“Love is Love.”
It’s the new mantra intended to silence anyone of the opinion that some family forms are more praise-worthy than others. It demands we exchange what we know to be true for the belief that any relationship is as good and virtuous as any other, as long as it is freely and mutually chosen.
But it is a silly phrase because it doesn’t say anything. Literally.
It is a tautology, the equivalent of saying “A thing is a thing.” And that is its slippery rhetorical power. You can’t argue with it because it doesn’t assert anything new. But the phrase has taken root in our collective conscience today as an uncontested “truth” because too many of us are now sentimental thinkers rather than critical thinkers. We increasingly “think” with our hearts rather than our minds.
The New York Times unwittingly demonstrated where this failure is taking us in what they clearly intend to be a serious news article about a new form of nuptials: friend marriage. No, this is not a man and woman marrying “their best friend.” Nothing wrong with that at all.
What the Times is celebrating is non-romantic, platonic friends sealing their friendship in marriage. They call it “platonic marriage” adding, “A platonic marriage is a deep bond and lifelong commitment to a nesting partner you build a shared life with.”
Image from The New York Times
The Times describe one such couple,
The besties, both queer and open to dating anyone but each other, met in 2011, and decided to get married in September. They sleep in the same bed but their relationship remains platonic.
The New York Times adds these friends married because they “wanted to be legally and socially recognized as a family.” You are not wrong if you feel like responding to this shiny new conception of family this way.
A basic ideal of marriage is fidelity. But what if sex is not a part of the relationship? In this new conception, it doesn’t not have to be part of your life. The Times easily explains how fidelity need not mean limited sexual options in friend marriage.
One featured couple “have never been intimate with each other, and they both have given each other the freedom to date outside their marriage.” The piece quotes a Maryland therapist who has worked with such couples, “Many of these relationships begin because the couple wants their family life separate from their romantic lives, as they don’t find their romantic lives to be stable.”
Such an easy and casual comment forces one to ask what this new conception of marriage leaves standing. Marriage becomes, literally, whatever at least two people want it to be. Piggy-backing on the “Love is love” dismissal of any criticisms to this continuing redefinition of marriage, this therapist opines,
If both partners have clear understandings of what is expected, flexibility and communication skills to address conflicts that come up, do not wish to marry a romantic partner and are fine with going against the norms, then who are any of us to say it won’t work?
What we are witnessing here is simply the long continuation and devolution of something that started decades ago. Sociologists have called it “expressive marriage.” That is, marriage simply becomes whatever brings meaning and happiness to the lives of the adults involved and no one gets to say anything that hints at disapproval. That would be to limit someone’s freedom.
A leading sociologist of the family is Penn State’s Paul Amato. He explains that beginning in the late 1950s, “Marriage changed from a formal institution that meets the needs of [children and] the larger society to a companionate relationship that meets the needs of the couple and their children and then to a private pact that meets the psychological needs of individual spouses.”
Expressive marriage naturally led to intentionally childless marriages, unquestioned no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage, polyamory and now, “friend marriages.” It is important for students of the family to know that each of these are not increasingly concerning slides down a slippery slope. They are each natural manifestations of the bottom of that slope.
We when we make marriage primarily about the rights of adults, their life-fulfillment and self-actualization, and forget it’s other essential social functions, anything becomes possible. And it has. Marriage between “besties” is simply the next step in this regression. The silliness will certainly not stop here. Stay tuned.
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