I’m ok with companionate marriage [Blogathon 9/12]

I’m ok with companionate marriage [Blogathon 9/12] June 11, 2012

This post is number nine 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.

There’s been an essay making the rounds by Josh Weed, a gay Mormon man who’s been happily married to his wife for ten years and has had several children with her.  I was reminded of it when thinking about how essential sexuality is to human identity in the last post.  Weed opted for a companionate marriage, where the two are intimate partners, but their bond isn’t driven by sexual chemistry.  As Noah Millman wrote for AmCon, it’s only relatively recently that sexual comparability and desire have been rated as necessary components of marriage.

A number of people see this kind of marriage as a waste (or worse, a ticking time bomb), but I’m not sure that I have any objection.  Or that most liberals would if we just tweak the parameters a little bit.  Would this be a good outcome for Weed if he were asexual? If he were a woman nearing the end of her fertility who hadn’t found someone with whom she had a sexual frisson.

Why shouldn’t two good friends want to entrust their lives to each other and pass on their love to a child just because they need to lie back and think of England when the time comes to conceive one.  The relationship of two friends is obviously different from that of two lovers, but I’m not sure why it’s necessarily lesser or a poor type of parenting relationship.

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  • Cous

    Hm, I don’t think “lying back and thinking of England” is what you’re aiming for even then – the friends should truly *will* (even if they’re not desiring in an erotic way) the intimacy with each other, not just the kid that results from it.

    But I pretty much agree with you – maybe I’m a bit of a gnostic about sex, but I think Josh is onto something when he compares his and Lolly’s relationship with that of couples who have gotten past the “infatuated” stage in their sexual relationship, and that they have a deeper relationship for it:

    Many people never get to this point in their sex lives because it requires incredible communication, trust, vulnerability, and connection. And Lolly and I have had that from day one, mostly because we weren’t distracted by the powerful chemicals of infatuation and obsession that usually bring a couple together (which dwindle dramatically after the first few years of marriage anyway).

    Another interesting way to think about companionate marriage is by taking sex out of the picture (partly, but not just because, I’m sick of talking about it) – have you ever loved anyone so much that you wanted to give up everything to be with them always, to care for them and share their life, but didn’t care whether you ever got to have sex with them and didn’t care if it meant never having sex with anyone? (see also: Platonic love, Josephite marriage)

    • anodognosic

      I’m pretty much on board about companionate marriage, and I’m of the “more power to him” camp on Josh Weed. However, I’m pretty skeptical of the idea of sex finding its fullest or even a satisfactory expression in just companionate intimacy. Josh Weed actually admits as much in his post. It was a sacrifice–and he uses this very word–to give up the kind of sex life that would satisfy him. I understand this sacrifice in an abstract way, because I can conceive of making such a sacrifice, even if not for the reasons he did. But let’s not lose sight of the magnitude of that sacrifice. Because it’s huge.

      • Cous

        Agreed, I wouldn’t say the sex itself is better for lack of that satisfaction, but I would say their love and relationship, which are greater than just sex, appear to be stronger for having to survive without that particular comfort in their sexual life. This specifically is to their credit, not because any couple lacking that particular comfort necessarily ends up with a better marriage. That sacrifice is not something couples should seek out, but if life hands it to them, as it did to Josh and Lolly, they can use it as an opportunity for, rather than an obstacle to, greater love and intimacy.

        The intention behind the thought experiment of taking sex out of the picture was to blur the line between friend-love and spousal love, partly spurred by my observation that many long-married couples describe the other simply as “my best friend, but mainly in order to open up the conversation to human love more generally (not just love expressed sexually) and the role of sacrifice in love.

  • keddaw

    Would Catholics consider that sex wrong? It passes the procreative test but seems to fail at the unititative stage of the two tests they seem to place on couples having sex. (Masturbation by any other name…)

  • I’m always bugged by the assertion that most marriages are arranged ones since the only evidence I ever see are marriage records from the upper class where marriage was a property thing. Did all the non-landed poor people also have arranged marriages? That just doesn’t feel correct to me.

  • anon

    Friends with Kids (2011)
    IBDM: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1720616/

    Two best friends decide to have a child together while keeping their relationship platonic, so they can avoid the toll kids can take on romantic relationships.