Monday, January 28, 2008

How should gay relationships be constructed?

When a guy starts a gay relationship with another guy, most of us construct the relationship using the only model that we're familiar with, namely the heterosexual one that our parents used. This has very ancient roots which are certainly evident in the old testament of The Bible where the ten commandments preach "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife". I have a big problem using these rules as the foundation for a gay relationship so I've decided to devise a new scheme.

For one thing, as is evident from the bible, the heterosexual scheme is so negative because it's all about what one mustn't do! But my scheme is oriented towards the positive and good things that one should do instead :-). Using old testament language, I reckon the following criteria outline a much better way of building a relationship:
  • Thou shalt love thy boyfriend
  • Thy relationship with thy boyfriend shalt take priority over other friendships
  • Thou shalt strive to be thy boyfriend's best friend
  • Thou shalt support thy boyfriend through times of hardship
  • Thou shalt take care of thy boyfriend when he is ill
I don't think my scheme is complete yet, but building gay relationships around love, companionship and mutual support seems to me like the way forward. After all, I think that's what gay relationships are for. The old heterosexual scheme might be good for raising children, especially in ancient times which were less civilised than our societies today, but relationships between two gay men are fundamentally different.

Often, when young guys are thinking about going into a relationship, they focus on whether they're ready for monogamy. But as I discussed above, thinking "Am I ready to give up shagging around so that I can be this guy's boyfriend?" is quite a negative way to start a relationship. The idea is that if one loves someone enough then one will be prepared to deny oneself something that one enjoys. I say focus directly on the love instead. Start by thinking "Am I really ready to love and care for this guy?" along the lines of the relationship criteria listed above. "Would I be prepared to help him if he has a bad accident and brakes both his legs, or if he loses his job and becomes depressed?"

Sex is great fun, and sex with someone new can be hard to resist. One reader described it to me in an email recently by saying that there's an "undeniable dynamic of sex with strangers". Some guys may still want monogamous relationships, which is fair enough, but I think that the important thing is that gay couples fulfil criteria like the ones that I've listed above. I reckon it's true that men are naturally promiscuous, so when two men are involved in a relationship the monogamous heterosexual model isn't appropriate. That doesn't mean that guys in a relationship don't have to be faithful to each other, because I think they do. But they need to be faithful to the agreed relationship criteria, not to the inappropriate heterosexual monogamy straight-jacket. None the less, even if a gay couple do allow each other activities with other guys, they should always put their own relationship at the top of their priorities. That's one of the implications of the second criterion that I listed above.

In the end, a lot of gay couples end up working out for themselves that monogamy doesn't matter so much. When a couple of guys are theoretically in a monogamous relationship and one of them admits that they've had sex with someone else, it's the love and companionship that can hold them together. This is exactly what the guy who recently sent me a 'Dear GB' email implied when he said "I always said the first time [my boyfriend slept with another guy] would be the last but then I wasn't thinking of love, and I do love him, very much". None the less, thinking "I forgive him for sleeping around because I love him" is misdirected thinking. A much better thing to do is to measure a relationship against relevant criteria. As long as there's love, companionship and mutual support then the relationship is healthy :-), although if some of those are missing a guy might realise that his boyfriend doesn't reciprocate his love after all!

Update 30-Nov-2008: More on how gay relationships should be constructed

17 comments:

RE said...

As a twenty-something reader of your awesome (if sometimes somewhat disturbing) blog, I am - as you might expect - still vehemently defending monogamous relationships. Though I have to admit that reading your blog and a few others', as well as talking to my older (over mid-30s) friends, I am not quite sure of the reason for my defensive attitude. It might even just be a remnant of my religious and social conditioning...

I do agree with you that looking at a set of positive relationship commandments is much better perspective than the outdated biblical one.

On the other hand I find infidelity intensely distasteful, and could never be unfaithful. My boyfriend should want to be faithful to me and not have sexual contact with others. Should anyone ever cheat on me, I would feel I were not good enough (in bed, in looks, in commitment, in love) and my feelings were not important enough to my partner.

In essence I like to use the canonical marriage vows as my compass: "forsaking all others". That is a promise I would like my long-term/life partner to keep. Because of love and trust and commitment, I would not necessarily boot his ass if (or when) he did cheat, but I would not be able to help feeling betrayed.

Sir Wobin said...

For many people love and sex are inextricably linked. For their partner to find one with someone else makes them feel the other will follow automatically. Perhaps from just sex to sex and love. When undergoing a big change from monogamy, the relationship is likely to be fragile and one or both of the lovers might feel insecure. If they don't normally share their toys well with others, there's an even stronger stress on the relationship.

If would be nice to see a list of practical suggestions for how to navigate such a stressful time. These commandments are a nice start but they don't speak directly to how to deal with jealosy. How do you deal with these yourself and in your partners?

PS: Some Middle English tips: Second person possesive is thine and I think support would decline as supporteth, also written supporteþ. If there had been a social mechanism for gay relationships back then, they'd probably have used the words consort or kin fere where the word kin also had a sexual connotation although kin fere is more 'close companion'. Thou shalt supporteth thine kin fere. Relationship is a mor recent French import; loveship is a word they used (and it sounds nice!)

Cooper said...

Well said - thanks for your wisdom on the matter! :)

RGB said...

I like what you are saying, what guy wouldn't!? How wonderful would life be if you could have your cake and eat it too! However, I am a man of science, and above all else I believe that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So to me, pleasure with a stranger could only bring pain with the one that you love.

Still, I ended a relationship with somebody that to this day I am completely in love with over this very issue. He was moving to Asia for 2 years for work, and I had my own career to worry about and couldn't go with him. We both knew it was going to be impossible to not have sex with anybody else for these two years. So we ended it instead of trying to keep it together and eventually hating each other in the end.

I am not saying that your way is right, but it really would have been nice to try.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sir Wobin & rgb. I believe sex is an expression of love. If sex is reduced to a physical act, IMO, it probably just becomes another sport, for some short lived pleasure. After all, sex is the main differentiator between a very close friendship and a boyfriend. I mean love, companionship and mutual support is there in every good friendship too. If you look at your commandments, I'd apply them to a close friendship too.

I reckon if the idea of heterogamy is accepted and commonplace, the thrill of sex with the stranger will be lost! There would be no defiance, no adrenalin rush. But sexual intimacy, the warmth, the tenderness is irreplaceable. And a stranger is unlikely to give you that. It's so much more precious!

Having said all this, if an open relationship has been agreed upon, GO BABY, GO! :)

GB said...

Thanks for the tips on Middle English Sir Wobin :-). And thanks to everyone for the very high standard of well reasoned comments relating to the main issue :-)). Too many issues, I feel, to reply here so I'll try and do a posting on sex vs love etc soon.

GB xxx

SubtleKnife said...

Why confine them to gay relationships? I'm a straight woman and I would agree to them.

You said, your scheme is not complete, so perhaps with some tinkering it could describe modern relationships in general?

Anonymous said...

It isn't just the bible. All religions consider infidelity wrong, even the ones that are not against homosexuality :)

SubtleKnife said...

But is it infidelity if both parties go into it with their eyes wide open? Instead of their minds closed shut, that is, which seems to be the case more often...

Monogamy is fine, if both parties are comfortable with it. But realistically speaking, we have to agree that humans don't seem to be very good at it, even when they think they want it.

Therefore, why not be honest to ourselves and discuss it openly with each other? And if we want to, keep to GB's (those used to be my initials too in my very first internet incarnation) guidelines for an open relationship.

And yes, GB, partner instead of boyfriend works well for me. (In my case boyfriend would be okay too, but at least then it would work for him - prospective hims - as well...)

GB said...

Thanks SubtleKnife, that's a very quick response to the comment I left on your blog :-).

GB xxx

Mr Rainbow Man said...

somehow, i wish i have read this blog much earlier... it will have been easier for me. i'm going through a huge setback in my life after breaking up with my second bf... suffering....

Humming Bird in Hyde said...

Well done GB. The pic floors me as well :-) xxx

Antonello said...

So interesting!! I learn so many things everyday!!

photogreg said...

Wow...what a great post, and an interesting discussion too.

Maybe it's because I've been through three relationships that I've learned to agree with the notion that there is no one right way for two gay men to have a relationship.

I used to believe that a relationship with my partner should be like the one my parents had. The happy monogamous one. (Which I know they had.)

When I went into my first relationship we (or at least I) believed that we would practice monogamy forever. For the first 10 years we were happy and monogamous (or so I thought). In reality my partner was cheating on me with several partners over a long period of time. I didn't know that for most of the relationship. Near the end my partner suggested we have sex together with other guys. I resisted at first, but later gave in. There were a few good experiences, but I truthfully didn't enjoy it like my partner did.

Eventually I found out about the cheating. I asked him about it. He denied all of it. We never did work it out or learn to communicate before the end of the 18 years, when he died of a heart attack.

My second partner and I were monogamous for a few years but then both of us started playing around. We both knew it but didn't talk about it. We never did learn to communicate about that and other issues. I still loved him, but after 4 years we broke up, mostly because he was depressed and unhappy with his life in general. And I couldn't fix it.

After that I was single for awhile, a growing time for me. With counseling I learned how to communicate my feelings, goals, and desires. I read several books on gay relationships, and put myself out in the world to meet new friends and dates.

I met my present partner on gay.com. After we started dating we both worked hard at communicating what we wanted in a relationship, and what we wanted for ourselves. We made it a point to sit down regularly and share our feelings about what was going on in our lives.

My partner is more socially conservative than me, but we learned to accept our differences, to allow each other to be themselves and to grow.

We went into the relationship as monogamous. But after the first year I told him I couldn't do it. It had NOTHING to do with our sex life, or with him. I found myself, for the first time, feeling the difference between sex play with a guy, and sexual love with my partner.

So after much discussion and reading together we decided to open our relationship with a set of rules that we both agreed upon.

Since then I played with 3 different guys in two years. (Yes,it was HOT!, and yes, I followed all of our rules.)

But the best part of our relationship now is that we both are honest with each other, we're able to communicate the good and bad feelings, and we enrich each others' lives.

I wish you all the best in your relationship with your partner, whatever type of relationship that may be.

Pheng said...

Very much agree with you.

Alex said...

"If you choose to be with one man for the rest of your life - there is one thing he would never be able to give you - Variety"

Although this may be true, I do not believe that having sex with someone other than your boyfriend is acceptable. By loving someone you would not want to cause them pain - So by sleeping with someone else, you do in fact inflict a huge amount of pain on the one you claim to love - knowingly and with intention.

Men who stay with their boyfriends even after they find out they have been cheated on do it for all the wrong reasons. The most common being security - They stay with the guy that betrayed them simply because having to move on and be single again is too unbearable, too much of a hassle and sometimes even springs from financial dependence.

In my opinion I would rather be single than having to know that my boyfriend finds comfort in the bed of another...

http://straight-upgay.blogspot.com/

african girl said...

For me, gay relationships is acceptable nowadays even the gay marriage right?So, there's no way to debate this kind of issue because even the law accepted this! It's not commonly established throughout the whole world but in some countries they tend to accept the reality that gay marriage really exist!