Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage

March 9, 2011

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the relationship options that are available to us. Nancy Polikoff has a great book (and has a great review on it here if you want to know more) about how, while relationship options have expanded, laws have not adjusted, and heterosexual marriage is the relationship still privileged. While the usual arguments against hetero marriage center around allowing same-sex marriage, Polikoff suggests such expansion still limits the reality and desire of people in the US. She points out that the concept of a nuclear family consisting of husband, wife, and kids is actually a relatively recent idea, and that in the past, one simply considered everyone in their house.

With more people delaying marriage, some (like me) start to wonder what is in store for us if we happen to see marriage as outside of our personal realities? Indeed the fantasy of marriage as the Ultimate Goal is still there in my mind. Half of me is always looking out for my soulmate or the miraculous awareness of a crush to occur upon which follows basking in the imaginative happiness of whatever togetherness might look like (for me it is a marble balcony overlooking the Aegean Sea and myself all dressed in white while my lover comes from behind me to kiss my neck).

I’ve been with some incredibly sweet, trustworthy, generous, sensitive men whom would make wonderful husbands, life-partners, etc. if I only had loved them back enough. And I’ve dated enough men who were not compatible or who just left me apathetic to know that once I did find someone, I would know I could be completely committed without wondering whether there was more verdant foilage on the other side, because there is most certainly not. So I have to conclude that I question now whether that Holy Grail that is Marriage is what is really the Ultimate Happiness. And if it isn’t, does that mean I can’t develop other meaningful relationships that as fulfilling?

The thing is that as long as society marriage, it is to the detriment of all other possible ways of including the host of amazing people into life whom do not fit marriage. Female roommates room together, but with the understanding that the situation, no matter how , is temporary – one eye always on the opportunity for Happy Ever After. Asexual friends with deep spiritual connection likewise understand they have to protect their feelings to some extent so as to prepare for their True Love. Life and people many times are not savored for what it is/they are, in the moment. And people can become very lonely and depressed as a result.

How can we go about de-centering the marriage relationship (not doing away with it! but removing it of some of its authority) so as to create space to value alternative couplings, and not just “until we get married”? Films like When Harry Met Sally, Just Friends,  No Strings Attached, Just Go With It,  and Friends With Benefits make some progress. . . until the end when we find that the protagonists have to end up together. Because if they don’t, it’s not really a happy ending. In Adam, the two ultimately incompatible (for marriage) people did not end up together, but, while the end did leave open the possibility for a renewed, different type of relationship after the closing credits, ultimately, they didn’t get married, so they had to break up all possibilities of being together in another way.

Can we keep open the possibility of marriage (after all, we’ve been taught it’s the goal of everyone’s life. . . that’s a hard message to externalize) while mourning it’s certainty and privilege so that other relationships might be given the opportunity to flourished to a full, full bloom? This goes beyond the question “Can men and women be friends?” In college I learned the favorite thing in Greek to point out: there are 12 words for love, all encompassing a different nuance. There are that many and more possibilities for significant human connection. We just need to begin imagining language and constructing fantasies that encompass them.

Beyond bro-mances, of course. But that pretty already much rocks.


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