We live in remarkable times. For decades, heterosexuals have been fleeing the institution of marriage; first, by divorcing in great numbers, then, by living together outside of marriage and by delaying it to later in life. At the same time, many homosexuals have been advocating for the right to marry. They understand the benefits of committing yourself to someone, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live. Go figure.
Consequently, the state of marriage has been, for the same number of years, the source of deep social and political conflict and polarizing culture wars. Into that maelstrom, I would like to float a proposal.
Marriage rights for singles.
Yes, that’s right. It’s about time that single people reaped the considerable benefits that marriage affords.
Many say the decline of marriage is responsible for many ills in our society; everything from juvenile delinquency and crime, to entrenched poverty and mental illness, to child abuse and the undermining of fatherhood. We’ve got more fractured families, more economic insecurity, less social mobility for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, and more childhood stress. Our common culture is fraying. The decline of marriage endangers the very foundation of a middle-class society. Everyone should have the opportunity to marry: that’s what gay marriage has taught us. Let’s be more inclusive, if only to repair our culture.
I know what you’re going to say. Single people already have the right to marry.
Yes, but they have to get married to be married.
Getting married is a difficult thing. First, you’ve got to find someone compatible from a field of thousands, or millions in urban areas. For modern singles, it’s a problem of too many choices. If your potential partner has a minor flaw, you move on because there are plenty more to chose from. The odds of two people being perfectly, mutually compatible in every way are astronomical. Then they’ve got to find each other. Who’s got the time? Working people are working eighty hours a week, and unemployed people are, well, unemployed.
Even if you find someone compatible, then you’ve got to bet that they’ll stay that way. You’re going to be expected to stay with that person for the rest of your life, and life, these days, is very long. The demands on spouses are great. Your spouse has got to be the hottest lover, the most effective parent, the most diplomatic in-law, your best friend, tennis partner, travel companion, helpmeet, bed-warmer, boss schmoozer, and arm candy, all in one, forever. Just try to find that on match.com.
So, you see, it’s very difficult to get married and stay married. If single people are going to reap the benefits of marriage, we will have to lower the threshold. How can we do that, you ask?
The Buddy System
Remember the buddy system? You were in camp and it was time to go swimming. The counselor called out, Buddy up. You chose your buddy, or one was chosen for you. The idea was, that if one of you began to drown, the buddy would notice it before anyone else and rescue you before the lifeguard could even get into the water. The buddy system is used, for the similar reasons, in the military and by Mormon missionaries. Variations to the buddy system include AA sponsorship, the spotting that weightlifters do, and the partnering found in police cars. Buddies are found everywhere. Batman had Robin, the Lone Ranger had Tonto, Starsky had Hutch, and Thelma had Louise. The benefits of buddying up are obvious, extensive, and profound.
If single people were to buddy up they could reap many of the advantages of marriage. Going to college? Get a study partner. Need an apartment? Get a roommate. Starting a job? Find a mentor. Your girlfriend causing too much drama? Download it all to a friend and sort it out. Raising a child alone? Don’t do it. No matter what, don’t do it. Recruit some people to help you. Buying a car, a house, going into business? Don’t sign a thing till you talk with someone first. Getting old and afraid to die alone? Find someone to do it with you.
I’m not talking about just friends who you go bowling with, go to the game with, go shopping with, or get plastered with. I’m talking about a buddy. Remember, when you were set to go swimming at camp, you were about to do that with a whole gang of kids, your friends. Just having friends is not enough. You need to pair up with a designated, mutually-acknowledged, co-responsible buddy. Someone obligated to drop everything for you and vice-versa. A relationship as close as you would have with your spouse if you were married, with, or without the sex.
If fact, using the buddy system for sex is probably safer, healthier, more satisfying and more reliable than going home with someone new each night.
For the buddy system to work best, it’ll have to be a recognized institution, complete with religious rituals, solemn vows, communal recognition, rights, duties, contracts, lawyers, and privileges. You should be able to have a party when you buddy up. You should be able to have your buddy visit you in the hospital. All the things that gays and lesbians are looking for in their marriages. We’re not there, yet, but you can start the movement now, by getting a buddy and sticking with him.