Friday, December 28, 2012

Email about online dating and cross cultural relationships

A few months ago, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I have finally decided to join the queue of those seeking your opinion and that of your readers. I am not sure what my main point is, but having come out to myself (because others could see it much earlier!) quite later in life at the age of 27 a lot of the aspects of life as a sexually active gay man are still new and sometimes puzzling to me. I suppose it all has to do with a certain anxiety of what is going to happen in the future, instead of just enjoying life as it comes which I ought to combat in myself.

I am a 32 year old Greek guy, doing a PhD in the UK. I have been living in London on and off for the past 10 years. I am a total rice queen, a term I learned from you first. I did not use to be, but after my first experience with what the English call ‘orientals’ I somehow got stuck in seeking guys from the Far East. I cannot pinpoint what exactly it is that attracts me, perhaps a combination of looks and the exotic culture. Well, after I started losing my hardon during sex with guys of other ethnic backgrounds, I realised it was time I concentrated on dating mostly Asians!

So far I have been in relationships with a Korean guy and then a Japanese guy, and have dated a few Chinese and others for various amounts of time. It has all been done via grindr, jack’d and other websites. When I go to clubs in Soho I have been lucky to attract the attention of guys I also like, but nothing more than that. I guess my first question has to do with dating. As I have to study a lot and spend more time than I prefer with my laptop, going online and finding someone comes easier, almost natural, to chatting up guys at bars or at uni. I might be posing questions you have already discussed, but can one really build a meaningful relationship with someone one has met online? It is so disheartening to see guys you’ve been dating for some time go back to grindr, or even finding myself craving it after some weeks of ‘electronic abstinence’. Lots of people just dismiss the idea of finding someone for more than sex online. My first relationship lasted 3 years but it started as an online sex date and with sex being perfect, feelings developed and we ended up together. What eventually killed it was turning it into a long distance affair because of my study.

With my second question I would like to turn the spotlight of the blog back to you (and the good old days when you were describing your life experiences) and ask you what, if any, have been the cultural barriers, differences and challenges you faced in your relationship with your latest partner who is Asian. Trying not to stereotype, I have found, for example, the Japanese in particular to be very much attached to their own culture, even after more than a decade of living in London. Understandably, it is difficult to ‘read’ people especially when they come from conservative or introvert cultures. Did you or the readers ever have this problem, and how did you deal with it? I get cross when sometimes friends tell me “ah, you shouldn’t date guys from such different cultures to yours, it is always going to be difficult”.

Have a great weekend.

All best wishes,

The reader who sent me this email also attached a picture of himself to the email, which was a nice gesture. I think it helps me write these responses if I know what the person looks like, because I think it's possible to get a useful impression of someone just by looking at them.

When I first received this email, I sent back an immediate response in which I gave the following short answer to his queries:
I think the brief answers are "Yes" one can build meaningful relationships with someone that one has met online, and that cross cultural relationships can be more rewarding precisely because of the cultural differences!
There's certainly no doubt in my mind that it's possible to find long-term boyfriends online. In my case, I met all my recent boyfriends online! It was almost 4 years ago that I met boyfriend T online. We then became boyfriends about 3.5 years ago, and we're still together :-).

However, I think that some web sites are more sex oriented than others. I haven't done any online cruising myself for 3.5 years, so I'm not the best person to advise on which the best web sites are for relationships rather than sex. I found my boyfriends on gaydar and, and when I used to use those web sites I recall that manhunt was well known for being sex rather than relationship oriented. Back in 2009 I wasn't aware of either grindr and jack'd, because at that time they were only just starting to become popular. Perhaps a few readers could leave some comments on which web sites are best for sex hook-ups, and which are better for finding guys who want a relationship.

In any case, looking at the reader's email again, I think that he partly answered his own question because his first relationship was with a guy that he met online, and it sounds like the relationship was a success. It didn't end because either of them craved online *fun* with other guys, instead it ended because it turned into a long distance relationship. My relationship with ex-boyfriend P was a long distance relationship so I have some experience in that area. Long distance relationships are always bound to be difficult.

The reader says that it's disheartening to see guys you’ve been dating for some time go back online, but I'm not sure that I agree. In my case, after I first met boyfriend T online, I still carried on looking online for other guys. After all, we weren't boyfriends at that point. But I grew to love him more and more, so after around 6 months I asked him to be my boyfriend :-). Judging from the reader's email, perhaps he expects too much too soon from the guys that he meets. I reckon that one of the golden rules of dating is to take things very slowly, and don't expect any loyalty unless you've discussed whether your friendship has a future as a relationship. A long time ago, a reader left a comment on this blog (or sent me a private email, I can't remember which) in which he said that one shouldn't discuss "the future" with a guy until you'd known him for 2 years or more. I agree with the sentiment, but not the length of time! I think that you can start to discuss that kind of thing after a few months :-).

Regarding the reader's other question, I think it's good if there's some kind of complementarity between the two guys in a gay relationship. With straight couples, the fact that one of them is male and the other is female immediately provides a lot of complementarity, because men and women often have quite different perspectives on things. Similarly, if a guy's boyfriend is from a different culture, then that too provides complementarity :-). So I think that cross cultural relationships are good, and learning how to 'read' the views, moods etc of one's boyfriend is one of the things that makes the relationship more interesting.

My own experience is that after the initial honeymoon period when everything was perfect, as it always is during the very early stages of a relationship, boyfriend T and me did sometimes argue a bit. Looking back, I can see that it's precisely because of what the reader alludes to, namely that we didn't understand each other properly. But in fact, as time has passed, we have learned how to live and get along with each other. These days, arguments are much rarer :-). We didn't consciously think about why we used to argue, but somehow we muddled through. So if you're aware of this issue in advance, it's even more likely that you'll be able to make a success of a cross cultural relationship.

Do any other readers have any thoughts on these issues?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Suggestions for Christmas Charity donations please

Christmas treeWhere has all the time gone? It seems like it was only yesterday that I was writing last year's version of this post!

For the last five years, I've asked readers to give me suggestions for Christmas charity donations (see 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). This year there's around £800 to give away, and all sensible suggestions are welcome :-).

Email from a guy who wants an open relationship

Right at the end of August, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I find myself writing this letter to you because I need to express my feelings to someone and no one in my offline life is appropriate for this subject matter.

First, a little about my situation. I have been with my boyfriend for almost 10 years. We have been together since I was a teenager. I love him dearly; however, I find my mind thinking about other men all the time. It has gotten to the point where I can’t look at a man without wondering what his dick looks like.

To compound things, our relationship is already strained. Money is an issue because I am a full time student and therefore I do not contribute 50% of the expenses. Furthermore, I plan to pursue a PhD, and unless I get an amazing scholarship package, I won’t be able to contribute 50% until after school. This leads into me being sort of financially dependent on him, which muddles the situation even further. Another issue is that we live in a relatively small town where one is two sexual partners away from everyone.

I honestly don’t know how much longer I can stand being monogamous. I find myself cruising gay hook-up sites every other day (as horrible as they are, being out of the dating scene I have no idea what the good websites are). I daydream about other men when my boyfriend is around. I feel sort of lost.

I do not want this relationship to end, (1) because I love him and we basically came of age together, and (2) because I cannot afford it. Another thing is that he has a massive dick, which is somewhat of a fetish for me. He has made it extremely clear that monogamy is the only way to go. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to resist. It has been so hard already. One of the main things holding me back is my fear of contracting a sexually transmitted infection. What are your thoughts?


When I received the email, I thought that it would probably take me a while to get round to doing a posting for him, so I sent him a quick reply which included the following paragraph:

It'll probably take me a few weeks to get round to doing the posting for you, so in the meantime here are my initial (unedited!) thoughts. What you describe sounds like quite a dangerous situation, in the sense that if you don't solve it somehow, eventually it'll all come to a head in an uncontrollable and damaging way. If that happens when you're still financially dependent on your boyfriend then it'll be even worse, so I can't help thinking that for now you should postpone plans for a Ph.D. If your relationship is strained because of money, then that's another reason to postpone the Ph.D. Unfortunately not all relationships last forever, especially because I think people do change very gradually over the years, so maybe the time has come to split up. If that's done in a controlled way then it's likely that you can still be friends. But have you really had a 100% honest conversation with your boyfriend about this? Your email sounds like you're about to *pop* any minute LOL, so does he really know how much this is tearing you apart? If you haven't spoken to him about it recently then the sooner the better, because it sounds like at the moment you can honestly say that you've still been monogamous, which is a good starting point for a conversation. Remember, honestly is vital, without that you've got nothing. Another thought is that relationships aren't worth very much if you can't communicate properly with each other, especially on important issues like this, so I think you should probably start having some difficult conversations otherwise your relationship is doomed anyway. Don't forget, there are many ways of having more open relationships, including threesomes, just being allowed to go to sex parties or gay saunas occasionally, rules about not seeing the same guy more than once, etc etc.

Although the reader didn’t reply to the email that I sent him, I still think it’s worth doing a posting using his email because it may help other readers if they find themselves in similar situations.

Rereading what I put in my reply to him, I think that my quick thoughts to this reader actually constitute quite a reasonable response. But there’s one point that I think is worth emphasising, namely that if you’re in a relationship and you can’t communicate about something that’s tearing you apart, then it’s not a good relationship. We don’t know why the reader thinks that his boyfriend is so completely against any kind of open relationship, but we can probably assume that the boyfriend has no idea how bad the situation has become. So if the boyfriend did know, then perhaps he'd soften his view to some extent? And if he doesn't soften his view, then at least both of them will appreciate that the relationship might be near its end.

One further thought relates to the fact that these two guys "came of age together". That means that they must have been boyfriends for all their adult lives, so although they probably experimented with various sexual partners when they were teenagers, since then they've been sexually faithful to each other. Many old posts on this blog relate to my view that lifetime monogamy is an unnatural state for our species, especially now that we generally live much longer than we used to (see e.g. 1, 2). Viewed from this perspective, it seems quite natural to me that a bit of *fun* outside their relationship looks appealing, because a gay adult life with only one sexual partner is quite unusual.

Of course, as the reader himself points out, there are risks associated with casual sex namely sexually transmitted diseases. Risking one's own health is one thing, but if one ends up passing something nasty on to one's boyfriend then that's a very bad situation, especially if the boyfriend thinks that he's in a monogamous relationship. So all the more reason to communicate with one's boyfriend, and try and find a path through the crisis which works for both of them.

Do any other readers have any thoughts about this?