Sunday, January 17, 2010

On mixed-orientation marriages

I made a comment a few days ago about the structural difficulties of mixed-orientation marriage. J G-W followed up with a post in a similar vein. This spurred a bit of controversy, which I want to respond to here.

Carol Lynn Pearson talks about mixed-orientation marriages in her book No More Goodbyes (pp. 9-10). She says:

I have gay friends who have married heterosexual partners. Most of those marriages have ended in extreme sorrow. A few of the marriages are still intact, with the partners experiencing some satisfaction along with significant difficulty. They believe this is the right choice for them. I respect that choice, and I wish them well.

Carol Lynn has had more exposure to mixed-orientation marriages than any person I know. Since her memoir was published in 1986 she has been sought out by countless LDS folks (hundreds if not thousands) who find themselves in mixed-orientation marriages. She is also a very wise and compassionate person. This all adds up to making her a very reliable witness.

My own experiences and what I've seen in others are consistent with Carol Lynn's conclusions.

Carol Lynn observes that "most of those marriages have ended in extreme sorrow." This is also what I have seen in the more than 25 years since I have been talking to people about this issue. (My own marriage was one of these casualties some 22 years ago.) Most of the mixed-orientation marriages I have been aware of over the past two and a half decades have in fact ended by now. (I think the general MOM divorce statistics are in the 90% range.) "Extreme sorrow" is a poignant and accurate term for these breakups. If you doubt this, read Amity Pierce Buxton's The Other Side of the Closet.

Carol Lynn says, "A few of those marriages are still intact, with the partners experiencing some satisfaction along with significant difficulty." Again, this exactly mirrors what I've observed. I know a few mixed-orientation marriages that have stabilized and are no longer at risk of divorce. (In all of the stable MOMs I know the spouses are age 50 or older.) Carol Lynn's characterization of these surviving marriages is apt: some satisfaction along with significant difficulty. (In contrast, I would characterize most matched-orientation relationships I know, both gay and straight, as having significant satisfaction along with some difficulties.)

Carol Lynn says, "They believe this is the right choice for them. I respect that choice, and I wish them well." I can absolutely relate to this. I also respect the choices that my friends in mixed-orientation marriages have made over the years, and I support them. Like Carol Lynn, I wish much success to anyone reading this who finds himself or herself in a mixed-orientation marriage and wants to stay there. You deserve our love and unconditional support. I do not doubt your devotion or level of commitment to your spouse!

The ethical dilemma I face is this: what do I say to young people who might be contemplating entering into a mixed-orientation marriage? I might be tempted, out of consideration for the sensitivities of people already in mixed-orientation marriages, to soft pedal my advice. Maybe the point of contention is whether I should downplay the seriousness of mismatched orientations as a problem for long-term marital satisfaction. Knowing what I know after all these years, I cannot in good conscience do that. I can think of no circumstance where I would advise young people to enter into a new mixed-orientation marriage.

I don't see it as contradictory to root for those who are currently in mixed-orientation marriages and at the same time to recommend that new mixed-orientation marriages not be formed.


If I have hurt your feelings during these discussions, please accept my apologies. I do support you and wish you well. It's possible that our life experiences lead us to different conclusions about what general advice should be given to young people who are not yet married, and that's fine, too. Mine is just one voice arising from personal observation.


Molly said...

What you say makes perfect sense. I was in a mixed orientation marriage with a guy who "played straight." There's no way to put it briefly and not sound trite -- his deception led to the most pain and suffering I have ever experienced in my life.

Gay Mormons should never, ever pretend to be heterosexual and marry to fulfil doctrinal obligations. Straight Mormons should never, ever think that they will "fix" a gay spouse. From one who found herself the victim of a bait and switch: Don't do it.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Molly,

Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry for what you went through in your marriage. Hopefully, things are going better for you. (I'll be reading your blog!)

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - You were actually much in my mind as I wrote my "Unnatural Relationships" post. I couldn't be more in agreement with everything you've written here.

As I wrote my own post, I was a bit concerned that it might come across as suggesting that a gay man who marries a straight woman has somehow failed if one or both partners choose to end their marriage. As I told Playasinmar, divorce is an honorable option under such circumstances. Probably in most situations it's the only option.

A couple in an MOM that chooses to forge ahead deserves two things: (1) the full, complete, and unvarnished truth about what they are likely to face if they stay married; and (2) unconditional support from any and all who claim to be their friends. If they interpret (1) as a lack of support, they are unlikely to be up to the challenge of making the relationship last.

I too think it is extremely irresponsible to advise single persons to pursue such relationships. In fact, such advise is contrary to current Church teaching on this subject.

I understand why people will persist in entering into MOM's contrary to official Church teaching, since the only officially approved option for gay men -- life long singleness and abstinence -- sounds worse. I've seen the reasoning... "If I follow Church teaching, I will not only never have a sexual relationship, but I will be lonely. At least in an MOM I will not be lonely..."

Beck said...

No offense taken here. I think there are three basic categories of MOMs: 1) those who marry who are "knowingly" gay but pretend to be otherwise and then do the "bait and switch" (as Molly has experienced), 2) those who marry wo are "knowingly" gay, but who are honest about it with their spouse and both parties accept that knowledge, and 3) those who marry who are "not willing or can't even imagine the thought of being gay" and then come to that realization years, even decades later (i.e. Abelard, Ned, Bravone, Dichotomy(Scott), and myself among others. Each of these three basic types enters the marriage under different circumstances. It is difficult to lump them all together, and therefore, the advice you and J G-W have given is appropriately different as well. What you advise and feel toward a marriage like mine is different than one starting out either under deception or under other knowing circumstances.

I, too, would advise those who honestly know themselves for who they are, to follow the church guidance and not marry. That doesn't mean, however, that marriage in a MOM is not possible or can't work... After years of denial, heartache and loneliness within the marriage, after honesty and brutal agony after the "coming out", and now, after adjusting and reconnecting and finding true ways of making it work, I am here to still say similar to CLP's observation that I am "experiencing some satisfaction along with significant difficulty" with the satisfaction quotient a bit higher than the difficulty one. And that I "believe this is the right choice" for me and hope that you, and this community at large, can "wish me (and others like me) well" in our endeavors to keep keepin' on...

Thanks for your love and support, my friend.

playasinmar said...

My stance is: I don't care why the marriage failed, it failed so get out.

To do otherwise is to maintain a sham marriage.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi J G-W,

Thanks for commenting. Despite our differing religious views, you and I seem to agree on all practical matters. (We rock!)

The Church may have changed its policy, but not everyone got the memo. Let's hope over time that this issue becomes better understood by local leaders.

At least in an MOM I will not be lonely...

I find these words extremely ironic. There is no loneliness in this world like the loneliness you can feel as a part of a poorly matched couple.

When I hear this argument, I point out that it is unethical to ask a (straight) spouse to endure what would follow from such a marriage. Both parties deserve better.

Hi Beck,

I sometimes wonder if youth makes the three categories you mention overlap. I was in category 2-- I fully disclosed my sexuality to my future fiancee and her family three months before the engagement and almost one year before the marriage. Tellingly, I left my own parents in the dark. I'm glad I told her, but in the end when you are 23 years old, as we were, I'm not sure your decision-making faculties are mature enough to really understand the ramifications. You think that you will beat the odds. She and I grossly underestimated the degree of incompatibility that this would cause.

I'm am fascinated by the stories of people who did not know their sexual orientation until later in life. I knew I was in trouble by age 16. Maybe I'm gayer than thou (actually, I don't think that-- you're a chart topper!).

Anyway, you know I'm on your side. If you ever talk to Scott and Sarah, please let them know I meant no offense. I love them a lot and hope only for the best for them and everyone else in similar siuations.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Playasinmar,

I'm with you on this. A good divorce can be much better than a bad marriage. It's sometimes worth the pain of ripping the band-aid off quickly. It hurts a lot, but you do it and get it over with and start healing.

In other cases it's better to stay together, even if the relationship has significant areas of incompatibility. There are lots of reasons why people do this. Some of these reasons are practical-- kids and finances being some of the most common ones. Some people can't afford to divorce. There's just not enough income to support two households in some cases.

People work it out one way or another. I believe they deserve our compassion and support in the meantime.

J G-W said...

not everyone got the memo

Always a problem in big institutional settings.

There is no loneliness in this world like the loneliness you can feel as a part of a poorly matched couple

Aye. Again, a memo folks really ought to read.

I didn't realize you knew (and warned) your fiancée that you were gay before you got married. This seems to be an increasingly frequent occurrence these days. Actually, I guess I'm shocked how often it still happens and people get married anyway.

It goes to show that there is a difference between knowing that you are attracted to members of the same sex, and knowing how that will play out in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

I suppose being told that you can "overcome" this or that getting married will "fix" it further complicates the knowing part...

It also complicates things when you really WANT something -- i.e., respectable marriage in the Church of your upbringing -- and certain information encourages you in what you want, and other information discourages you. You tend to dismiss the information that doesn't sit well with your goals.

I can imagine how hard it must be for the fiancée in such a situation too... From her perspective, she's in love with you and wants you. Ending an engagement is a HUGE let down, a huge heartache and disappointment, and denial is much more pleasant in the short term... Obviously, the heartache of ending an engagement is probably nothing compared to the heartache of ending a marriage.

Then the gay man in such a situation -- especially the gay Mormon man, culturally inclined to be a pleaser -- will be more likely to cram difficult emotions and do what his fiancée seems to want, in order to make her happy...

I guess I understand the dynamics. Very very difficult...

Bravone said...

I don't disagree with the statistics of mixed orientation marriages, nor the statistics of heterosexual or homosexual relationships. That said, I hate generalizing. Each individual and each relationship are so unique. I like to give each the benefit of a doubt.

The times are also different now than when any of us in this discussion were young and marrying. So much more is know and openly discussed. I guess I am not as pessimistic about the future of any relationship with informed and honest partners.

I read an interesting book about homosexual relationships called "The Velvet Rage." I would think that anyone who read it with an open mind would have great insight into some of the issues facing gay men in relationships, and stand a better chance of making their individual relationships better.

Whatever choice people make, I agree with you and others who have said that they deserve our respect and support.

MoHoHawaii said...

J G-W, you have to remember that these events happened almost 30 years ago. In those days, the advice of the Church was to marry as a way of changing homosexual orientation.

Part of the reason I married was because of my own homophobia. Having been raised in the Church, I had only heard the lies that gay people were sexual outlaws who took drugs and lived trivial lives. I wanted a life of substance and responsibility, so I married. (I was an idiot.)

I like to think that if I had grown up now, I would have made different choices. I'm sure that if your blog had been around when I was an adolescent it would have made a difference.

I don't regret the weird paths my life has taken over the years. I adore my kids, for example. There has been good along with the bad, but I would never, ever recommend that gay and straight people marry each other.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Bravone,

Thanks for commenting!

You and I disagree on the advisability of young people entering into mixed-orientation marriages, but that's okay!

Good luck to you. I'll have to check out The Velvet Rage.

Bravone said...

Hawaii, I don't believe that it is advisable for everyone. I just like to allow for the fact that we are unique individuals with varying degrees of sexuality, maturity, and a host of other characteristics that may or may not allow for happy, fulfilling relationships.

I dont' believe it is my place to flat out advise all gay people to not enter into a marriage with a heterosexual partner. I am not them. Their journey is not mine.

We all have our opinions based on our own experiences and what we have witnessed around us. If I were to base my advice on just my personal experience, I would say it is totally possible to make a mixed orientation work and be very happy in it. I know of others who feel likewise.

I also see heartbreak and emotional destruction in some MOMs.

Who am I to make generalizations as to a couple's ability to 'dance the dance?'

I appreciate your opinion and thoughtful presentation of ideas.

Good to be Free said...

I don't think that you should soft pedal your advice at all. Statistics tell us that MOM are difficult at best and a ticking time bomb at the worst.

Just think of yourself as a physician. If someone came to you and asked your advice on a treatment that you knew had a 90% chance of a terrible outcome would you 1) recommend it 2) Maybe you wouldn't recommend it but you wouldn't encourage it either Or, 3) would you discourage that option I think most would go with number 3. It is the most ethical.

That doesn't speak badly of the situation in which I find myself, but I like you would not recommend marriage to any gay-straight couple.

playasinmar said...

I can do what Bravone won't:


Bravone said...

The true statistics about the success or failure of gay/straight marriages may not actually be known. The degree of one's sexuality differs from one to another. Some are more bisexual than pure homosexual or straight.

I have a dear friend who truly loves a girl, can change in front her, sleep in the same bed, but cannot hold her hand. Another friend's skin crawls to think about sex with a female. On the other hand, I have a business associate who has a hard time keeping his eyes off of any female that crosses his path. He feels a shot of electricity when a hot woman walks by.

Others, like me, are somewhere in the middle. I am genuinely more attracted to men than I am women. However, some women truly catch my eye and interest. My wife, thankfully, is one of them.

A gay/straight marriage stands a better chance for someone like me than the first two friends I described. Without knowing another's true sexuality, and other factors such as both partners' transparency, spirituality, maturity, etc., I advise extreme caution, but am unable to honestly predict his/her success in marriage.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Good To Be Free,

Your approach makes perfect sense to me. I think we have a responsibility to speak up.

Thanks for commenting and good luck to you!

Hi Playa,

You crack me up. It's like watching a horror movie while thinking, "Don't go in the attic! Don't go in that attic!"

Hi Bravone,

Bisexuality does add a wrinkle in some cases. True bisexuality is pretty rare. Most people are mainly oriented towards just one gender.

I'm glad things are working for you!

playasinmar said...

Well bisexuals are a different animal, aren't they now?

Here they are interjecting themselves into a discussion of gays in straight marriages, mucking-up all the perfectally reasonable theories based on a binary view of human sexuality, reminding everyone there are several flavors on the Kinsey Scale.

Bisexuals notwithstanding: DON'T DO IT, GAYS.

Bravone said...

Ha! Sorry to muck up such a thoughtful discussion Playa!

Scott said...

If you ever talk to Scott and Sarah, please let them know I meant no offense. I love them a lot and hope only for the best for them and everyone else in similar situations.

Sarah doesn't ready very many blogs anymore (mostly due to time constraints), but I do, and I'm not offended in the least by your post or your comments (here or on my blog).

Of course, I agree 100% with the sentiment expressed in this post, and I've posted myself more than once that MOMs are, by and large, a terrible idea.

Bravone said: If I were to base my advice on just my personal experience, I would say it is totally possible to make a mixed orientation work and be very happy in it. I know of others who feel likewise.

I think this is an acceptable approach, except I would take exception to the phrase "totally possible", because that implies that the odds of success are good when in reality--when viewing MOMs in aggregate--they simply are not.

Telling a young gay man considering marriage that "it's totally possible to make it work and be happy" is going to give him a false sense of hope and an unrealistic picture of the challenges he's going to face--because even if he is able to create a successful marriage, there are going to be massive challenges along the way.

Far better, IMO, to spell out exactly what challenges he's going to face, and how difficult it's going to be, and let him know how many MOMs ultimately fail, and then, once he's armed with all of that knowledge, tell him that a few people have been able to make it work (though not without a significant measure of sorrow) and with enough hard work and compromise and sacrifice he might have a chance at being one of them.

And he may even think it was worth it, at the end of it all.

(Perhaps I'm a bit more negative than I might have been a few months or longer ago, due to issues we're struggling with in our own marriage right now--but that just proves the point, doesn't it?)

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your comment. I don't know quite how to get the message out so that young people really understand what a bad idea it is to enter into a relationship with mismatched sexual orientations. I can't believe how much misery this causes. I hope you are clear with the young people you know about this.

As for your own marriage, I'm sorry to see you guys stressed out right now. Having talked with you guys recently, I understand a few of the issues. If you ever want someone to listen to you rant, I'd be glad to lend an impartial ear. Don't be shy about this if you'd think it would help.

Best wishes to you.

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

I really appreciated this post and the advice you've shared with me. While I realize that, as Bravone pointed out, a successful MOM is *possible*, I would rather learn about the difficult realities of MOM from MoHos who have been in them, than go into a MOM with unrealistic expectations, only to experience the hardships firsthand. In my case the issue, I suppose, is figuring out whether I am bisexual enough to be married to a woman (I'm not 100% gay, after all, and a bi/straight marriage would surely be different from a gay/straight one, as Playa and Bravone noted).
In any case, I am glad that you speak directly about MOM. I can assure you that, having read many MOM accounts (from you, Bravone, Beck, Scott, Carol Lynn Pearson, and many others) I will not overestimate myself when making decisions about marriage/other relationships.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi FLeeS,

I'm glad this discussion was helpful. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Dear MoHoHawaii,

Thank you for your comment on my blog.

I've been also reading ur blog and u seem so happy with ur boyfriend and children. I wish one day i could be happy like you too.

Well, good luck for you! ^o^