This post aims to clarify the meaning of the relational models in gay relationships.
Each of us has a personal history characterized by a specific cultural and socio-affective context and by a series of events that beginning from the childhood progressively build specific relational models, this happens, of course, also in the sexual-affective field. Each of us thus comes to interact with other people on the sexual-affective field following models different from those of the other people because of the relational models that they tend to adopt more or less spontaneously. Often we are not even aware of the strictly individual meaning of those models and tend to extrapolate them and to consider them as necessary rules of behavior to apply to everyone.
The weight of the relational models is perceived very strongly in relationships with people who come from very different socio-cultural contexts, in these situations people realize how can be difficult to find a common ground, but even when two people come from the same socio-cultural environment, there are often incompatibilities that can derive from the diversity of relational models.
Well, now let’s restrict the field to the sexual-affective relationships. It must be said that strong differences in relational models are found, even among people of the same sexual orientation, in relation to age groups. A straight guy in his twenties and an old straight man in his sixties follow very different relational models and the so-called generation gap is largely a consequence of this fact. We can ask if differences in the relational models among straight and gay people are objectively important.
Socialization and approval are two different concepts but with significant areas of overlap. The integration into a social group is certainly facilitated by the approval and in turn eases approval. In this sense, relational models should, even on the sexual-affective plan, be very homogeneous within social groups strongly integrated, but this applies only to well defined groups that actually share a specific culture and a specific set of values but neither heterosexuals nor gays as a group have these characteristics and, indeed, relational models tend to be cross-sectional and spread well beyond classifications based on sexual orientation. Despite this it remains that some relational models have special characteristics that make those models more suitable for a heterosexual relationship than for a gay one or vice versa.
From the historical point of view the regulation of sexual-affective relationships identifies with the marriage (which is not even always and only monogamous) and with a whole set of values associated with marriage: marital fidelity, the certainty of paternity, the indissolubility, the virginity before marriage, etc. .. This relational model starts with the idea that the married couple must be heterosexual and able to have children. In other situations the matrimonial model loses its essential meaning even if it retains a different meaning, linked to the social recognition of the couple itself, but in this case it would be a marriage only in a very particular way and away from the original meaning. It is in this sense that we talk about gay marriage when we do not take into account the possibility of adoption or other forms of fatherhood. If gay marriage foresaw the adoption or different forms of fatherhood it would clearly be quite similar to heterosexual marriage and could follow the rules that apply to heterosexual marriage itself.
But beyond the legal regulation of gay marriage, the matrimonial relational model tends to be the “first” relational model also for the gay people. Saying “first” I do not mean the first in order of importance or the most common, but the first in chronological order for the majority of gay people, the model from which starts a process of progressive creation of alternative models more suited to specific situations. A gay young man dreams of a couple’s life, with an absolute fidelity to each other, with a full social recognition and an absolute stability. The movement that seeks to extend marriage to gays is based on these models. The fact that gay marriage becomes an object of the struggle for civil rights tends to give a stronger value to its relational model, but it is clear that, beyond the formalism of the law and beyond the myth of gay marriage, a straight married couple and a gay married couple have to face very different social reactions, even today and in most social contexts, that’s why the extension of marriage to gays at legal level would in any case be something very far from gaining the equality between gay and straight people.
WEAKNESSES OF THE MATRIMONIAI MODEL
The matrimonial model, like all strict models, ends up clashing with reality and to highlight its weaknesses in this clash. The first and inherent weakness of the matrimonial model is its being almost absolutely irreversible. You can also promise fidelity for life, if the fidelity is not having sex with other people, but the promise of love for life means looking at love not as a feeling but as a voluntary behavior, which is not realistic. The matrimonial model, however, is justified by the presence of the children, despite this inherent weakness.
The real weakness of the matrimonial model occurs instead in its extrapolations to unions between gays in the absence of children. It is completely unreasonable to think that the legal recognition of gay unions should establish a system of legal guarantees exactly the same as those of heterosexual marriage (with children). In this case there are no children to be protected and to impose as a legal rule the indissolubility of the marriage or procedures for the separation and divorce with requirements similar to those required by the legal regulation of heterosexual marriage does not make sense.
But let us leave aside the legal issues, and return to the relational model. For a young gay guy in almost all cases, the export of the matrimonial relational model to the relationships between gays is almost automatic, this is the dream of gay guys, or at least the first dream of gay guys.
In fact, about 50% of heterosexual marriages ends in separation or divorce, and in many cases, even if the marriage formally continues it becomes hardly tolerated for a quiet life.
Legal models, as well as relational models, have an inevitable social evolution. Between the traditional indissoluble marriage and the marriage after the introduction of divorce, the difference is substantial and beyond the law, social development can no longer tolerate, at least in many countries, that criminal penalties are applicable to marital infidelity. We continue to talk about marriage, but the concept is perceived in a different way. I mean that gay marriage, to be realistic, should not be a theoretical myth, but should be perceived with the same fragilities of the heterosexual one, if not with still further fragilities (in case of absence of children). Gay marriage will also result in gay separation, in gay divorce, and even in civil cases for crimes related to gay marriage, just as it is between straight people, unless you give to gay marriage a meaning and rules other than those of heterosexual marriage.
But of course, for a young gay guy, the idea of gay divorce is not even to be considered as such because it distorts the matrimonial relational model, that as long as it remains theoretical, does not show any weakness.
WEAK RELATIONAL MODELS
From the matrimonial model, often starting from experience, gay guys develop other models that incorporate the weaknesses of the matrimonial model itself, excluding from the beginning those obligations whose violation undermines matrimonial model. I’m referring first to the indissolubility of the relationship and then to the obligations of absolute fidelity. A weak relational model is based on the idea that a relationship does not necessarily have to be everlasting and that the violated fidelity not necessarily must be considered as a crime that leads inevitably to the end of the relationship itself.
It is obvious that a weak relational model gives less security but is much more flexible and less fragile, and although it may seem paradoxical, weak relationships are often more stable than those strongly constrained. Calling the law to compensate a lack of love forcing the partners to respect their obligations is in fact an absurdity that doesn’t find especially in the case of gays, any justification because of the absence of children.
COUPLE’S INCOMPATIBILITY AND RELATIONAL MODELS
The tendency to marry tends to decrease even among heterosexual people in favor of free relationships, non-legally structured, and among gay people, in the countries where there is a gay legal marriage, the number of gay couples who are getting married is still very limited and, even beyond legal aspects, there are a lot of gays who remain single, even if they can have a couple’s live. These are not people who do not have a love life but people who do not identify with matrimonial relational models. All this deserves a careful thought.
When a couple’s relationship is in crisis, it’s almost automatic to apply the matrimonial relational model and question of who is to “blame”. In fact, the concept of blame derives from the matrimonial relational model and from seeing marriage as a contract, which overshadows its emotional aspects. If you stop loving a person, or if you fall in love with a different person, you do not commit a crime but according to the matrimonial model you commit a violation of a contractual obligation. The couple’s incompatibility derives from the fact that very often both partners have deeply assimilated their relational models and that these models affect them by creating a set of expectations that are often disappointed because the relational model of the other partner is different. The same behavior is for a partner very insignificant and sounds seriously offensive to the other. What makes us truly perplexed is the fact that the rigidity of relational models makes sometimes impossible relationships between people that while experiencing feelings of mutual respect have nevertheless the impression of living in different worlds and being not able to understand each other.
A tangible example. Many people assuming the universality of their own relational models, will not agree with me reading what I wrote about the weakness of the matrimonial model and about the value of weak relational models. I would draw your attention to the fact that I have tried to refer to what I see every day and I have to point out that I have had to repeatedly change my views on these issues, and I’ll probably have to do it again.