Recently, my partner and I conducted a marriage experiment: we decided to live apart for an indefinite amount of time, while still seeing each other regularly, but without the pressure of a shared household.
And, in case this sounds nuts, let me clarify a few things: we’ve been together for 12 years, we have no children and we’re the nomadic sort, i.e. pretty open to change.
The hardest part about this?
It wasn’t spending the night alone (that was blissful, actually), but telling our mutual friends what we were doing. Immediately there were ‘sides’ and rumors and who knows what (we just ignored most of it). Most people were supportive, but they were saddened by this split (granted, we may have encouraged the idea that we were splitting up—it just seemed easier to explain it that way).
The curious part? This reaction was exclusive to my heterosexual friends.
My gay friends? “Oh!” they said, “You’re just in a gay marriage. We totally understand that.”
Now this was illuminating.
(Disclaimer: I am in no way saying that gay marriages are more or less exclusive or committed than straight marriages; this is just an opinion shared by one friend in such a relationship).
As explained by one of my gay friends (and paraphrased by me): “There is no illusion in my marriage; we both know that one person cannot be everything to another. We have independent lives, occasionally independent loves, but what makes marriage work is that we’re best friends—that, in the end, we always come home to each other.”
This is the definition of a healthy marriage: we cannot be everything to one person.
Perhaps my hetero friends—who are involved in a brand of marriage that is steeped in all these traditions we had no hand in making—feel guilty about this? (And why that is, is another article entirely).
I know I did.
I tried and tried to be everything to my partner, but it’s impossible. His needs extend beyond me and mine beyond him. He’s my best friend in the world and for that reason, this separation experiment was successful.
Now, do gay people have a different definition of love than straight people? No, not any more than one person’s definition differs from another’s.
But as another friend said (and, again, paraphrased): “People already look at our relationship as ‘outside the norm,’ so we can define it however we like.”
Is their marriage “different” than ours? Of course not. The gay community, in fighting for the right to marry, has had the opportunity to examine the institution, to deconstruct it and to re-introduce it to those of us who have taken it for granted.
We all, no matter our sexual or romantic identifications, benefit from that examination. All marriages are alike—gay or straight—in that we can choose how to define love.
That’s no one’s business but our own.
My husband and I are back in the same house now, by the way.
But let me tell you—that month on our own was the most creative, inspiring and self-discovering period of our entire marriage. We’re better for it. We’ve stripped illusion from our partnership and can see each other for who we are once again—just like we did 12 years ago.
The love you begin with is not and cannot be the love you end up with, twelve years down the road.
It evolves, you evolve, your partner evolves (that’s the tricky bit, isn’t it?) and you need to accept those changes. Talk about them, take a trip on your own, find independence.
Because marriage was not meant to be a contract of complete exclusivity (and I’m not just talking about sex, here; the parameters of your partnership are your business).
Everyone needs a life of their own.
Marriage isn’t about two people and one life, it’s about choosing to share those independent lives, together.
Ed: Bryonie Wise
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