Sunday, March 22, 2009

Email from a guy with a boyfriend and a 'personal trainer'

Just over three weeks ago, the following email landed in my inbox:

Dear GB,

It's curious how the things I need have a way of finding me without my looking. As in: when a friend recently forwarded me your blog.

My story is one of complete destabilization in a very short period. Late last October I was at the top of my game at work (I work in media), living comfortably (but not passionately) with my longtime partner C and our greyhound, and ready to lose a little weight. I went to my gym and asked for a personal trainer.

The desk assistant suggested I work with B, and our first meeting was very positive. We knew we could work together, had a quick rapport, and it didn't hurt that I found him very handsome. But this was business - I was there to shape up and no more, so gave it little thought.

Five minutes into our first session he asked "So, do you have kids or a wife?" "No, sadly no kids," I said. "But I do have a partner." "Oh, so we're family," he shot back, "that's cool."

This began two or three weeks of serious flirting on his part. Of course, I flirted back, thinking in part 'Well, I guess this is what you do with a gay personal trainer,' but also enjoying the heat of it all. A safe heat, I thought. One Thursday he said "Hey, you seem like you're fun. We should hang out sometime." "You're right," I said, "I am fun. Let's do it." He gave me his number. I was surprised, but gave him my number in return, honestly thinking nothing would come of it.

What came Friday was a text. And a call. We agreed to meet next weekend to visit a friend's art opening. Lots of time in the car there and back, we talked. Mostly him, telling me nearly anything about his life. "You hungry?" he asked as we neared home. Dinner, a walk to his car, and a handshake ended the night.

Fast forward two more weeks and we're seriously dating. Kissing deep when and where we can, he talks freely of "...when you meet my brother..." or " of these days I'm going to kidnap you." It's hot and it's fast and it's passion, and it's all potential.

It's also a problem, for me and my partner C. Over 15 years C and I have knit our lives together in every manner...except one. "Bed death" a friend calls it. The physical desire we shared seems gone. And while it's more, B and I are now sharing the one thing I don't have anywhere else. I wonder if B is one of those things that I need that have just found me. I feel vital, and I feel guilty.

After the second date I broke down at the dinner table, confessing what was happening and my total confusion about it all. C smiled. "Any day you're not happy is a wasted day," he said as I sniffled. "You're the best boyfriend in the world." I laughed. Then: "you've got a voice inside you, and you've got to listen to it." It was not what I was expecting, but I took it as license to continue.

December brings more heated talk of sex between B and I, but often one or the other is away. His texts (I've saved the best ones) still make me dizzy.

During this time, my advocates at work are replaced with adversaries, and I rapidly go from being lead go-to guy to being largely put in a corner. This deflation of worth is only amplified by my partner and I having to handle a greyhound in fast decline. My pain at work is nothing compared to her growing discomfort, and eventually we realize, five days before Christmas, that we have to put her to sleep. (I'm told I write movingly about it at my private blog.)

Her end comes at what feels like the ending of a career and, maybe, even a partnership - but also soon on with a first night at B's. The first night of passion is followed the next night (New Year's Eve) by celebrating with his parents at their house - and another night together. Which is followed by a day and night at his brother's place watching movies, drinking beer...and another night of combustible sex. Friday morning he rolls over and says, "So, what's it like to be kidnapped?"

To be clear: it's not just the sex. Really. I've had sex with a few others while with C, and always for me it only means something if I have an emotional bond with my sex partner. Anonymous sex just ain't my bag. And B isn't anonymous; I know more about him in two months (it seems) than many of my friends for years. In this time, we are the definition of intense.

While it seems in early January that we're off to the races (I continue to see him, even now, as my trainer), as the month closes it's clear something is wrong. The night of Feb 2nd we talk on the phone.

"I don't want this to be a break-up call," B says. My brain freezes. The only thing I can hear now is BREAKUP. The conversation goes poorly, and we don't know where to end. He begs me to remain in some contact with him. "Even if it's just to train, I'll take any crumbs." Crumbs? You're the one breaking up with me - and breaking my heart in the process. I confess through tears that I love him; a four-letter word for B that I know will probably panic him. I say it anyway. I've meant to for a while.

The next day I call in sick, shattered. My role at work is shriveling; my beloved greyhound is dead. My understanding partner is much less so, angry with me and uncertain of what we will become. And now this sudden passion, this man my heart loves, is leaving. Believe it or not, I go to the gym at 3pm anyway for our session.

We ask how each other are. "OK," he says, "I didn't sleep too well. Probably deserve it." That's all we say on the matter. Later I text - we need some face time, I'm not sure what has happened. He agrees. "was good 2 c u" he texts. I cry again.

Over dinner a few days later we decide we didn't mean to break up, but that he needs time and space to work through lingering issues and hurts from one or two previous relationships. Ten years my junior (I'm 44) he says he doesn't know what love is, thinks he's done wrong by one of his formers, and needs to know that the next time he falls in love it will be forever. He asks me to be patient, knowing that it may take months for him to come back - if he comes back at all.

The past month has seen continued declining fortunes at work and continued uncertainty with my longtime partner - although with tensions considerably reduced. Interaction with B is limited near exclusively to the gym: we say we'll get together for a beer but don't.

I don't know which is worse: the fear that a primary life friendship with my partner C is just that, a friendship and not a romance, or hoping against fear that B and I may actually have a future despite signs that suggest otherwise. I do know that living with both unknowns is the most vulnerable, unsettled feeling I've ever experienced.

So this is why I needed to find your blog. I've known I'm not the only one with struggles like these, but never really got it until I spent time with your writing...and that of your readers. I don't feel any better, less lonely, or any different frankly. I do see, however, that I'm not so unique.

I'd ask your advice, but... Well, but nothing. I'll ask: do you have any thoughts for me?

After my first reading of this reader's exceptionally well written email I felt overwhelmed. Just like the poor guy himself, no doubt, because he's suddenly got so many difficult issues in his life. So I sent him an immediate reply, telling him that since it would be a few weeks until I'd be able to post his email, I thought he should get a counselor so that he could start work on everything immediately. Within a day I got his reply:

I'm a step ahead of you. Already have a counselor, a good one. And you're right, his services right now are essential. The other day, in fact, I was discussing with him having to stop, so I could save up cash for an expected move-out. "I can't let you do that," he said. "It would be unethical for me to let you go." So at least I've got that.

Thanks for providing the platform you do, and for your words of counsel. It's clear you're a good man, and I think your blog provides an important voice out there.

It strikes me that this reader has hit a classic mid-life crisis. There's nothing to be ashamed of there, it happens to lots of guys when the natural path from school to college to job and boyfriend peters out, and with potentially more than half one's life left the next step is unclear. Indeed, long time readers here will know that it happened to me too, in connection with ex-boyfriend S.

One puzzling thing here is the originally blasé attitude of C, his boyfriend of 15 years. I can't help wondering whether C is unhappy with their relationship, and might already be prepared to see it end, especially if he doesn't need to take the blame for it ending. Indeed, perhaps he's so relaxed about the situation because he has another lover? If nothing else, C's reaction proves that their current relationship has to change. Even if C doesn't mind having an open relationship with the reader, the possibility of a split after 15 years should have provoked a much stronger reaction. To put it another way, a relationship which can be dissolved so easily isn't much of a relationship anyway!

It's possible that work has turned slightly sour for the reader because of the problems in his personal life, which might be causing him to under-perform somehow. In many jobs, one's only as good as the last project that one worked on, so if a project is badly received by one's colleagues it can it can easily put one out of favour. Of course, work can have a detrimental effect on one's personal life too, but one's boyfriend, friends and family have to be more important than one's work, so my recommendation would be to come to some kind of resolution of those issues first before worrying about work. Indeed, the confidence which the reader should gain if he is able to resolve the issues in his personal life could well help him get back on top of his work again.

The "bed death" phrase is a good one and it's an unsatisfactory situation. If that happens to a couple of guys in a relationship, if their relationship is healthy they should eventually realise that they need to discuss it, and either try and re-invigorate their sex life, open up their relationship, or separate. So without that interaction between the reader and his boyfriend C, I reckon that something like the reader's current crisis was always going to happen eventually. In that sense, there's nothing special about the 'personal trainer' B, he just happens to be the guy that's triggered what would always have happened anyway.

I find it hard to tell from the reader's description of the break-up what B's intentions really were, but it doesn't sound like their relationship is going anywhere. From the reader's description of the current situation between him and B, I reckon that it'll be hard to re-ignite their combustible passion. Even so the reader has much to thank B for, because he's been the catalyst for the reader to realise that there are unspoken issues in his relationship with his boyfriend C that need to be resolved one way or the other. On top of that, B's also proved to the reader that he's still a very marketable commodity, should he need to find another boyfriend at some point.

So I reckon that the fundamental issue that needs focus is the reader's relationship with C. There are issues there that need to be resolved, one way or the other. Indeed, the resolution of the issues in his existing relationship should naturally point the way in terms of resolving all the other issues. And regarding B, it could well be that he won't be very important going forward.

Do any other readers have any thoughts in this situation?


Anonymous said...

I thought about it even though it is still quite early (I am in a relationship for 3 years, engaged and soon to be married). I am just afraid that suddenly there will come a time that our passionate relationship will turn stale. I think the best way to avert a possible future relationship crisis is to improvise and make life more interesting for both parties.

Anonymous said...

I too was surprised by partner C's first reaction. I also wonder if C wants to continue the relationship.

And since B isn't clear about whether or not he wants the relationship to move forward, I think the reader needs to (1) continue counseling for himself (2)communicate with his partner about their future. If both want to save their relationship, they need to find ways to make sex exciting again, or try an open relationship.

Anonymous said...

GB, I do love your blog, I'm a big fan, so please take this in the constructive spirit it's meant - we need a replacement noun for "issue."

Anonymous said...

When it rains, it pours. They say that for a reason, don't they.

First off, the reader and his very long time companion, C have been cohabiting for the wont of a better word. Once a the sexual component dies, there is still friendship, common friends, shared affinities,and many other DINKing advantages of shared living. It would be very easy to move out and make yourself even more vulnerable to the present meltdown and the reader's shrinking fortunes at work.

Have a good, honest talk at your kitchen table. You have been together for 15 years now. Spill you beans, and agree that cohabitation may be the best course of action for the time being. Keep in mind that 'never' and 'forever' are very long time.

Second, focus on your work. Losing financial edge these days can be harrowing. Start looking around for other options. Try to turn the tables on your adversaries. They sense your weakness, and are accordingly bold. Let them sense your strength, and have them focus on some more achievable task.

Third, have an open, honest talk with 'B'. What went wrong? You had a good thing going, and suddenly, very inexplicably it melted down to almost nothing. You want to look into this. You need a closure of a good kind on this.

Fourth, no matter what, the sun will rise the morning, and you'll stand up, and fight for your chance to get your life going. Allow no doubt about this.

(from a guy, who is writing a book about 'turning the tables')


Gabriel said...

okay let me take a shallow stab. hot gay or straight personal trainers can ruin your relationships. one word of advice, if you are attached and looking to train with someone, please pick someone who is straight and you don't fancy. that could save your marriage. period.

Ken Skinner said...

I tend to agree that the best thing is to continue with the counsellor. With such emails we only get a snippet of what's going on and working closely with someone on a regular basis is more likely to yield a positive result.

Doesn't mean I won't give my 2c worth, though!

Sounds to me like you need to divide and conquer. All the various issues do overlap, but if you can separate them then you'll be able to handle each one better.

First off, death in the family. Pets die. It's a fact of life and coping with their passing is something that every 'owner' has to deal with. It's not a sign! It might make things easier if you and C decide to separate, but it's not symbolic of the relationship ending. Mourn the dog's death, but don't read in cosmic significance.

Work! Separate work and personal life. During work hours you get to be 'professional' and personal issues are irrelevant. It's easy to say that, difficult to do. Nevertheless, TRY! Use working hours as an emotional break time when you can re-centre yourself.

Thirdly, the relationship with B... well, it's fresh and new, but you don't have 15 years of history. Think back. You're in the pre-honeymoon phase where you don't really know the person and everything's 'perfect'. You've not really reached 'reality'. From the brief bit about B's emotional state it sounds like he has his own issues, irrespective of you. A mid-30s gay man, in my opinion, *is* someone who's probably ready to settle down. He's acting like a younger guy, though.

I guess I'm the only person who thought that C's reaction was great! It sounds to me like he's put his own needs on hold so that he can support you. I also agree with his attitude that if you're not happy then you need to change that. It sounds to me, though, that he's having to deal with this on his own, too...

You presented him with a situation in which he has no control, so all he can really do is either a) throw a hissy fit and storm off, or b) take the higher ground and try and work through it to a good resolution. He's taken the path of making sure he's your friend, first and foremost.

It does sound like there's more to the story on both sides, though, so yes, keep talking to your cousellor and keep talking to C.

And no, don't run off with your personal trainer. It sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Ach, maybe I'm just being sentimental this morning. Maybe you should jack it all in, buy a convertible and run off with a younger man! Or get a hobby. Or a puppy.

Ken Skinner said...

Had a re-read of the post and realised I'd missed a couple of bits, like B becoming less supportive (understandable - he's a person, too)

Okay, well, it really seems to me like C has some issues of his own and perhaps now simply is not the time for you and him to get involved! Perhaps you should consider severing contact with him. Only you know whether that's the right thing to do.

It also sounds like you and C need to spend some decent 1 on 1 time to talk this through and either re-connect or figure out the way forward. Maybe a trip? Both partners have to be willing and receptive, though, otherwise it'll just end up being awkward if not antagonistic.

Counsellor... definitely keep up with the counsellor and if you make any decisions then have the strength to stick to them and not waiver.

Ken Skinner said...

Oh dammit, should have typed: B (trainer) has some issues of his own and perhaps now...

blah, blah, blah

Anonymous said...

I'm with Kenski. It seems C realised you were going through a difficult phase and was caring enough to give you the space to wonder he now alittle less supportive, you left him on new years eve to spend time with your new 'pet'.
In harsh reality stop feeling sorry for yourself and take a step out of your bubble of thoughts and try to see how your actions are affecting all the 'difficuties' that you are experiencing in all aspects of your life. This may seem harsh but i do get a sense of self pity going on...this is acceptable for a short period but after a while it becomes very tiring for those around you.
On the otherhand look closely at what it is YOU want for your future. I do think B was just a fling' that you put too much emphasis on as it is very flattering to get that type of attention.
I do sincerely hope that you find your path out of this and again reiterate the thoughts of many and keep the counseller as it gives you time to talk through.


Leon Koh said...

I thougth this is really a long blog entry.. I myself have long forget the true meaning of love, when one can trust himself to love yet another people and justify for it..

a classical example for gay man.. not that I place a blame on him.. but seemed like trust is always second to a moment (months) of passion


Anonymous said...

hello all;
I'm the "D" of the situation. I wanted to thank you all for your thoughts - those that were supportive, those that were critical, those with suggestions. I found them all worth the time.
This forum, combined with talks with friends and my therapist, have lead to a break with "B". In the last two months since I first wrote this, B and I have grown cold - even slightly adversarial. He kept me close at hand, but never let me close in. This while saying he wanted to take a pause, figure things out, and see where we go.
Finally just last night I phoned - the only way we can communicate. He was angry, I was calm but resolute in asking where we were. "Early on I knew you weren't long-term material," he said.
Ouch. Had he told me that two months back, I could have saved myself eight weeks of unhappiness.
In the end I may have acted the ass, but never malicious. C has been unfailing in his support and understanding for something I was going through - and, perhaps, something he may go through one day as well. And B has proven untrustworthy. Like a guy who says he wants to swim in the deep end of the pool, but panics once there.
Those people are the most dangerous, because sometimes while trying to save them they can pull you under.
And whatever your thoughts of my behavior, I value your comments and this forum.
thanks, everyone. And best of luck in affairs of the heart.

Jason said...

GB, I do love you blog. It's amazing how you've aplied you analytical skills and relationship experiences to become a therapist. I'm in the exact situation as the reader her and you've confirmed the suspicions I have about my relationship.