10 Misconceptions about Celibate Partnerships

Even as we thought about naming our blog before we began writing, we knew there would always be people who misunderstand our way of life. There are many misconceptions about celibacy in general, and it’s understandable that there are even more about celibate partnerships like ours. Seeing as we already spent some time clarifying the nature of our relationship last week, we thought that it might be a good time to expound upon some misconceptions we’ve encountered about celibate partnerships since beginning our writing project together.

1. We entered into celibate partnerships because we are lonely. Without a doubt, this is the most common of all misconceptions we hear. Whether it’s the suggestion that we are to be pitied because “it must be so difficult to get through life alone” or oppositely, the assertion that we need to suck it up and realize that being lonely is just our “cross to bear” as LGBT people, we hear some form of this on a regular basis. We can’t speak for others who have decided to pursue celibate partnerships, but our decision to do life together was in no way related to fear of or difficulty coping with loneliness and isolation. To understand more of what we mean, read the post we wrote on that topic.

2. We are trying to imitate marriage. Some of our acquaintances have asserted that the only way to understand words like “couple” and “partnership” is within the context of a pathway to marriage. Because we have shared that we are not interested in a sacramental marriage and would not be eligible for one within our faith tradition even if we did want that, we’ve heard it said that we must be imitating marriage. Frequently, we have noted parallels between the marital vocation and various celibate vocations, stating that certain aspects like intimacy and vulnerability are present within all types of vocations. Seeing parallels between our kind of vocation and another kind does not mean that we are attempting to imitate the other. Within the past week especially, we’ve discussed this further with our friends who are also in celibate partnerships, and no one we’ve ever talked to about this has seen his/her celibate partnership as an imitation of marriage.

3. We endanger our partners’ personal commitments to celibacy. Again, we can’t speak for other people here, but as for the two of us, we find that doing life together strengthens both our personal commitments to celibacy. Though we often hear folks wondering why we don’t see the life we share as a near occasion of sin, the possibility that   we might encourage each other to abandon celibacy seems totally unrealistic to us. We learn a great deal from each other, and we see each other growing in virtue as a result of living together and sharing in various aspects of life.

4. Our relationships are sexually abstinent, but not truly celibate because there must be some element of eroticism. Some folks have the idea that because we consider ourselves “partners,” we must be struggling against lust for one another. From there comes the assumption that celibate partnerships may be sexually abstinent, but not celibate in the most honest sense of the word. Speaking from personal experience, our relationship has never been based upon physical attraction, arousal, or desire. Near the beginning of our relationship, we had many conversations about what does draw us toward each other since neither of us remotely fits the physical type to whom the other is attracted. We saw easily that our common ties were commitment to doing life with another person who also feels called to celibacy, similar intellectual interests and capabilities, and willingness to help each other grow in holiness. Eroticism has never been part of the picture for us.

5. Only women enter into celibate partnerships. Sometimes we hear it posited that only women–and more specifically, only women with low sex drives–would be able to maintain celibate partnerships. We do know several other celibate LGBT couples, and believe it or not, none of them are female. All other celibate LGBT couples whom we have the pleasure of knowing at this time are men, and some have been together far longer than we have.

6. We choose “liberal, unorthodox” spiritual directors who will tell us only what we want to hear about our relationships. This misconception is one of the most frustrating because it implies that 1) no theologically orthodox spiritual father would ever support our manner of living for any reason, and 2) individual spiritual fathers cannot be trusted to guide those who seek their counsel. The two of us see receiving strong, theologically orthodox spiritual direction as absolutely necessary. We would not feel comfortable seeing a priest for confession and spiritual direction if he were advocating that we do whatever we want or see ourselves as exceptions to the expectations of our Christian tradition. Our respective spiritual fathers are fully aware of our relationship to one another, and both have offered us great encouragement. They are also committed firmly to upholding traditional Christian teachings, and we’ve never had any reason to doubt their orthodoxy.

7. Our relationships are defined by exclusivity. An objection to celibate partnerships that we’ve heard more recently is that it’s inappropriate for two unmarried people to have an exclusive relationship with one another. We’re going to say something controversial here: we don’t think any healthy relationship, celibate or otherwise, is entirely exclusive. Certainly, marriages within Christianity would view sex as one specific area of exclusivity, but even our married friends (at least those who see their marriages as thriving) don’t view their spouses as their everything. It’s impossible for one person to meet all emotional and spiritual needs for another. That goes for us just as much as for people living other vocations. We don’t see our relationship as exclusive. In fact, we’re confident that it wouldn’t work if we didn’t also have other important people in our lives whom we consider our family of choice.

8. Doing life together is nothing more than a matter of convenience. This misconception comes in two variants: 1) the idea that we chose to share life because it’s convenient, and 2) the belief that if we don’t view our shared life in this way, we should. To address the first variant, we’ve stated in numerous places that our doing life together was an organic development. But that doesn’t mean there was no intentionality behind it. Though we do know some celibate LGBT couples who have begun sharing life merely for the sake of convenience, we view our own relationship as focused first and foremost on helping each other to grow closer to God. To address the second variant…well…we’re actually confused by this one. Why would it be better to live together for the sake of convenience than to live together because we feel called to helping each other journey toward Christ? Is this intention suitable only for married couples and monastics? Were someone to answer “yes,” we would heartily disagree.

9. We are actively seeking to redefine traditional Christian teachings. We’ve written in other places on the blog about just how hurtful this assumption is. Based on our own experience and those of other celibate LGBT couples we know, nothing could be farther from the truth. Every celibate LGBT couple with whom we are personally acquainted has expressed a strong desire to live fully in accordance with traditional Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality, and this is true even for couples we know whose decision to pursue celibacy is not rooted in a belief about sin.

10. We don’t see each other as friends. We find it troubling how often people attempt to place all relationships within a “marriage” and “friendship” binary. In the near future we hope to do a full post on this topic, but we find it rather insensitive and condescending when people tell us, “There’s already a name for what your relationship is, and that’s ‘friendship.'” That said, there seem to be just as many people who want to tell us that we see our relationship as a marriage (or imitation) because we clearly don’t view ourselves as friends. This isn’t true. As we’ve said over and over again, finding the most fitting terms for describing our relationship is a struggle for us, and probably will be for a long while if not for the rest of our earthly lives. But other terms we may use–partners, couple, family, team–do not negate the fact that we are also friends.

Are there other misconceptions about celibate partnership that we did not discuss in this post? Is there something you are interested in knowing more about relative to myths and realities about celibate partnership? Feel free to leave those and any other relevant discussion items in the comments section.

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5 thoughts on “10 Misconceptions about Celibate Partnerships

  1. This sounds so beautiful. It’s new and traditional at the same time, and it sounds like you’re happy and filled with God’s love. God Bless you both!

  2. Wow! I’m so glad I came across this! Here I am a couple years after the fact. I have strong convictions in regards to marriage, chastity and their purposes in God’s plan (even politically). Yet I’ve also felt spiritual feelings in thinking about celibate, same-sex partnerships. It’s something I can envision and something I’ve been contemplating as a gay Mormon.

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