There was a man I got to know as I began coming out. Gary and I met on Grindr on a Friday evening in the Fall of 2011 as I sat in a restaurant, near Dupont Circle, eating dinner. I had just driven into Washington, D.C. from work and was grabbing a quick bite before heading off to a support group meeting for gay, bisexual and queer men who were, or had been involved with, or married to women.
Gary and I continued texting on Grindr over the next week and soon arranged a meeting. We immediately liked each other and had a good deal in common. My relationship with Gary never became physical but we soon became good friends and spent time together going to art movies and exploring the cultural scene in Washington, D.C.
When I met Gary I was still in my marriage to my wife and would be for another two years. Gary became an important part of my new support system, asking me many questions about my marriage, how I saw being gay, and what I was hoping for in my new life. He also became a critic of some of the more naive or dated notions I had about what it meant to be gay.
When I began to come out, after twenty-two faithful years of marriage to a woman, I needed to make up for the lost time. I soon became addicted to Grindr and would see what cute guys were close to me whenever I had a few minutes alone. I would get sexually excited chatting with guys online. Even though I felt my days of random sex were long over, it was fun to flirt. At the time I saw being gay mostly about who I had sex with.
One of the most important things Gary taught me, as we walked around Washington, D.C. one afternoon, was this: “Being gay is not about who I sleep with, it is about who I love.” For years I had seen being gay primarily about sex. It had not fully occurred to me that being gay was who I was at my core and that it impacted every facet of my life. Gary’s comment rang in my head and I began to think a lot about his words and the possibility of finding love.
Was it possible at 55 years of age to completely start over and find love? I was not sure. I knew that finding sex was easy, but finding love would be more difficult. My wife and I had fallen in love and had been best friends for many years. Even though for a long time we had not had sex, I still considered her my closest friend. Was it possible to have that intimacy with a man?
As I met more guys it became very clear to me that I did not want to pursue sex with men that lacked a deeper friendship or relationship. What I really wanted was to find a man that I could have a deep, intimate, lasting relationship with. I wanted sensuality and closeness. I wanted someone who I found sexy and who found me sexy. But a quickie with a stranger no longer did it for me.
Fast forward almost five years after I first met Gary. I am in a year-long relationship with a man that I love and who loves me. I find him quite sexy. Looking at and touching his body continues to excite me. We never seem to tire of each other and have all kinds of interesting things to talk about.
This past week I facilitated a meeting of the same peer support group that I had just started going to around the time I met Gary. One of the questions that arose, as the men talked was powerful: what is the difference, for a man who is attracted to men, between loving a woman and loving a man. For me, as a gay man, the difference was stark.
When I was with my wife I felt that loved her, but our intimacy was more like that of best friends. I never wanted to linger with her in bed. I did not want to touch or embrace her as we talked. Sex was something to be completed before moving on to the next task. I was physically attracted to her when we first met, but not with the passion and intensity that I feel for a man. The physical attraction I did feel for my wife faded in the early years of our marriage.
With my partner, who is male, we can lie in bed for what seems like hours, holding each other, alternating between talking and kissing and being physical. I am attracted to him and never tire of touching his beard, his hairy chest, of running my hands down the length of his body to his buttocks. There is an intimacy and attraction that is part of our embrace that is very different from what I experienced with my wife.
Love without sexual intimacy and attraction is different than love with sexual intimacy and attraction. What I felt for my wife was more akin to a close intimate friend or sister. It was love, but of a different kind. The love I have for my partner feels more full-throated and vibrant because it is coupled with deep sexual intimacy and attraction.
Sitting in the support group with men who are just beginning the journey to come to terms with their sexuality reminded me how far I had traveled. As we discussed the difference between love for our wives and love with a man, I felt my own experiences of love and intimacy, empowered by coming out in all facets of my life, was valuable to share with the group. But when you have never had love and intimacy paired with sexual attraction, it can be hard to see what love for a man is like.
I feel grateful for my life. My life today and the journey to get here has met everything I had hoped for in coming out and more.