When my two mothers separated after 28 years in 2005, one of the most frustrating reactions was that of a few of their friends, some of whom seemed to feel genuinely let down that my parents had failed in their role as poster parents for the same-sex family. Such was their disappointment that some were angry and quite cruel; they saw the end of our family as somehow affecting their own.
I see this play out time and again in my own community, where the breakdown of one relationship becomes such a major part of other people’s lives, as if groups of friends are all part of some melodramatic polygamous marriage. Instead of asking the parties how they are (and then listening to them!), people make it about themselves, projecting their own fears and guilt onto those involved.
This is especially bad when one of the partners in the relationship breakdown has been unfaithful or fallen in love with someone else. The amount of self-righteous crap hurled at the member of a relationship who leaves can be astonishing. I understand why the partner who has been left is angry and hurt, sure, but why is it the role of mutual friends to judge and punish the “guilty party”?
I think a big part of the problem is the idea that loving someone – and remaining sexually and emotionally monogamous – is a moral or ethical position, rather than an emotional state. When our friends do something we deem unethical, we see fit to comment, judge or confront them about it. But is falling in love with someone really an ethical decision?
I don’t think it is. The decision to stay sexually or emotionally monogamous is a personal choice, and falling in love is the business only of the parties involved. When friends and family get involved in break-ups, they further complicate them, alienating the partner they think has committed the ethical misstep. Feeling hurt or self-righteous on behalf of the ‘injured’ party can also add to their suffering, making them feel like a victim, and prolonging their post-relationship recovery.
While these judgments and fights happen in straight communities, I think there can be more emotional investment by friends of queer pairings – and not just because of the increased likelihood that one’s friends are one’s exes! I think we’re desperately seeking role models, examples of ways to love each other. We haven’t seen them while growing up, so we look to our friends for examples of how to live. Unfortunately, people inevitably disappoint us because they don’t make the decisions we like to think we would make if in their shoes.
Creating a set of moral rules to guide relationships may seem like a good idea, but placing constraints on emotion rarely ends well. I’d rather make the choice to be with my partner than stay with her because I should. Every day I choose not to be with someone else, not because I think it’s the ethically ‘right’ thing to do, but because I’ve weighed up the pros and cons of doing otherwise and I continue to think it’s the right decision for me.
This decision is mine and hers, not that of my friends. So if we ever change our minds, I’d ask them to respect us equally and give us space to work it out between us, rather than trying to get involved.
By day, Maeve Marsden is a project manager, coordinating advocacy and education programs. By night, she publishes her opinions on the internet and performs with cabaret act, Lady Sings it Better. Twitter: @maevegobash