Adele’s restless yearning for soul satisfaction is not wrong. She’s just looking in the wrong place - Gareth Black

The verdict of Oprah Winfrey to the artist’s account of why she divorced her former husband Simon Konecki – “So many women, Adele, are going to be liberated by listening to you…”.

Gareth Black, Speaker for Solas
Gareth Black, Speaker for Solas

Sitting under the California sun, Adele confessed to Oprah that she ended her marriage, not because she didn’t love Konecki any longer, but because she wasn’t “in love”. There was no infidelity, no abuse, no indignation between partners; simply a nascent conviction for Adele that “I’m not living, I’m just plodding along…” and that true happiness lay elsewhere.

The fact that it’s none other than Oprah who is opening this intimate window into Adele’s life is testament to just how much the singer-songwriter’s influence and appeal has been propelled into the stratosphere. Her records sell in the tens of millions, and her latest album, 30, shot straight to number one in Britain and became the fastest-selling album of year so far, displacing a little Swedish group known as ABBA.

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However, it is impossible to separate the significance of 30 from the marital collapse it grew out of. So many of its songs bear the hallmarks, not so much of relational fracture, but of a lonely soul wrestling with both a deep, unidentifiable emptiness and the consequences of consciously ripping her life apart in response. When asked whether 30 was “the divorce album”, Adele replied, “I think I am divorcing myself on it.” She told British Vogue, “I feel like this album is self-destruction, then self-reflection and then sort of self-redemption.” It is not a metamorphosis without relational cost, however. The star has described 30 as an attempt to explain her divorce to her child in the hope that, one day, he will understand, “…me choosing to dismantle my son’s life for my own.”

It seems to me the real story that 30 tells is of a global superstar’s disenchantment with her once idolisation of the nuclear family. The album is Adele’s tale of deconversion; a recanting, not primarily of a relationship, but of faith in that relationship’s ability to deliver deep, spiritual fulfilment. As Go Easy on Me begins: “There ain’t no gold in this river…”

It’s unlikely that Konecki or Adele were aware that this is what was at stake when they tied the knot in 2018. But it does make sense of why a marriage to someone you love and “respect… more than anyone”, someone you “even now trust… with [your] life”, might still prove so painfully inadequate that you feel morally obligated to walk away from it. If this is what being in love demands, what hope is there for any marriage? How might any relationship withstand the perpetual insecurity and all-consuming pressure that this kind of expectation lays down?

Perhaps the truly liberating message then is not, as Oprah prescribes, in the disillusioned abandonment of otherwise good relationships, but in the realisation that the search for meaning and transcendence in romance – or any relationship – is itself the illusion? Adele’s restless yearning for soul satisfaction is not wrong. She’s just looking for it in the wrong place. If, as C.S. Lewis pondered, we find in ourselves desires for which nothing in this world can satisfy, perhaps the most logical explanation is that their fulfilment lies outside this world.

It is that kind of transcendent love that Christianity claims to offer. And those who do find it often discover that, in the security of divine love, they are liberated to love others without needing from them things that they can never provide. It frees us to see through the enchantments of another person without becoming disenchanted. And when the inevitable challenges of even the healthiest relationships emerge… to Hold On.

Gareth Black, Speaker with Solas

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