June 26, 2013, Day of Decision, a day each of us will remember most vividly – where we were, how we heard the news, how we processed the meaning and how we felt throughout the day.
I’ve just returned from a week in San Diego, celebrating my BFF’s birthday. As adult gay men – we have had a 25-plus year relationship, and getting together is like putting on a pair of comfortable old shoes. It unfolds easily. While in San Diego, everything was frenzied in preparation for Gay Pride the following weekend, and the talk about how different this Gay Pride would be because of the PROP 8 and DOMA SCOTUS decisions. Everyone is speculating, talking about equality, marriage licenses, marriage ceremonies and love. Love was heavy in the 72-degree air all week, and the conversations diverse and aplenty. Christopher, or The Good Doctor as I call my friend, and I went to The Old Globe Shakespeare Festival and sat second row center seeing The Merchant of Venice, which is also full of love, complex relationships and much speculation.
These days we tend to associate marriage with romantic love, but in Shakespeare’s day that wasn’t necessarily the case. Marriage is portrayed in several different ways in The Merchant of Venice: As a risky business venture, a mythological quest, a chance for an unhappy child to escape a father’s home, a way for a father to transmit his wealth to the man of his choosing, and even as an opportunity for two men to become more secure in their friendship. What’s even more striking about marriage is that, even though it becomes the most important relationship by the end of the play, it’s pitted against the bonds of male friendship throughout. Watching the differences between what marriage really meant, stood for, to Elizabethan England and modern day, was fascinating.
“But love is blind
and lovers cannot see
the pretty follies
that themselves commit.”
—William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice
This famous line from the play begs the question: Just because gay people can now legally resume getting married in California, along with several other states, should we be clamoring to run to the altars of the country? As gay people, is our new found freedom in marriage equality something that should be taken more slowly, more carefully, more pensively? Should we gay people be setting the gold-bar standard for a new definition, meaning and commitment of marriage – far exceeding that of our heterosexual predecessors?
I got married to my husband Douglas two years ago, September 2011, in New York City, our favorite city. It was an amazing event, an amazing day, surrounded by loved ones, sharing the marriage chambers with two longtime committed lesbian couple friends. It was indeed magical, and during the week that ensued we did have full equality, and we were fully legal, and it did change our bond and our relationship, and it felt amazing. We had also been together as a couple for 10 years prior, something I find altogether important before you enter into a marriage. Time. Yep, the most important thing you have in determining long-term success, happiness, enduring love and, most importantly, sustaining couple compatibility. There are vigorous opportunities to grow, learn, change oneself, evolve as a couple during this invaluable time that precedes a legal marriage ceremony.
Nerissa, an important secondary character wisely interprets for the majestic and merciful Portia, in The Merchant of Venice, the importance of choosing the right love.
“Never be chosen by any rightly
but one who shall rightly love.”
So who is someone who shall rightly love you? In gay marriage I would suggest it is the person with whom you have time-tested, shared life’s many experiences, loved, and deepened your love through wonderful as well as challenging phases; discovering throughout the journey your finest friend in life. It comes down to compatibility and doing the work of discovering compatibility seriously. The most obvious level of compatibility exists at the physical level. You know how it goes when you’re attracted to someone. It grabs you at a gut level and gives you a tingle of excitement the first time you see them. A rush of chemicals floods your body and you feel attracted to them. Physical attraction or compatibility is often the starter for a potential relationship. If it doesn’t exist then the two of you will probably just pass each other by without a second glance. So that’s ‘sexual chemistry.’ The next component of compatibility is ‘best friend.’
Nietzsche knowingly once said: “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
This ‘best friend’ compatibility is a little less obvious but more important later on in a relationship. One place where your chances of remaining best friends is in the area of what you value in life.
Say you value adventure. You love nothing more than exploring new, challenging areas of rarely visited parts of the planet. The partner you’ve hitched up with has one of his highest values as routine. He loves to have a routine – for work, for play, for sex! After you’re both over the initial romantic phase of your relationship you will have a major issue. One of you wants to go off exploring the world, the other wants to do the same old things over and over again. The best that can happen here is a compromise, which is going to disturb both of you. Your partner is effectively preventing you from doing one of the things that you love most in life. You’re also preventing him from fulfilling his value. Neither of you is wrong, you’re just not compatible in this particular area of your life. And this is just one compatibility value! Think of the many that need to be carefully explored and honestly discussed if you are to marry rightly. It becomes damned hard work, some choosing not to go there, because it’s time consuming and takes tremendous effort. For some it is much easier to just remain single and play the field. Both choices by the way are good choices.
Consider the following diagram as you contemplate compatibility. The hard work in gay relationships is compatibility work, and it exists in that sweet spot in the center of this diagram. If you are willing to do the work, you will arrive at the best possible marriage.
The sweet (est) spot is in the middle; other combinations are good too, depending on what you are looking for. I am honestly not judging, but sincerely trying to figure out why this is so difficult for so many in queer relationships to understand?
Here are several important initial forms of compatibility to explore in your relationship, before you leap into marriage.
1. Personality Compatibility: Do you really get along, or find that you are silently irritated with the other person’s personality? Do one or both of you find yourselves uptight a majority of the time you are together? Think about if and how you will handle difficult days. Personality is a very important factor, and the most difficult to change, and only you can make the changes, your partner cannot.
2. Communication Compatibility: Are you direct or indirect? Does one of you do all the talking? Is one of you the silent type? Look at your conversations. Decide if they flow, and if they are enjoyable for both of you. Do you collectively find sustainable solutions?
3. Friends and Family Compatibility: Do you get along with one another’s friends and family, or is this a source of stress for your relationship? Stress for you, your partner, or both of you?
4. Health and Nutrition Compatibility: Are you a health food nut or a junk food junkie? Is the only exercise you get channel surfing? Look to see if your physical lifestyles match or not.
5. Financial Compatibility: Are you generous or frugal with your money? How is your partner with their finances? Money is one of the things couples fight about most often. If you share similar financial goals and means, this can be very helpful.
6. Educational Compatibility: Some studies have found that educational and world experience compatibility are important to many couples. People tend to feel the most comfortable with others who share similar life experiences, professional opportunities, and world views.
7. Intimate Compatibility: Ideas for romance, intimacy and closeness come into play here. Having a mismatched style can lead to resentments and have a long-term effect on your love life together.
Honest, enduring connection comes down to compatibility–I sincerely believe that. Compatibility and what you are each individually or as a couple willing to endure or establish as your relationship norms. However marriage is a huge decision, and I’d advocate spending that valuable time together and doing the hard work before you legally plunge. Compatibility!
“Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?” William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice.