Building Relationships, Slowly

The Marriage Equality movement, with the focus group, tested message, Love is Love, is powerful. Young gay men just coming out today are entering a world where love, intimacy, and commitment are vividly made real between two men. 

Besides all the legal rights Marriage Equality offers for LGBT, it gives us a chance to see our relationships in the same light as straight relationships. We are no longer condemned, as Dr. David Reuben wrote in the 1970s, (and I read at 14 years of age), to a life of meeting men behind park bushes or highway rest stops. Our love has gained full legal equality, and I think that equality will have a beautifully powerful effect on the coming generations of gay men as they grow up.

I have written before of my involvement with a peer-support group for men attracted to men who have been married or involved with women. So many of the men I know enter the gay world for the first time in their 50’s and 60’s and begin what we affectionately call, their “gay adolescence”. I see men go frequently on Grindr and Scruff and attempt to make up for all the gay sex they missed out on. They meet men and arrange dates through Match or OkCupid, often with the goal of sex, friendships, relationships and friends with benefits. 

I have been surprised to see men crumble when a date goes bad and swear off the dating men. A few men I know have fallen head over heels for a guy they met very early in their coming out process. They go from meeting a man to a 100 MPH relationship in a matter of days and are ‘heartbroken’ and ‘devastated’ when the relationship inevitably falls apart within a matter of days or weeks. 

It is not a question today if two men can have the same long term loving relationship that straight couples enjoy. It is now a question of when and finding the right person. In my experience, the same rules of relationships apply for both gay and straight couples. Developing a relationship with a man follows the same step by step process of developing a straight relationship. 

Relationships are built slowly. Getting to know someone happens over time. Intimacy grows with another person over weeks and months of getting to know them. Finding out if you are compatible with another person only happens by spending time with them and by doing things together both intimately and in the world. Do you like the way he talks about other people?  Can you imagine talking to him every day and feeling that his life, his questions, his daily challenges all meet you in some deeper way? Do you like the way he talks about money, family, and work? Are you compatible sexually?  These are all attributes of what it takes to develop a relationship. I do not think you can skip these steps in any meaningful way and still arrive at a deep and loving relationship.

At one point in the breakdown of my marriage to a woman, as I talked to my wife about my desire to come out, she angrily turned at me. “Is this about you having sex with men? You are in your mid-50s!  Grow up!” In that instant I was clear. While sex with men was definitely part of what I wanted, I also wanted to find love and intimacy with another man. My coming out was about my being true to who I was as a gay man and finding an honest, intimate, satisfying relationship with another out and proud man.

When I began to come out a few years back and moved out of my marriage into my own apartment, I was clear in my mind that I was not looking for a lot of random, anonymous sex. I wanted to build a community of other men and I wanted to find a man to love and be loved. I set up my Match and later OkCupid profiles. I went on lots of coffee, lunch, and dinner dates. I found a few men that I liked and had two ‘friends with benefits’ relationships. But for a long time, I did not meet anyone I felt I could be more serious with. There was some random sex, but it was limited. I did not find it pleasurable to have sex with someone I did not know and really like or care about in some deeper way. But I kept at it, enjoying the journey with a sense of adventure and pleasure.

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