Balancing Act

Why are McIlroy's cold feet such a hot topic?

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I think Rory McIlroy did the right thing.

Could his timing have been better? Sure. Could his timing have been worse? Yep.

The 25-year-old pro golfer announced Wednesday that he called off his wedding to 23-year-old tennis star Caroline Wozniacki shortly after the invitations were mailed.

"The problem is mine," he told the press, gathered at a golf event in Surrey, England. "The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realize that I wasn't ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we've had."

She has a much better shot now at that happiness than she would have in a marriage with someone who didn't want to be there. So does he. Plus they're young and wealthy and ridiculously gorgeous; they'll be fine.

Anyway, who am I kidding? I don't really care about their happiness any more today than I did on Tuesday, when I had never heard of them.

What I care about is their story. Their fantasy-wedding-crumbles-into-romantic-shambles narrative that grabs me and millions of others. "Distraught McIlroy calls off Wozniacki wedding" was chicagotribune.com's second most-read story of the day on Wednesday; CNN, Time, ESPN, the Telegraph and countless others covered it.

I'm curious about the instinct that keeps me watching, reading, listening, even when I have nothing at stake and plenty else to focus on.

It's the same instinct, I suppose, that sent 7.7 million viewers to their TV sets Monday night for the 10th installment of ABC's "The Bachelorette." The same instinct that has people scouring US Weekly for details on Kim and Kanye's wedding or swapping theories on Gwyneth and Chris' conscious uncoupling.

It's a diversion, sure, from missing Nigerian schoolgirls and dire climate change reports. But that's not entirely accurate. I immerse myself in those stories too — as do, I'm willing to bet, plenty of other people who are following McIlroy's saga.

There's something about marriage.

"Relationships are the most vulnerable aspect of people's lives," said Bela Gandhi, dating coach and president of Chicago-based Smart Dating Academy.

Sign up for life and the stakes grow infinitely higher.

So when we get a peek at someone else's marriage — the lead-up, the insides, the outsides, the downfall — we have a hard time looking away.

"Everyone can relate," Gandhi told me. "Either you're single and you want to be in a relationship or you're in a healthy marriage going, 'Thank God that's not me,' or you're in a lousy marriage going, 'OK, it's not just me.'"

There's also, she said, a fantasy element at play here. We're watching someone else take a path we ponder having taken — or someday taking — and get to see some possible outcomes.

What if I had called off the wedding? What if I leave? What if I don't leave?

It's why we turn to Shakespeare (or E.L. James or Helen Fielding) to get a peek at how humans — humans who aren't us — relate. The McIlroy/Wozniacki humans just happen to be real.

"Human drama," Gandhi said, "especially when it comes to matters of the heart, is inherently interesting."

And illuminating.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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