In this chapter we explore how young same-sex relationships develop and change following civil partnership. There is a cultural expectation that love relationships will change once a couple have entered into a marriage, but such expectations are based on what is known about heterosexual couples. It is not at all clear that such expectations should be carried over wholesale into understandings of same-sex marriages. Mansfield and Collard (1988), for example, note that for their young heterosexual couples there was an intense period of adjustment following marriage. For them, just about everything changed. Two-thirds of Mansfield and Collard’s grooms and three-quarters of the brides were living at home with their parents until their wedding day. As Mansfield and Collard point out, their couples had no experience of what it might be like to live in a full-time relationship before they married because the period of courtship and dating they went through was far from being a preparation for living together. Indeed, they point to the disappointments that couples often felt because marriage itself was experienced as far less romantic and exciting than the courtship had been. Typically, they found that women discovered their husbands were less interested in hearing all about their daily experiences than they had been when courting. Men, on the other hand, soon found sexual encounters were less thrilling. Their study was, of course, carried out before heterosexual couples began to enter into unmarried or prenuptial cohabitation in large numbers. So it is probable that some of the dramatic transformations that occurred for heterosexual couples in the 1980s are no longer typical (Kiernan, 2002). However, the idea that heterosexual love inevitably changes with marriage remains a strong cultural motif (Giddens, 1992).
Ann Swidler (2003), in a study of heterosexual love in the US, carried out in the early 1980s, addresses the difference between mythic love
(which is akin to the romantic love that Mansfield and Collard’s couples experienced during courtship) and what she calls prosaic-realistic love, which is the sort of emotion that is the everyday currency of a marriage. Swidler interviewed 39 men and 49 women; they were predominantly middle-class and lived in San Jose, California. They were aged between 20 and 60 and were a mixture of married, divorced and single. Swidler found that people routinely distinguished between mythic and prosaic love. The latter was seen as requiring hard work and commitment, while the former was seen as idealistic, fleeting and magical. However, Swidler also notes that mythic love was not abandoned on becoming settled; rather the ‘repertoire’ of mythic love existed in a parallel cultural location alongside that of prosaic love. Both mythic and prosaic loves, Swidler argues, are cultural constructs even though one (the prosaic) is expected to surpass and outlast the other (the mythic). As she argues:
Two cultures of love persist, neither driving out the other, because people employ their understandings of love in two very different contexts. When thinking about the choice of whether to marry or stay married people see love in mythic terms. Love is the choice of one right person whom one will or could marry. Therefore love is all – or-nothing, certain, exclusive, heroic, and enduring. When thinking about maintaining ongoing relationships, however, people mobilise the prosaic-realistic culture of love to understand the varied ways one can manage love relationships. Prosaic love is ambiguous, open – ended, uncertain and fragile.
Swidler (2003: 129)
In her analysis of different cultures of love, Swidler provides an interesting explanation for the kinds of contradictory things people say about love and how they might switch from one sort to the other depending on their situation. In this way she overcomes the idea that mythic love gives way to prosaic love as if it is part of some natural process of maturing. She seeks instead to understand recourse to one or the other as dependent upon one’s context and circumstances. She also offers a slightly different definition of prosaic love than might be anticipated because she acknowledges that in the everyday sustaining of relationships things can go wrong and the outcome is never absolutely certain. In her definition, prosaic love is a delicate process not a steady state of being; it is not a safe haven which is reached after the storms of mythic love have passed.
In considering whether some of these insights from studies of heterosexual love and marriage are relevant to contemporary civil partnerships
we shall in this chapter explore what our couples had to say about what difference the civil partnership had made to their relationships, what they did together in good and bad times, and what their plans were for building their own families. An overarching question here will also be the extent to which our couples were actually engaged in ‘everyday experiments’ (Weeks et al., 2001).