A Word in Edgewise

By E.B. Boatner February 14, 2008

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The January 28 Time Magazine devoted its cover and feature stories to the “science of romance” in a number of essays, one of which was John Cloud’s “Are Gay Relationships Different?” His relationship with his partner Michael, Cloud reported, lasted seven-and-a-half years, and ended through “no one’s fault.” (Cloud offers the interesting statistic from the US Census Bureau that the median duration of first marriages ending in divorce is 7.9 years.)

“Divorced,” Cloud plunged into activities universally pursued by the newly single: hitting the gym, drinking, psychotherapy, sex, and cooking classes. He also began to study existing literature on relationships, and the tiny subset of gay relationships.

One striking find was (though you may not think it in your current situation) that gays and lesbians are significantly nicer to their partners in an argument than are straights, as well as that gays use more humor, and lesbians even more humor than gay males.

However, Cloud reported the study showed gay men to be lowest on the totem pole when it comes to making up—“repairing,” as the study called it.

One reason this might be, Cloud suggested, is that “straight couples often argue along gender lines: the men are at turns angry and distant, the women more prone to lugubrious bursts. Gays and lesbians may be less tetchy during quarrels because they aren’t forced into a particular role.”

Another factor that might vitiate the need for “repair” is gays’ frequent agreement to nonmonogamy, rendering them less partner-dependent. (Check out the findings of John Gottman and Robert Levenson.)

In spite of specific factors affecting to gay couples, Cloud also feels that legalizing same-sex marriage would help prolong gay relationships, “if only because of the financial and legal benefits….Federal benefits are unavailable to lesbian and gay couples even in Massachusetts.”

Cloud cited psychology professor Lawrence Kurdek, who found that while “gay and lesbian relationships end more often than straight marriages, they don’t degrade any faster.”

In other words,” Cloud said, “It takes squabbling gay and straight couples the same amount of time to enter what is known as ‘the cascade toward divorce.’ But straight couples more often find a way to stop the cascade.”

In a later issue, a letter to the editor commented on Cloud’s piece. It was written by a man who recently married the woman he’d lived with for a decade. He spoke in complete wonder of the change in their relationship—how they now shared a closer, deeper intimacy than they could ever have imagined. He then suggested that if Cloud and his partner had been able to enjoy the same opportunities and support to which the man and his wife were privileged, the two still might be together.

That’s the lens that needs to be focused on the “family.”

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