Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why "This Gay Relationship" Works

(This post was inspired by comments Sarah in Calgary and Doug in Vancouver left on a previous post. My thanks to both of you.)

I've hesitated writing about why I think my relationship with Chris has endured over the past nineteen years because, honestly, I didn't think I had much to say about it.  As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to relationships, I know luck plays a big role--in terms of being at the right place, at the right time, to meet the right person, and to remain together over time--as do a degree of magic and serendipity.

But I also recognize that the two people involved have something to do with the longevity of their relationship, bringing with them certain attributes and characteristics to give what they share a fighting chance, and working hard every day to get along with the single most important person in their lives.

Chris and I have not been without our challenging times together; it's during these times when relationships are tested, and when what they're made of is revealed.  During the summer of 2000, after eight years together, we reached a crossroads.  I was about to accept a promotion as a manager, in Victoria, and I was thrilled since I'd always wanted to move to Victoria.  This was a big step for me, both personally and professionally.

But Chris was dead set against moving to Vancouver Island, and more than a few heated words were exchanged between us.

In the end, we moved, but there had been no contest.  I would have gladly remained in Vancouver if there had been any real threat of losing Chris.  As far as I was concerned, no job was worth losing him over, regardless of where it was located, or how much money I might earn. I would have chosen him over anything else, but I acknowledge many other couples have broken up over far less.  

Which takes me to the first of thirteen reasons why I believe we're still together today.

(Note:  This is a random list which is in no particular order.)

1.  Commitment:  Many unforeseen things come up in the course of a life together.  A relationship is always about two people, never just one.  Two people who may be quite similar, but who are also different in appreciable ways.  When a relationship becomes about just one, then that isn't much of a relationship, is it?  Whatever's happened to Chris and me over the years, we've always made the conscious choice to be together, to make our relationship the priority, to commit to us.  Thus, life-changing decisions are easy to make, although, sometimes, they can be difficult and painful.

2.  Trust:  From day one, both Chris and I were in agreement we must be able to trust each other. We also agreed that when trust is breached, the foundation of the relationship is gone, and it can't be restored.  Sure, that's a black and white way of looking at it; however, our relationship was built on the solid foundation of trust from the beginning.  Since then, it's never wavered, not for a moment.  I trust Chris with my life, as he trusts me with his.  I know for a fact I will always be able to trust him, and he knows he will always be able to trust me.  It's worked for us over the past nineteen years, and it will continue to work for us however long we're together.    

3.  Respect:  Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust.  I have a deep and abiding respect for Chris, as he does for me.  I knew within a few weeks of meeting him that his parents had done an outstanding job of raising an honorable, generous, and responsible young man and human being.  From the outset, I saw he was decent and good.  He has a pure heart.  He inspires me.  I admire him.  I look up to him.  For me, he's an example of what a man of character should be. Being with him makes me a better person every single day.    

4.  Friendship:  I have no better friend on this earth than Chris, though we did not start off as good friends, then move into something more.  Rather, as we got to know each other, we worked on being friends and partners simultaneously.  But I instantly liked who he was, and I felt drawn to him.  I wanted more and more of him in my life.  I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could.  We liked each other.  We really liked each other.  And, for me, like is a critical precursor to love.        
5.  Monogamy:  Monogamy was a deal-breaker for me, as it was for Chris.  If either one of us had wanted an open relationship, that would have ended whatever chance we had to be a couple then and there.  I would not have allowed myself to become emotionally attached to him knowing he wanted to be with other people in addition to me.  Both of us agreed that, along with trust, we had to be exclusive to each other.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  That has never changed and will never change.  I will not share Chris with anyone else in that way.  An open relationship may work for some gay people, but not these gay people.

6.  Patience:  I'm not the patient one, Chris is.  I want and need everything right now; Chris is happy to wait.  I admit his patience irritates me sometimes, especially when it seems he uses it as an excuse to procrastinate.  That said, through his example, Chris has mellowed me by showing how virtuous patience really is.  And, no question, he's been patient with me over the years. When I get uptight about something, I can be ugly, lashing out and saying whatever enters my mind.  When I get like that, Chris never takes it personally, instead always exhibiting flexibility, deference, and patience.  He knows once I've had my say, I'll get over it soon enough and return to normal.  Until then, he waits without antagonizing me further.  Chris is the model of patience. In that way, he's a pillar, an example, and a blessing.

7.  Change:  Each single person coming to a new relationship has what I call rough edges.  After all, for however long you've been on your own, you've developed tastes and habits and routines completely suited to you. Since you have only yourself to please, you become self-indulgent, and it's unreasonable to assume anyone will put up with that once you come together.  I like to think Chris helped to smooth over my rough edges, and I helped to smooth over his.  Rather than sit at polar opposites, over time, we've come closer together, meeting somewhere in the middle of our individual extremes.  But there are still things about ourselves and our personalities that will always be different.  That's when compromise comes into play.  When one person is big enough to let the other get his way, be right.    

8.  Compatibility:  Chris and I work well together because we are different enough, yet still similar.  For example, in most things, he's laid back (passive), while I'm high-strung (aggressive). If both of us were laid back, we'd never get anything done. If we were both aggressive, one of us wouldn't be alive today. In other words, Chris and I complement each other.  We're different, but not too different--just enough to make it interesting, most of the time.  Our strengths and weaknesses are often opposite and complement each other.  Where I'm not mechanically minded, Chris is.  Where Chris isn't always good in the kitchen, I am (although I've trained him to be a lot better than he was).   And, occasionally, we have to agree to disagree, and move on, knowing neither one of us will ever win.  We rarely argue.  I recall only one time in nineteen years when we became so angry with each other, we took our separate corners and didn't talk for hours.  That was in June 1996, only four years after we met, and it was one awful evening.  I swore to myself I'd never let that happen again.  As long as we kept talking, we might get somewhere.  We learned our lesson.  Since then, we've consistently kept the lines of communication open, even on those occasions when we didn't want to look at each other.    

9.  Space:  There are two kinds of space:  physical and mental.  Chris and I give each other both. Sure, at first, I was more physical with him than he was comfortable with.  In both of our families, we hadn't been raised to be touchers or huggers.  So, when I met Chris and was falling for him, I wanted to touch him.  All the time.  He hated it, but I was determined to help him get used to it.  I was starved for physical affection, and, if Chris wasn't going to give it to me willingly, I was prepared to take it.  And so I did.  Today, we are much more compatible physically and mentally.  We're not clingy.  We're secure in what we share.  We give each other the space and the freedom to be who we essentially are.  We don't try to change each other.  We let each other be.      

10.  Worldview:  I lump a lot of things in this category.  I also think it's one of the most important, because it could be the source of a lot of friction between two people.  By worldview, I include everything from something as simple as daily recycling, to morals and ethics, to political affiliation.  In most respects, Chris and I are almost identical.  We both believe strongly in recycling everything we can; we have a consistent, strong, and unbending sense of what's right and wrong; and, politically, we're both liberal.  In worldview, I also include religion and money.  While he was raised Seventh Day Adventist and I was raised Catholic, today, we have no use for formal religion, but we retain a sense of spirituality.  And we recognize the value of a dollar, manage our money effectively, and believe in putting away something for a stormy day.  

11.  Self-fulness:  Chris and I know who we are as people.  As we've grown older, we've become more of who we were meant to be.  We've come into ourselves.  That's one of the benefits of maturing. We're not young and insecure anymore.  We've learned to like and respect ourselves. Part of that is being comfortable with our sexual orientation.  Had one or the other of us not been able to make peace with his homosexuality, we'd be very different people from who we are now, and I have no doubt we wouldn't be together.  I think that's one of the elements that sabotages a good many gay relationships--one person is comfortable in his own skin, and the other isn't. Like I've written before, loving yourself as a gay person is a definite prerequisite for a successful gay relationship.  There's no way around it.

12.  Love:  I don't think love by itself is enough to keep a relationship going over the years. Surely, love is necessary, and love sets the tone of how two people interact with each other--their commitment to put the relationship first, their willingness to work together when times are tough, to compromise when two alternatives are equally viable, and to forgive each other when necessary.  Love is the emotion that has the potential to bond two people, no question, but, without many or all of the other points I've outlined here, love struggles to keep things together and lacks the strength for long-term endurance.

13.  Humor:  Chris and I laugh together.  A LOT.  From the beginning, he said one of the reasons he was attracted to me was because of my dry sense of humor.  I wish you could follow us around on most weekends.  You would think our life was a TV sit-com.  I have a kooky way of looking at things, usually turning my observations into barbs or cracks.  That gets us going. Then Chris says something, and I say something back, until we're both howling (well, Chris doesn't howl, but I know when he's laughing himself sick inside).  And we tease each other constantly.  We know each other's weak spots, and we zero in on those with a few funny remarks, which gets the ball rolling.  (But we are never cruel.) In short, Chris and I share a lot of levity and joy.  We try to look at the funnier side of life and make each other laugh.  Truly the sign of a great relationship.

It's fitting I came up with thirteen reasons why Chris's and my relationship works, because we met on the 13th day of June, and the first home we bought together was apartment #1303 at 1323 Homer Street in Vancouver's Yaletown.  We've always considered 13 to be our lucky number and have never understood why some people are so superstitious about it.

So there you have it.  Apparently, I have more to say about how to have a successful relationship than I thought I did.  Inasmuch as Chris and I can take responsibility for the longevity of our relationship, I'd say these are the top thirteen reasons why we're still together today.  But I bet you have some other reasons why you think relationships last.  Don't be afraid to share them with me and my readers.  We'd love to hear what you have to say on the subject.


  1. You know, reading this post, and seeing the pictures of your house gives everything else you've written this amazing context, I don't know why that is, that when you can visualize where people are, and how they are together, that it somehow helps other people apply the lessons to their own lives? Your examples, and the other things you said about a relationship really ring true to me...I agree that it is part magic, or a cosmic crapshoot, why some people manage to stay together and work through the tough times, and others don't. I do remember reading once that you don't have to have the same interests, but you have to have the same beliefs (maybe they used the term morals, but I've become wary of that term lately.) Sometimes I lament the fact that my husband and I have so little in common (he's outdoorsy, I'm a read-by-the-fire person, he's a country person, I'm a city person, he's serious, I'm not), but then I realize that where it counts, we agree. When I've done things that were a bit gender-bending with the kids (getting our oldest son a doll for Xmas when he asked for it, letting our youngest son pick out a pink glitter purse at the Disney store when he was three) he didn't say anything...which is as it should be, but for an Alberta boy raised by fairly conservative people? Pretty good. I remind myself about those "big ticket items" when I get frustrated by the little things. Also, for me, being with someone who was raised in a very different way than I was has made me more open-minded, because it challenges the very black and white way that I saw things when I was younger. (Liberals can be just as set in their ways as conservatives.) You know, I think what you said in the "space" paragraph is huge: Too often, only one half of a couple grows, because the other lacks the individual hobbies/interests that keep them engaged with the world. Also, that part about being wise enough not to try to change someone...I think that has led to the most challenging parts of my relationship. While it's good to let people know when they're doing something that hurts your feelings, you can't--nor should you--change their essential nature (like, oh, I don't know, trying to guilt trip an indoor person into a 5 hour uphill hike...?? :) I think everyone's happier when you accept your partner for who they are, like the way Doug said he doesn't exercise in the morning while Jesse does, but does in the afternoon, a great example of each partner doing what feels right to them. Also, I literally can't believe the things I did when I was a relationship fact, sometimes I'm amazed anyone's relationship survives the first year! The little things I made a big deal about, I'm so much smarter about picking my battles now.

    Anyway, you've made your relationship very "real" for us, now. It is really generous of you to do that, to give us that snippet of your daily life, and detailing the things that make it work. Thank you, thank you!!!

  2. Sounds like Chris is the zen master and you are the living-life master! You have clearly identified some of the many reasons you two are still together after all these years. It seems like you have had very good communication all along, so you always know how much you mean to each other. Looking back on my previous relationship, I think communication is really key. I hope Jesse and I can eventually approach your relationship success! Oh yes, I believe you when you say a mutual sense of humour goes a long way too.

  3. Thank you, Sarah and Doug, for your comments.

    @Sarah: Interests. Boy, have you hit that on the head. Early on, Chris was concerned we didn't have all the same interests. He didn't think we had enough in common. I think he thought that's why his mom and dad divorced when he was just a young teenager, and I later found out that hit him hard. For years, I think Chris held back because he was scared of putting himself out there, just in case I did to him what his dad did to his mom. Took him a long time to feel confident I wasn't going anywhere.

    Anyway, interests. A big issue for us was going to the symphony. I'm not much interested in classical music. Chris is heavily into it. For some time, he made me think if we didn't share a passion for going to the symphony, well, we might not make it as a couple.

    So to prove to him I was willing to bend, we went to the symphony together, once or twice. The VSO played some complex pieces of classical music only a devoted fan would appreciate. Chris knew that. I was bored out of my freakin' tree, and I told him so. He understood.

    You know, if that was the deal breaker for him, so be it. You can only fake interest in something you don't like for so long before you lose yourself or your mind.

    Anyway, going to the symphony became less of a priority as we progressed through our relationship. I've always encouraged Chris to go by himself or with a friend who loves the symphony as much as he does, but that never happened. Was it the end of us? No. Do I feel like I let him down? Maybe. Have I compensated in countless other ways? You bet. Give and take, right?

    But, as you point out, Sarah, where it matters most, we agree. Our beliefs (good term) are virtually identical. I'm sure that's prevented lots of arguments over the years and may even have kept us together. (Although on a few things, we have different viewpoints, particularly where issues aren't black and white, and we've come to appreciate each other's perspective.)

    Common beliefs? Critical. Common interests? Not so much.

    Your husband is to be commended for his open-mindedness regarding the toys your sons selected to play with. He did a great job of being a supportive father, allowing him kids to be who they are.

    @Doug: Communication. As I look at the thirteen reasons, I see communication embedded in all of them. I guess I took it for granted that would come out.

    And, yes, we have great communication. From the beginning, I told Chris I wasn't playing any games with him. If I felt like saying something, I would say it. No hiding anything. No waiting for him to figure it out. Everything up front. And it's worked. We're both like that. Chris was very quiet when we first met, even withdrawn. It took a long time for me to draw him out. Now, I talk less, he talks more, and our communication works well.

    Thanks to both of you for your interest in what I write and for your contribution to my blog.

  4. Rick, I see woven into all of these points is Logic. Which, when times become hard, heated or heavy *three H's?* it flies out the window faster than a cheetah hunting prey.

    Both you and Chris have maintained a sense of logic and understanding with each other, some times one of you, and sometimes, both. It's absolutely amazing to see a genuine relationship shared and broken down even, in such articulate and unabashed ways. You really are taking gay to the next level, expressing why it works for you and Chris, and how both of you, from time to time, use logic to make everything work, despite not having every single thing in common.

    I truly am inspired.

  5. Love it! Maybe "and kissing"?

  6. Thanks, Heather and tim.

    @Heather: I wasn't sure how this post would be received, so I find your use of the word logic interesting. I just looked up the denotation of logic, and I definitely see what you mean. Chris and I are not bullshitters. We are logical in the way we think, no-nonsense, straight forward. If that's what you mean, you've hit it exactly. Now that you point it out, our entire relationship is run on that. Works for us, that's for sure.

    Your use of "taking gay to the next level" in this context surprises me, because I thought I'd gotten away from doing that by pausing writing about self-esteem issues in gay men. But I see now how writing about something outside that theme could be helpful to someone, showing what's possible in terms of a long-term, committed relationship for him. Which, for that person, could well mean taking the gay experience to the next level. Did I get that right? I hope so.

    @tim: Thanks for the kind words. I checked out the video. Amen to the handsome gay couple kissing in the public market like all the straight couples. It made me smile that they were included. What I didn't like was the sour security/admin. person who didn't want what was happening to be recorded. Man, can't we, gay or straight, show harmless expressions of love in a public place? Looks like he has no clue what he's missing.

    My thanks to both of you once again.

  7. Rick, I think you got the point. For me, taking gay to the next level means, showing the simplicity yet intricacy of our relationships. That we're normal.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, Heather. I appreciate knowing I'm on the right track.
    And thanks for helping me to look at "taking gay to the next level" in a whole other way. It makes me feel I have some flexibility in what I write about while still staying on topic.

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