286. oppugn

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Are you the new person drawn toward me? To begin with, take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose; Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal? Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover? Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction? Do you think I am trusty and faithful? Do you see no further than this façade, this smooth and tolerant manner of me? Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man? Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion? Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, Book 5, Number 11

Holy ****, kids, how did it already get to be September 1?

Recently, I have been getting a number of singles ads geared towards… mature adults, which is a special feeling. I’m not sure whether this is due to fact that my internet search history reads like a Stephen Ambrose text, or the fact that I am in my mid-30s.

Do all librarians experience this type of thing? Is Google trying to tell me I ought to be dating older guys?

… on the subject of dating older guys…

Yesterday I learned that one of my ex-boyfriends is now dating a guy I went on a date with several years ago, which is a weird feeling. It’s weird because virtually everyone I used to date is now with a long-term partner of some sort, and I’m the only single denominator left.

As of today, September 1:

  • I came out 9 years and 8 days ago.
  • My longest serious relationship to date is roughly 8 months and 20 days.
  • I have now been single for 4 years, 5 months, and 8 days.
  • It has been 3 years, 2 months, and 17 days since I last went on a formal date.
  • The last time I had sex was 1 year, 10 months, and 16 days ago.

There’s a lot of emotional baggage wrapped up in those abstract dates. They’re like mini tombstones, with start and end dates neatly defined for each instance.

Possibly the most sobering is that, as of next year, I will have been out as gay for ten years.

That’s a huge fucking milestone.

I’ll also be turning 35 years old.

company_opening

It means something to be months away from having a master’s degree, having finished my undergraduate degree roughly thirteen years ago, yet having not held a significant job, not having formally entered a career, or not having had a significant romantic relationship that lasted longer than nine months.

I have my theories as to why I still place so much stock in the institution of the traditional, committed, long-term dyad relationship. Perhaps it’s just the longing for a family unit of my own, something I have never really known or felt safe around.

Yet most of my attempts at finding a partner have either been abortive or disastrous. My relationship with Jay lasted a mere eight months and 20 days. Since then I haven’t met anyone who I was remotely interested in who was even remotely interested in me.

(Alas, note the careful wording in the last sentence.)


A few weeks ago, I went to see one of my favorite musicals, Sondheim’s Pulitzer award-winning Sunday in the Park with George.

There are a several reasons why it’s my favorite.

As Joss Whedon once observed, the first half is about the struggle of living with the weight of genius; the second is about living in the shadow of it. Through most of my life, I have lived in fear of the shadow of expectation, whether of greatness or genius I’m not sure.

There’s another reason, though.

The Georges of both acts struggle to connect with people around them, and that is something I have never been fully able to do thus far. To an extent, I have been able to connect with people through my writing, to affect them and effect some small changes.

“Connect, George, connect!”

While I am good at a number of things, I have always felt acutely separated from those around me. While other children began learning how to negotiate social relationships in kindergarten and preschool, my formative years were spent at home, largely alone.

Because of the repressive, restrictive religious nature of my upbringing, I learned to censor myself, what not to say, who not to be. To protect myself from judgment and censure, my formative years were spent perfecting the art of keeping people away.

While other children had to learn to externalize their thoughts and organize them for an audience, my formative years were spent in my head, with my own thoughts.

In my silences, it’s not that I don’t have anything to say. It’s that I don’t know how to contextualize for others the long, ongoing conversation I’ve been having with myself for those on the outside. I don’t know if this is a skill one can learn at my age.

When I write about the improbability of finding a romantic partner “at my age,” what I mean is that I am terrified it will never happen—that in spite of my desire to connect and to belong, I lack the requisite social and emotional skills to sustain a relationship.

When I worry about seeing an increasing number of grey hairs in my beard, I think of how long I’ve been working at all this, and being nearly 35 and finishing grad school, and still feeling hopelessly behind.

When I think about dating older guys, I worry about being 35 and how much less time I’m going to have with them before they inevitably die, or before I die prematurely due to stress or the effects of my lifestyle of drinking and, frankly, lack of nutrition.

I think about how I never got to experience the insouciance of dating as a young gay man, and the joys and sorrows that go along with that.


I’ve also been asking myself recently  what I really need in a relationship. Do I need monogamy, or will emotional fidelity be sufficient? In the land of gay men, where kink and open relationships are widely the norm, can I afford to be picky? If he’s into leather, am I okay with being the vanilla partner?

Frankly, forming one stable intimate relationship sounds exhausting by itself. I can’t fathom the emotional energy required to establish a constellation of trusted relationships to meet my needs.

These are still uncharted waters, and we’re writing the rules for same-sex relationships as we go along.

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177. trachle

Standard

holding-handsLast week on Facebook, I posted an article from Queerty about the results of a study conducted through Hunter College in New York that found that of the 800 gay and bisexual men surveyed, “many subjects received physical and mental health benefits from relationships with some degree of openness.”

The article ignited quite a good conversation, the emerging theme being some surprising indignation over monogamy bashing. I can understand how someone in a monogamous relationship might feel affronted over some labeling them sexually repressed, prudish, vanilla, or old-fashioned. The latter term I find particularly humorous as someone who considers “old-fashioned” anything relating to pre-agrarian society, and thinks of “oldies” as music written before 1600.

And I should say up front that the results of this study should not be taken to mean that all relationships should be open, that monogamy is unrealistic, or anything of that sort. Studies of this kind are always descriptive, not prescriptive – sort of a This is what we see rather than This is what should be. This is also a study of gay and bisexual men, and has little (if anything) to do with heterosexual relationships.

So I thought I’d take a moment to discuss open relationships and what they are (and are not), because there seems to be confusion over what “open” means.

First, it’s not a synonym for “polygamy” or “polyamory.” It merely means that a couple is not sexually exclusive, strictly speaking. This openness takes diverse forms, from a couple simply including a third person, to each partner having one or several outside partner(s), or a combination. And the degree of openness varies widely. A couple may be more (or less) discriminating about who they invite in. There may be one other person, or many. It depends on the couple and each partner’s comfort level and sense of trust and security established in the relationship. Each relationship is as unique as the people in it.

In other words, this is all about practicing good communication and doing what’s optimal for your relationship, and for yourself. If you’re the sort of person who’d experience emotional distress over entering into a sexual relationship with someone outside of your own marriage or partnership, then it’s not a good choice for you. But if you and your partner have both expressed an interest in other people, have talked about it and set parameters that you’re both comfortable with, and are pursuing those relationships in a safe and healthy way that doesn’t harm anyone – why is it even an issue?

I should talk briefly about my own experience with open relationships. Readers of this blog may know that I was raised in a Christian home where sex was barely ever talked about, and that sex outside of marriage was a serious sin. Because our God was the kind who enjoyed micro-managing, and because the Calvinist sect of Christianity that my parents ascribed to believed in predestination, I was taught growing up that from the dawn of time God had chosen one person [of the opposite sex] for each of us to marry (except, of course, for those who God had predestined to be celibate – i.e., homosexual). So the paradigm I had as a child and young adult was exclusive, one-person-forever monogamy.

My first encounter with an open couple happened a couple of years ago when a friend told me that he and his boyfriend were interested in me sexually. Now, even after I came out gay, my relationship paradigm was still exclusive, one-person-forever monogamy. I should also say that my first sexual encounter was with my first boyfriend – and I mean first everything – first kiss, first time being naked with anyone, etc. We dated for about six months, and in that entire time I was faithful to him.

After we broke up, I started to wonder if I could really commit myself to just one person for the rest of my life, now that I’d actually had sex. My parents have been faithful to each other all the time they’d been together. Most of the couples I knew had been faithfully monogamous, and we tacitly considered those who got divorced or cheated on their spouses less Christian for having broken their marital vows.

So there I was, being propositioned by a friend of mine and his boyfriend (who are married now and still happily together), and the odd thing was that it wasn’t that weird once I was actually face-to-face with the question. And since then I’ve got to know many other couples who are at different points on the monogamish spectrum.

I should say at this point that “open” is not a license to cheat, or have whatever you want. (My parents were fond of the saying, “Why buy the cow when the milk is free?”) Cheating implies sneaking around, which itself implies that something is not right in the relationship. All the open relationships I’ve been involved in have had the full blessing of both partners, and I’ve turned down guys whose boyfriends or partners didn’t know what they were doing.

And in a way, the friendships I’ve had with guys in open relationships (at least of the couples I’ve become involved with) have felt closer and more honest, mainly because we’re not tripping over all that dratted sexual tension. No one’s worrying about what’s okay or acceptable because we’ve talked about it.

Are all my friendships with couples in open relationships sexual? No. Only a handful, because I’m discriminating about who I get involved with. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I don’t have preferences and standards!

Next time I’ll cover another subject I’ve been thinking and talking about lately – monogamy.

In the meantime, if you want to share any thoughts about open relationships, experiences, or angry notes, you can do so in the handy contact form below. Or leave me a comment!

Hugs and kisses.