Strange Things About Bill And Melinda Gates' Relationship

For years, it seemed that Bill Gates and ex-wife Melinda Gates' marriage had stood the test of time. The former power couple was married for 27 years before their relationship troubles came to light, ultimately leading to a divorce in 2021. Prior to this, Bill and Melinda publicly spoke fondly of each other throughout their decades together, and were passionate about their joint charity organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a 2017 interview with "CBS Sunday Morning," Melinda described her relationship with Bill as "absolutely a partnership of equals," which perhaps suggests that the philanthropic duo had no qualms about embarking on a project as large as their foundation together. "It's important to both of us that the world understands that we are running this place together," Melinda said. "This is our joint values being played out in the world." 

When the news of their divorce first hit the media, many questions were raised. Bill, the man many assumed was a loyal husband and doting father, was revealed to be unfaithful to his wife, and both his admitted and alleged instances of infidelity became a trending topic as the public began to realize that there was apparently a dark side to the billionaire's marriage. However, the Microsoft founder's cheating was not the only odd thing about this union. 

Read on to find out just how strange Bill and Melinda Gates' relationship really was.

Melinda Gates turned down Bill's first offer to go on a date

Melinda and Bill Gates' relationship apparently got off to a rough start. The pair met in the late '80s when Melinda was a product manager at Microsoft, which at that time was just a small start-up. She first caught the CEO's eye at a sales meeting held in New York City. "It was only a week or so after that, that I went up to her in the parking lot and asked if she wanted to go out," Bill shared in a 2017 interview with "CBS Sunday Morning."

At first, Melinda was hesitant to fulfill her future husband's request. After all, she had just graduated from Duke University, and now the head of her company wanted to pursue her romantically. "When we met, and Bill is CEO of Microsoft and I was, you know, all of 23, he actually, at that first date, asked me out for two weeks from Saturday night," Melinda told "CBS Sunday Morning." "And I said, 'Two weeks from Saturday night? How could you possibly know what you're doing? My schedule doesn't go out that far.'" 

Melinda's longtime best friend, Mary Lehman, also explained she was shocked to hear that Bill had asked her pal out: "I thought, 'Wow, wouldn't cha know, she's already met the CEO and he likes her.'"

She started out as Bill Gates' employee

It seems that Bill Gates was eager to pursue the woman who would become his future wife, despite the fact that Melinda Gates was freshly out of college and a new employee at his company. This has since raised concern for a possible power imbalance in the relationship, given how we later learned of the former Microsoft CEO's alleged history of inappropriate relationships with his employees. According to a 2019 report by The New York Times, Bill reportedly attempted to "pursue" numerous female Microsoft employees while he was still CEO at the company. One incident, in particular, even led to an investigation in 2019.

Fortune shared that Melinda's mother had concerns about Bill's relationship with her daughter when the couple first began dating. It seems Melinda was also aware of the dangers of dating her boss. She revealed she was adamant about keeping her and Bill's work relationship separate from their romantic relationship. "I wanted no public exposure," the former Microsoft product manager told Fortune. "And I drew this line in the sand that I would never, ever, ever go to him on anything related to work. It reached the point that Bill would say to me, 'You never tell me what you're doing.'"

He made a pros and cons list before proposing

According to CNBC, the 2019 Netflix docuseries "Inside Bill's Brain" revealed that Bill Gates decided he needed a pros and cons list to help him decide if he was ready for marriage. The Microsoft founder listed these on a whiteboard in his bedroom, which Melinda Gates discovered after walking in on her then-boyfriend. Although not very romantic, Bill explained in the doc why this list was so important to him (via CNBC), saying, "You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married."

One major con was the fact that Bill wasn't sure that he had enough time to run his multi-billion-dollar company while also "commit[ting]" to marriage and being a good husband, as Melinda explained in "Inside Bill's Brain" — though she did add that Bill indeed "wanted to be married." The then-couple had to have a conversation about whether they were ready for such a serious step in their relationship. "She had other boyfriends, and I had Microsoft," Bill said in the documentary. "We were like, 'Hey we are not really serious about each other, are we? We are not going to demand each other's time.'" 

It seems the tech pioneer's list proved to be effective, as he and Melinda went on to tie the knot in 1994 and raise three children together.

Bill Gates traveled with his ex while married to Melinda

It's hard to imagine Bill and Melinda Gates ever had other partners. But the Microsoft mogul's ex-girlfriend, Ann Winblad, actually had a huge impact on his life — and his marriage. Winblad met Bill at a 1984 computer conference, per Time. They quickly hit it off and began traveling the world together, with their shared interest in technology and bioengineering creating a connection. Not unlike Melinda, Winblad worked for Microsoft. As a consultant for the company, she also co-founded the successful venture firm Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, per People

When the pair split in 1987 — the same year Bill and Melinda met — Winblad was ready to get hitched, but Bill wasn't on the same page, according to Time. Despite this deal-breaker, the former couple ended things on good terms. In fact, Bill and Winblad kept up their annual vacation tradition even after the former CEO got married. Bill would visit his ex-girlfriend's North Carolina beach cottage for a long weekend each spring. Summarizing their yearly getaway in a 1997 interview with Time, Bill said, "We can play putt-putt while discussing biotechnology." Meanwhile, Winblad revealed, "We share our thoughts about the world and ourselves, and we marvel about how, as two young overachievers, we began a great adventure on the fringes of a little-known industry and it landed us at the center of an amazing universe."

It appears that Melinda didn't have a problem with these trips, as Time shared the getaways were "an arrangement" she and Bill made.

He asked for his ex's 'approval' to marry Melinda Gates

Bill Gates' continued friendship with his ex-girlfriend, Ann Winblad, has featured many seemingly questionable moments — including when the former Microsoft CEO asked for her thoughts on marrying Melinda Gates. "When I was off on my own thinking about marrying Melinda, I called Ann and asked for her approval," Bill told Time magazine in 1997. Although the request may appear bizarre on the surface, Melinda might have been relieved to find out that Winblad only had nice things to say about the possibility of her and Bill taking this next step in their relationship together. As Winblad told Time, "I said she'd be a good match for him because she had intellectual stamina." 

Intellectual stimulation seemed to be a big factor in Winblad and Bill's relationship, as well. Per the outlet, the former couple treated their frequent vacations as learning opportunities: They brought a textbook to Brazil to study bioengineering on the trip, and also brushed up on physics while vacationing in Santa Barbara, California. But it seems that Winblad wasn't the only person in the Gates' inner circle who believed Melinda's intelligence made her a great match for Bill. "He's smart as hell, obviously," Warren Buffett, Bill's former mentor, told Fortune in 2008. "But in terms of seeing the whole picture, she's smarter."

Melinda Gates reportedly knew about Bill's cheating

Was Melinda Gates seemingly nonchalant about Bill Gates and his ex-girlfriend's close friendship because she supposedly turned a blind eye to her husband's cheating? When news of the couple's divorce broke, a source alleged to People, "Melinda was aware there were some issues, but it's unclear if she knew about all of it." 

There's a possibility that there may be some truth to this claim, given Bill's reported rep for pursuing Microsoft employees. As previously mentioned, the former CEO was even investigated amid claims he "sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000," per The New York Times. Bill made headlines when he stepped down from his role at Microsoft in the year after the investigation began, leaving the company before the investigation could be completed — but a spokesperson insisted his departure had nothing to do with the allegations. "There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably," the representative told The Wall Street Journal. "The decision to transition off the board was in no way related to this matter. In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier." 

It appears Melinda may have been willing to move past her husband's infidelity at first. "I certainly believe in forgiveness, so I thought we had worked through some of that," she revealed in an interview with "CBS Mornings" in March 2022. Melinda added, however, that their relationship problems eventually culminated in divorce.

A friendship with Jeffrey Epstein contributed to the divorce

When Bill Gates got close with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, as The New York Times detailed in 2019, Melinda Gates was understandably frustrated. When asked on "CBS Mornings" if his friendship with Epstein was a factor in the divorce, Melinda responded: "As I said, it's not one thing, it was many things. But I did not like that he'd had meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, no." She went on to explain that she felt uneasy during her first-time meeting Epstein, saying, "I regretted it from the second I stepped in the door. He was abhorrent. He was evil personified. I had nightmares about it afterwards."

Bill responded to concerns regarding his previous closeness to Epstein in a statement he shared with CBS News (via People). "Meeting with Epstein was a mistake that I regret deeply," he stated. Further calling it "a substantial error in judgement," Bill noted that, in the wake of the Gates' divorce, "I remain dedicated to my work at the Gates Foundation in partnership with Melinda, where our focus is to help reduce global inequities, giving every person the chance to live a healthy and productive life."

Bill and Melinda Gates' relationship 'just wasn't healthy'

Melinda Gates finally opened up publicly about the infidelity that resulted in her split from Bill Gates in her shocking March 2022 interview with "CBS Mornings." Although Melinda tried to be forgiving, ongoing problems seemingly made divorce inevitable. "It wasn't one moment or one specific thing that happened," she revealed. "There just came a point in time where there was enough there that I realized it just wasn't healthy and I couldn't trust what we had."

Of course, Melinda understandably suffered emotionally after losing her husband of 27 years. "Well, I think it's really important to say, look, I had a lot of tears for many days," she admitted. "I mean, days where I'm literally laying on the floor and the carpet, you know, this close to me, thinking, 'How can this be? How can I get up? How am I gonna move forward?'" These days, Melinda is pushing past the pain while maintaining a "friendly" relationship with her ex-husband. Of her journey toward "healing," Melinda said she is "really excited about what's to come and life ahead."

As for Bill, Melinda's tell-all interview pulled a public apology out of him. It seems he regrets his hurtful actions. He told CBS News (via Yahoo! News) that he "will always be sorry for the pain that I caused Melinda and our family." Bill added, "I admire Melinda and everything she does to improve the lives of women and girls around the world, and I'm grateful for the work we continue to do together at our foundation."