Having famously made out in full view of the 2000 Democratic Convention, Al and Tipper Gore were the last political couple anyone expected to combust. But that high school sweetheart vibe, which dates back to their meeting at a 1965 graduation party in D.C., wasn’t just for the cameras, say those who know them. One source who saw them at a wedding that same year says, “They kept their arms around each other through the service and danced all night. After all the years together they seemed very in love.” This March the Gores went “on vacation with the kids and grandkids,” one politico tells PEOPLE. So even close friends were shocked when the Gores announced in a June 1 e-mail-two weeks after their 40th anniversary-that they were separating “following a process of long and careful consideration.”
But despite the closeness, friends also note that their passions have diverged for years. Tipper, 61, a photographer, “always wanted to be a normal person and have fun,” says a longtime associate. As for Al, 62, who juggles six different environmental and business positions, “he never learned to relax.” Adds a friend in Nashville: “Al travels so much, for his books, for all of his climate work, helping with campaigns. He’s gone a lot and that’s hard.” Another possible sign: The couple just purchased a villa in Montecito, Calif., yet have no plans to sell their Nashville home.
But given other recent cheating scandals, friends seem convinced on one point: There was no adultery. Says a colleague: “These two will remain the best of friends because they’ve been friends for life.”