
What does that look like? So far, it looks like Paltrow and Martin on vacation together in the Bahamas and performing a separation ceremony where they threw pebbles into the ocean to symbolize their "wandering spirits." Presumably, the two woke up at 5 am every day of their vacation to meditate and attend joint counseling sessions. They plan to maintain joint custody of their children, and may even choose to continue living together.
Most of this sounds either like complete nonsense or like nothing is changing at all. It comes across to anti-Gwynethites as new-agey, pretentious, and deluded. To their credit, however, the Paltrow/Martin divorce has been one of the most civilized high-profile divorces in years. Despite tabloids across the country pegging potential cheating partners, the two have yet to act aggressively or have remained mostly silent since the initial announcement (with the notable exception of Martin denying having had an affair with a staff member at Saturday Night Live).
9. So where does this all leave us?
Paltrow lovers to the left. Paltrow haters to the right. As with all great feuds, those who love will likely still love; while those who hate will still likely hate-read goop late into the night. As for the main stars of the drama? Martin's band Coldplay will release their album May 19. They released the video for their first song, Magic, on YouTube on Monday. In it, a married woman throws knives at Martin as he sings, "I just got broken into two."
Paltrow, meanwhile, will be back on big screens in the adventure comedy Mortdecai with Johnny Depp.
And perhaps the uncoupled won't stay consciously uncoupled forever. Paltrow posted a beaming photo of herself on Instagram on Tuesday, hugging her son on his eighth birthday. On her left hand? A wedding ring.