Companionate Marriage for Everyone? [Blogathon 10/12]

Companionate Marriage for Everyone? [Blogathon 10/12] June 11, 2012

This post is number ten of twelve for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.  I’m responding to comments in the “Go Ahead, Tell Me What’s Wrong with Homosexuality” thread all day.  You can read an explanation of the Blogathon and a pitch for donations (even if you’re religious) here.

Alan Jacobs had an interesting response to the Noah Millman piece about the gay Mormon’s companionate marriage I was discussing in the last post.  Jacobs wrote:

What this story is pointing to is the possibility of personally chosen, not arranged, marriages built around a kind of regard for one another that is not primarily erotic, in the narrower sense. Here the key word is “intimacy.” These people married each other because they loved each other and wanted to share deep intimacy, but that intimacy was not characterized primarily by sexual passion. And yet the couple insists that they have a strong sexual relationship. The really interesting thing about the story has nothing to do with homosexuality, but with the possibility that our society has the logic of attraction all backwards: we start with sexual desire and hope to generate other forms of intimacy from that, but this model suggests that it could make more sense to start with the kind of intimacy that is more like friendship than anything else, and to trust that sexual satisfaction will arise from that.

I don’t think this is a new idea, but it feels new. When we read Jane Austen novels we think that the attraction between the protagonist and her beau had to have been primarily sexual but the topic just couldn’t be broached in those prudish days, but what if that’s just our narrowly sexual cultural formation talking? Maybe we need to think more seriously about the Weed family as a model for others — and not just for people who, as we Christians often say, “struggle with same-sex attraction.”

I think I endorse this.  But I’ve only recently started trying to abandon my gnostic disdain for the physical world, so I may not be trustworthy.

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  • Cous

    haha, see my comment on previous post (I did not read this post before writing it). It’s like you read my mind.

  • drax

    I think companionate marriage potentially holds all the problems that abstinence until marriage holds. Neither partner will have any sexual experience (at least with their spouse), which could lead to serious sexual incompatibility. I guess it would be ok if sex wasn’t very important to one or both partners and all they really wanted was to make some babies.

  • Slow Learner

    Interestingly, the way that describes the beginning of a relationship sounded very much like my own experience with my spouse.
    “it could make more sense to start with the kind of intimacy that is more like friendship than anything else, and to trust that sexual satisfaction will arise from that”
    Well, sorta – we began with a close friendship which only later developed into a sexual relationship.
    The thing is, that only worked for us because neither of us initially felt sexual desire for the other, and it was only later that we had a moment of realisation, a sort of “Whoa, shit, I’ve been so blind and stupid, you are AMAZING.” If the desire had been there from the start, the more conventional form of dating would probably have worked better for us.
    So this is a perfectly valid route for some people, and I would strongly support putting it out there in an attempt to broaden peoples’ minds about how they can look at relationships, but I don’t think it’s going to work for most people.

  • Cami

    Replying to Drax: can you give me an example of how two people could be so sexually incompatible that it would break them up when they started having sex? Serious question. I am a non virgin marrying a virgin in a few months. I don’t foresee any problems with our “compatibility” because we will be exploring together and finding out what the other person wants. The only problem I could potentially see is the question of frequency, but that should be solved like any other disagreement: communication and compromise.

    I ask because I hear the compatibility argument alot by people defending pre marital sex and it doesn’t compute–I would rather explore what I like with my husband who has promised to love me forever than my high school boyfriend.

    • anodognosic

      Cami, I don’t think communication and compromise solves everything. Of course, you have the extreme example of Josh Weed, and clearly you can maintain a relationship even without any sexual compatibility whatsoever. But without opening the can of worms that is kink, let’s just focus on frequency. Ideal frequency is never going to match up 100%, of course, and even generally compatible partners need compromise and communication on that. But for some people, the ideal frequency is every day, while for others, it’s once a month, once a year, even never. No (monogamous) compromise is going to satisfy both partners if their libidos are that mismatched–not to mention that the partner with the lower libido usually sets the frequency in practice. Again, maybe living with that is something that you are willing to do to be with your partner. But there are real variations in people’s sexual preferences that can’t always be reconciled in a way that’s satisfying for both partners.

  • Emily

    Whoa whoa whoa. I strongly disagree with this. This is the kind of logic that ends up with women being told to “just give him a chance!” when faced with the attention of perfectly nice guys they are just. not. interested. in., for one thing. Because to successfully cultivate intimate friendships that *may* lead to sexual attraction and companionate marriage, the relationships remaining *merely* friendships also has to be an acceptable outcome. There is nothing wrong with deep friendships, of course. But if what you’re interested in is a long term sexual partner, not just a deep friendship, making the default dating model one of “friendship that may become romantic” is going to result in some successes, but a whole lot of, “you think after a year and a half, I want to just stay friends? why aren’t you developing a love for me?!” or “well, perhaps we should get married, and maybe after we’ve gotten closer we’ll be physically excited….”

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, but it just seems like a bad dichotomy to me. Either your relationship is built on sexual attraction and NOTHING ELSE, or it is built on deep intimacy? Yes, you probably shouldn’t marry someone just to jump their bones, but you also shouldn’t marry someone just to lock down a good friend for life. For a lifelong marriage, it is really, really not asking too much to want both.

    • Emily

      PS a note on heteronormative language at beginning – in my experience the pressure to “just give him a chance” is particularly felt by women interested in men, but I don’t mean to imply specific genders throughout the rest of my comment.

  • Tara S

    “But how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue, she could easily conjecture.”