On female friendship & marriage

// 9 January 2009

Is marriage just for people who are sexually and romantically involved with each other?

Over at the Shameless Blog, Zoe writes about her own experience getting married to her long-term platonic female best friend.

And, well, why not? Is resistance to this idea a sign of the low regard in which we as a society value friendship? What are the effects of singling out romantic, sexual and, in many jurisdictions, straight, coupledom for all the extra status and rights granted to married couples?

This reminds me of the debates over whether or not platonic friends should be eligible for civil partnerships, when they came into force in the UK.

Many people seem to have misunderstood this point, and a surprising number declined the invitation to our wedding because they found the whole concept so odd. It made them uncomfortable. More’s the pity.

So I wrote this for everyone who was confused by our marriage, to explain why she is my Wife.

Here it is: She is my match…

We are, as the Brits say, “cut from the same cloth.” Or as Bex puts it, “we are mates of soul.”

When we met, it was love at first sight. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen for a friend so quickly and so easily.

I have other girlfriends I love no less, and whom I would call “my Best Friend.”

But Bex is my Wife. The distinction between Bex and my Best Friends is that, if either one of us were male, we would actually date, marry and have babies. We were made for each other.

We have called each other “Wife” – both to each other and when referring to each other – for well on a year now. So we decided it was high time we actually got married.

Comments From You

Jake // Posted 9 January 2009 at 8:07 pm

While I think any one should be able to marry anyone else for what ever reason I find this article problematic, Partly in its heterocentricity.

when she says The distinction between Bex and my Best Friends is that, if either one of us were male, we would actually date, marry and have babies. We were made for each other. she is ignoring and invisibilising the experiences of lots of lesbians who do date, marry and have children together

the same as when she refers to herself as gay even though she had stressed througout in the article that there is no sex in their realtionship, and they are not sexualy atracted to each other

I also find it problematic when she says

I wanted to rejoice in the fact that two women can choose to remain single and wed each other instead of marrying mediocre males. Instead of getting hitched at 18 to start pumping out babies, we can go to university, work professionally as writers, have our words and our thoughts taken seriously, and on occasion stay out very very late having buckets of platonic fun with each other.

as if all women who get heterosexualy married marry mediocre males, dont go to university and dont have deep rich female friendships.

Jess McCabe // Posted 9 January 2009 at 10:16 pm

Hiya Jake!

I agree with some of what you’re saying, but I still think it’s overall an interesting perspective…

I think that where Zoe strays into some problematic territory is where she’s comparing her platonic same-sex marriage with romantic/sexual same-sex marriage…

I agree this is the case when she says that she’s sort of gay, because she makes her friends her family.

It is heterocentric – but then again, is that so surprising when it’s written by a straight woman, and, I mean, it’s a marriage between two straight people – you could still kind of describe that as a straight marriage!

Although she says in the piece that if either her or her wife were men, they’d get married in the traditional, romantic way – I think she’s actually making a bit of a leap! Just because someone is the (or one of) the sexes/genders you happen to be attracted to, it’s not clear that would mean you necessarily are more likely to end up in a romantic relationship. I see no reason why a man and a woman couldn’t have this kind of platonic marriage.

So I don’t think that when she makes the “if one of us were a man” comment, it’s really ignoring or invisibilising lesbians, or bisexual/pansexual/polysexual women who date, marry, have children with other women. I think that just doesn’t apply to her particular experience as a straight woman, who’s simply not interested in other women.

Likewise:

as if all women who get heterosexualy married marry mediocre males, dont go to university and dont have deep rich female friendships.

I think that her comment was just in relation to her own experience of not having been part of a romantic relationship with a man she is serious enough to want to be involved with, have children with, etc – and she correctly, I think, links the expectation that she should have met and married a man, with other traditional expectations placed on women. And she is surely also linking their decision to choose a different path, of platonic marriage to each other, with other forms of self-determination, which could well involve studying, working, being taken seriously.

I didn’t read that as suggesting that all married women get married to “mediocre” men, don’t go to university, or anything. I think she’s just affirming their choice to break from cultural expectations, in their particular circumstances.

james // Posted 9 January 2009 at 11:50 pm

“I see no reason why a man and a woman couldn’t have this kind of platonic marriage.”

Interestingly, non consummation of a marriage is grounds for an annulment, but not for civil partnerships. So she’d be in a more precarious legal situation had she married a man.

“What are the effects of singling out romantic, sexual and, in many jurisdictions, straight, coupledom for all the extra status and rights granted to married couples?”

Mainly it stops people marrying their parents and siblings to access loopholes in the tax system. I wouldn’t have a problem with this; but people see tax free inheritance on a spouse’s death as legitimate, in a way that they wouldn’t on inheritance on the death of a family member.

Winter // Posted 10 January 2009 at 12:06 am

I’m afraid my girlfriend and I found Zoe’s post incredibly insulting. It’s like she and her friends are appropriating gay culture just for a laugh. Getting marriage rights is profoundly important to a lot of people, who still don’t have them, and for those who do, it’s been an extremely hard won struggle. These people are just getting drunk on crates of champagne and dressing in drag (Norman Bates?!?) because it’s “funny”, but they’re not in any danger. They’re not committing to anything or risking anything. No one is going to put a petrol bombs or faeces through their door (as happens to people I know) for what they’re doing here. After all, at the end of the day, they’re both straight women in monogomous relationships with men. In fact they are emphatic about their sexuality — god forbid anyone actually mistake them for lesbians! Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon fought for 50 years for this right and died for it and these people are treating it like a “lark.”

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 January 2009 at 12:26 am

Hmm, well, I don’t think it reads like they did it for a laugh; it sounds like a genuine expression of deep friendship…

Kez // Posted 10 January 2009 at 11:22 am

I found this really interesting. Still struggling to get my head round it a bit, but that’s no bad thing – anything that challenges preconceptions is good.

However, having said that, there are a couple of things that make me a bit uncomfortable. I think it’s great that Zoe and Bex have such a wonderful friendship and that they want to make a public affirmation of how important that is. However, I also take Winter’s point above about how they seem to be appropriating gay culture for their own benefit, while stressing that they’re not gay. Zoe says: “We have long-term sexual relationships with men, and we both fully plan on finding ‘the one’, being with them forever and having babies.” In what sense, then, is their relationship a “marriage” or are they each other’s “wife”? Like I said, I struggle to get my head around this. I think a friendship commitment ceremony is a great idea and maybe there should be a name for such a thing, but I’m not sure “marriage” is it.

The other thing that concerns me is what seems like Zoe’s patronising and derogatory reference to women who “get hitched at 18 to start pumping out babies” as if this (a) automatically spells the end of any kind of enjoyable life; and (b) is intrinsically an inferior life path to her own. Actually, not that many people in the UK do marry at 18 to start “pumping out babies” (what a delightful turn of phrase!) nowadays, but it doesn’t mean that women who do deserve to be condemned as some kind of idiot to be pitied, and who are doomed to never “have their words and thoughts taken seriously”, which is what she seems to imply.

Anyway, good luck to them… I hope their friendship lasts forever and continues to bring them joy.

kat // Posted 10 January 2009 at 12:36 pm

they aren’t married! that’s not a marriage! they are mocking the state of marriage for gays and straights. this is just taking the p**s. i’m too hungover to articulate myself well but this just seems ridiculous.

v // Posted 10 January 2009 at 1:17 pm

im not saying that the article isnt heterocentric, but if the women are dedicated to each other, then who cares whether they get involved with other people, as long as its by

mutual consent. they dont need to be monogamous for their relationship to valid. they dont need to be sexually involved either.

civil partnership shouldnt just be for gay couples just like marriage shouldn’t be just for het couples. its a shame that civil partnership is like another version of marriage when it could be so much more. it should be about allowing life partners of various different styles of relationship to take on legal responsibilities and rights with each other. instead its like something the gov offers up like a insulting booby prize out of a homophobic desperation to protect marriage from growing up. meanwhile theres still other groups of people sat on the naughty step who arent even allowed CP.

anyone would think this was the states, what with the gov apparently too afeared of the various churches to do it all properly.

JenniferRuth // Posted 10 January 2009 at 1:42 pm

Yeah, what v said!

I would much prefer to get a civil partnership than a marriage. Personally, I think marriage should remain totally religious and if a particular church does want to marry homosexual couples, then more power to ’em. But I’m not religious at all, so why should I be able to get married in a church just because I am straight? Civil partnerships should be totally separate from religion and available for everyone.

The main opposition to gay marriage is people using their religion to justify their homophobia. Fuck ’em. Civil partnerships for all!

Mephit // Posted 10 January 2009 at 2:24 pm

While I think that deep platonic friendships should be more valued and celebrated, I don’t think appropriating the language of marriage is the best way to achieve that.

The two women still say they are looking for the “the one” (a man) to have babies and “forever” with.

Yet seems to me that marriage/life partnership is supposedly about having found “the one” and making a life with that person, whatever their sex. This story really isn’t about that, as far as I can see.

Rach // Posted 10 January 2009 at 4:16 pm

I definitely agree with everyone that said how patronising and judgemental this is to women who do make more “conventional” choices.

But what actually made me quite angry as a lesbian is that they are appropriating marriage/civil partnership this way. I completely agree with winter.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 10 January 2009 at 4:32 pm

There was a really interesting article about this kind of thing (platonic friends ‘marriage’) in Ms Magazine a few years back. It discusses this idea, called a “Boston Marriage” Luckily the article is online in the Archives:

http://www.msmagazine.com/june01/marriage.html

George // Posted 10 January 2009 at 8:40 pm

Although I agree that she does come across as making out her particular choice to be superior to anyone else’s, I thought the main take home lesson was that our main relationships and commitments don’t have to be centred around (hetero)sexuality and love construed as legally-binding monogamy…

I also didn’t find it insulting or mocking – it is playful, if anything. I suppose it is possible that if I felt that marriage was a right completely denied to me, then I would feel differently. But whether I decided to be with a man or a woman for the rest of my life (either is possible) then I still think I would still regard Marriage as something that I couldn’t easily relate to.

Civil partnerships for all!

Kath // Posted 10 January 2009 at 9:01 pm

Thanks for that link Catherine. I found that article to be more thoughtful and interesting than Zoe’s, which I had some trouble with for reasons outlined by other commenters above. The second article still throws up issues that arise around this kind of arrangement, but they are acknowledged and explored by the author.

Mobot // Posted 15 January 2009 at 9:28 am

I entered into a platonic marriage with a friend too – we’re both straight and while we are fully aware that we’re not *actually* married either legally or in the traditional sense of the word, we wanted to challenge perceptions, shout about our friendship the way that people excited about their romantic relationships do and make a commitment to each other. I can totally see how offensive this might be to people whose rights for marriage and civil partnerships have been hard (or sometimes not at all) won. We don’t mean to make a mockery of this in the slightest – from the outside I can’t claim to really empathise but I am appalled by the heterocentricity of our culture, including legal systems which dictate that only straight people have full rights. We’re not taking the p*ss, we’re trying to say something about how there’s more than one way to live your life and have relationships (and I might add, there are more than two ways i.e. gay and straight). For the record, I think Zoe’s article was brave and interesting but yes there was definitely an element of insensitivity and being patronising towards people who do make more traditional choices. I don’t mean to rant but seriously, whose right is it to judge anyone else’s sexuality or life choices? Surely feminism is supposed to be about increasing choice for everyone, not undermining others’ decisions. I direct that both at Zoe’s treatment of young marriage and at those who are disgusted by her choices.

Cara // Posted 15 January 2009 at 12:28 pm

I found this interesting.

I mean – why is marriage so priveleged? Why in fact are (heterosexual) romantic relationships seen as the be-all and end-all, over all other relationships? (that is a rhetorical question; I suspect the answer involves ‘patriarchy’).

I am a straight woman in my late 20s who has never had a serious romantic relationship…I have ‘seen’ men but it’s never become anything serious. I also prefer to socialise with other women. I just find women in general easier to connect with emotionally. (Not meaning this as a generalisation about all men and all women, though). I am not sexually attracted to women, though.

I almost wish I was a lesbian.

So I identified with the writer strongly.

I didn’t think this was patronising to women who get married young and have traditional marriages, or insulting to gay people by appropriating gay culture for a laugh – agree with Jess.

I did wonder about the bit where she describes herself as ‘gay’ because her friends effectively her family…that did seem kind of

But if others feel differently they are entitled to do so, of course.

I think it is important to question marriage, especially with the Tories considering reintroducing tax cuts for married couples (which is amazingly discriminatory towards gay people, not to mention excluding those who just haven’t found the right person or who choose not to get married).

I don’t want to get married, I don’t think – but I can see why many feminist women say that at my age, but change their minds/ are pressured into it/ give in because it’s convenient. We should question the institution of marriage because it is rooted in patriarchy, and no amount of attempting to ‘modernise’ it will change that. So the bride doesn’t have to promise to ‘obey’ any more, yay, thanks so much. I believe marriage licences have space for the groom’s occupation but not the bride’s, but anyone who knows about this, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Personally I would have civil partnerships for everyone, like others have said.

I would extend that to platonic friends, too; if your best friend is the most important person in your life at a particular time, why not?

People who want the ceremony of marriage can still do that as well, so they can have that side of it, but civil partnerships should be the only way to get legal rights – not simply inheritance, but for example, if I was in an accident tomorrow and left brain dead, I’d rather a friend could decide whether to turn off the life support machine than my parents. (Which is just my personal feeling, and not because I have a terrible relationship with them, I don’t, I just feel my closest friends who I talk to virtually every day are in a better position to know what I would wish to be done than my parents. Also I suspect my parents would not agree and would find it difficult to separate *their* emotions and opinions from *mine*).

Sorry, long rambling rant!

Rosalind // Posted 15 January 2009 at 12:55 pm

JenniferRuth – I kind of like your idea of marriage being religious and civil partnerships being civil. However, as it stands only heterosexual couples get the choice of whether their union is religious or civil as churches are not allowed to perform civil partnerships. I know that the Religious Society of Friends tried to apply to perform them but were denied. We shouldn’t forget that there are religious gay couples who are still being denied a choice which is so easy for strait couples. Churches can perform blessings or whatever but they cannot legally bind a gay couple.

Mephit // Posted 15 January 2009 at 11:07 pm

@ Cara: in the UK at least, marriage licenses ask for rank/profession of both the man and woman.

Kez // Posted 16 January 2009 at 9:29 am

Cara, both marriage certificates and birth certificates require the occupations of both partners/parents.

I know we still have a long way to go, but thankfully the days have gone when it was considered acceptable to only record the man’s profession.

Amx // Posted 21 January 2009 at 5:56 pm

Marriage is not purely a religious ceremony which is legally binding, it can also be entered into without any mention of religion at all, at a registry office (amongst other places). Marriage should be accessible to any loving couple who want to make a life and home together, whether gay, trans, or straight.

My feeling is that the gay community has become complacent since the advent of civil partnerships. CPs were designed to be something less than marriage. While the legal rights afforded by CP’s are indispensible our wholesale acceptance that it’s good enough have allowed our partnerships to be seen as on a par with that of ‘best mates’. Thankfully it’s rare these days for a gay couple to pass themselves off as friends or sisters/brothers to avoid discrimination. Now our long-term romantic unions are legally worth no more than these. We’ve (the gay community) have allowed this to happen and I for one won’t be happy until marriage is open to all. Having said that I do not for one minute undermine any loving couple who have CP’d as it is the only legal way to recognise and protect the commitment between two gay people.

Aimee // Posted 21 January 2009 at 6:49 pm

I personally think that marriage should be whatever the two people involved think it is. I don’t think she’s taking the piss, I just think her definition of what a long standing partnership is, is different from what it is “traditionally” seen as. I think that challenging traditional values of what constitues a partner is a good thing. I feel for the people who feel offended, but I think that the offence comes from judging a relationship by standards which simply don’t apply to the relationship in question.

Of course, offense is a definitely subjective thing and of course people have a right to feel offense. This is just my opinion.

Cara // Posted 21 January 2009 at 8:02 pm

Thanks Mephit, Kez.

Glad to hear it.

Yes there is still a long way to go, though.

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