How do we define these? It is getting more complicated now that a marriage is no longer regarded as necessarily a life-long relationship between a man and a woman. In the UK we now also have gay marriages and civil partnerships. Some last for life, some don’t, some continue after death, mine does. It is a different sort of relationship of course, not a physical one, but it is said that true soul mates are bound together for eternity.
So what is a marriage or partnership all about? Young people often make the mistake of thinking it is all about sex. What a laugh, if you think that you’ve fallen at the first hurdle, and it is no wonder so many marriages and partnerships end in divorce. Sexual attraction is fleeting and we all lose our looks relatively quickly. Even if we don’t, is it natural to be monogamous all one’s life? Well many people are, but many aren’t, again look at the divorce rate, and the business drummed up by what are now called ‘escorts’ of both sexes, or more straightforwardly ‘sex workers’.
In the eyes of religion marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman for the procreation of children. So why are so many heterosexual couples starting families without bothering to get married? Probably partly because traditional weddings are so expensive, young couples have other priorities like finding a home, and once they have a family they can’t afford anything but a cheap registry office affair. Also the commitment for life is scary. I’ve know of couples who were together for years, then got married and separated within months.
Sexual attraction may be how young people get together initially, but if that is all the marriage or partnership is based on it is doomed to failure. The sexual aspect is usually the first to fade. However attractive your partner is, years of having sex with the same person surely gets boring, and once you’ve been together for many years and maybe have a family, well it’s almost incestual! That might seem an odd remark to make, but I’m speaking largely as an outsider as I’ve never had a life-long monogamous relationship; none of the gay couples I knew had such relationships, they all ‘played around’. The idea of some of the couples I knew having sex together was laughable!
I had a life-partner, we were together 21 years till he passed to Spirit in 1991. This was long before civil partnerships or gay marriages in UK so it was never formalized apart from an exchange of rings. Poles apart politically and culturally at first, somehow we clicked and grew closer together. We shared so many interests over the two decades or so we were together on Earth, traveling much of it, going to the theater, the cinema, holding parties. The sexual thing faded very quickly, and never really got off the ground. You could say we were sexually incompatible, but that did not really matter as we were soul mates. We went on demonstrations and got arrested together as our politics soon melded into a liberal Socialist pacifism. Had the partnership depended on sex to keep it going it wouldn’t have lasted probably even one year.
Now this is where gay men (I can’t speak for lesbians) in the past at least, differ from heterosexuals. We ‘played around’. That is to say, we were never monogamous. The question never arose. Nobody, in those days, expected us to be monogamous, why should they? They didn’t recognize our relationship – the council even gave us two bedrooms to emphasize the point! Two adults of the same sex had to have a two-bedroom apartment. There was no social obligation to be monogamous, rather the very opposite. Because homosexuality was totally illegal in my teens and very early 20s, the gay scene was so underground and secret I never even knew it existed, therefore I was a virgin until well into my 20s.
Because gay men were illegal, they had to meet furtively, anonymously in secret places. Except for the very rich and powerful, it was almost impossible for two gay men to live together. If you rented accommodation and the landlord found out you slept with men you would be evicted. Didn’t matter if it was one man for life or a different man every night, it was all totally illegal (lesbians, however, were never illegal, reportedly because Queen Victoria thought women would never get up to such nonsense!)
What is true, of course, is children need a stable family relationship. They also ideally need role models of both sexes. So this modern idea of gay couples adopting children, or one of the partners begetting them and then both partners raising them, immediately faces this problem – how to provide a role model of the opposite gender to the adoptive parents? The obvious thing is the biological father in the case of a lesbian couple, and the birth-mother in the case of a gay male couple. This does not mean a menage a trois, but it does mean, ideally, regular access to the biological father or birth-mother. That is my view anyway, and I speak as an offspring of a one-parent family and know how damaging the absence of a male role model can be.
So whether partners are monogamous or not, arrangements can be made to provide a stable background in which to raise families. These can be as varied as the imagination allows. I think of hippie free love communes, for instance, where children are bought up collectively. More likely it would involve the children living with the couple, and if the parents have sex with other poeple it is kept outside the family home.
However marriage and partnerships are not all about procreation. If it were the world would be even more over-populated than it is already. It is not even all about sex, and if every time a guy climaxed a baby resulted, we really would have population problems. So that one goes right out the window (not literally of course – into a condom!)
Marriage and partnerships are about soul mates and real love, and they need not even be confined to two people. I’ve not had personal experience of this, but it is possible to have three or more people in partnership, we’re back to the hippie free love commune image again! Usually, however, it is difficult enough to cope with one live-in partner, even if you play around with others casually. Partnership or marriage is hard work and involves give and take, compromises, adjustments of all sorts. Two poeple can often work it out, with three or more it becomes very difficult if not impossible.
I think if people really are soul mates and love each other, then ideally it should be for life and even beyond. However we often make the wrong choice or something goes wrong, and couples break up. This has happened to me and to many others, including of course my own parents.
The crucial thing is to either have common interests or to work at developing them, and not to worry too much about sex. The sex thing is usually what destroys marriages and partnerships. Does it really matter if there are sexual relations outside the partnership if both partners are free to do this and take sensible precautions?
My partner used to be what is now called an escort and swore blind that prostitutes, of both sexes, saved many a marriage. Sex workers, if they are any good at their job, fulfil fantasies, and do things partners would often never do. This was certainly true of my relatonship. I could never, ever have fulfilled the fantasies my partner had, and he agreed it would be impossible for these fantasties to be fulfilled within a steady relationship. I was quite happy for him to pay someone to handcuff him, whip him or whatever else he was into; a dominant S&M master was something I could never be. At best it would have changed the whole nature of our relationship, but he agreed this scene worked best when taken outside the loving relationship.
We had a house rule – never to flaunt sexual partners in front of each other, to restrict such playtimes and, if we started to get emotionally involved with someone, to end it immediately. Sticking to these rules, it worked. Other couples must make their own rules. The Christian church does not have a monopoly on this.
Marriage and partnerships, in short, are what people want them to be. But it is important to formally register them so the other partner or partners have full rights to hospital visits and if one of the partners dies, as is bound to happen sooner or later. This is the very thing we were denied, and though it didn’t cause big problems because we had made Wills out and had a joint tenancy, it does mean I now have no official status as a widower. Nevertheless I am a widower and will say so on all official forms whether they like it or not! We loved and cared for eachother in sickness and in health for over 20 years, so what else could I be but widowed when he passed to Spirit, even though we do keep in touch and he lets me know he’s still looking out for me.