*WINNER OF A VALLEY PRESIDENT’S AWARD*
I am married. I guess you could say I am ‘in a marriage’. I am not in a gay marriage, just like I don’t live in a gay house or drive a gay car. My parents weren’t in a heterosexual marriage nor are my siblings and countless number of straight couple friends. Just like a rose, a marriage is a marriage is a marriage.
I asked my gay and lesbian friends who are married some questions about their relationships. They were remarkably unremarkable, sounding like any relationship between any two people regardless of their sexual orientation.
Mike and Jeff have been together for almost sixteen years. I’ve known Mike since we were in our early teens. I met Jeff shortly after Mike did. They met at Friend’s Landing a now long gone ‘gay’ dance club that had been in Haverhill.
I remember when Mike met Jeff. A day or two later Mike left on a business trip to California, I believe. When he got back he was all doughy eyed and bubbly because Jeff had sent flowers to his hotel room. It was a terribly romantic gesture that I was entirely jealous of. They didn’t get married until 2009, well over five years after marriage was made legal for gay couples in the state of Massachusetts.
When I asked them what made their relationship work, Mike answered that they enjoy each other’s company, accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses and step back every once-in-awhile to assess what’s important. Mike says one of those things is to put your spouse above all others and never go to bed angry. About two years ago, Mike and Jeff moved from Massachusetts to Palm Springs. They said it was a big test for their relationship because, when they arrived, they only had each other. My wife and I were lucky to be the first to visit them a few weeks after they moved into their new home. They had already begun to create a new circle of friends.
From my observation of this couple whom I am proud to call my friends, they work because they truly enjoy each other’s company above anyone else’s.
Our friends Liz and Diane have been together for twenty-seven years. I’ve known them for twenty of them. Similar to Mike and Jeff, they met at a women’s bar. Liz says it was love at first sight. After being together for seventeen years, Liz gave birth to their son Jacob.
I remember biting my own nails over this decision wondering how they would adjust to parenthood after being a couple who were set in their ways and lifestyle for so long. My concerns were a waste of time. They were married in December of 2005. Liz says that their relationship works because they are dedicated to their family and making sure that their son has the best of both parents. She says that checking in with each other and having long conversations on how they can make it work helps. Supporting each other’s interests as well as spending time apart is a good way to rekindle things. Just as important is spending time away with just each other and remembering that they are still a couple along with being parents. All of these things keep this couple going strong for almost three decades.
Beth is another friend I met twenty years ago. We were both teaching in Ipswich, MA. She and her partner, Maria, had been together for seven years, but I had known each other for twenty years having met and traveled in the same circle of friends since 1974. They have been legally married for the past eight years. When I met Beth, Maria had just survived cancer. At the time I didn’t know what kind and once we became friends I never bothered to ask. What did it matter what type it was?
Maria was a survivor. When I asked what made their relationship last, their answer was simple and succinct, “We are truly each other’s best friends as well as lovers.” I don’t think there is a more perfect answer than that.
My wife, Michelle, and I have just celebrated sixteen years together. In June, we will be married for ten years. It’s amazing how much we’ve been through as a couple in less than twenty years. Michelle’s mother wouldn’t speak to her for quite awhile after Michelle had come out. It just about broke Michelle’s heart. Now ‘Mama’ says that I am the best thing that has ever happened to her daughter. Michelle and I both lost our fathers to cancer. She lost a brother to substance abuse.
In 2003, Michelle was diagnosed with MS. A few years later, barely able to make the bed or tie my own shoes, I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. We’ve raised three children. Not an easy task considering all that comes with raising children and helping them each cope with their parents’ divorces and being stretched between two households. We’ve moved twice, owned a business, changed jobs, changed careers and just simply changed with age. What has not changed is us.
We are still here and very much in love. What makes us work is really no different than the other couples I’ve described or those of my straight brothers’, sister, in-laws and friends. We deeply love each other. We make each other laugh every day. We don’t need Valentines Day to make the other one feel special. We respect each other. And when it comes right down to it, it is one another and no other that we choose to make, waste and spend time with.
I take back my previous statement. We are all remarkable couples. We are remarkable because we are still together having weathered and still weather the normal battles life throws at two people who have committed their lives to one another AND we have had to overcome societal stereotypes, discrimination, and the lack of support heterosexual couples get without the bat of an eye from their community. Our marriages, like all marriages that work, are more than the sum of its whole. But our marriages are superhuman.