I’m going to be honest with you, dear reader, and tell you that lately I’ve been questioning a lot of things. No, not those kinds of things – that’s over and done with many years ago. No, what I’ve really been questioning lately is the notion in our culture, gay or straight, of the supremacy of the romantic pair-bond.
I’m not sure I could exactly pinpoint just what it was that precipitated this crisis of faith, so to speak, other than it really culminated after I read Steven Bereznai’s book Gay And Single … Forever? Bereznai had the courage to question whether or not one really needed to be in a relationship to be happy, and I took the message to heart. I’d already been questioning the way that we are always told to look up to those couples who have been together for multiples of decades. The book helped me to solidify my feelings.
The thing is, being told to look up to long-term couples is really a bit of a scam. It’s part of this cultural reinforcement that the romantic pair-bond is the key to happiness, and it also sets up the propagation of the idea that one needs to have a significant other in order to be happy. Ergo, people who have been married for 30, 40, even 50 years, well, they must really be happy then, and we must learn their secrets if we too are to find true happiness.
But what if we’re looking at it all the wrong way? I mean, how do we know just how happy they are, 40 years into a relationship? Maybe one partner can’t stand the other one, but sticks with them “for the sake of the children.” What if they’re sleeping in separate beds, or quietly miserable and suffocating? I know one friend’s Catholic grandparents who had the separate bedroom arrangement, and when it came to their 50th anniversary, well, they didn’t want a party because they had nothing to celebrate.
And what really worries me are the people who honestly look up to these couples as some font of wisdom that they must tap into. Part of what troubles me so much is that these same people start to put their lives on hold while they wait to find “The One” before they make any major decisions that will affect their future happiness. Surely this can’t be healthy behaviour?
So just where should we be drawing inspiration? Who exactly should be our role models if we can’t look up to those couples who appear on the surface to “make it work”? I say that we start by looking at people who found happiness on their own terms – those who didn’t wait for someone else in order to find their sense of purpose or completion.
I was lucky enough to find such a role model in my more nascent years as a gay man. He’s someone who was a few years my senior, but you wouldn’t guess his age by looking at him. And he was happy, and successful even though he was single. It was a shocking concept, and to many it still is. But one thing he demonstrated to me was this: that he didn’t need to be in a relationship to be happy.
Bereznai explores this in his book. We all have a variety of relationships in our lives that are just as fulfilling – if not more so – as the idealised romantic pair-bond. And my friend was a perfect example of how this worked. He was close to his family, and had a network of friends that provided him the emotional support that he needed. He was – and still is – active in the community, especially in his local theatre scene and there is rarely a production that goes by that he doesn’t see.
There are other things too – he owns his own condo and enjoys the finer things in life. He didn’t wait to find “The One” in order to start experiencing those things. He reached a point where he said that he couldn’t count on that happening – so he did it for himself.
Even though I now live half-way across the country from him, I still think about the lessons that he imparted to me by example: that I can be single, and successful, and happy. That I don’t need a boyfriend to somehow magically complete me. That there are alternatives to the hetero-normative model that I was brought up with. Who knows if I’ll ever find a relationship that works for me. But if I don’t, at least I know that I can be happy on my own, thanks to the path my friend blazed for me.