Now that same-sex marriage has been signed into Irish law, being gay and single has just got a lot more complicated, says Rob Buchanan.
Gay marriage has been signed into Irish law, and with the possibility of weddings on the table, long-established partners might be asking the kinds of awkward questions of each other that unmarried straight couples have for decades: ‘Why haven’t you asked me to marry you?’ ‘Where’s this relationship going?’
And that’s all good; it’s how it should be. If you are involved in someone a long time, you owe that person at least an idea of your vision for them in your life – it’s part of your duty of care and commitment.
However, with marriage now a viable option, I’ve noticed an unexpected trickle-down effect on the expectations of single queers too. I’ve attended a half dozen weddings and stags this year (the mid-30s curse) and it’s slowly dawning on me that I’ve been entered into a game I was previously been impervious to. I’m being asked the types of probing, condescending questions usually reserved for frumpy, cat-hair covered spinsters. And it’s not only my female friends or elderly relatives interrogating like I’m some over-the-hill man-on-the-shelf. It’s the straight lads, smirking while they ask me why I haven’t landed a fiancée-cum-future spouse yet.
Their curiosity has two motives behind it. Of course there’s sincere interest in my happiness, but there’s also the satisfaction of knowing that I now also must play this institutional game of life. At its root, the need for already married couples to see their single mates paired off is selfish. There’s a certain comfort in the certainty that you’re not the only one who’s in bed by 9:30pm on a Friday night, wearing your Penny’s onesie, watching Ryan Tubridy dribble and gurn on the telly while your partner does the soap-themed crossword in Take A Break beside you. Married couples want the security of knowing that while they’ve mortgaged off the party days of their youth, everyone else they know is in the same boat.
Embarrassed and Apologetic
Frankly it’s making me start to feel nearly embarrassed and apologetic that I’m single. Previously there was little stigma associated with a certain low level hedonism that seemingly marked out the single life. There were jokes from settled and straight mates, but there was grudging envy too. Now that’s been replaced by a hint of pity. For better or worse, the bar has been raised and I’m finding myself suddenly having to defend my singlehood.
This new anxiety I have about marriage pressure is certainly not confined to Peter Pansy’s like myself. Straight bachelors and bachelorettes have been feeling this heat since the dawn of heterosexual pair-bonding. Or at least the dawn of Bridget Jones. The already hitched will tell you there are only two destinies – the rose-tinted bliss of a stroll down the aisle or a bleak eternity of singledom – and the fear of the latter is driving some unprepared queers down the engagement and matrimony route with blokes they either barely know or know all too well to get legally bound to.
A Plague of Gay Engagements
What I’m seeing around me is a plague of gay engagements. Wedding invites are pouring into my letterbox, peppering my Facebook wall and social calendar. This tide – understandable as it is, given the novelty of the new law – is going to be a lasting game-changer in the field of LGBT romance. You can see this in the language used on dating sites. You can hear it in the chat-up lines, which sound like a desperate contract between tragic leftovers, the pair picked last for the Camogie team. I’ve even had (I shit you not) a bloke tell me after a few minutes: “Well, you’re not getting any younger,” nodding sagely. I’m 33.
And the thing is, I’d absolutely love to get married. I want to find Mr Right and disappoint him for the rest of his life. But I won’t do it because I’m pressurized into feeling that being single or unengaged is some kind of personality disorder. It’s perfectly okay to not be in a hurry to join coupledom. It’s okay to hit the snooze button on my biological marriage clock, if the timing isn’t right.
The irony of all this of course is that plenty of these engaged or married guys are actually in open relationships, even as they espouse the grand responsibility of a state recognised relationship. Marriage for me means monogamy. Others can do as they please in theirs, but I’d far rather wait until I’ve found the only man I want to be with before I go down the route of making the grand commitment. Laws and privileges imply responsibilities. Surely it’s better not to consider marrying someone if it’s still open season in your bed?
This rush to get public recognition and stability (plus the associated pomp, ceremony and parties) is superseding the need to let the environment develop organically rather than some predetermined rite of passage that you need to get over before you’re really grown up.
What we gays don’t realise, because it’s all so new to us, is that so many heterosexual peoples first marriages are complete disasters because getting married was such an irresistible endeavor in the first place. Their marriages were were based on passion and experimentation, and the flush of first love. They were based on a need to follow the map, defined by Hollywood, which runs from adolescence to adulthood via marriage. There are other valid routes through life, though, and we need to remember this.
So, let’s not all just rush to wed because we can. In the end, the ones who will profit from our haste and impatience will be the divorce lawyers.