DISCLAIMER: What you are about to read may cause discomfort for some. Please recall my first post, in which I explained that my philosophy as a Professor is to offer ideas for consideration, not absolute truth. Take my opinion, mull on it, ponder it, chew on it, and then come to your own conclusions.
As a general rule, we in the human population tend to believe in ourselves. When we attempt something, we expect that it will succeed. A runner who enters a marathon expects to finish the race. A theatre company expects to put on a great show. Even when we play the lottery, something inside us really thinks we'll win! I think it is wonderful, this confidence and optimism that we as a people group tend to have. What disappoints me, however, is that this trend does not extend into the one area where I believe it most needs to be: our relationships.
It seems to be a rare thing these days to see a couple who stays together. Even on our favorite television show, The L Word, there doesn't appear to be a single couple with a chance of making it! More importantly, in real life, our relationships aren't permanent. A year, two years, maybe even five - but then something happens: an affair, a big fight, lesbian bed death, or simply a desire for change, and then this relationship that has had time, money, emotions, and lives invested into it, is over. Those of you who have been through this know how difficult it is, and how scary it can be to start over and try again. The thing is, though, it seems like we typically expect relationships to fail. We go into relationships quickly, based on little more than possibility or opportunity. We know that it probably won't last, but don't really care.
Why is this bad, you may ask? What's the problem with enjoying relationships while they last and then moving on? Well, I just think it's hard on our hearts. We become jaded, hard-hearted, and less capable of being vulnerable and real with each other, which, in turn, hampers intimacy. And isn't that what a lover is? The one person with whom we are intimately tied, the one place where we are safe to be ourselves? Not only that, but staying with one person and one person only is good for you! It increases life expectancy and quality of life and a host of other things. You can read here and here and many other places I'm sure about the benefits of monogamy and long term commitment. Basically, it's good for your health and your emotional well-being, and it's good for families and communities. Ideally, in love, we are looking for a partner - someone to do life with. It requires time, growth, and work, which can be daunting, especially if we feel we must do it over and over again - but the reward is worth it.
I realize there is a bitter element to this discussion in that we as a people group are still denied the freedom to marry and make that lifelong commitment. However, I do believe things will be changing in the near political future, and I also think that it doesn't much matter what other people think - we can still choose to have the kind of relationships that are best for us. You know what else? It might even help the cause, if we can show that in spite of discrimination, we still value the idea of marriage, more so than the heterosexual community at times. A columnist by the name of William Saletan wrote an excellent article about gay covenant marriage - choosing the kind of life-long commitment that straight couples are failing to maintain every day. It's something worth considering.
You know, I have not always been a member of this fantastic community of lesbians. I was a card-carrying breeder for a large portion of my life. This gives me a unique insight into both groups of people, and I can tell you that this phenomenon plagues not just the lesbian community, but our entire generation. So many young couples approach romantic relationships with the idea that once it has served its purpose, or once it becomes difficult, then it is finished and it's time to give up. The goes for gay couples, straight couples, and everyone in between. It's funny - many outspoken conservatives and right-wingers like to blame homosexuality for the high divorce rate and the breakdown of the family. My thoughts? It's the expectation of failure.
When I wrote "our generation" in the above paragraph, I was referring largely to the under-40 age group. See, the curious discovery for me was the different viewpoint that many in the "wiser" generation have. I spoke to several older lesbians who informed me that they still expect relationships to last forever. One woman (who told me she had celebrated over twenty five 21st birthdays) said that she had been with her current partner for 5 years, and fully expected to spend the rest of her life with that woman. She confessed, though, that she felt the same about her previous partner, with whom she shared 13 years. It is even visible among the gay community. Just last weekend at church, we honored two men who were celebrating their 35 year anniversary.
So what happened between that generation and ours, that we've gone from "till death do us part" to something resembling "till we don't want to anymore"? Use divorce as a search query on Google and you will be inundated with theories on that; I have a few myself. Rather than dwell on the past, though, I think we should focus more on changing our expectations and our behaviors, so that we can begin to reverse the trend. We should support and encourage couples in our community. We should throw them showers when they have weddings or civil unions. We should honor their anniversaries and other milestones. We should have a little bit of faith in the strength of our hearts to endure difficult times and expect success in this are of our lives as well.