Love On The Margins of Society: New York State did it. They legalized same-sex marriage on Friday, becoming the sixth state in the country to do so, and the largest. The significance for same-sex couples who have endured loving on the margins of society’s approval is enormous. For some, civil unions may be sufficient or preferred. The French more and more are turning towards civil unions. But Americans are a fairly traditional group and sanctioned love still has its allure.
Something More: A gay male couple, with whom I have worked for several years, captures the meaning of this moment for many. They had a long-standing relationship, shared a home and were deeply involved with each other’s families, including the daughter of one of them, yet struggling at times with whether the commitment was truly solid. The themes were no different from heterosexual couples; both working too much, not enough quality time together, difficulty communicating feelings, family of origin issues, sexual chasms. The sessions were similar as well; setting aside time to be together, developing greater empathy and understanding, avoiding triangles, working on the sexual disconnect. But with one difference: their alliance resided in a sort of limbo. What exactly was it? Two males hanging out under one roof, sharing mortgage payments and meals? Or something more?
Permission To Be Normal: Then a critical impasse occurred and an emergency session was called. The couple came in and once again reiterated what was not working, with greater urgency than ever as someone was about to jump ship. As with many couples today, their visits with me were infrequent, using work demands as the rational for the customary avoidance of things that make us anxious, such as dealing with Coupledom issues. After some preliminary exploration, what emerged was one of the partner’s deep hurt at feeling neglected and taken for granted, which up until that point, had been expressed only as anger, and once translated into the pain at the base of the anger, a tenderness and caring emerged between the pair. That was all. Except for one added piece.
An Old Married Couple: When the usual panoply of coupledom inertia unfolded in the session, I threw out that they sounded like any old married couple, at that crossroads of familiarity and stale repetition, and that they needed to energize the relationship with some joint creativity and stimulation. What I didn’t know was that this interjection was the pivot that turned the process in a new direction.
A New Day: Months later I received an invitation to their wedding reception. I was floored. I had no idea they were even thinking of marrying. It never came up in the sessions at all, though the state of Connecticut legalized same sex marriage in 2008. Off to the reception I go, gift in hand. Therapists are not generally invited to or even approve of attending patients’ milestones but this was one that I wouldn’t miss. After the warm greetings, one of the partners whispered to me, “It was you, you are the reason we did this.” Me? Well indirectly perhaps, as the therapist. No, more simple than that. “When you said we were just like any old married couple, that did it! ” Wow! So there you have it. What meant the most to both was that their love was just like anyone else’s and their right to sanction it, equally so.
Permission To Love: For my couple, the words “like any old married couple” permitted them to take their love to next the place, legitimizing the bond. As New York’s Governor Cuomo was heard saying to someone “Their love is worth the same as your love,” Pow!
Who Judges Love Anyway? In conversations the world around, people ponder what is behind the love and marriage choices of others. “How could she marry him?” “What does he see in her?” “How have these two stayed together all these years?” Who judges the love between two people? The new term out there is marriage equality; equality is the operative term. How you treat your partner is at the heart of the alliance of two souls. Nothing else should matter. Nothing else really does matter. Hopefully our society is figuring that out, slowly but surely. Fingers crossed.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011