Sunday, September 13, 2020

Email from a reader who's single again

How many times a year, does a blogger need to blog so that they can call themselves a blogger? I still like to think of myself as a blogger, but at present I'm only managing one or two a year, which probably isn't enough!

In any case, last month I got a "Dear GB" email from a reader who had emailed me three times previously. The new email was as follows:

Dear GB,

I hope you're well. How's retirement? And boyfriend K?

I can't believe it has been 9 years since my first email to you (here) and a couple of years since the subsequent ones (here and here). I recently saw you post a reply to an email and figured I'd share this on the off chance that you might see it and respond.

Interestingly, a couple of months after my last email to you (in 2014), I got into a relationship that would last 5 years. We broke up late last year and I've found myself dating again. Much of the behaviour that I mentioned to you in 2014 (i.e. pushing people away, finding faults in them, and mistrust) is re-appearing. Notably, during the 5 year relationship, my ex mentioned multiple times that he felt as if he was a placeholder and I was always looking for someone better.

What I've learnt since then (which was the focus 2014 email) is that I have a dismissive-avoidant attachment style. I've traced it to childhood experiences, moving around often and being raised by a single parent (who was often travelling for work) which resulted in me taking care of myself and avoiding close emotional attachments. Toxic masculinity and being a bookish misfit may have contributed to repressing my emotional needs. It goes without saying that I should be seeing a therapist (which I'll likely do once the pandemic is over).

Anyway, 6 years since we last spoke and newly single, I'm curious about the following (considering your vast experience with long-term committed relationships and as an agony uncle for gay men):
  1. What made you decide that Boyfriend K was the one? How have you stuck by that belief?;
  2. What do you look for in a long term partner? Were those expectations ever fully met?;
  3. Any tips pertaining to my situation? :)
It may be noteworthy that I currently live in a country that criminalizes homosexuality (and has no anti-discrimination provisions), which means that most men are seeking instant gratification and see relationships as liabilities. Then there's the prevalence of transactional relationships in both gay and straight dating scenes, which does nothing to ease my mistrust. I've considered moving to a more liberal environment. However, part of me wonders whether that's a form of self-sabotage in itself (by chasing an arguably less attainable goal that simply finding someone nice where I am; plus I've spent years in the gay scenes of European cities while I was studying, it's not particularly easy to get into a relationship there either).

Your advice is (as always) very much appreciated. Regards.


It's always nice to get emails like this, and looking at the email in detail, the reader asks a lot of questions. The first question he asks is "How's retirement?". My blog post two years ago said that I was happily retired from banking, however I'm still not retired from work in general. Otherwise I'd probably find time to blog more! In any case, without doubt, life after banking is good :-).

The second question that the reader asks is "And boyfriend K?". I'm happy to report that we're still together after almost 7 years :-). So the answer to that question is "Still wonderful :-)".

The other questions that the reader asks are a bit more serious. He asks "What made you decide that Boyfriend K was the one?", "How have you stuck by that belief?", "What do you look for in a long term partner?" and "Were those expectations ever fully met?". However, I think those questions imply an inappropriate selfishness, because the questions are all about whether the needs of the questioner are fulfilled or not. I think good long term relationships happen when a couple work well together, compensating for each other's weaknesses as well as fulfilling each other's needs. I don't have a set of criteria against which I evaluated potential boyfriends, or against which I now evaluate boyfriend K.

I really hate the expression "follow your heart" because it's so glib, but perhaps it does describe the way I ended up with all of my boyfriends. More concretely, I think what I was always looking for was mutual empathy, but I never sat back and thought about it in those terms. When I meet any guy for the first time, after a short while I usually know whether we're on the same wavelength or not. If so, I'd wonder whether we can become friends, and when I was single I'd also wonder whether we might become boyfriends. Of course, after just one meeting I'd never know whether a relationship could possibly work. But if I felt we were on the same wavelength then it would be worth trying getting to know them better, and trying to work out how they felt about me. Ultimately one never knows whether a relationship will work until one tries. However, I'm the sort of guy who likes having a boyfriend, so I'd always like to give it a try instead of overthinking it.

I won't pretend that I never quarrel with boyfriend K because sometimes we do. However, when we've resolved the situation after a big disagreement, I usually look back and feel that the final outcome is better that what would have happened to either of us on our own. In most situations, two heads are better than one.

After a big quarrel with boyfriend K last year, I remember him asking me why I wanted to stay with him. My answer was that whoever my boyfriend is, we're bound to quarrel from time to time. When there are so many good things in a relationship, it's pointless ending the relationship just because there are occasional bad things. A different boyfriend would just mean that the occasional bad things would be different. It's important to accept that none of us are perfect, and that perfect boyfriends don't exist.

Regarding the reader's situation, I was curious about his comment that he lives in a country that criminalizes homosexuality, so I sent him an email to ask him which country he lives in. Eventually the reader replied, and it turns out that a gay male friend of mine married a man from that country and the two of them now live in Europe. They were married in Europe too, and without thinking about it, some of their friends who were at the wedding posted some wedding photographs on Facebook. Those photographs were then accidentally seen by some of the man's friends back in his home country, and the photographs attracted a huge amount of homophobic abuse :-( . So I am tempted to suggest that, if at all possible, the reader should try and move to a different country where homosexuality is legal and tolerated. I find myself wondering, how many happy gay couples does the reader know who live in the country? If the answer is very few, and if the reader wants a long term boyfriend or husband, it suggests to me that he won't find one in the country where he's living at the moment.

Apart from that, based on my own approach to relationships, I would just suggest one thing. When he's interested in a guy as a potential boyfriend, he shouldn't just think about himself. Try thinking about what would make the other guy happy as well :-).

Do any other readers have any thoughts about this reader's situation?

13 comments:

close encounters said...

I sometimes wonder if some people are destined for relationships and others just aren't. For the 12 plus years that I've known GB, he has mostly been in various relationships, and I've mostly *not* been in relationships.

GB has the patience with boyfriends that I can't imagine ever having myself!

He complains that I'm too fussy - maybe I just don't want a relationship enough.

Maybe some of these traits apply to this reader as well ?

Antony said...

A great post as always GB.

A xx

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