Younger. Older. Coupled. Single. Any and all LGBTQ subcultures. Wherever you stand, you may notice an odd phenomenon: the polarizing notion that same-sex couples should get married, instead of can get married.
Some of our social feeds tell this varnished version of the age-old love story. With federal marriage equality in place, longtime pairs tied the knot in droves in 2015 and 2016 with ceremonies from simple to extravagant — but so did tons of short-term couples, too. They jumped into nuptials, more or less because marriage was “so hot right now.” Five years later, some still do.
Activists remind us that “we still have work to do” after marriage equality, but rather than stamping the marriage issue “done” and setting it aside, there may be that “work left to do” on defining LGBTQ relationships, including what it means to marry — or not marry.
It’s good that same-sex couples can be just as cautious and committed, or just as impulsive and ill-advised, as any straight couple to tie the knot. But if you listen closely, there’s a rumble of discontent over the loss of something distinctly ours, distinctly queer: Without marriage equality, we were free to define our relationships in non-traditional ways that were especially queer.
Some LGBTQ people aren’t as in love with the idea of marriage as so many others appear to be. They still eschew the constraints of a sanctioned institution as heteronormative at best, restrictive at least, and played-out at worst. They long for a time when no legalized marriage meant the sweet freedom to not get married.
When expectations are aligned, one-to-one commitment for life can and does work for many LGBTQ couples. On average, married people are more adept at compromise, and they generally live longer. There is a built-in support system, and many say that they accomplish their goals faster by working the challenges together.
On the other hand, the climbing divorce rate is well over half of all marriages. Married people are also more likely to be overweight, in debt and too reliant on another person at the expense of beneficial friendships and self-motivation.
Luckily, it’s not an either-or proposition. Rather than get caught up in “traditional” ideas of what marriage is, LGBTQ people could stop insisting that there’s one right way to engage with each other. We could recognize the awesome assortment of approaches, and we could stop expecting everyone to feel and act the same way.
As is appropriate and correct in every situation or life challenge, we hearken back to the great gay muse, that sage soothsayer, that endless font of advice: Carrie Bradshaw, Candace Bushnell’s fictionalized dating diva of Sex and the City.
After the trials and tribs of singlehood and matrimony, she figured it out at the end of the deliciously awful Sex and the City 2. Naturally, her newlywed gays knew it at the beginning of the movie: There’s more than one way to skin a relationship.
“YOU HAVE TO TAKE TRADITION AND DECORATE IT YOUR OWN WAY. … WHEN IT COMES TO RELATIONSHIPS, THERE’S A WHOLE RANGE OF COLORS AND OPTIONS TO EXPLORE.”
– CARRIE BRADSHAW, SEX AND THE CITY 2
Choices: Points on a Spectrum
With all of the above in mind, why not welcome marriage as just one of many relationship options, and only then as it’s defined and redefined by each couple.
Below are just five of the alternatives to “two-person marriage for life.” Which type(s) of love do you do, which did you try, and which ones tempt you to try a new one?
Most of us are, were, or tried to be this kind of person. You may like the “mating for life” concept and go around applying it to each person you date, one at a time. Friends may call you “emotionally slutty,” but it works with varying degrees of success for scores of LGBTQ people.
Pros & Cons
Serial monogamy often gives you emotional security, familiarity with morés, societal approval, and maybe even reduced risk of STDs. On the downside, you might also find boredom, societal pressure to take it further than dating, and decreasing emotional and physical pleasure over time. Of course, it may fit you just right to give everything to one person at a time without biting off the broader expectations of traditional marriage.
Like the serial monogamist, most of us also know of, or been in, open relationships. “Consensually non-monogamous” couples, like other types of relationships, can define their relationship agreements in multiple ways. Perhaps it’s to stay emotionally monogamous but not sexually, or perhaps it’s open to explorations of the body and heart outside the couple.
Pros & Cons
You get to indulge your wandering eye and you get more varied experiences. You might also get time management challenges, competition and jealousy. Advance planning and clear agreements are crucial, and honest communication can help solve conflicts if they arise.
You love Dick, and oh how you love Harry. You also love Tom. And Tanya. And damn it, they love you back. Polyamorous relationships between more than two people are more common than some people realize. Whether there is a clear “Alpha” couple, one person with multiple spouses, or egalitarian sharing, triads, quadrangles and other configurations are available to explore.
Fun fact: In June 2020, city council members in Somerville, Mass., unanimously approved legal domestic partnerships between two or more adults. Some say polygamy and recognition of polyamory are the next legal steps in marriage equality.
Pros & Cons
Big pluses here include sexual variety, additional “emotional team members” for support, and deep friendships between non-intimate partners. You might also develop a skill for communication as each partner learns to express their needs. Cons? Societal misunderstandings, inequity, “ganging up” on individual members in disagreements, and that old green nag, jealousy.
Unlike serial monogamy, there’s no intention of ever tying their love to just one person. You like them, you may even love them, and you may also feel the same way about other people. Your place is not their place, your life is not their life, and that’s just the way you like it.
Pros & Cons
Independence means you can take care of yourself and possess the skills to self-motivate and self-satisfy. It can also mean you are a little inflexible, unaccommodating, hard to work with and only have the resources of one person to accomplish goals and meet challenges.
Single For Life
The one kind of LGBTQ relationship most often overlooked, possibly derided, and arguably the most important is self-love. Some singles grow so used to their lives, they prefer it. They treat themselves, trust themselves and make sure their own needs are met.
Pros & Cons
Every psyche study, ever, points out that loving yourself is the surest way to contentment and satisfaction. When you love yourself, you usually get what you want, but conversely you may be unable to let others have their way. Loving your own company trumps any validation you might get from other people.
On the flip side, some singles may think it’s impossible to get what they desire in another person, or worse, that they don’t deserve a relationship. If this is the case, the ageless wisdom of RuPaul remains correct: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
Sources: Psychology Today, Positively Sexual, Thought Catalog
This cover story appeared in Q ATLus magazine. Read the issue online here:
Pick up each new edition of QATLus at LGBTQ and allied venues around Atlanta.