Originally I was going to share a much sweeter, softer tale of growing up gay. But I feel with the way things have been going in the lives of people that I care deeply about that it’s more pertinent to share about the hardships of relationships. See, the truth is that there is no point you reach where you’ve completely grown so much that there’s no need for lessons. From the moment we first discover our sexuality we are constantly growing from our experiences. Our entire lives are a part of the process in understanding what gay means to us.
In my previous tales when I talked about completely coming out of the closet it may have appeared as though everything afterward turned out like a fairy tale (pun intended). Life for me at that point however was anything but a happily ever after. In fact for a time my life was a complete nightmare. It was because I honestly did not know what being gay meant for me. No matter how much I observed other gay men and their relationships prior to coming out I quickly learned that I couldn’t apply everything I saw or heard to my own life.
So sadly I did not run off into the sunset with the man I had been in love with for nearly six years. Even with the sweet memories I have of our courtship throughout my undergrad years we soon discovered that our lives were moving in two separate directions and more importantly we were just not right for each other. This relationship served as my first example of relationships not always being as fun and rose colored as I thought (and hoped) they’d be. The time was really more about transitions than living. Coming out to my friends and other loved ones that didn’t already know went smoother than I expected echoing the rhetoric that they always knew deep down and didn’t care.
Even with all the overwhelming support and unwavering love I still staggered with defining what gay meant to me. Wondering how much being gay defined me. I did not know how to be gay. This was immensely true when interacting with other gay men. In the beginning you ask yourself ask yourself so many questions about your first relationship as an openly gay man. What are the rules? What’s done differently than straight relationships? Can they last? The lessons we learn
But the biggest lessons about relationships came soon after that relationship ended. After my brush with death and time had passed I was at the most vulnerable time in my life thus far. Being in graduate school had its pressures and trials but those were expected. As was every other area of my life. But emotionally I felt extremely vulnerable. Some of my personal relationships with friends were changing for the worse. Maybe it was because I felt so removed from everyone else and trying to figure out the more detailed nuances of sex and courtship and romance. Or maybe I had a life altering experience and didn’t want to admit how much the experience changed me. So as a result I learned the hard way what relationships meant to me.
During this early stage I met a man that was a couple of years younger but had been out much longer than me. Charismatic and engaging were the first things that attracted me to him. Outspoken and blunt were also assumed great attributes to his character. He also had an amazingly firm body with these dazzling greyish green eyes that caught you off guard every time his gaze rested upon you. I was so smitten with him that he moved in with me only a couple of months after we began dating. How much I wish now that we’d taken more time to really know each other because it never would’ve happened.
Soon after we were living in the same space I discovered his debilitating habits that were much more than leaving the cap off the toothpaste. This man was very heavy into the booming gay scene of our college town and the surrounding areas. At the time that scene was mainly comprised of finding open spaces or private homes where men could gather and do copious amounts of drugs and engage in sexual adventures so novel that even my curious nature was taken back.
Part of me understood this behavior because most of these men, like me, had been suppressing or hiding their sexuality for most of their lives and had finally conquered that challenge so they had a lot of catching up to do. They just wanted to have fun. Even knowing by my own experience the feeling of relief it was to be an openly gay man with an urge to celebrate at any given moment the whole time I felt overwhelmed by what I was witnessing. Even more so because the man I was living with was so into this environment and I chose to believe him when he said that this is just what gay men do.
It came to a point that I rationalized his escalating behavior as being a part of a gay man back then. That we don’t live by the rules that everyone else does so I should just go with it. But inside I was miserable. Scared. Sad.Because looking back the life of hard partying was not where I wanted to be at that point in my life. But it was more than just wanting what I saw in the emerging pro-gay ads or whatever new aged approached my boyfriend thought about at the time to feed his habits. My life was conflicting two separate ideals at the same time because I couldn’t decide who was right in what being in a relationship as a gay man meant. But the answers finally came and when they did they knocked the air out of me.
The habits of my boyfriend began spilling over into our day to day lives. His drug use was no longer recreational but necessary in order for him to (dys)function. He felt that stealing my debit card to buy more drugs was acceptable and I was being too rigid. Never mind the fact that this habit also brought out moments of uncontrolled anger and disturbing public tantrums. Never did he direct it towards me because I was tall and big enough but he did to others.
That was followed by him asking for me to hold him so that it would reinforce the idea that I was his knight in shining armor to protect and love him all the while our house laid in ruins from his destructive behavior. This cycle affected me so much that it further strained friendships that were going through hard times. I felt emotionally robbed because I was losing my identity because I was always cleaning up after him and mending the bridges he was hellbent on burning down. Didn’t matter that I was being burned in the process.
Throughout our relationship I felt that because of my training that I should’ve known everything there was to do in dealing with his ways and an inability to handle them was a fault on my part. So it made it acceptable for me to stand by while his problems became more severe along with his stifling infidelities. Naively, or rather foolishly I believed that this was what gay relationships were like. Constantly filled with spontaneity and comprising our own rules as we go. That gay men define our relationships differently so they don’t look like everyone else’s. But deep down I knew this was not right. It was me not wanting to deal with the truth. I did not want to face that this wasn’t some new aged approach to relationships. I was settling for someone who had issues that desperately needed to be addressed.
See before this realization I let his addictions become my problem along with how he viewed relationships. We had become so much a part of each other’s life that I began to let my self-esteem erode away and become dependent on his vacillating emotional state. I’m not saying that you should walk away from someone that has issues and are struggling with their own demons. But there comes a point in every relationship that you have to begin weighing how much is benefited by you staying and asking yourself what you really want. What makes it all different is if the person is willing to actually invest. That’s when it finally clicked to me that I was listening to what everyone else’s ideals of what relationships between two men look like instead of asking myself what that meant for me. Thankfully before it irrevocably ruined my life I found the courage to say that this relationship was not healthy for either of us and that he needed help.
I had enough of studying at my kitchen table and silently cry my eyes out because deep down I knew this wasn’t right. This is not what gay men do as I’d let him convince me. Him having unprotected sex with other men wasn’t just what every gay man does. Him stealing from me and our home was not just what other gay men do. Him treating me like utter garbage and me just accepting that it was part of two men in a relationship was sure as hell not just what other gay men do. It made me hate him and myself for not listening to what I wanted in that relationship.
All the questions I had asked myself numerous times about what’s the difference between gay relationships and straight relationships was ridiculous in the end. Despite what other researchers or relationship experts or even very experienced gay men may think or say the only difference is simple anatomy. Any good relationship is built on communication and trust. Talking about and understanding what you need from that relationship at that time in your life and being honest with yourself if there comes a time that you want something else. For this reason I cannot blame him completely for our disastrous relationship because I didn’t speak up and say this is not what I wanted. I’m to blame for standing by and accepting it.
If you want monogamy then discuss it. If you want an open relationship then discuss it. If you just want to hook up whenever it’s convenient and have no other interactions with each other then discuss it. Don’t let yourself believe that any of these relationships don’t work but be cognizant enough to know which of these aren’t right for you. In the near decade that I’ve been out I can say that I have wanted each of these types of relationships because of the different places I’ve been at in my life.
There is no perfectly clear guidebook on how relationships work, regardless of your orientation. But you can always have an idea of what it should look like by being honest with yourself and really listening to what you want. Self discovery is made so much easier when we admit to ourselves what we are looking for instead of simply going along with what we see or what someone tells us.