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Gay Men, Marriage & Friendship

One reason I have a great deal of difficulty taking seriously most (but not all) gay marriage activists (particularly those of my sex) is that they are loath to discuss the emotional significance/meaning of the institution.  And as I study male psychology, I wonder that it often takes a woman (or a child, or combination thereof) to activate the nurturing aspects of our psyche that seem to come more naturally to women, aspects essential for developing enduring relationships.

To be sure, there are some men who seem to have already internalized those “feminine” qualities.

Several years back, I had an e-mail exchange with a leading advocate for state recognition of same-sex marriage.  He practically bristled at my questions about his failure to address monogamy in the conversation on expanding the definition of this ancient institution.  He simply could not (refused to?) see the link between sexual fidelity and emotional intimacy, how that ideal deepens the bond between the two individuals in a marriage.

Indeed, at those meetings on gay marriage, I found that those most willing to point out that monogamy was an (essential) aspect of marriage were (almost*) always women.

Look, I realize these thoughts may seem kind of random, but because of several serendipitous circumstances on my cross country journey coupled with thoughts about my dissertation — and how Athena’s relationship with Tiresias (this paragon of wisdom to the ancient Greeks being the only individual who had lived as both a man an a woman) fits in — has got me thinking about this yet again.

I fear sometimes we men don’t work at developing emotional relationships with other men.  That so visual and physical is our sex drive, we don’t want to consider the emotional consequences of infidelity.**  This is not to say that men don’t achieve emotional intimacy, indeed, many do.  But, they’re not the ones at the forefront of the movement for state recognition of same-sex marriage.

As one young friend of mine put it, none (or few) of the (male) leaders of that movement (and by that, he referred broadly to the national gay organizations as well as those advocates focusing specifically on marriage) are in long-term relationships.

Look, this is not exactly the post I wanted to write.  For now, however, I hope it does serve to get at least some of you thinking about the issue–and sparking a serious conversation about this important topic, a topic which is very much not a political one.


*I put the word, “almost” in quotation marks because as I write this, save for the questions I asked, I can’t recall another man ever raising the issue in the numerous panel discussions I have attended.  But maybe one did.

**We are more ready (and willing) to act on our sexual impulses than our women and seem better able at detaching the emotional aspects for the physical “stimulation.”  (I realize this thought needs to be developed–and has been elsewhere.)



  1. I fear sometimes we men don’t work at developing emotional relationships with other men. That so visual and physical is our sex drive, we don’t want to consider the emotional consequences of infidelity.

    Not sure I see the connection you mean. Yes, the male sex drive is visual and more surface-oriented than the female. But I don’t think that is what causes men (gay or otherwise) to not develop emotional relationships or “consider the emotional consequences of infidelity”. Men are perfectly capable of those things, and men who avoid those things, avoid them by choice (not biology).

    few) of the (male) leaders of that movement (and by that, he referred broadly to the national gay organizations as well as those advocates focusing specifically on marriage) are in long-term relationships.

    I haven’t done a count, so don’t necessarily take that at face value. But to me, “national gay organizations” means Gay Left. If we’re talking Gay Left, then yes: since they have adopted the cause of gay marriage, they’ve made themselves its most visible advocates and, being Gay Left, they are less likely to understand marriage or “live it”. No great surprise.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — June 25, 2010 @ 6:02 pm - June 25, 2010

  2. (continued) OTOH, or ATST, I would not want to hint at any kind of litmus test around it. It leads quickly to the “chickenhawk slur”. Old-timers will remember what I mean by that: the idea that one must have served in the military to have an opinion on war, that one must be a teacher to have an opinion on education policy, etc. I would disagree that one must be married to have an opinion on State marriage-licensing policy. (Which is what we’re talking about, with gay marriage.) And would point out the two edges of the blade: many gay marriage *opponents* are unmarried.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — June 25, 2010 @ 6:13 pm - June 25, 2010

  3. ILC, I get your criticism. I do think a transitional sentence or two (or three) is needed between the first and second sentences in the passage you quote above.

    May add something in a later date when I can better focus on this issue.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — June 25, 2010 @ 6:14 pm - June 25, 2010

  4. after 64 years bob and henrey get married

    Comment by rusty — June 25, 2010 @ 6:33 pm - June 25, 2010

  5. Is it too rude to suggest that gay marriage is all about the money, or should be? My partner of 38 years and I were very fortunate to work up from nothing to having some decent assets (partly by sticking together) however no state law domestic partnership would prevent the federal estate tax from taking half our collective assets when one of us dies. Only unequivocal “marriage” allows the surviving spouse to retain their collective assets un-molested until their death. While the exemption means this is a problem for only a small percentage of the population it’s still a pretty gross discrimination between straight couples and gay couples who might otherwise be considered some form of equal on the state level without marriage.

    Comment by ken — June 25, 2010 @ 7:25 pm - June 25, 2010

  6. I’m not sure I follow you. My partner and I are completely emotionally attached and committed. Sure, there’s the sexual attraction we have for each other, but the emotional commitment very strong. I have friends who have been together for many years, and it seems they are as emotionally committed as any hetero couple. We are hoping Olson and his team will prevail so we can enjoy the same benefits of marriage that our hetero friends have. Perhaps I’m misreading what you are saying.

    Comment by Man — June 25, 2010 @ 7:41 pm - June 25, 2010

  7. I think the issue of emotional and sexual monogamy is an important one. As gay men, we were not given role models, either publicly or privately to show us what healthy same sex relationships can be like. Heterosexual children and adolescents have rituals and norms around their relationships and seeing healthy heterosexual couples (i.e. prom, engagements, weddings). There are traditions, rituals, media depictions of positive straight couples in long term relationships. However, gay men don’t have those types of norms, rituals, or depictions on tv or movies – we have to create them for ourselves. How many of us can identify a list of gay male couples who are role models for us in our lives? I know that there are many gay couples who have strong monogomous relationships and have been together for many years. However, we need to do better as a community of creating healthy relationships. We get scared anytime something is not “perfect” or “right” within a romantic relationship, so then we step outside of our relationships and seekk “fulfillment” elsewhere. Also, we don’t talk enough in our community about fostering healthy friendships between gay men, let alone romantic relationships. How do we form positive, mutually fulfilling friendships with other gay men….especially without drama? While I support legalization of same sex couples and the rights and benefits that come along with that, I don’t think we need legal recognition in order for us to talk about what it means to have healthy romantic relationships. Is monogamy for everyone or every couple? Probably not. I think it is for each man and each couple to determine his/their needs. The key is honesty and getting to know ourselves and what we need/want.

    Comment by Michael — June 25, 2010 @ 7:42 pm - June 25, 2010

  8. This is an interesting post from my POV. I’ve a lot of friends of both genders (and orientations) but with two notable exceptions, my friendships with women (straight and gay) are often stronger.

    While I’ve no romantic attachments to men to compare with, I do find that my friendships with women can confuse others. Lots of people can’t see how I can be so close to women w/o wanting to ‘bag ’em’.

    Guess I’m just saying that monogamy is a conscious choice for men, and it is not an easy one. But part of being a Man, and not a Child is keeping to a commitment once made.
    (yes I know, ‘says the twice divorced guy’)

    Comment by The_Livewire — June 25, 2010 @ 8:42 pm - June 25, 2010

  9. Man, first of all, seems you and your partner are among those men who do achieve emotional intimacy, but as I put it in the post, aren’t “at the forefront of the movement for state recognition of same-sex marriage.”

    I guess my point is that your relationship seems to be the exception rather than the rule, but that I wish it were the rule not the exception. And that the conversation on gay marriage should focus on what we need to do to make that the rule. But, advocates of gay marriage (the male ones at least) just aren’t talking about that.

    Am I making myself any clearer?

    Given your comment and that of ILC, do think I need to devote more time to this issue.

    Thanks for chiming in and indicating your confusion.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — June 25, 2010 @ 8:52 pm - June 25, 2010

  10. The point about the role models: I just learned that 1 couple at my church has been together over 40 years (yay for them!); the neighbors up the street are pushing 35, I think.

    Yet, through the (mostly GLBT) chorus, the (mostly gay) church, PRIDE and other events, these folks are not out leading the parade, they’re quietly sitting home in their quiet intimacy. Those who partner up, and stay partnered, quietly withdraw from the party-and-bar circuit.

    Much to the detriment of the gay community.

    Comment by Jax Dancer — June 25, 2010 @ 9:30 pm - June 25, 2010

  11. Dan, Have you given any consideration to the hetero coupledom and the challenges women present of the issue of men being unavailable emotionally. Look at this little factor of the bio role of men. Spread the seed. It is part of the ‘programming’. and it falls into both the programming of gay, bi, and straight men.

    But the other side of it, is that, men can and do make committments with their parnters, be it men or women. But it is something that must be encouraged, modeled, supported and nurtured.

    My life is filled with couples who have had long-standing, fulfilling relationships. My parents are celebrating 60 years. One of the first gay couples that I met back in the 80s are celebrating their 40 year anniversary.

    Comment by rusty — June 25, 2010 @ 9:41 pm - June 25, 2010

  12. I think it is the personality or social psychology of men and women. Most or all women tend to express more tender emotions and sensitivity than men. Both genders have the potential to be in committed relationships, depending on the individuals themselves.

    And I do believe that having GAY MEN in long-term, mutual relationships (married or not) as role models in the “marriage equality” movement would be a powerful image to see and can change hearts and minds gradually. Because of the social stereotypes about men – especially gay men – of being very promiscuous and insensitive, it IS an unnecessary burden. So gay men, as well as straight men, need to prove that they really love the person of their choice in order to break those stereotypes about the male gender.

    A lot of Americans still define a Marriage as between a human adult male and female. So both gay men and lesbian women need to prove the why and how about Marriage. Americans view Marriage in a legal (rule of law), religious (its ordained by God), and personal (as explained above) perspective.

    Comment by Totakikay — June 25, 2010 @ 10:53 pm - June 25, 2010

  13. Dan, I appreciate your comments and perhaps note a bit of frustration . I’m wondering if perhaps the delimma for gays is that for most of history gays have been forced to be underground wherein we’ve developed a subculture of covert sex. Now that we can finally emerge into the daylight, it may be confusing at first for us. Now we find we don’t have to settle for covert sex, but with our newfound freedom, we as gays really haven’t found our way into meaningful intimate and monogamous relationships. I believe we will. I hope we will. My partner and I are “desperately monogamous”, faithful and in love. Several other gay couples are in the same situation. One couple has been together for over 33 years. Another for 16 years. Just as in hetero marriages, it takes commitment, forgiveness, and honesty. You won’t often find us in the gay clubs. We are more often than not just average suburban couples who go about our lives just as our neighbors do. I wish all my fellow gays the best in their personal journeys to find total commitment with another.

    Comment by Man — June 25, 2010 @ 11:58 pm - June 25, 2010

  14. And I agree with you and with ILC re leadership toward recognition of gay marriage. ILC correctly states the gay left is more often found leading the movement. You show your frustration that other couples aren’t in the forefront of the movement. True also.
    Maybe it’s because our sexuality is only a part of who we are as American citizens and human beings. We have jobs, take trips, work in the yards, just the normal lives others, gay and heteros, do.
    The left seems all about their transient causes. We are all about our lives.
    Maybe we are selfish. Maybe we should be more active. I see the right to marry the person of my choice as a fundamental God-given and Constitutional right and hope the Olson team will prevail. Others believe we should work through the states. We agree on the goal.

    Comment by Man — June 26, 2010 @ 12:32 am - June 26, 2010

  15. Is it too rude to suggest that gay marriage is all about the money, or should be?

    That seems to be a fair question when most of what you hear is pissing and moaning about “marriage” for the bennies.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — June 26, 2010 @ 4:17 am - June 26, 2010

  16. I personally have only known one gay couple who had been together for longer than three years.

    I cannot speak towards the emotional connectedness of a male couple, and although women tend to have a more visceral emotional connection, commitment is still a struggle in the lesbian community. I say this because lesbian relationships tend to be based on a need to have a relationship rather than working towards a relationship. It does not matter what community, this is relevant in all, but women seek an emotional connection and when found, tend to rush the relationship believing that love is the foundation, when the foundation tends to be the idea of love and a need for acceptance.

    It is hard for me to take the gay community seriously about marriage when I have yet to personally see a happily committed couple. I know that they exist, and that my comment may offend some individuals, but if I as a lesbian do not see it, how is the rest of America supposed to see it?

    Comment by Holly — June 26, 2010 @ 4:18 am - June 26, 2010

  17. My wife and I hit a few patches along the way to our nearly five decades of fidelity, monogamy and commitment to make the marriage last. I did not continue to read the menu and flirt around with other women and she dedicated herself to her role of wife and mother and partner and friend.

    The whole chemistry things is a mystery which the experts have yet to work out. It is not going to be altered by a pill or stem cells.

    Oscar Levant, the child prodigy, once said that marriage is the triumph of habit over hate. I agree. You really do have to develop the habit of marriage and you have to make the stuff that irritates you into mole-hills instead of mountains.

    My wife and I would not be married if we were not faithful to each other and the many things that bind us together. I have lived in the same neighborhood for forty years along with many people who have lived there nearly as long. No divorces. I guess it must be Mayberry. The several gay couples have been boringly committed and unremarkable. Like us, they just grow older together.

    Comment by heliotrope — June 26, 2010 @ 6:28 am - June 26, 2010

  18. Ever since college, I’ve strongly felt that one reason so many gay men are so dysfunctional is the inability to experience male bonding. I think being able to bond with other men, and not have that emotional attachment confused by feelings of attraction, is essential to a healthy male psyche.

    Comment by V the K — June 26, 2010 @ 8:58 am - June 26, 2010

  19. One of the most helpful things I got from reparative therapy was the understanding of the importance of male bonding. It was important to learn how to be friends with men and not see them as merely suppliers for my emotional and sexual needs. I learned how men interact, and I was able to get some of the masculine affirmation I never got from my father.

    Reparative therapy also allowed me a space where I could talk honestly about my experiences in the gay community without having to defend gay mythology. I was able to say that gays were not into monogamy, that there was a lack of any kind of commitment in gay relationships, and that it was mostly about sexual adventures with multiple partners. I was able to move on from that to develop my own values which did not need support from the gay community–which was good, since most of the gays I met called me “self-loathing” since I didn’t want to have sex outside of a lifelong, sexually exclusive relationship.

    I was also able to develop a masculine self-image, to learn to see myself as fully male. Being a man is a good thing.

    Reparative therapy addresses many of the issues raised on this thread. While it won’t stop you from being gay, it helps in other areas. I would say the solution for the gay community is for everyone to undergo reparative therapy. You’ll still be gay, but you’ll be a much better man.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — June 26, 2010 @ 1:42 pm - June 26, 2010

  20. ” I was also able to develop a masculine self-image, to learn to see myself as fully male. Being a man is a good thing”

    ASH, your comments are revealing. I applaud your willingness to comment on your perceptions.

    Yes Ash, being a man is a good thing. I’m sorry you ever doubted your masculinity.

    As for myself and my gay friends, our masculinity has never been an issue. We celebrate our masculinity! Yep, some even celebrate other’s masculinity . . . . .

    I can’t speak for others, but my own experience has shown that being attracted to the same sex is not necessarily because of a self-perception of a lack of one’s own masculinity.

    The thread is not about our own self-doubts however; it’s about gay friendship and marriage, and leadership.

    Comment by Man — June 26, 2010 @ 2:26 pm - June 26, 2010

  21. Here you go V some military bonding

    Comment by rusty — June 26, 2010 @ 3:06 pm - June 26, 2010

  22. To move into a successful gay marriage, or male friendship, or be a leader, I think you need to have a good masculine self-image. I’ve found that none of these goals can be reached if you are part of a toxic, shame-based subculture whose goal is to overturn traditional sexual roles and undermine absolute moral values. Reparative therapy was, for me, a first step out of that negative part of the gay community, and I think many gays would benefit from it.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — June 26, 2010 @ 6:03 pm - June 26, 2010

  23. I’ve strongly felt that one reason so many gay men are so dysfunctional is the inability to experience male bonding. I think being able to bond with other men, and not have that emotional attachment confused by feelings of attraction, is essential to a healthy male psyche.

    I’m not sure if inability is the correct term here, since I believe that male-bonding “skills” can be learned and developed.

    But I would say, instead, that (stereo)typical gay-male culture often does a poor job at fostering male bonding, insofar as it fails to value physical contact sports and combative sports and encourages gay men to view the other 90+% of the male population (i.e., straight men) as either hostile aliens or as “trade” fetish-objects.

    Yes, I’m aware there are gay-organized rugby teams that welcome straight players and compete in mainstream, straight-dominated rugby leagues (for example), but I see this kind of thing as something of an anomaly within gay-male culture as a whole.

    Comment by Throbert McGee — June 26, 2010 @ 6:35 pm - June 26, 2010

  24. is the inability to experience male bonding.

    Well, I tried to get Javi interested in power tools. Whenever we go to Homo-Depot, he immediately turns toward the garden center. He likes the Crepe Myrtles, I like the DeWalt & Makita. He dreams of a gazebo, I dream of a Generac.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — June 26, 2010 @ 7:27 pm - June 26, 2010

  25. I think this is more about the author’s inability to find gay men capable of male emotional attachment and willing to trust him enough to discuss it. You can also find them amongst straights.

    Comment by Argent — June 26, 2010 @ 10:40 pm - June 26, 2010

  26. Ken, I understart you are saying if you were married it would prevent the federal estate (death) tax from taking half of your assets. After being married for 47 years it was necessary for me to meet with my lawyer to get all the paper work done after my wife died., After we got done, he said,”There is one more thing. You owe the federal govt over half million. It was a great shock to me because I would have had to sell my home. But I did not have to pay the money because he knew of a loop hole. So if it is money that you are concerned about get a good lawyer. It cheaper than getting married.

    Comment by John W — June 26, 2010 @ 11:58 pm - June 26, 2010

  27. As a married man, I would think gay bonding would be more assumed that not since the thing about male and female is “a train that will never meet.” Men and women experience emotions differently. That’s why I don’t believe in soul mates.

    Also, in general, women do not appreciate men who emote. Although they say they would like men to be more emotional, they actually do not like it and cannot understand it.

    However, marriage between men and women is strengthened with a child. The nuturing can increase their emotional bonding through children. Both the male and the female instincts are brought to the forefront for each person.

    Gays probably never have to deal with female emotions. The opportunity was never presented. They also never dealt with stiffling themselves in a way that married men do. Women bring forth lots of experiences that make life interesting.

    Comment by Anon387823 — June 27, 2010 @ 1:37 am - June 27, 2010

  28. After we got done, he said,”There is one more thing. You owe the federal govt over half million.

    Hmmm. Makes one think that the GayLeftBorg have fetish of getting ass raped by Uncle Sugar.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — June 27, 2010 @ 5:25 am - June 27, 2010

  29. When Marge Simpson was trying to explain a gay relative, she said, “He prefers the company of men.”

    Homer said, “Who doesn’t?”

    That says it all.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — June 27, 2010 @ 1:35 pm - June 27, 2010

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