Marriage Isn’t for Everyone

Given the prominence of the ongoing campaign for same-sex marriage, I feel obligated to remind people that you do not have to find a partner and, as they say, "settle down" in order to have a full and satisfying life. You can have a full and satisfying life as a single male-that is, as a bachelor.

Not so long ago, men worked 48 to 60 hours a week and needed a partner to do the laundry, cook meals, and in general run the household. But toward the end of the 19th century, institutions developed that allowed single men to live easier lives. Rooming houses and YMCAs offered housing, boarding houses, cafeterias and automats offered inexpensive food. This whole phenomenon is recaptured in a fascinating book, The Age of the Bachelor, by Howard P. Chudacoff. At the same time, many men moved to cities to find companionship, safety and independence; many of these men were doubtless gay.

Nowadays, modern analogues of those institutions continue to exist. Many apartment buildings provide laundry facilities, nearby restaurants offer inexpensive meals, grocery stores sell a wide variety of "heat and serve" frozen foods and their deli counters offer a variety of already prepared foods. And there are cleaning services to freshen a dusty or dirty house or apartment. It no longer takes two people to run a household.

Just as "men's clubs" used to provide a place for companionship a hundred years ago, we might say that taverns and bars serve the same function today-most obviously in the case of gay bars. And there are numerous clubs, organizations, and interest groups of various sorts that can provide an outlet for social expression.

None of this is to ignore the satisfactions of having a partner to share experiences with, of having a warm body next to you in bed, and the reassuring feeling of loving and being loved. It is just that those arrangements are not for everyone, do not happen without effort and do take a certain amount of luck to work out well over the long term. And let us not forget that some men are simply not cut out for long-term relationships; they neither need nor want them. As a bachelor, you can come and go as you want, do what you want, and not have to check with anyone else if it is convenient.

Bachelors, instead of concentrating all their emotional energy on a single relationship, usually develop a network of friends they can rely on for affection and emotional support. The friends offer various types of friendship, some based on mutual interest, others based on simple amiability, and yet others on physical appeal. The comparison might be of one single ray of bright, white light versus that light refracted through a prism, emitting a variety of different colors.

Some people seem to feel a need for a partner in order to complete themselves. Others don't seem to feel that need but are happy to have close friends as "add-ons." Whether friends or partners, think of another person as another way to experience the world, an add-on to the self, not a completion of oneself.

At least some of this should be good news to young gays who feel a pressure to find a partner and are failing to do so. It should also be reassuring to older gays who are just coming out or whose partner recently died and who are trying to develop a new life. Equally, I would remind younger gays that no one needs to stick with a relationship that is unsatisfactory, unrewarding, and sometimes even abusive.

All these are reasons not to hasten into marriage or other legally binding relationships that can be difficult and painful to undo. Dating was a good idea heterosexuals had. Get to know the other person well, not just feel attracted to them.

9 Comments for “Marriage Isn’t for Everyone”

  1. posted by Amicus on

    “So, when are you going to find a boy and settle down, already? You can’t be so particular, Paulie.”

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband.”

    “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution.”

    Flippancy aside, I think that marriage advocates, myself included, have to face up to the fact that so many see the effort as normative.

    I used to argue the merits, but these days, my answer is, “so what?”. These tensions are fundamental, *both* to ‘individual sexuality’ and to society.

    eh, another 2-cents.

  2. posted by Amicus on

    so many see the effort as normative


    …even for the advocates, assuming that they have an ‘ideal relationship’ or that they want desperately to get married!

  3. posted by Amicus on

    to ‘individual sexuality’


    to clarify, this would be better put, “to an individual’s sexuality”, implying that the tension is within individuals, not just among them, i.e. as solely a matter of differing libido and so forth.

  4. posted by Lymis on

    Ummm. Yeah.

    What’s your point? I really don’t think the overriding problem in the lives of gay men (nor lesbians, but I may be wrong) is all the pressure to settle down and get married.

  5. posted by Bobby on

    Why don’t we talk about the discrimination single people face? How often have you been asked to work longer hours and even holidays just because you don’t have a partner? I had a boss who used to tell me “you’re not married, it’s not like you don’t have anything better to do.”

    Hello? There’s the gym, The O’reilly Factor, video games, porn, I have lots of better things to do!

    “Not so long ago, men worked 48 to 60 hours a week ”

    —Not so long ago? Are you kiding me? 9 to 5 became 9 to 6, or 9 to 7, or 9 to 9 or “9 until the job is done” as an old boss of mine used to say. People don’t even go to lunch anymore, it’s disgusting, they bring their filth back to their cubicle and suddenly you have to smell fish, burritos, chilli con carne or whatever garbage the mofos are eating. Being a workaholic is celebrated, leaving on time is scorned, whatever, it’s a miserable life.

    “we might say that taverns and bars serve the same function today—most obviously in the case of gay bars.”

    —Not true, bars are too loud to hear yourself, besides, people either come with their friends or come to hook up.

    Still, I would love to get married if only to have the benefits of being a two-income household, although ironically, I’ve been unemployed since february.

  6. posted by Bobby on

    “or to stand in the firing line first. Who hasn’t heard people say, “They let him go and he has a family to support.”?”

    —Well, there are many reasons why any employee can get fired. Maybe that employee was old and expensive and the company wanted to save money by hiring someone less experienced, that happens a lot.

    Either way, I’ve lost a lot of faith in the system, and I’m tired of Obama talking about all the jobs he’s saving. That’s like buying a $4,000 TV and bragging about saving $400 thanks to a rebate.

    Seriously, Obama and his comrades are destroying the American dream. Those of us working are doing it for longer hours and less money, those of our not working are promised green jobs that don’t exist. As Rush Limbaugh says, “how’s the change working for ya?”

  7. posted by Mark on

    “Still, I would love to get married if only to have the benefits of being a two-income household…”

    Ah, a true romantic!

  8. posted by Martin on

    Can’t get a date either, Paul?

  9. posted by DragonScorpion on

    It is true that marriage isn’t for everyone, and one can life a full and productive life without getting married, or having a life partner, or having children or even ever dating. Though I doubt that Mr. Varnell had this last one in mind.

    Just as true, however, marriage is for some people. And this is why, in addition to it being important that members of a society being treated fairly and equally by the government as much as is possible, it is extremely important to countless same-sex couples all over the country who cannot currently get married. And why we have to fight to change this.

    I think it is sad that this article in a way reduced marriage to largely a matter of personal convenience, someone to pool resources with and share in laundry and cooking, rather than a sacred commitment to share that most precious of gifts we have — our life and our love.

    It suggests that, in our hustle and bustle world of automation and inexpensive services, marriage really isn’t all that necessary and is probably overrated. That’s how it comes across to me, anyway.

    But certainly, there are some advantages to being a bachelor. You can come and go as you please, and for those who cherish solitude and privacy as I do, it can be kind of nice to have a house all to yourself.

    I’m living just such a life right now while my partner goes to university. But we just spent nearly a year and a half together every single day. And for all the work that it was, and hassle at times, and the lack of personal privacy… It was well worth it while he was here. I would certainly not choose to be a bachelor.

    But I wouldn’t knock those who do choose to live alone; the bachelors life. Not at all. Still, it isn’t for everyone. It can even be damn miserable for some of us.

    A worse hell, though, is being in a relationship that is abusive or seriously dysfunctional. And living with someone and sharing responsibilities isn’t satisfying enough in itself to just latch on to whomever.

    I think you offer very sound advice, Mr. Varnell, that there is no reason to rush into marriage or some similar agreement. A lot of people need to learn that lesson, both heterosexual and homosexual. As a society, marriage is treated far too casually.

    But I agree with Lymis, an unhealthy drive to settle down with someone uniquely special to us doesn’t appear to be a serious epidemic in our community. But without question, there are those who anguish over it more than is healthy and who rush to find a permanent partner and keep getting the wrong one.

    ~“Whether friends or partners, think of another person as another way to experience the world, an add-on to the self, not a completion of oneself. ” ~ Paul Varnell

    On this point, I certainly disagree. When it comes to eros, I am far too sentimental and far too much a romantic to follow that advice. You don’t have to put your life on hold for Mr. or Ms. Right, but you don’t have to go through life thinking you’re just as well off without them, either.

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