Conservatives and some religious leaders have identified homosexuality as a great threat to Western morality. In some respects they are correct. If the state has no right to legislate a narrow definition of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman, what's to stop fundamentalist Mormons, whose polygamous culture is exposed in Jon Krakauer's current bestseller "Under the Banner of Heaven," from demanding that marriage make room for a man and three women?
Notwithstanding my own conservative credentials, I have long championed the fair and equal treatment of homosexuals, believing we should show them all the love and dignity that is their birthright. I have debated religious figures throughout the world on the need to put the sin of homosexuality in proper Biblical context. There can be no question that gay sex is prohibited by the Bible, but that need not lead to the demonization of homosexuals. It is a sin not unlike desecrating the Sabbath, and it shouldn't be singled it out for particular opprobrium.
Still, I'm not indifferent to the emergence of homosexuality as a political and religious issue, nor to the notable increase in gay men and women coming out. I believe this phenomenon reflects a crisis of a different kind--namely, our culture's disillusionment with heterosexuality as we know it.
In my lectures around the world on relationships, I often ask the participants, "What's more important: attraction or compatibility?" Nearly every hand shoots up to vote for compatibility. Attraction is disparaged as shallow. The most important thing, in the minds of most men and women I encounter, is having lots in common--becoming best friends.
Now this is curious. If compatibility is the mainstay of a relationship, then homosexuality makes much more sense. After all, two men have a lot more in common than a man and a woman. How many women enjoy watching hours of football, or seeing Mike Tyson tear out an opponent's spinal cord? And is there a husband who really enjoys spending the day at the mall trying on outfits with his wife?
Let's get real. Men and women have precious little in common. Expert marketers even sell differently to each group. Heterosexual men don't read Vogue or Cosmo (although some look at the pictures), and straight women don't read Flyfishing Today or Soldier of Fortune.
With so little in common, why do men and women want to drop their same-sex friends, with whom they have so much in common to spend the rest of their lives with the opposite sex? Why does a man give up his male drinking buddies, hide his inner Neanderthal to go home to his wife? Why would a woman leave the chatty, sympathetic company of her female friends and share her life with a monosyllabic brute?
The answer is that all-powerful thing called attraction. No matter how much football two men watch together, they rarely feel romantic toward one another. For all the trumpeting of compatibility, common interests lack the power to create romantic interest. Chemistry is not decided by commonalities. In my view, compatibility has little to do with romance. It can, at best, enhance an existing attraction rather than create it. Rather, it is that belittled little thing called attraction that creates that crazy little thing called love.
And therein lies the reason for society's incredible interest in homosexuality. Attraction, once so strong between men and women, has greatly waned. In a world where natural attraction between men and women is weak, compatibility has risen to fill the vacuum. Attraction has been diluted to such a point that a much weaker force has arisen to take its place.
Why has attraction between men and women dropped so drastically? For one thing, men and women are simply overexposed to one another. Women have lost all mystery for men. That's why we use expressions like "casual" sex. How could something so intense suddenly become casual? Because it lacks emotional commitment and it is practiced with strangers to such an extent that it becomes detached, predictable, and routine.
Whereas men used to be attracted to womankind, today they are only attracted to a kind of woman. Fat women are out. Short women ditto. Flat-chested women can forget it.
Likewise, women are finding their jobs and careers more compelling than their boyfriends. They are married to their work rather than a man. (What they mostly find attractive in a man is hard cash rather than love. The message of all these reality shows, like "Joe Millionaire," is that poor guys without good jobs are toast.)
Mutual attraction has become so diminished that men and women are now grappling to find something they have in common in order to fall in love, like the couple last week who told me that they love each other because they both sky dive. Why else would so many husbands and wives say, "I love my spouse. He/she is my best friend." They are talking not of the passion between two lovers, but the companionship and trust of a friend.
Recently I was invited by the network show "Blind Date" to counsel a couple about to embark on their second date. I asked them if they had had sex on their first date. They giggled and said yes. I explained that by having sex so early they left themselves little to look forward to in the relationship. The man, all of 24 years old, was incredulous. "I don't know what you're talking about. To me sex is no big deal. We had a good time on the date, so we had sex. It was that simple. I don't look forward to the sex. We have so many better things to look forward to."
"Wow," I joked, "that must have been some really bad sex."
They didn't laugh.
"These other big things that you are both looking forward to," I said. "Give me an example."
"Like trust and friendship and sharing. All those really special things."
Little did he realize that he had just reduced his new girlfriend to one of his buddies.
We're fascinated because gays seem to have it all--sizzling sex lives as well as common interests. They're the only ones who seem to want to get married these days. On "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" we see a novel reversal in the power structure. Gays, once viewed as social outcasts, are in the driver's seat, dispensing wisdom to heterosexuals and improving their lives (or at least their clothes). The guys who grew up bullied and picked last for baseball are the new elite. The leper has become the leader--a new twist on the American success story.
With the breakdown of attraction between the sexes, I would not be surprised if experimental homosexuality became a fad over the next decade. Remember last year's movie "Kissing Jessica Stein," in which a straight woman was so turned off by the men she was dating that she fell into a lesbian relationship? This movie could not have been made ten years ago because nobody could have identified with its premise.
Rather than gawking at passionate gay relationships (or blaming gays for "destroying" our society), straight people should look at a few home truths.
No wonder "Sex and the City" is one of the most popular shows on TV. It's about four women who behave just like men (sex without commitment, whining that nobody's good enough, discarding men as if they were rotting fish) and who have platonic gay relationships with each other. They love and trust each other far more than any men, and they treat each other as soul mates.
I personally can't watch the show any more. It's far too cynical for my romantic tastes. But it's a taste of things to come if we don't start radically changing heterosexual relationships.