Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Trouble with Many Gay Relationships

When I first saw the February 4, 2008, edition of Time, containing a lengthy section on romance, love, and relationships, I was eager to see if I'd find an article on gay relationships.  Specifically, I hoped there would be positive information about gay relationships like the one Chris and I have--long-term, stable, loving, happy, committed, and monogamous.

To my surprise and delight, there was a piece titled "Are Gay Relationships Different?"--different from straight relationships or marriages--written by John Cloud, himself a gay man.  Eagerly, I turned to the article and began to read. Unfortunately, Cloud perpetuated exactly what I hoped he wouldn't.

The frame of the article was a relationship he shared with Michael, whom he'd met in 1998.  They spent seven and a half years together.  Then, in late 2006, Cloud moved out.  He used all the usual cliches to explain what happened:  He and Michael still loved each other, but they weren't in love with each other.   They still had sex together, but there was no passion.  Increasingly, they lost interest in each other, and they felt lost.

Finally, Cloud writes, "The night Michael wouldn't stay up to watch "The Office" finale with me, I knew I had to move out.  Yes, he was tired, but if he couldn't give me the length of a sitcom--Jim and Pam are going to kiss!--then we were really done."

Say what?  The impetus to move out was based on his partner not staying up to watch a bloody sitcom on TV?  Are you kidding me with this?

While Chris and I have favorite TV shows we love to watch together, I can't tell you how many times we've shown no interest whatsoever in the programs each other watches faithfully.  I can't stand watching "Hockey Night in Canada," for example, even if the Vancouver Canucks are playing.  Even if they're playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  But did that lead Chris to think that we shouldn't be together?  No, of course not.

My concern was that the final straw that broke the camel's back, in the case of Cloud's relationship, was too trivial, too arbitrary, and too flighty, typical of some of the fags I've known over the years.  Here today, gone tomorrow, at the least provocation.  Head on a swivel, attention span of a hummingbird, no staying power, no guts.  How could Cloud treat his relationship so lightly?

Upon closer reflection, I decided to give Cloud the benefit of a doubt.  After all, he did say that the challenges he and Michael faced had been going on for some time.  Perhaps he was trying to inject a little humor in what finally motivated him to become single again.

But I still wonder what gay couples, and straight couples for that matter, thought when they read about John's reason for ending his seven and a half year relationship.  Is that how all relationships end--they fizzle out to nothing, the least thing leading to an inevitable end?  I don't know.  Fortunately, to this point, that hasn't been my experience.

No matter.  There was plenty more for me to pick on in this article.

Several times, Cloud asks if he and Michael would still be together today had they been a straight couple.  He writes, "I wondered whether Michael and I could have done more to save our union.  What impact our homosexuality had on the longevity, arc and dissolution of our relationship?  Had we given up on each other because we were men or because we were gay?"

Yes.  Both.  In general--and I know I'll get myself into trouble for generalizing--I think it's easier for gay men, who are supposedly in long-term relationships, to give up on them when they become the least bit challenging.  Or when they are continuously presented with the temptations of the gay world, which there's no escaping:  Lots of beautiful, muscular young men; lots of available sex; lots of fun times as a carefree, single man.

Unfortunately, I think Cloud, whom I admit I don't know from Adam, took the easy route.  I think it was much easier for him to start over again than it was to focus on the problems of his relationship with Michael, and to see what the two of them could do together to preserve it.  Obviously, there wasn't enough in it for both of them to do that.  Or the world outside their relationship looked infinitely more attractive.

I think "for better or for worse, 'til death do us part," like monogamy, is too "straight" a concept for many gay men.  When the going gets tough, the tough bugger off to a new life of working out, loosing weight, and indulging in alcohol, drugs, and lots of hot, anonymous sex, just like Cloud admits to doing.

Whatever happened to working out and loosing weight when you're still together with your partner?  Ever thought that's one of the reasons why your relationship didn't make it--because, not only did you loose interest in the life you shared together, but also you lost interest in yourself, and didn't show up consistently as the best person you could be?

Cloud goes on to write about thinking gay and straight people assume "gay men are worse at maintaining relationships than straight people."  Yes, John, and you've done nothing to disprove that.

And what of gays needing drama in their relationships to fill the emotional holes in their lives from living repressed for so many years?  There's a lot to be said for peace and stability in relationships, too.  I don't know too many people who are happy in the constant web of drama they keep weaving.

And gay relationships being set up for failure by "the crosscurrents of childhood pain, adult expectation and gay community pathologies like meth addiction."  As far as I'm concerned, excuses for failing to put all of your effort into making your gay relationship work.

I'm disappointed that Cloud didn't show the other face of gay relationships, the ones of folks like Bill and Lloyd, Steve and Mike, Chris and Justin, and, yes, Chris and me, who have been together for years--and, in Bill and Lloyd's case, nearly fifty years, going back to 1962, when circumstances were truly tough for gay men who loved each other and wanted to be together in a disapproving world (which Cloud and Michael knew nothing about).

Above all, I'm disappointed that not only did straight people not see in Cloud's essay that some gay people want the same things in relationships that they do (including marriage), but that single gay people, wanting serious, long-term relationships, didn't see what's possible for them.

Perhaps next go-around, Time can find someone else to write an article on the very real possibility of a stable, loving, and enduring gay relationship.  Not only are they out there, they're also worth having.  Despite their own personal situations, writers, like John Cloud, as well as single gay men, just need to look for them.


  1. I must say I really admire your attitude towards long term relationships. Unfortunately long-term, happy and stable partnerships are increasingly difficult to find, and I mean among straight people as well as gay. I wish more people thought the way you and Chris do. The world would be such a happier place!

  2. Thanks, Melanie, for prompting me to reread what I wrote nearly two years ago. I'd forgotten about this post, as I have many of the earlier ones, and it's kind of fun to go back and see what was on my mind, and how I felt about it.

    I can't argue with a thing I wrote here. I still think Cloud represents far too many gay men, who believe they'll be young and pretty forever, and they would just as soon throw away a challenging relationship, like so much garbage, than try to repair it. Let's just say Cloud's example does little to prove gay and lesbian people deserve the same right to marry as straight people.

    Thank you for the kind words about Chris and me, and the commitment we have to our relationship. I spent far too many years as a single gay man, waiting anxiously for the day when I would have someone to love and to love me back. I can't imagine giving all that up to live the stereotypical gay lifestyle, which I was never a part of anyway.

  3. It's true, and very very sad. The world has so few models for healthy relationships, and the gay world has even fewer. This notion is self-perpetuating, really. If we don't have models for healthy love, then who are we to aspire to be? Oh fuck it, just go get laid...that's what men are meant to do, etc. etc. is the main rebuttal. Why not try to become that healthy role model, as best as you can? Why not seek out role models instead of magazine models?

    The ease of getting laid as a gay man, coupled with the ease of communication and instant gratification in the new digital age, gives us a lot of distraction from ourselves. It's a permanent candy store mentality. By the time we find someone we click with (and it's always an accident) we don't know what to do with them! So we stare into our phones, and dream of getting free from them.

    I know many men who were presented with someone that worked well for them, but they got bored and dumped them to be single again. How many times can a gay man do that? Just as many times as he can, given the current climate of instant gratification, until he has left a graveyard of lost love in his wake, and wonders how it got there.

    At this point for him it's all too easy to keep self-medicating with sex, claiming that no guy is good enough for really partnering with, and maybe going so far as to be honest that they really aren't either.

    "Hey, I need to have a partner that's attractive. If he isn't attractive, then it isn't going to work!" I've heard this one a lot. I've even heard the laundry list that some of my gay friends rattle off which would include all these attributes that they require, many of which they don't even possess themselves.

    Well, "attractive" is something that morphs in time. What's attractive to you in your youth can be very different than in your middle ages, and ideally it should be, I think. When I was young and coming out, I wanted someone young and boyish looking like myself, and I never got to have that. I got interest from older guys, and was all "um, no". When I got older, I wanted guys my own age, and these younger boyish looking guys are simply cute, but not interesting to me now (even though I did get to have a few fun encounters with them in my 30s).

    But I know guys my own age (mid 40s) who are still hung up on getting a cute young thing...and sometimes they get one, and it's fun for a while, but that's how they still define 'attractive', and what must be for them to retain interest in a mate.

    Ultimately, attitude is important. If your attitude is that you will never get a mate, then you probably won't...or you'll get a masochist who wants to prove you wrong. If your attitude is that you deserve a mate, and where the fuck is he, well then you'll attract a sadist who will tolerate your demands.

    If your attitude is that you're willing to be open to it, and try to meet as many people as you can, in as many ways possible, while continually doing what makes you happy, and nurtures your soul, without a mate...then IF you do meet someone, you'll be more likely to discover that it's the right one.

    1. Simon, there's so much truth in what you wrote here, that, with your permission, I'd like to look at turning this comment into a dedicated guest post on my blog.

      Comments often get lost, and I worry not enough people will read the wisdom in your words and possibly (I'm hopeful) learn from it. This comment (and, frankly, many of the other ones you've been generous enough to write) deserves to be front and center.

      Are you game?