Monday, March 7, 2011

An Anniversary: is a partnership automatically 'better' than being single?

Today, an ex-student of mine was featured in Straits Times

Today, a student from a single-parent family was featured in ST. His mom raised him singlehandedly, and she raised a son anyone can be proud of.

Why do I mention him here?

Anniversaries were kept private

Yesterday, my partner Han and I celebrated our 13th anniversary together.

In the past, we kept our birthdays and anniversaries to ourselves. We usually buy a cake and flowers for each other. Barring a few very close friends, we would spend those evenings quietly at home.

One of the reasons why we chose to celebrate quietly is this: as the years go by, it felt like gloating. I didn't know why, but somehow celebrating with others did not feel right.

Flawed views on partnerships

Recently, I saw what stopped us from sharing: I know how being single felt like. Now that we're together, I don't see how we can enjoy the moment when some of our great friends are single. To every single person, declaring our anniversary might come across as a declaration that we'd "succeeded". In order to be successful, in my old view, someone else must fail.

Also, there are many gay and lesbian couples who had stayed together longer than we. AND, there are instances where such long term relationships come to an end. So, celebrating an anniversary is in no way a declaration that a couple has "made it".

Thankfully, age has finally given me some new insights. The main flaw lies in seeing a long-term relationship as 'superior' to that of singlehood or short-termed ones. I'd committed the same folly as the religious fundamentalists who objected to gay marriage, single-parents and divorced parenting: they assume that a man-woman marriage is superior to that of other forms of arrangements. All other arrangements are frowned upon, or worse, discriminated against.

Yet, anyone who knows my ex-student will attest that he is raised as well as - if not better than - many two parents could.

Is there only one right path?

Many people have done quite well as singles. Whether it's singlehood by choice or circumstance, many people has created extraordinary lives despite the lack of a partner. Divorced parents can bring up wonderful children, and children under traditional man-woman households are also likely to face a variety of challenges. In other words, we cannot assume that only one way works for everyone. Given that each individual grows up with distinct abilities, genes and circumstances, it is erroneous to believe that what works for us will work for every individual.

That is what religious fundamentalist believe: there is only one way. All other ways are morally objectionable.

Similarly, if I'd assume that my 13 years together with Han is somehow 'better' than every other arrangements by my fellow lgbt friends, I am, for lack of a better phrase, full of shit. Many of my single friends are doing very well on their own, and what right do I have to judge them according to my personal ideals?

A celebration need not be a comparison

With that realisation, I now share with you that Han and I have been together for 13 years. I am able to celebrate our anniversary fully. Celebrating my happiness does not diminish the varied life experiences of my fellow men and women, because I can see that one celebration is simply an affirmation that I am happy with the choice I make in life - which is to spend it with Han. I am at the same time in awe of all the single men and women who made it work and made it work well. What I cannot imagine doing myself, my single friends made a reality.

Why should a single person not see his/her life as an inspiration or a reason for celebration? Why should single parents be looked down upon or discriminated against in anyway?