How do we deal with our ex? At a time when we often separate, this question is becoming increasingly important. And do homosexuals have a better bond with their ex than heterosexuals?
According to the latest figures from Statistics Netherlands (CBS), 38.8% of all marriages fail and a marriage lasts on average 15.1 years. We, the authors of this paper, ended our long relationships – not with each other – after eleven and eighteen years, and thus end up almost exactly at the CBS-average. The average age at which men divorce is 47.4, the age at which women divorce is 44.2. Also in this average we, both gay, fit exemplarily.
At a time when so many people are divorcing, their environment benefits more than ever from a good ‘marriage’. This concept was launched eleven years ago by journalist and programme maker Djoeke Veeninga. She interviewed a number of exes and collected these conversations in a book entitled ‘Marriage’. It gave a nice insight into how some heterosexual couples tried to deal with each other in a practical and friendly way, and sometimes lovingly, after the end of their relationship.
Most heterosexuals don’t do a marriage, Veeninga had noticed. There was mainly an atmosphere of making hard jokes about your ex, a fighting divorce mentality, even among people who are normally forgiving or capable of solving things reasonably. She and her ex-husband tried to have the best possible contact. Unbelievable that you still get on so well with each other’, her environment was surprised to find out. This prompted her to carry out a small sociological study. She observed that the few heterosexual marriages were mainly practical, aimed at wanting to do as well as possible for the children.
After our own relationships had run aground, we started – after a while from a distance – to organise our marriage. We weren’t married, but the word marriage can also be used after a long relationship. Children, often the binding agent between exes, we both don’t have. Advice from our surroundings often read: Say goodbye to your ex, you have not split up for nothing. Or: Get over it, date someone else. These advices are in line with the idea that was common in our society for a long time, namely that it is better, or at least brighter, if you don’t see your ex anymore. Stripe underneath and continue.
But we didn’t succeed, the door to our ex-lovers and to that, often so beautiful, shared life, didn’t want to close. We noticed that the advice to say goodbye came more often from heterosexuals than from homosexuals. And we also saw that the gays around us keep their ex in their new lives much more often than heterosexuals. Is it true that homosexuals usually have a better bond with their ex-wife than heterosexuals, and if so, why is that?
There are no figures about marriage, neither for heterosexuals nor for homosexuals. CBS data do say something about the number of same-sex divorces since same-sex marriage.
Longer ex than partner
They show that 30 per cent of closed same-sex marriages ended ten years later. Gays are therefore heading for the same number of divorces as heterosexuals.
What does the marriage of Ton Muller (52) look like? He had a relationship for six years, his ex has been his ex for longer than they were partners. “The great thing is that after the relationship we continued to grow together,” says Muller. “We discuss everything with each other. Is the other person in his or her own right, why is he or she, why not? We can say everything to each other.” During the relationship, Muller had a more caring role, perhaps because he is a few years older, but in the meantime it has become more equal. Over the years, he and his ex have started to pay more attention to each other. Muller: “I don’t easily see the two of us going out or going on holiday when they’re divorced. My ex and I do that very easily.”
Sociologist Laurens Buijs makes a clear distinction between rural homosexuals and gays in the city. Rural homosexuals live in a terraced house and form families; their relationships are more similar to those of heterosexuals. Gays in the city are more likely to experiment when it comes to relationships, sex, and also drugs, and, according to Buijs, this has an influence on the way in which urban gays organise their relationships, and also their marriages. He says that gays have shorter relationships more often and are more likely to find a new relationship and therefore more often deal better with their ex-girlfriend.
“Gays do want to have a normal relationship, but often they don’t succeed very well. Relationships go out faster than heterosexuals and are followed up more quickly by new relationships.” Buijs blames this on the heteronormative society. In puberty, when everyone starts sniffing around, homosexuals notice that sniffing around is not as obvious as it is for heterosexuals. That’s why they don’t go through the adolescent phase until later: when they end up in an environment where it’s possible. This late adolescence is the cause of adhesion problems and the quicker termination of relationships, says Buijs, but also the granting of each other a new future.
Past and future
Ton Muller: “Straight people still have their children after their divorce and therefore keep a connection with the past, the present and the future. I have come to see my exes as my family, they are my past and my future. That’s not going to happen consciously, but I think this way I will make sure that I won’t get lonely later on. And so are they.”
Luisa Gouveia (51) had a relationship with a woman for twenty years. Since the break they call each other almost every day. “We know each other so well, we continue to feel responsible for each other, like sisters. We don’t have to wait for each other. When my new relationship started, my ex-wife dragged me through it. Put on your sneakers and run’, she would call on the phone. She knows exactly what’s right for me.”
Doris van Delft (28) does not describe the relationship with her friend as friendship, but as special. “We came out of the closet with each other, so you’ve been through something together.”
Swedish professor of gender studies Jens Rydström sees that also in Scandinavia gay men are more often friends with each other than heterosexuals. “Gays often need a self-formed family,” he says.
Earlier Rydström wrote the handbook on Scandinavian gay marriage ‘Odd Couples: A history of Gay Marriage in Scandinavia’. He says: “Your ex is your family. Maybe young gay couples will do things differently later, will need each other less, but I’m not sure, homosexuals remain a minority group with perhaps always their own laws.” Recently the professor went on winter sports with his ex-boyfriend. Rydström: “We both love skiing, and our current partners don’t, it was a practical and pleasant solution. But heterosexuals around me thought it was strange, almost exotic.”
Social scientist Linda Duits, who specializes in gender and media studies, blames the Christian tradition for the fact that heterosexuals are usually more difficult about friendship with an ex than homosexuals. “It is deeply rooted in our culture that men and women have to have sex in order to take care of their offspring. That puts a lot of pressure on the way they get along, even when they are exes.”
German says that the big difference is that gays follow a fairly modern scenario. “Gays started writing their own ‘script’ in the sixties, from the moment the first gay men became public.” A script is a kind of model on which like-minded people start to live. According to German, heterosexuals often follow a traditional script in terms of relationships and divorces. She notes, just like Buijs earlier, that there are also gay couples who follow the heteroscript more closely, and vice versa: heterosexuals who look at the gay script more closely. Just as there are gay couples who never see each other again after the divorce. Clattering divorces, fighting divorces as we also know them among heterosexuals, occur just as well among homosexuals. But less often, we can conclude cautiously.
Another explanation why homosexuals continue to see each other in a friendly way after their divorce lies in the way in which homosexuals shape their relationship. This is what American research from 2003 shows. Gays are better at making it possible to discuss and resolve conflicts with their partners than heterosexuals; they start the conversation more positively. In any case, homosexuals in a relationship are usually more equal to each other. Moreover, they are usually more cautious in expressing criticism, because they often do not have children as a binding agent to save the relationship. Therefore, they look for a calmer and respectful way to discuss dissatisfaction.
Although more and more divorced heterosexuals have a special bond with their ex-wife, Laurens Buijs thinks that homosexuals take the lead in this. “Straight people can learn a lot from gay people. In heterosexuals, he often notices more shame when a relationship goes out. “A lot of gay men have thrown open their sexual relationship, which gives them more autonomy and equality. As far as I’m concerned, the hetero-family model has had its day. I grant heterosexuals that they take themselves less seriously in that area.”
Linda Duits also thinks that heterosexuals should look more at homosexuals, both in the way they have a relationship and in the way they form a marriage. “In an open relationship, you don’t put an exclusive claim on the other person as much as in an open relationship. That makes the relationship healthier.” German explains that in a monogamous relationship the rule is still ‘You are mine’. “Clearly a legacy of our religious culture. As a woman, you were once given away by your father, you literally became someone else’s.”
A good marriage doesn’t have to stand in the way of a new future, of course. A good marriage is not about one night of ice either. It takes time to build that up, just like a love affair. Djoeke Veeninga wrote about her own marriage: ‘Now that her daughter is mature and independent, VM and I have come to Marriage of our own accord in the autumn of this year. VM stands here for Former Man.
Now, eleven years later, her marriage has stabilized. Veeninga: “We form a large newly composed family. Me and my husband, his children and my child will soon go to Suriname where my ex-husband is with his children. A lot of fun.” Veeninga suspects that in heterosexual movement there is a lot of marriage. “Professionally anyway, there is a whole market of mediators and divorce experts.”