I’ve been married to a geek for over 40 years. So believe me, I get it. Of course I, like most of the columnists who’ve speculated on your breakup, have no inkling about the specifics of your situation. Nonetheless, when I heard the news I remarked to my editor, David Kirkpatrick at Techonomy, that I felt sad. “It was as if Ward and June Cleaver announced they were splitting and leaving the Beaver,” I said. It felt like two bastions of an exemplary life were unmasking the discord that lurked beneath.
For me, you epitomized what a woman’s emotional IQ brings into the world of geekdom. You could temper Bill’s social awkwardness and nurture his connection to the world. You became a mother-symbol to the philanthropic with laser focus on lessening human suffering through the application of science and techonolgy. You wined and dined the royals and business impressarios. And you managed to raise a pretty swell family, too. I know they say that having money makes it easy, but I know it that kind of juggling is never easy. Tough job. Long hours. Many hats. And few who do it successfully.
I only met you once. I was the editor at PC Magazine and you were a PR person who must have drawn the short straw. You had to show off Microsoft Bob, replete with one of the computer world’s earliest and later, most often-satirized, memes–Clippy. You were passionate, poised and informed.
I’d met with Bill multiple times over those early computing years in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
While I never encountered you as a family unit, I had the chance to talk with Bill in his then-new role as Dad. I created FamilyPC, a magazine designed to guide parents into the digital age, and sat down with your husband a few times (and once for a cover story) to talk about, among other things, the spectre of technology’s affect on kids.
He liked to keep any comments about the family off the table, but when pressed he’d open up about topics like how the then-nascent internet might do serious harm to kids whose brains weren’t yet very developed. Your own kids were quite young at the time, but he told me he would have serious reservations about giving kids their own devices before they were teens. Talking about you and his kids brought out a side of him that I hadn’t seen in earlier, Microsoft-crushes-all days. He seemed grounded and at ease, less on the attack.
Maybe Gates-alot is my Camelot. A fictitious place I created where humans could bring out the better forces of tech. Armchair shrinks, industry pundits and plenty of gossip columnists have had a field day dissecting what your divorce represents. Too much Jeffery Epstein? Too long a lifespan for two people to reasonably share a unified life (making you the poster child for gray divorces)? Ghosts of old girlfriends? I’m sure the tawdry is just beginning to sprout.
The funny part? When that June and Ward imagery popped into my head, I Googled to remind myself what sort of job Ward left for every morning, as June in her starched apron waved lovingly from the door. Turns out he had a briefcase and went to an office. That’s all we know. That’s what an idealized marriage was like then, but of course, no longer.
And now another idealized marriage (at least in my mind) is ending. And you know I’m not sure I want the real truth about where Ward went each day, and I also don’t much care about the particulars of your own change in circumstance. I’m just sad that “marriage is forever” has now received another plunge of the knife.
I’m sorry your life is being scrutinized. That must be exhausting. Being married to Bill, I’m sure had it’s rewards and challenges. Hopefully you take those learnings and apply them to the next act.
Rooting for ya,