Autodidact: self-taught

Feb
29
2012

Boston Marriages

by V. L. Craven

Boston Marriages: Romantic but Asexual Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians edited by Esther D. Rothblum & Kathleen A. Brehony

-01-There are some women in my lesbian community who lived together and shared long histories together. … sometimes they had never had sex with each other.
-02-…the women would have kept the fact of their sexuality a secret.
-03-…and might never have been sexually involved with each other.
-04-…kept knowledge of their asexuality hidden from their community.
-05-…married couples are considered married even when they are celibate or when they are having sex with other people. However, for all other couples (lesbians, gay men, and cohabitating heterosexuals), their relationships are defined by the presence of sexual activity.
-06- Because women’s sexuality is socially constructed by men, contemporary sexologists are inclined to demand genital proof of sexual orientation. … Female bisexuality and lesbianism may be more a matter of loving other women than of achieving orgasm through genital contact. … The absence of genital juxtaposition hardly drains a relationship of passion or importance.
-07- The lesbian community shares this genital view of what constitutes a couple.
-08-…not all the couples kept the knowledge of their asexuality hidden from the lesbian community. … there was some variation in whom they told and in how supportive the community was about this knowledge.
-09- Many women wondered, what is sex? … Some women have redefined what sex is, or concur that their relationship defines sex differently than does the lesbian community.
-10- But forming an early close bond with a sibling may serve as an ideal for friendships and romantic relationships that don’t need sex to create intimacy.
-11- …the willingness of lesbians to be introspective and to place high value on interpersonal growth.
-12- ‘Is there a primary relationship present, or just two good friends in denial?’
-13- Our lesbian communities need to redefine our terminology and move away from sex as the focal point of ‘legalizing’ a relationship.
-14- …lesbians have little external validation of our relationships, when we don’t have sex, our internal validation is taken away as well.
-15- …many women have experienced sexual abuse. For those women, sex has been connected with violence at an early age, and sex and violence continued to be linked in adulthood. Sex has been used as a weapon, primarily by men against women.
-16- …for all women, this attempt to annihilate the feminine through sex occurs also more indirectly, as we watch sexual violence on television, read about its occurrence in our neighbourhoods, and are warned to constrain our own behaviour in case we should ‘invite’ sexual violence.
-17- Women should not be blamed for this lack of sexuality, as if it reflects some kind of [personal] neurosis; it should not be pathologized.
-18- There is a big difference between consciously rechanneling this instinctive energy into creative acts and unconsciously allowing it to drift or, worse still, drive us to unhealthy behaviours or decisions. Celibacy, for example, can be a perfectly fine and healthy way to live if it is a conscious choice.
-19- Celibacy may be the preference for reasons of spirituality, health, or physical concerns, or it may reflect a decision to focus libido into creative pursuits.
-20- A relationship is a relationship whether it has a collectively agreed upon name or not.
-21- …in blocking her own sexual instinct is she blocking other instincts as well? … does she know herself and are her choices made with self-knowledge and awareness?
-22- …they were “a union – there is no truer word for it”
~23- Historically, young women were often permitted relationships with other females in which they might kiss, fondle each other, sleep together, utter expressions of overwhelming love and promises of eternal faithfulness.
-24- ~Although biology accounts in a general way for the potential of sexual desire, the individual’s interaction with her society and individual environment more often than not has determined the extent of its expression.
-25- ~…preserved for posterity, seeing no need to hide the expressions of their devotion and love.
-26- ~The stigmatization of female-female relationships as abnormal became a weapon of heterosexual defense.
-27- ~… it was devastating, because it meant that women who could not accept the stigmatizing label of ‘lesbian’ had to deny themselves the possibility of intense same-sex emotional involvement…
-28- ~…intense female same-sex love that was purely platonic had become as unimaginable as intense platonic heterosexual love, a contradiction in terms.
-29~…the “lesbian” who had little desire to be erotic now had to question her own “sexual repression,” a concept that did not exist earlier: Perhaps she was not sexually driven because she had suffered some “trauma” that had “inhibited” her natural “sexual drive”! Were her sexual “repressions and inhibitions” making her “neurotic”?
-30- ~In earlier eras a woman had to worry that her sexual feelings were inappropriate and abnormal, and had to hide from everyone the fact of any sexual experience she might have had. In the post-sexologist era a woman has had to worry that her lack of sexual feelings is inappropriate and abnormal, and she must hide problems such as asexuality or “inhibited sexual response,”…
-31- ~Women in more modern times have been made to feel anxious and guilty (at least toward themselves)–to feel that they have not expressed themselves fully, and that they are endangering their physical and mental health—if they do not indulge in sexual relations. In popular wisdom, sexual pleasure has become something of a medical necessity.
-32- …the pressures on lesbians to be sexual have been even stronger.
-33- ~To be a lesbian meant, and continues to mean, to feel permission, or pressure, to assert oneself sexually.
-34- ~For others, who see it less as permission than as pressure, it has been perplexing. It may be especially perplexing to those who identify themselves as being in a lesbian relationship but would prefer to have that term signify what ‘Boston marriage’ meant in the 19th century. They value their relationships because they provide nurturance, companionship, practical financial and domestic arrangements, affection, tenderness—everything except genital sexuality. But despite the success of such relationships in so many areas, the women involved may feel something lacking because popular modern wisdom (inculcation of which one cannot escape) says that sex is central to everyone’s well-being.
-35- ~That aspect is ineluctable since the label ‘lesbian’, as they learn in the subculture, denotes sexual behaviour.
-36- ~Implicit in the pattern is the assumption, often felt as a pressure, that ‘real’ lesbian relationships must continue to be sexual through the years.
-37- ~…most woman-woman relationships tend to be less sexual than relationships in which a man is involved.
-38- ~ [From Susan Johnson's Staying Power: Long Term Lesbian Couples] Johnson found that 92.3% of her sample of couples who had been together for at least 10 years reported that the frequency of sexual contact decreased since the beginning of their relationship. Almost 60% of her sample had sex once a month or less, and almost 20% had had no sex whatsoever during the year on which they were interviewed. Perhaps one secret of the ‘staying power’ of these couples is that, despite 20th century pressures to be sexual, most of them have been able to satisfy themselves with a relationship that is as asexual as most 19th century Boston marriages appear to have been.
-39- ~…sexual desire that is less than full-blown is often not brought to a genital conclusion. After the first excitements of a sexual relationship have passed, it becomes easier to replace sexual activity with less energy-consuming cuddling.
-40- ~This ‘bed death’ has been attributed to the tendency of lesbians to fuse with their partners and thereby destroy the barriers and differences that are often the most powerful stimulants to the sexual appetite.
-41- -I suspect, that while cuddling and fondling and emotional support were essential to their relationships, sex was not.
-42- ~Most of the women involved in Boston marriages probably did not chase the elusive permanent passion. Thus they were freer than lesbians of our own age to cherish and maintain what was valuable in an emotional relationship that was not genital.
-43- ~Perhaps it is inaccurate to suggest that the sine qua non of a lesbian relationship is its genital sexuality if most long-term lesbian relationships (to which lesbians so frequently aspire) are so often barely sexual and may even be asexual. Perhaps we need to learn something from the 19th century that will help us broaden our concept of the meanings and structures of committed love between women.
-44- ~That term might give women another way to look at their relationships that transcends 20th-century pressures to seek an elusive sexual passion, which often accounts for the breakup of a couple.
-45- ~Although it may be anachronistic to apply the term ‘lesbian’ to women in 19th-century Boston marriages who had never heard that term, to call contemporary committed relationships that have ceased to be (or never were) sexual ‘neo-Boston marriages’ has better justification.
-46- ~The problem, I finally concluded, was not with relationships or desire, but with the phallocentrically based prescription of sexuality.
-47- ~…perhaps I could begin to reconfigure touching, intimacy, and fun into new female pleasure forms. In this process, genital touching, instead of the primary signifier of intimacy, would become incidental. New forms of intimacy—playfulness, for example, or special rapport—might include genital touching, but then again they might not.
-48- ~…the most dramatic shifts in my identity, my habitation, my work have been, in large part, attributable to my attempts to be close to someone I was ‘in love with’ at the time.
-49- ~…the women I interviewed, since they hadn’t viewed their affiliations as intimacies, were startled that their stories merited anyone’s interest. … ‘Since we had no expectations, the relationship developed at its own pace without disappointments about how we weren’t meeting each other’s needs.’
-50- ~Against all advice, the papers they drew up stated nothing about possible dissolution. It was understood that neither should have to move out of the house because of the other one. In case of death, the survivor would inherit the entire house.
-51- ~Italian feminists call this kind of bond affidamento, or entrustment.
-52- ~Oscar Wilde observed, that ‘we are least candid when we were being ‘ourselves.’ Give us masks, he suggests, and we will tell the truth.’
-53-~One possible outcome of couples therapy for members of a Boston marriage is that the women make the decision to continue to perceive their relationship as a functional primary commitment. It has been my experience clinically that this outcome, although rare given the social context in which such a couple functions, requires a high degree of personal integrity and acceptance of difference from community norms. Both women must be able to embrace, rather than simply tolerate, the value of a relationship defined by factors other than sexuality. They may define themselves as primary partners and decide not to use the term lesbian to describe their relationship.
-54- ~Thus fidelity in these cases becomes defined by faithfulness of emotional intensity rather than by sexual behavior, underscoring that the strength of the partnership is not sexuality, but love, affection, and feelings of deep intimacy and emotional connection. Coming out as a committed asexual couple requires more strenuous communication to friends that the relationship is real and not open to invasion simply because it lacks the element of overt sexuality.
-55- –Some researchers suggest that because women are the ‘emotional glue’ that holds heterosexual relationships together, when we love each other, there is enough emotional bonding at every level that the ritual of sexual intimacy is less essential to maintaining the relationship.
-56- –We have the best cuddling ever. We touch and hug a lot. We respect each other and demonstrate that in our interactions. We are tender and affectionate. We kiss often, but not ‘seriously.’
-57- ~When I talk about it now, I don’t use the word ‘lovers.’ I usually say, ‘when we were whatever we were.’ Most of my friends know enough about it to understand. I don’t explain it to people who are new in my life. I don’t go into the short explanation. I only talk about it if I can really tell the whole story. In my mind there is no quick way to explain it without sounding like I’m making excuses. To say, ‘Well, we were, but we weren’t really, lovers’ sounds almost defensive. Still, it was important, even though we weren’t really lovers.
-58- ~We need words to say we’re committed to each other, and that we will talk about life decisions together, but that we’re not lovers. Too much of what gets recognized in our community is not who we care about but who we are attracted to and who we end up in bed with, which may be based on very dysfunctional urges.
-59- –The model is sex has to come first and then you get to know each other—I think that’s kind of backwards.
-60- I thought, as long as we didn’t acknowledge it, she probably would have been willing to go on and be committed to me.
-61- ~…when we travelled together or even slept together in the same bed, nothing would happen. It would just be very nice, some embraces, some kisses, but not really sexual.
-62- ~We are very clear that ours will not be a sexual relationship, so we can go about relating to each other in the way we always wanted to relate.
-63- ~Eve will never have, I don’t think, the same access to the total person of Marianne that I have.
-64- ~’I feel my skin become permeable, feel my atoms move aside so that her atoms can come and fit in between them.’
-65- ~I started to come up with reasons why I had to hang out with her all the time. It just developed in this way, and it wasn’t sexual.
-66- ~When I first met Hannah, I was fascinated.
-67- ~It was pretty soon after I met her that I started feeling in love—kind of obsessed with her. It was weird, because I felt she was returning it. She was talking a lot about me to her friends, I found out later. She would refer to me, saying, ‘Oh, Sarah and I had a conversation.’ Her boyfriend was very hung up on her (he still is) and was getting very jealous.
-68- ~Hannah would say I was just a friend, but it was the way she was talking about me that made other people think about it.
-69- ~I called her a lot and way always coming up with reasons why we had to hang out. It was stupid, because she wanted to hang out with me anyway. But somehow I felt that I had to provide explanations.
-70- –I finally told her I was attracted to her. She got really mad at me. She didn’t believe me. She said I’d been treating her like shit. We were both thinking along the same lines but acting really strange. Not showing up. She would not show up for dates and then be very apologetic later.
-71- ~…we sort of started making love and it was really bad. She was talking in the middle, she was saying, ‘This is really interesting.’ She’s an incredible intellectualizer.
-72- –It turns out she had a relationship with a woman, Christine, that was suspiciously like our relationship. The difference was that Christine was completely in love with Hannah and very attracted to her. Christine would have sex with Hannah and Hannah would just sit there. They lived together for two years. They weren’t really lovers and they weren’t not lovers, and they were both involved with men. That ended about a year and a half ago and then Hannah got involved with Sam. So Hannah was single, she sort of was with Christine and sort of not with Christine, and then she got together with Sam.
-73- –There seem to be two characters that she has, both with women and with men: one is lots of sex and not friends and the other is close friends but no sex.
The latter characterizes our relationship. Now we’re both sure what it is. Our relationship has leveled off and it makes sense now. I feel like we’re having a primary relationship, but we’re not having sex.
-74- –My current life just feels so comfortable, but I feel my identity is in question. It’s comfortable for me to have this not-very-sexual, loving thing.
-75- ~I tell different things to different friends. A very select few of my friends completely accept this as my relationship and the fact that I’m not having sex is sort of irrelevant. My sister is in that category. She just sees me as being in a relationship with Hannah, and my not having sex is not even relevant, it’s my relationship. … And then a lot of people we know in the lesbian community that that we’re lovers.
-76- ~Those people who always knew me in relationship to Joann are beginning to see that maybe Hannah is my lover now. They’re not sure if we’re sleeping together, and I’m not saying. They’re assuming that we are, basically. A lot of people that we know assume that we’re sleeping together. It’s kind of a recent phenomenon, because we decided to test out being lovers by telling everyone that we were and seeing how it felt. Because we feel very ambivalent, we’re both in this mode of not wanting to be in a couple. We feel like we’re allies. When you’re in a relationship, on some level you’re allies but on another level you’re adversaries. And so we feel like we’re allies and we can tell each other everything. That’s why I feel that jealousy hasn’t been a big issue yet. We can talk to each other about stuff that we’re going through with other people. But it’s getting more difficult. We’ve had this 3-month period in which we tried to value our relationship and say it’s different from other people’s view of a relationship but it’s ours. That we are together and everybody will just have to accept us this way. Once we started saying that, it started looking more like a relationship.
-77- –Hannah feels she can’t have sex with me, it’s just beyond that point.
-78- –And I would just be relegated to friendship status. That’s been the big fear on both of our sides. Rather than being jealous of affairs, which is what people do in relationships, we wonder when is one of us going to get involved with someone, and fall in love, and do it the normal way, and which of us will it be?
-79- –The dynamics in our social scene are really bizarre! We’ll go out together and we’ll seem like such a couple.
-80- ~On some level, the fact that we’re not having sex isn’t even relevant. But what makes it relevant is that we can’t completely define our relationship and use the old rules. If one of us sleeps with somebody, it’s not like we’re having an affair, exactly. The actual act of having sex is not the issue. It’s the undefined relationship that is the issue, where it’s not clear what the rules are.
-81- ~Sex would make us even too intense, given our closeness.
-82- ~Our relationship brings up all the hidden things about lesbian relationships. Hidden things like, What are the rules? How do lesbians get together? Do we just follow the heterosexual model or do we do it differently? And usually lesbians try to be different or alternative, but they end up following the same rules as heterosexual relationships.
-83- ~It was intense and romantic, but the ultimate contrast was that I never had interesting conversations with Joann. And all Hannah and I do sit around and have interesting conversations.
-84- ~Even though we have no good word to describe our relationship I know that part of calling ourselves lovers is not really true, we’re not lovers.
-85- –I’m terrified of being physical with her. She has the attitude that there would be something incestuous about us sleeping together.
-86- –It’s very rare that we meet new people and say, ‘This is my lover.’ That’s never happened. But when I’m talking about her, sometimes I say, ‘my lover.’ Or I say, ‘my friend’ but the word ‘friend’ has this accent on it.
-87- –And when I have affairs with people, I describe Hannah as my primary relationship so that they know that I won’t get involved with them. I describe it briefly as, ‘I’m very close to a woman and it’s like we’re lovers,’ or I say we are lovers. The few times I’ve been in that situation I’ve basically been very honest about it. I’ll say, ‘we’re not lovers, we’re not physically close, but our relationship is primary.’ It explains for a lot of people why I refer to her constantly. She becomes the standard person that gets referred to.
-88- –I think Hannah refers to me as her girlfriend. In Israel, she was saying that she wanted to tell everyone that she has a girlfriend.
-89- ~It’s not as though Hannah and I are just these buddies who never think about having sex. We have these intensely sexual discussions and we just flirt with each other all the time. We’re always hugging, especially in public. It’s really safe and it identifies what we are. Hannah loves that, and she told me a long time ago that what she really wants in a woman is someone in her life to hold hands with as she walks across campus. And that’s exactly what we do. And my image of our relationship before we even got together is that I wanted this calm, friendly, domestic relationship in which we hung out in our apartment all the time. And that’s exactly what’s happened. It’s like a movie in which there’s a fade out, a movie about our relationship.
We do all the things that people in relationships do. We have breakfast together and we go to bed together and we sleep together pretty much every night, all wrapped around together just like people who have just had sex. And we have all these rituals.
-90- ~I guess people in long-term relationships stop having sex anyway. And I guess they’re distressed about it, and Hannah and I are not distressed about it. There is something very beautiful about our relationship.
-91- –There have been points in my life when I felt I was closer to my sister than anyone else in my life, and that I would end up spending the rest of my life with my sister. I think Hannah has kind of replaced my sister. I’m still close to my sister, but Hannah has taken on that role. And even with Hannah saying it would be incestuous if we had sex, that our relationship would be too intense if we had sex, it’s as though she’s my sister.
-92- ~Hannah and I are allies, there is something organic about our relationship as we are getting to know one another. There’s something nice about that—if you never go to bed with someone, somehow you have this ability to be allies. With a lover, all this shit immediately comes up, my ego gets completely wrapped up in having sex with someone.
-93- ~There are so few things you can talk about in a sexual relationship, you feel like you’re treading on some very shaky ground.
-94- ~I admire her and want to be like her, and every once in a while I get weirded out about that.
-95- –Our relationship is working, which is not true of other relationships I’ve had. I guess all relationships have strong points and weak points, and usually sex has been my strong point and everything has been off the scale. And now I’m having a relationship in which sex is not the strong point and everything else is good. It’s a good trade-off.
-96- ~I want sex with her. And I don’t believe that she wants sex with me. One reason that sex is even an issue is because it’s expected that people in our situation would want to have sex with one another. If we were in a value-free society, if would just never come up.
Sex is a part of our relationship. There are sexual elements, there is a sexuality between us. It doesn’t culminate in a physical act, but it’s definitely there. Like when we’re in public. She’ll take me to her office and the secretary will be there, and it’s obvious that she enjoys doing this.
-97- –Because I was Kathleen’s first relationship with a woman, the courting period was rather extensive and it was fun, it was great fun.
-98- ~Probably the neatest thing about the relationship between Kathleen and me is that we have grown together and frown individually, and by growing I mean we have outgrown some not-so-healthy behaviour patterns and we have developed and grown into some new and healthy ones.
-99- ~I decided that I didn’t really need sex and I didn’t really want it. That it was enough for me just to be close to her, to be held and to be cared for and cared about and to be hugged and kissed and caressed. But sex, the actual act of making love, was not something that I needed or wanted and I had the right to say no.
-100- ~There have been times in the past few years when we have been asexual that I have felt some kind of passion and some kind of desire to have sex. Again, it is not something that I am comfortable talking about, and it is not something that I have ever been able to ask for when I have wanted it, so I have just lived without it, which has been fine with me.
-101- –..in my first lesbian relationship, the entire year and a half we were together, she made love to me, I never made love to her. She would never allow that.
-102- –I just never learned or explored or attempted or even wanted to learn to do myself.
-103- ~My guess is that our friends are friends enough that whether we are sexual or asexual wouldn’t be important to them, but it is not something that I would willingly want to discuss with them. It would depend on how close the friends were.
-104- ~I fell in love with her at first, you know the first time I met her. I just thought she was wonderful.
-105- ~It took us about a month, I think it was, of kind of hemming and hawing around each other, writing each other letters and notes and this sort of thing and getting together, not saying anything for long periods of time and then finally talking.
-106- ~…I am talking about arousal to a climax, that kind of sexual relationship. We did still at this time have a second kind of a sexual relationship where we would cuddle a lot, hold each other and kiss, kind of a sexual relationship if you will. We quit having the climax type of sexual relationship about a year ago even though I wanted it.
-107- ~Do our friends know that it is an asexual relationship? No, they don’t. In fact, I have told Maria, she knows that I get upset sometimes because she’ll make jokes every once in a while that sound like we are having a sexual relationship when we are not.
-108- ~I really do believe that society should be more accepting of nonsexual relationships. I think that there are a lot of nonsexual, or at least relationships where not much sex goes on, that are happening in society and I think that television makes it seem, television and books and just people talking make it seem that there is more sex going on than there really is. … We’re kind of forced into thinking that sex is the be-all, end-all of a relationship.
-109- –We’ve both been lucky we have both grown in the same direction.
-110- ~I have been out at work. I make it just a natural part of my conversation that I talk about Maria as my partner and I feel in doing so people come to accept this as a kind of ‘normal’ state of affairs, you know, meaning that this is an everyday thing just like a heterosexual relationship and that there is nothing crazy about it.
-111- ~A lot of our friends tell us, and a lot of acquaintances tell us, that they think that we have the ideal relationship, and that is interesting.
-112- ~…people see what they want to see. They see that we have the ideal relationship. I don’t think there is such a thing as the ideal relationship. Relationships are individual and individuals have relationships according to themselves.
-113- ~Some of the concepts that are widely accepted by sex therapists include the following: sex is a natural function; when sex is not going well there is a reason, usually psychogenic in origin, pathological in nature; a primary goal of the sex therapist is to make an accurate diagnosis of the sexual dysfunction and develop a treatment plan accordingly; regular sexual activity is recommended for both physical and emotional health…
-114- –My initial assessment, confirmed through an extensive sexual history, was that Susan was ‘sexually aversive’ and her aversion was rooted in childhood sexual abuse.
-115- –I now see that what I was confronted with was a Boston marriage. And I see that I had been assuming that sexuality between Susan and Janine was absolutely primary and necessary to survival of the relationship. I now question these assumptions and imagine how I might have proceeded differently.
-116- ~Were Susan and Janine to walk into my office today, I would encourage them to explore their common ground and their individual definitions of relationship.
-117- –I would want to know much more about what Susan might do that could be fun and sensual and sexual for her, without entering into distasteful or unacceptable territory. Might they masturbate in each other’s company, for instance? Might touching of breasts be stimulating and fun, as long as it didn’t lead to genital involvement? I would encourage this couple to consider a range of valid options.
-118- –By traditional sex therapy standards, this would probably be considered a treatment success because the couple, at therapy’s end, was engaging in weekly sex, without fear or pressure. However, through Boston Marriages’ lens, what I did not do with this couple was challenge their assumptions early on. And of course I couldn’t, because I had not yet challenged my own.
-119- –Each student read a prepublication copy of Boston Marriages and wrote a brief reaction paper
I was surprised by their positive responses. I had expected that asexuality would seem foreign and weird to these college students and that they might be starting out with homophobic attitudes about all lesbian relationships.
-120- –…the overwhelming majority loved the book and strongly identified with it.
-121- — [Woman who hates all labels] She sees the term “Boston marriage” as yet another label that classifies and separates.
-122- –Many students noted with dismay that it is more acceptable in our society to be lesbian or gay than nonsexual.
-123- –Many people have asked if we’re ‘involved,’ and I haven’t known what to say. Now I know there are more ways to define committed relationships than just sexual activity.
-124- ~Rather than sexual desire, I think I have a soulful desire for women. My two closest friends and I are talking about a lifelong commitment to each other and are trying to figure out how to actualize it.
-125- –…sexuality and relationships need to be redefined.
-126- –I want the freedom to define for myself how to manifest my devotion to the company of women. … I honour these women’s relationships as attempts to create their own lives as they want them, with few models and little support, validation, or community.
-127 –Instead of focusing on sexlessness in a negative way, let’s rejoice in the love and honesty these women, in Boston marriages, are finding.
-128-~My students have reminded me that freedom of choice is the highest order of societal organization, and that loving and committed relationships are grounded in more than mutual stimulation of breasts and genitals.
-129- –Periods of celibacy, or even indefinite celibacy, may be perfectly appropriate for an individual or a couple. It may be appropriate for a sex therapist to validate a consensual Boston marriage.
-130- ~The goal of sex therapy should always be to accommodate the couple, and in some cases this may mean accepting asexuality.
-131- ~In fact, it has occurred to me, since reading Boston Marriages, that there may even be advantages for some women, for some couples, who do not have sex. In other words, asexuality is not necessarily pathological; it also may represent something more positive than merely avoidance of an unpleasant or undesirable activity. It may represent a higher state for some. I think, for instance, of the unparalleled intensity of early teenage romance. For me, at least, this was a time of strong, pure positive feelings of lust and love without sex.
-132- ~Just as there is enormous variety in eating and sleeping patterns, there is also, and especially, enormous variety in sexual preferences.
-133- ~…clearly Boston Marriages tells us there are, times when the ‘natural function’ is asexuality.
-134- ~Perhaps cultural control over what kinds of intimacy or commitment were sanctioned was more necessary at times when one’s survival was predicated on belonging to a particular group. Then, ways of determining whether an individual belonged—to a clan, to a religion—were paramount.
-135- ~We have found ourselves with fewer cultural expectations for commitment, but the expectations we retain are just as rigid. And those expectations are even less articulated, less overt, than they have been historically.
Members of oppressed groups, of course, have also had to retain or create group identity as a way of surviving in a culture that does not automatically confer belonging on them.
-136- ~…all look to group identity as a buffer to oppression and a source of pride. Yet, on the interpersonal level within each group, there are sets of rules and expectations about what constitutes a ‘real’ relationship, what is considered a legitimate arena for commitment.
-137- ~Perhaps we are coming to a time when we can afford to change the paradigm of how we understand relationships. This would entail a change not just in the ways we have of grouping relationships, but in the fact of using groupings at all. To group and define relationships based on commitment rather than sexual intimacy, for example, changes only the basis for our differential valuing of relationships, not the fact of that valuing.
-138- ~A real paradigm change would entail using an individual or internal way of defining relationships, rather than a group or external definition.
-139- ~If there is not a way to group relationships and classify them as more or less worthy of endorsement based on external standards, then there is not a way for any person or couple to claim status based on the nature of that relationship.
-140- ~What is all this obsession about sex anyway, about naming our sexual relationships and behaviors and deciding how legitimate each one is? It even seems that the English language describes relationships primarily on the basis of sexuality. We have ‘mate,’ ‘spouse,’ ‘consort,’ and the like (usually with an implied meaning of heterosexual), and then a collection or words for nonsexual relationships: ‘friend,’ ‘comrade,’ ‘chum,’ and so forth. A few of the latter imply a relationship within a work setting (‘colleague,’ ‘partner’). Aside from the work/nonwork distinction, however, the words for nonsexual relationships generally give almost no information about intimacy or commitment. It would seem that what matters in a relationship is whether there is sexual intimacy. In the context of sexual intimacy, we note commitment. But if there is not sexual intimacy, we don’t seem to be interested in commitment or even any kind on depth of intimacy.
-141-~We hear the women who are telling their stories groping toward some way of describing a relationship that is central in their lives, and yet is minimized or distorted. Is this relationship real? Am I normal?
-142- ~Laura later considers one way that kind of commitment might be enacted: ‘I’d like to say, “I’m moving to this city. Who would like to move with me?”’ This is, in fact, a radical proposal in a cultural context that considers sexual relationships the only relationships committed enough to move for.
-143- ~The term “Boston marriage” is revolutionary in that is gives us language for one more form of relationship. As Ruth puts it, ‘It would be good to have a name for this for only one reason, and that would be to expand people’s consciousness.’ A name gives this particular relationship legitimacy, makes it ‘real.’ To have a name for these relationships expands the boundaries of what a relationship is. Further, it is particular act of courage to define a relationship that challenges the given order by not falling neatly into our usual pattern.
-144- ~But the use of the term “Boston marriage” is also, ultimately, self-defeating. If we want to move toward, as Marny Hall puts it, demoting genital access as the index of relational significance, then we find ourselves with one more term that defines relationships in terms of genital access. In a society obsessed with sexual definition and with hierarchy, we might create a way to describe our reality, only to have it inevitably ranked in the patriarchal list of relational importance. I imagine “Boston marriage” finding itself somewhere between ‘lover’ or ‘life partner’ and ‘friend’ or ‘roommate.’
-145- ~If we lack language, we are lost in our oppression, not even having a way to talk to one another about what we experience. Yet if we create new language, it cannot be used other than in the context in which we live and shape its meaning.
-146- ~Perhaps the degree of mutuality in the relationship is the best indicator of the relationship’s well-being.
-147- ~The risk of using a single descriptive term—’Boston marriage’—to include this range of experiences is that the richness and reality of each particular relationship is lost.
-148- ~It seems to me that the term ‘Boston marriages’ is one of those in-between steps on the road to radical change. Perhaps ultimately we need either language that refuses to make assumptions about any relationships, or language to describe relationship in all their richness, with no more focus on sex than on any other aspect of intimacy. But we will not get there without challenging the limitations of our language for describing relationships as it exists now. And that means finding ways to talk about what is really going on in our relationships.
-149- ~…how else might we describe relationships outside of a context that is focused on sex and possession? A relationship implies some level of intimacy, from the simple recognition of the other that marks acquaintanceship, to the deepest levels of mutual knowing. We need ways to describe depth of intimacy. It is shocking that the aspect of our connection with others that accept us most forcefully, that counters our isolation and mirrors for us who we are, is one that we cannot describe very accurately. Further, there is the matter of kinds of intimacy.
–Commitment is another major factor in a relationship.
-150- ~The language available to describe reality, particularly such a fundamental aspect of reality as relationships, serves as a method of social control. If we can’t say it, it’s hard to think it, and even harder to enact it.
-151- ~Let the reality of each relationship, rather than its name, speak to you.
-152- ~I want to be able to say something about the body comfort, the familiarity, that develops in some friendships…
-153- ~What would you want to say about your relationships if you had the language to do so?
-154- ~Imagine what you might say about your relationships if your language was generated from your own experience. Then make a relational commitment that is not socially endorsed. Tell someone else the truth about your experience of intimacy.
-155- ~I think the ideas and stories contained in this book will provide relief and peace of mind to some couples who may be wondering why they are so happy with each other when supposedly their lack of sex is proof that something is wrong between them.
It is true that lesbians are presented with the need to create ‘markers’ that define ‘lesbian relationships’ as different from ‘just friendships.’ It is also true that society is so imbued with male-defined concepts of sexuality, that the importance and significance of genital/sexual contact in lesbian relationships may be inflated. On the one hand, I believe that it is perfectly possible for human beings to live happy lives without being sexually active.
-156- ~All I am trying to do is differentiate between friendships, no matter how essential for survival, and a deep life commitment or long-term partnership in which the participants recognize themselves and are recognized by others as ‘more than friends.’
-157- ~There are stories in which the narrator or narrators describe a willing partnership in which genital sex does not seem to be an essential component and in which participants describe themselves as being fairly satisfied with such an arrangement.
-158- –If both women understand the weight of the past, or the need to focus on other aspects of their relationship, I believe this is a valid and healthy alternative for a lesbian couple.
-159- ~It may be that, for some of the woman described in these narratives, it is less threatening to believe that because they are not having genital sex with a woman, they are not lesbian.
-160- ~Were not the 19th century partners in the original Boston marriages willing to acknowledge their love for each other even if not expressed genitally?
-161- ~…it is all too easy for women to believe themselves to be on high moral ground when they are not being actively sexual.
-162- ~If one of the women thinks she is in a partnership, and the other one denies it, are they? Is the one denying it a victim of her own homophobia or other personal issues? Is she refusing to acknowledge the true nature of their relationship? Or is the woman who believes she is in a partnership just living an illusion? How can we acknowledge the silencing and the concomitant pain experienced by some of the narrators who felt rejected and unacknowledged as partners by women they deeply loved? How do we accept the reality and the experience of the women who would not or could not see themselves in a relationship with another woman?
-163~…too many contradictions and pains, both individual and relational, might be glossed over by idealizing the relationship as a Boston marriage.

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