Still In Love

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Question

I broke off a two-year relationship with an older gay man about a year ago. The breakup was made easier by a job offer in another city. I needed a fresh start to get him out of my mind. We had moved in together soon after our first sexual encounter, and the whole relationship was based more on sex than on love. It wasn’t long after our first anniversary that he started cheating on me, and I was quick to follow in his footsteps, using his bad behavior as an excuse for hurtful behavior of my own. We would cheat, fight, make up, have a lot of hot sex, and then start the cycle all over again. A few months ago, I got a phone call from him telling me he was going to be in my city and asking if he could come and visit. I said yes, and we went out to dinner. It was a nice evening that reminded me why I had found him so attractive and why I had been willing to move all my stuff into his huge house. Soon after that dinner, my job found a reason to send me back to his home town, and I called him up to repay the favor and take him out to dinner. We could both tell that the attraction had not run its course. Now it looks like I may be looking for another job. I’m not sure why I called my ex to tell him what was going on. I guess I am just used to him being a friend. No matter how mad we were with each other, we always helped each other out of jams. So now he has asked me to move back in. His proposal is not very romantic, I must say. My ex told me he doesn’t think he is capable of monogamy, and he doesn’t know if he has ever really been in love with anybody. But he is very fond of me, very loyal to me, and feels that we get along better than anybody he has ever tried to live with in the past. He wants to be life partners in the sense that we will share the house, be best friends, have sex if we feel like it, have sex with other people if we feel like it, and take care of each other if we are sick or in trouble. He says I can live with him for free until I get a job, because he knows I won’t take advantage of him. (And he’s right about that, I can’t stand being unemployed.) He pointed out that this way, our dogs can be reunited. They do miss each other. We can save money by sharing a car, if we want to, and afford to take vacations because we won’t spend as much money as we would if we were living alone. We will also have fewer bad days when we are depressed. There will be less heavy drinking or dragging home scruffy tricks who are nothing but trouble. I asked him what would happen if I did fall in love with somebody else, and he replied that we could always fix up an apartment over the garage, and let him move in as well. I am tempted by this offer. I’m glad I moved out and spent this year away from him. The arguing and hurt feelings had gotten so bad that I had no peace of mind. The way of living he proposes seems to make a lot of sense. I just wonder if it is too reasonable. Are people capable of putting their jealousy aside and living so logically?

Answer

Dear Still In Love: I know a lot of gay men whose relationships could be described in terms similar to the ones your ex has proposed. But I think you are smart to spend some time thinking this over before you relocate to another city to try, once more, to make it work with someone you have already tried to have a decent life with, only to get ensnared in a bunch of bad drama. Since you don’t say much about your relationship history apart from this one older man, I guess the best thing I can do is ask you some questions. Maybe the answers to these will help you to make up your mind.Have you ever tried to have an open relationship in the past? Or have you just assumed that if a man is your lover, the two of you should be monogamous? Many people think that all gay men have open relationships and that it’s somehow automatically easy for them to do so. But I don’t think that’s true. There are probably more opportunities for men to have casual sex with each other than there are for lesbians or straight men and women. But gay and bisexual men get their feelings hurt just as easily as anyone else. How do you continue to feel special, secure, and loved if your partner is getting it on with somebody else? Some people manage this by focusing on the fact that they, too, have other lovers. Some develop security by working on their own inner strength. Your ex wants to say, well, we aren’t in love—that’s the solution. I’m not sure it will be that easy. Living together and taking care of each other in the way he describes gives every appearance of being primary and romantic. Simply saying “we are not lovers” does not eliminate certain emotions from the picture.If I were you, I would want to talk to some people who have open relationships or at the very least do some reading about it. You will probably learn that it’s not smart to say “anything goes.” Sometimes it’s a good idea to agree on boundaries. “Saturday nights are set aside from partying in separate bars.” “We don’t cruise in the same bathhouse.” “Put a bandana on the doorknob so I know you are busy before I walk into the house.” Or, “We can do whatever we want, but we don’t sleep with tricks in the bed we share with each other.” Or, “We only have sex with the same guy in a threesome.” No boundary works for every couple. If you search your experience or your feelings and come up with something that seems important to you, now is the time to share it with your ex. Some couples find that after they have had an open relationship for a while, they need to change their boundaries.The other question I have is, how would you feel about this offer if you were not worried about being unemployed? Let’s imagine that you have received a large inheritance from an uncle you never knew about. You won’t ever have to work again. Would you still want to consider living with your ex? What if you got your ideal job in the city where you live right now? It’s important to consider whether your current willingness to “go there” has to do with feelings you have for him, or with economic insecurity, even though you do not plan to take advantage of his generosity. Also think about whether you need to be willing to relocate in order to be a good commodity on the job market. If so, how does your ex feel about that possibility?My last question is, if you owned your own home and had the space, would you want to invite your ex to keep you company and stay with you, taking care of you, etc., until one of you passed away? Would you enjoy that kind of life? Does that sound like a recipe for happiness? If it does, then I think you should do this. There are many good reasons to jump at the chance. If you feel a deep sense of affection for him and miss him like crazy, if you think that you can have a peaceful life with him once you have accepted the lack of sexual fidelity, and if you feel that missing him will hurt more than learning to deal with the lack of monogamy, well, why not try? It could be that you have been lucky enough to meet somebody who will cherish and care for you to an extent that many so-called lovers will not. One of the perks of being gay is the right to invent our own definitions of love. We don’t have to make our relationships look like the straight world’s idea of marriage.Many long-term gay relationships are not founded on sexual exclusivity. And the men involved are not necessarily sexual with each other. Often a “good marriage,” whether gay or straight, is more about companionship and friendship than it is about sexual passion. That isn’t a popular point of view, but it is what I have observed in 43 years of life in the queer community and more than 10 years doing therapy for sexual minority people.. Only you can say whether you are ready for that realistic point of view. It doesn’t sound like you would have to quit looking for your soul mate. But you would need to find a soul mate who could accept the presence of your ex in your life. Feel free to write again if you want to discuss that issue.

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