Read an Excerpt
Introduction: An Adventure Begins
Together Forever follows in the path of a not so long line of pioneering books that have taken an intimate look at gay couple relationships. For example, Mary Mendola wrote about this topic in The Mendola Report: A New Look at Gay Couples, which was published in 1980. Mendola compiled surveys from more than four hundred couples. In American Couples, an extensive study of several thousand couple relationships published in 1983, Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz included homosexual couples along with heterosexual couples. David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison published The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop, their study of 156 male couples, in 1984. And in the years that followed, there have been several "how to" books published on gay and lesbian couple relationships, including my own, The Male Couple's Guide, and two excellent books by Betty Berzon, Permanent Partners and The Intimacy Dance.
Together Forever is, however, the first book that looks in depth at happy, long-lasting gay and lesbian couples. It was inspired by a book called The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts, by Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, which is about happy, long-term heterosexual married couples. But unlike The Good Marriage and the surveys of gay relationships, Together Forever is not a study or a book of advice. It's an anecdotal look at how the people I interviewed live as partners in happy, long-lasting relationships, and as couples in a world that often makes them feel less than welcome.
I was drawn to this subject in no small partbecause I grew up in an era when enduring gay relationships were thought to be impossible. And as the veteran of a nine-year relationship that ended badly, and now a few years into a new relationship, I wanted for very personal reasons to know how it was done.
I was also interested in this subject because of the ongoing gay-marriage debate, which has led to often bitter conflict in all quarters of American society, from the political realm to the dinner table. On one side of the divide are those who believe that granting gay and lesbian people the legal right to marry will somehow destroy family life, undermining the very foundation on which families are built. On the other side are those who, like me, believe that legal marriage for same-gender couples is a constitutional right and completely irrelevant to the success of the heterosexual marriage and family. Whatever the outcome of this debate, no one has predicted that the resolution will be quick or easy.
Whether or not gay people are ultimately granted the legal right to marry, the fact remains that many gay and lesbian people are already in successful committed relationships. As I discovered, there is much to be learned from the experience of these couples, for those of us who are currently in relationships and those of us who would like to be.
In order to create a realistic portrait of relationship life, I spoke with forty self-described happy couples who have been together for at least nine years. I decided on forty couples- twenty male and twenty female-because this seemed like a large enough group from which to draw the big picture. Yet it was small enough to be manageable within the constraints of the time and space allotted.
I chose the nine-year minimum for three reasons. I thought it was important for couples to be well past the legendary seven-year itch. I also thought that if couples were still happy after nine years, the odds were they'd be happy for a long time to come. And I was influenced by Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, who chose nine years as the cutoff for the married heterosexual couples they interviewed.
To find the couples I needed, I first talked with friends and acquaintances. From my gay and lesbian contemporaries, the comments were almost uniformly cynical: "That'll be a short book"; "Reader's Digestwon't need to condense it"; "A blank book?"; "You're writing a pamphlet?" I'd like to believe that these comments say more about disappointments than about hopes. From my heterosexual friends and acquaintances and from a few gay people, the response was: "Sounds interesting. I know a couple you should talk to."
Gathering the diverse group of couples I needed meant going well beyond my own limited contact network. The Internet proved the most efficient way to broadcast a request for volunteers. I posted a message that made its way across the Internet to various bulletin boards and mailboxes. The response was an avalanche of e-mails from couples volunteering to be interviewed and from people who knew of couples they thought I should meet.
In choosing which couples to interview, I kept in mind my desire for a mix of people who could tell a good story. I planned to use plenty of dialogue in the book, so good storytelling ability counted for a lot. The couples I ultimately selected have been together for nine to fifty years, with most falling in the fifteen- to thirty-year range. The eighty individuals range in age from thirty-one to eighty-six, with more than half in their thirties and forties. They come from fourteen states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Most live in metropolitan areas[cad124]both cities and suburbs- though some live in small towns and rural areas. Most of the couples fall into the broad category of middle-class, although a handful are working-class or affluent. Thirty-four of the couples are white, two couples are black, and four are mixed-race.
One thing that all the couples seemed to have in common was their motivation for volunteering to be interviewed. They wanted to offer their stories as an example to the next generation of gay and lesbian people, to offer themselves as the kinds of role models they themselves never had. Also, they were very proud of what they'd accomplished, and they were eager to show the world, as one person put it, "what it's really like to be gay--that we live life like most people do."
I conducted all the interviews in person, with both partners at the same time, and recorded them on tape. The setting was usually the couple's living room or kitchen table, and the interviews lasted from one and a half to four hours. I almost always began by asking the partners how they met, and almost invariably ended with two questions: "What is a happy relationship?" and "Is there a secret to a happy relationship?" In between I asked a range of questions from how the partners courted each other and how they live their everyday lives to what kinds of relationships they have with their families and how they've planned for the future.
I chose to organize the book in much the same way as I conducted the interviews. I begin with how the couples first met and then proceed more or less chronologically and thematically through the life of a relationship. I end with a chapter in which the couples talk about what they consider to be a happy relationship and in which they share their not so secret secrets of what it takes to have a happy and long life together.
Not all of the forty couples I interviewed are specifically introduced and quoted in Together Forever. I've included quotes from thirty-one of the couples, ranging from two sentences to a dozen or more pages. And of those thirty-one couples, I've chosen to focus most closely on about a dozen couples whose experiences, it seems to me, best cover the broad range of issues I wanted to address. Still, given how much material I gathered, having to leave out so much was an enormous frustration.
The couples are identified by their first names only. Making this decision was not easy, especially since several of the couples wanted me to use their full names. They see no reason to hide who they are, and they feel that by using only their first names they'll give the impression that they're not out and proud. But the majority of the couples were uncomfortable using their full names, not because they're gay but because the information they shared about their relationships is of a very personal nature. So for the sake of consistency and because of my own concerns about any unforeseeable fallout from using full names, I have chosen to use first names only.
Eight of the couples asked me to change their names. For most of those couples, that decision was based on their concern that revealing their sexual orientation could cost them their jobs, complicate family relationships, or risk a challenge to a pending adoption.
As I traveled the country and spoke with the couples, there were, of course, many things that surprised me. This was my first opportunity to talk to a broad range of happy, long-lasting couples living in places I'd never visited, so there were bound to be surprises about the kinds of relationships these people have and how they live.
One surprise that I suppose should not have been surprising was that the internal lives the couples described were not very different from what Mary Mendola wrote about nearly two decades ago. Attitudes toward relationships in general have changed, as have attitudes toward gay people, but the kinds of everyday relationship issues the couples I interviewed have had to face are very much the same as those faced by any couple, mixed-gender or same-gender, today or twenty years ago.
But what sets these forty couples apart from many of the couples we've read about before is their success in coping with challenges and building relationships that are both satisfying and enduring. Their lives together, whether they've been a couple for one decade or five, also reflect the changing expectations gay people have about themselves and the changing attitudes of society toward homosexuality and same-gender relationships.
I've had the good fortune to travel on an adventure into the lives of forty gay and lesbian couples who have led lives both extraordinary and ordinary. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did.