As a supporter of marriage equality, a gay-wedding writer and a single man, it's disappointing to find a large percentage of legally partnered couples ignoring or dismissing crucial marriage issues. Rather, like college kids being offered endless credit cards without understanding debt management, men are jumping into matrimony unprepared and, just as upsetting, insulting anyone who questions their judgment, just like so many of our parents and grandparents did. Here, five examples of how men are leaning toward the past as they grasp the future of marriage.
1: Assuming legal marriage equals perfect marriage. The silence over gay marriage issues is astounding and scary. Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to write articles and interview married men about issues such as fidelity and drug use. Very brave couples have opened up their hearts and talked freely about these crucial topics. Unfortunately, many married men say these debates are off-limits, period, and hurtful to gay rights. Except for the pronouns, you'd think this was 1957, when straight couples refused to admit to imperfections in married life. The arguments against discussions other than diaper discounts and school choices usually start with the premise that gay people are being put under an unfair microscope, with the Right Wing just waiting to pounce on any couple willing to admit they're not perfect.
That's nonsense. The Right is not reading your personal stories (nor are they reading this), and by stifling discussion, you're missing out on an opportunity too many heterosexuals skipped: open dialogs about whether, say, fidelity is essential. If society is judging you more harshly because you're two men with a baby, earn respect by using your newfound rights to redefine, reexamine, and re-discuss the meaning of marriage. When you fight this hard for something, all the more reason to work on making it work.
2: Thinking you'll automatically be better at marriage than heterosexual couples. And this is because... Gays are the chosen ones? You fought harder to achieve legal marriage so the universe is going to even things about by making it a walk on the beach? With a wedding so amazingly fabulous what could possibly go wrong after the honeymoon? Yep, that's pretty much how older generations viewed wedlock -- a natural, no-need-to-examine part of life, like grade school and learning to how to drive a car.
Marriage is hard work, plain and simple. If you want it to succeed, you need to prepare yourself. Whether it's living together first, counseling or simply waiting till you're in a better spot, emotionally, financially or psychologically, if you are not ready, there is no need to rush. Granted, if you've been together 50 years and your state finally legalized gay marriage, you're in a different spot, but too many couples tie the knot without any specific plan for the day after. But don't take my word for it: Talk to the newly separated and divorced couples (and that number is growing rapidly) who jumped on the gay marriage bandwagon without first installing GPS.
3: Stop F***ing around. While we're on the subject of infidelity, if you want the "stereotypical" notion that all men are promiscuous sex fiends to vanish, don't be part of the problem. Many married men live perfectly wonderful monogamous lives, and many don't, and are honest and open about their choice. However, all you need to do is hit Grindr or Manhunt to find "discreet" married men on the make. You'll also find them in the gym steam room, at bars while on business (or while hubby is on business), beach resorts and anywhere else gay men flock. Sadder still, like those straight men who cheat on their wives and live in fear of being caught, they will pretty much do and say anything to paint the single man as the lying predator. History is proving a cruel irony in this case, in which the unmarried, consensual-sex partner is the villain. Time to man up, men, and not repeat mistakes so many of our fathers and grandfathers made.
4: Assuming those of us who are not married are less fortunate. Remember when nobody expected gay people to get married? Today, if I tell a married man I'm not married and over 40, he worries and tries to find me a husband. Sweet, but not necessary. I choose to be single, as do many of my non-married friends. Do I want to get married? Yes, if the right man comes along, and if he wants to get married too. That's a completely different answer than saying, Yes, and I'm less of a person if I don't wed.
I've never forgotten the guy who lectured me about five years ago on being single and having the nerve to write a wedding book despite my years of experience in the field. (It's important to note that my books are about planning weddings, not a marriage -- a huge difference that he ignored.) At the time, he was living with his fiancé, a relationship that ended the next time I ran into him, and he did not believe single men had any right to weigh in on the subject of getting married.
Two years ago he finally got married, to a different man, legally, in a beautiful fairy-tale wedding and happily ever after story that trumped everything else on his Facebook page... until the husband cheated and they split up. I feel bad for him that the marriage collapsed, and I hope he has learned that there's a reason why some of us have resisted the urge to tie the knot (whether it be a wise choice or not). I've come close to marriage once, and am very grateful that my boyfriend and I decided against it. We probably would have ended up hating each other instead of remaining friends.
5: Patronizing those of us who are not married. Sometimes, it feels like we're all living in a gay Mad Men spin-off. If we're over 30 and not married, we're headed straight for Spinsterhood. Following that logic, I wouldn't be surprised if my ex-married friends start being labeled "divorce-gays." There are several offensive remarks made to single men my age who aren't married, the most common being that we missed the legal boat. Truth is, I have no idea if I'd have gotten married if it were legal, or even popular, back in my twenties. But considering that my first live-in boyfriend insisted I give up acting so as not to compete with his career, and who then joined a cult before I kicked him out of the apartment, it's probably best the topic never arose. Or, God forbid, that we added children to the mix.
I grew up in a generation that frowned upon a woman over 30 being single, even as the feminist movement sought to change the perception that unmarried women were unfulfilled. Carrie Bradshaw had a wonderful episode on SATC where she was tired of all the wedding gifts she was expected to buy -- but, like all "Happy Endings," they had to finally marry her off in the first film.
Now we're turning full gay circle with gay men spreading the notion that marriage equality somehow means gay men automatically want marriage and probably children. If we don't have a husband we are not only unfortunate, but we must find one before we get too old.
With this idea a new insensitivity has arisen. Too many gay men are planning lavish, excruciatingly expensive weddings that alienate their single friends. A single gay friend of mine was recently "un-invited" to a long weekend gay wedding, as the couple said they realized they didn't have room. I was un-invited to a gay wedding for a similar reason, and only two weeks before the ceremony -- the couple told me they couldn't afford one more guest. I'm fairly certain that, in both cases, gay couples would not have been scratched off the lists, as, like straight weddings, single friends are almost always considered the most expendable. I have another unmarried gay friend who is drowning in gay wedding invites (I use the term "drowning" because he is spending so much money on travel and gifts), and he has not once been invited with the "and guest" option. He's beginning to dread all these weddings, they way we used to hear bridesmaids complain about the dresses and being single and feeling like they're wasting all their money on yet another affair -- especially when it's a second wedding. Give it another year and someone could remake Bridesmaids with a man in the leading role.
If you're gay and getting married, honor your unmarried friends by honoring their status. After all, the despicable and extremely outdated "ball and chain" line is an expression no single person should ever be cruel enough to attach to you on such a wonderful, remarkable occasion. We need to show compassion and respect on both sides of the aisle.
Follow David Toussaint on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DRToussaint