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The elusive search

life partner, holding hands, love, same-sex, gay, gay news, Washington Blade

It’s difficult to stop wanting something that you want. The best you can do is strive to create a rich and satisfying life, while accepting the existential reality that none of us will get everything we would like, no matter how much we might yearn. (Photo by Till Krech; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Michael:

 

I’m a well-educated man in my 50s, successful, healthy and active, with a handful of good friends. I’ve always wanted a life partner and it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t even come close to happening.

Looking back, there are two guys with whom I wish things might have worked out. My most successful romantic relationship was with a man who lived in another country, so I could only see him a few times a year for short periods. He said up-front that he was basically straight and that I was one of only two guys in his whole life he’d ever been with. He was a workaholic, so it didn’t seem to bother him that I wasn’t around.  I saw him under those conditions for a decade until he met a woman he wanted to marry, a few years back. Now there isn’t even anyone on the horizon.

How do I stop wanting to have a life partner? I can’t make it happen. I’ve spent decades trying to “let it happen” and frankly, I know it’s just not going to happen. But I still want it. I’ve done the “friends of friends” route, the ad in the newspaper route, the dating site route, the chatting someone up in the gay bookstore route, etc. If there’s a way to try that I haven’t attempted, I don’t know what that way is.

Maybe I’m just fooling myself, but I think I’d have everything if I had a special someone in my life. How do I stop wanting something I know isn’t going to happen?

 

Michael replies:

 

It’s difficult to stop wanting something that you want. The best you can do is strive to create a rich and satisfying life, as you’ve done, while accepting the existential reality that none of us will get everything we would like, no matter how much we might yearn.

Regarding your yearning for a close romantic relationship, my educated guess is that you actually have mixed feelings about letting that happen. You chose to spend about a third of your adult life in a quasi-relationship with a workaholic guy who lived in another country and told you he was straight.

Before you give up on the possibility of having a relationship, it is well worth your taking a close look at what may be getting in your way. If you were my client, I would want to know:

• By being alone, what might you be protecting yourself from?

• Who may have let you down in a big way earlier in life, leaving you unwilling to risk being hurt again?

• How might it serve you to think that situations and people may become something they’re not?

• What might be appealing about pining for something you don’t have, although you say that you wish to stop doing so?

If you want a shot at a future relationship, also look at how you think about yourself and potential romantic partners. Notwithstanding all you say you’ve tried in order to find a mate, you spent 10 years on an unavailable guy’s back burner. So, I encourage you to wonder:

• How do you feel about yourself?

• What do you think you have to offer as a partner?

• Do you believe that you really deserve to have what you say you want?

• Is it possible that you are rejecting men who are interested in you? That you are drawn to men who reject you?

I also suggest you consider whether you have a special affinity for supposedly straight men. Although I have data on only one of your significant relationships, I wonder if you may be harboring some less-than-positive feelings toward openly gay men, at least as potential romantic/sexual partners. If so, you’re vastly increasing your odds of winding up without a mate.

None of these questions have easy or quick answers. Therefore, if any of them resonate with you, please look for a good therapist to help you figure out how to increase the likelihood of finding a special guy for your future. I wish you the best.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

29
Jan
2014

Dwindling desire

relationship, gay news, Washington Blade

How about sex for emotional connection? Sex for attachment? Sex for closeness? Sex to celebrate just being together?

Dear Michael,

 

Valentine’s Day is here and I’m going to be celebrating with my partner of 15 years. We’ll go out for an intimate dinner and then … nothing. While our friends see us as the perfect couple — and in many ways we are — we never have sex anymore. We have a beautiful home, a garden, two children and a dog; enjoy snuggling on the couch while we watch a movie and cooking together; have lots to talk about, and are best friends; but the spark has been gone for some time.

Is there any way around this? We’re not eager to open our relationship because we’re fearful of how it might affect our marriage and our family. We both miss sex and certainly find other people attractive. In fact, we find each other attractive — we’re both in great shape. But having sex somehow clashes with our relationship. I know this may sound crazy, but it seems strange to even think about being sexual with someone I love so much and feel so close to.

Any ideas?

 

Michael replies:

 

The big message we get from our culture is that sex should stay as hot as it was when we initially got together with our partner. The implicit lesson is that something is wrong if we stop feeling that huge thrill.

But sex does change after you’ve been with your partner for a while. You can’t keep feeling the same sizzling excitement that you felt when you first met, because the newness is gone. Newness is what generates a lot of the sexual heat at the outset of a relationship.

This does seem like a major design flaw in our brains, if we’re interested in forming a long-term relationship. It’s almost cosmically funny that the more we invest in a relationship, the closer we get, and the more we love each other, the less spontaneous sexual attraction we may feel toward our partner.

Whatever the biological reasons for this, it’s up to each of us to figure out some way to generate long-term excitement around sex with our partner if we want to stay together, long term.

The first step is to accept reality: sex is not going to naturally be as steamy and irresistible as it was at the beginning. We all might take some time to mourn that loss, because easy steamy irresistibility is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it is totally glorified in our culture as the gold standard of sex.

But it is just one way to have sex. And if you want a lasting monogamous relationship that includes sex, as opposed to having affairs, or a career of serial monogamy, you are going to have to discover a new way to have sex and a new meaning for sex in your relationship.

How about sex for emotional connection? Sex for attachment? Sex for closeness?  Sex to celebrate just being together?

Not to say that sex in a long-term relationship cannot be recreational or high-intensity. But expecting that the sex must always be hot in order to be worthwhile will lead you to be contemptuous of much of the sex that you have in your LTR. Not a helpful stance!

Another point for you to consider: as couples get closer, sex may start to feel like too much closeness, and avoiding sex may be a way to keep some useful distance. If I were working with you both, I would want to explore how much each of you are really standing on your own as two separate individuals who are in a relationship with each other, versus being enmeshed, with your feelings and reactions all tangled up with each other. While enmeshment may sound appealing, and is easy to fall into when you are building a life and a family together, it takes the oxygen out of a relationship, leaving people feeling smothered and wanting their space. One likely outcome: no sex. An experienced couples therapist can help you sort this out.

Finally, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, resurrecting a sex life with your partner is bound to seem awkward. But it’s a damaging myth that great sex should just happen. There is nothing odd or unromantic about planning to have sex. I encourage you both to make this effort, and to expect things to be uncomfortable at the outset.

Good luck to the two of you. Thanks for writing about this important and very common issue and happy Valentine’s Day!

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

12
Feb
2014

Don’t sweat the small stuff?

dirty dishes, chores, cleaning, gay news, Washington Blade

How do you get out of constantly fighting over the dishes?

Hi Michael,

 

My husband and I are having a horrible ongoing fight. Its epicenter is the ever-present pile of dirty dishes sitting in the kitchen sink or partially loaded into the dishwasher.

We are both busy professionals and often have different schedules so we can’t always eat together. When I’m in a hurry to make some breakfast or dinner, it’s exasperating to discover that the pan I need is soaking, or that there are no clean spoons or forks.

I’ve asked Bill repeatedly to be more considerate of me. He makes promises but they don’t materialize. Although this may seem like a small issue, I feel he is constantly disrespecting me by not keeping his word and so there are a lot of bad feelings.

I’m not even going to get into the laundry situation, but it’s similar.

We agreed to write you together, so here’s his version:

I can’t believe that David is so bent out of shape by this. I think he’s exaggerating when he says there are no clean utensils and also when he says I don’t keep my promises.  I do ultimately get the dishes into the dishwasher and run it. But like David, I have an extremely demanding job and some important extracurricular obligations. And sometimes I have to get out before I have time to finish cleaning up to his specifications by his deadline.

David has way stricter standards than I do — he is really a neat freak — and I think he should learn to compromise. I certainly have become way more attentive to cleaning up since we first moved in together. I may not be on his exact timeframe, but I do a pretty good job. How we do chores seems like an absurd reason to have tension in a relationship, much less consider divorce, but his constant carping is getting to me and the bad days are starting to outnumber the good.

Obviously, we see things very differently.  How do we settle this?

 

Michael replies:

 

You’re not alone. In my practice, I see couples go at it all the time over dishes, laundry, vacuuming and cleaning. And I tell them what I will now tell you: While you may have your preferred way of keeping the house and your preferred timeframe for doing so, your husband isn’t going to simply agree with you. Arguing about it will get you nowhere except further into a state of war.

So how do you get out of constantly fighting over the dishes?

First, the big picture. If you want to have a relationship that is generally loving, respectful and peaceful, keep these points at the forefront of your mind at all times:

• You and your partner will often have different ways of thinking, acting and seeing things. That’s life. There’s nothing to be gained by seeing your way as right and his way as wrong.

• Your spouse will regularly push your buttons, big time, simply by having a different point of view. Find a way to have a sense of humor about this if you want a better shot at enjoying your relationship, including the challenging parts. You may also find it useful to remember that people grow when they learn to live with things that are not perfect!

Now, about those dishes. If you want to go forward in your marriage with good feelings rather than bitterness, both of you have to find a way to negotiate around chores and other disagreements in good faith. The key components to doing so: strive to always be honest and respectful; work to influence your partner by explaining why you want what you want, rather than by strong-arming him or shaming him over his preferences; and keep your word when you commit to doing something, even if you don’t want to do it. These are simple concepts, but hard to practice consistently. It’s hard work to live up-close with someone who is profoundly different from you.

I do wonder if you are each holding fast to your position simply because you want to be the guy calling the shots rather than the guy being told what to do. If so, make it your practice to remind yourself that you have committed to building a life together.  Regularly ask yourself: how can I be collaborative? What am I willing to tolerate living with, or without, in order to share my life with my husband?

It can be quite difficult to turn your critical lens from your spouse to yourself, to go from thinking he is the problem to wondering what you can do to work together. If you remain stuck, please find a skilled couples therapist. Dirty dishes are no reason to have a miserable relationship.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

25
Feb
2014

Is poly a relationship cracker?

poly, polyamory, gay news, Washington Blade

Sweeping potential deal-breaker issues under the rug will haunt you later.

Dear Michael,

 

I’ve been with my wife Carol for seven years and she told me from the start that she considered herself polyamorous. This was a little outside my comfort zone but given that she wasn’t involved with anyone else, I didn’t really worry about it and kept dating her. We fell in love and ultimately got married.

We now have a 2-year old daughter. Carol has been seeing her new girlfriend Julie with increasing frequency for the past six months and now she wants to start spending one night a week at Julie’s place.

I’m unhappy for a few reasons. I think it’s presumptuous that I should regularly have to take care of our daughter alone. We’re supposed to be a family unit and I don’t know how I’d explain to my daughter where “Mommy Carol” is one night a week. And Carol’s regular absence from my life — because she’s dating another woman — is already damaging our relationship and making me jealous.

Carol says I came into this relationship with my eyes open. True, but I didn’t imagine the potential problems when I said “yes.” She also says that I should be happy that she’s having a wonderful connection with Julie and that if I would stop being bitter, her greater fulfillment in life would enrich our relationship. I think this is major self-serving B.S. Finally, she offers to give me a regular “night off” where I can leave all the childcare to her. But I like being home with our daughter and don’t want a “night off” — I just don’t want to be left alone with all the responsibility once a week while she is off having sex with another woman.

Is there some way to compromise? Because right now it’s hard to see myself staying in this marriage, and I strongly suspect that Carol feels the same way.

 

Michael replies:

 

The two of you have some difficult territory ahead.

It sounds as if you both have gotten into a “my-way-or-the-highway” situation.  What’s needed is for you and Carol to take a serious look at what’s important to each of you and to have a frank discussion where you listen to your spouse with curiosity.

Given that you and Carol had very different feelings about polyamory from the get-go, it would have been useful to have spoken in depth about what a poly lifestyle might mean to both of you before you married and certainly before you had your daughter. However, it’s not too late to talk together about what you each value most, as a first step toward figuring out how to go forward.

You may ultimately decide that you cannot stay in a relationship where your spouse is involved with another woman. But divorce is not a decision to be made impulsively just because you’ve hit gridlock. Especially because you have a young child together, there’s an awful lot at stake in finding a way to preserve your marriage if this is possible. Divorce is usually very tough on children.

Some questions for you to consider: What would it take for you to want to stay in this marriage? Can you tolerate Carol’s other relationship if she foregoes her sleepovers?  Or do you really only want a monogamous relationship?

Another question: Have you and Carol ever considered any rules or boundaries that might allow both of you to be content in your marriage? Such agreements are sometimes helpful, although they are not a guarantee of anything, and people often change their minds about what they are willing to tolerate.

From your description, neither of you is going to get everything you want. But that’s always the case. Marriage pushes us to figure out what’s most important to us. Try to find a way to be open minded and respectful of each other’s preferences for how you want to live your lives. Remember that blaming your partner for inflexibility isn’t going to lead her to shift in your direction.

Because you have some complex work to do, consider working with a skilled couples therapist who can help you and Carol to figure out how to do your best here and to see if it is possible to collaborate on your future. Good luck in finding a way forward.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

26
Mar
2014

Paths to pleasure

pleasure, men, gay news, Washington Blade

“I feel like I’m getting old and missing out if I’m not taking advantage of all the pleasure that I could enjoy. You only live once.”

Dear Michael,

 

I was intrigued by your Valentine’s Day column featuring the long-term couple who aren’t having sex anymore. I’m in a similar boat with my husband of 12 years, where we don’t have much sex and don’t do much when we do have sex (porn movies and mutual masturbation). To be honest, I hook up with other guys from time to time at the gym and I’m pretty sure Mark does too.  It’s far hotter and more exciting than the same old same old.

 

You suggest that couples should accept that sex with the same person loses some of its steaminess as time goes by and that we should focus on enjoying the other aspects of sex, like emotional connection and closeness.

 

My problem with this is when I don’t hook up, I’m jealous of the hotter sex that I hear my single (and some partnered) friends are having. There are so many gorgeous guys out there and life is short. I feel like I’m getting old and missing out if I’m not taking advantage of all the pleasure that I could enjoy. You only live once. It’s hard to just enjoy the warmth and coziness of ho-hum sex in my marriage when I could be out there screwing my brains out with some amazing guy, like I constantly hear my friends are doing. And yet, I love Mark and want to stay with him.

 

I feel like I’m going crazy over this and sometimes I’m really bummed about not getting the good stuff that others are enjoying.

 

Michael replies:

 

You are facing a few tough, inter-related dilemmas.

First, the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) factor: Many gay men place a heavy emphasis on sex (think Grindr and similar apps). There’s nothing wrong with pursuing or enjoying sex, but when lots of sex/multiple partners is the standard of success in your circle and you believe you’re not meeting that standard, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out. Even a guy who isn’t interested in pursuing high-volume sex may feel like a loser for following his own path.

Second, our entire culture glorifies youth and disparages aging and gay men are not immune to this outlook. The white-hot sex of a new connection is associated with youth, just as the inevitable decrease of this sort of sex in an ongoing relationship is associated with aging. Most of us don’t like the idea of getting older and letting go of youthful abilities and pleasures, so we glorify and chase intense sex while looking down on the less scorching sex that we’re more likely to have with a long-term mate. Who wants to give up on the prospect of hot sex?

Third, if you make the choice to be in a monogamous relationship, you are definitely going to miss out on possibly steamy sex with other guys. But if you are in a relationship and have outside sex, jealousy may sour your marriage, one of you may leave for a seemingly hotter prospect, the time and attention you spend on hookups may erode your connection with your spouse and the secrecy, if you are not open about what you are doing, may create distance. Also the quality and quantity of sex at home may decline as you put in less effort.

The truth is, aging is inevitable and we can’t have everything. What we can do is decide what’s most important to us and go for it.

Toward this end, figure out whether you want to keep looking for outside encounters so that you don’t miss out or whether you want to really make the best of the relationship you are in. I don’t think you can do both. Should you choose the latter, here’s a question: If you’re so bored sexually, why are you and Mark settling for merely jerking off together to porn? Couldn’t you find something more exciting to do together?

People have all kinds of reasons why they stop having good sex with their partners. The one that I hear most often in my practice is, “It shouldn’t take work.  Something must be wrong if we don’t spontaneously want to have sex.” But the truth is, nothing is wrong. It’s inevitable that the excitement of newness fades, but it is not inevitable that you have to stop having sex when it does. Nor does long-term sex have to be dull, unless you believe that it does and put no effort into making it worth having.

If you and Mark stay together and stay bored, please find a skilled couples therapist to help you find a way to have more cozy, intimate, connected sex that is even occasionally hot! Good luck.

 

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

08
Apr
2014

Deal breaker or game changer?

close, angry gay couple, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

Michael,

 

My husband, whom I have been with for 16 years, has been cheating on me.  I found out accidentally through a mis-sent text.  This has been going on for at least several months. I am heartbroken, angry and feel totally betrayed.

Dan says that his relationship with Bill meant nothing except fun sex. He swears it’s over and that he really wants to stay with me. But he also says that he sometimes just wants to have sex with someone else and that he thinks monogamy is unrealistic. That said, he says he will try to be monogamous if I insist on it as a prerequisite to staying in the relationship.

Well, I know that I do not want to have an open relationship. But I wonder if I am being realistic to expect that two men can really have a monogamous relationship. I also have no idea how to trust Dan if we stay together.

Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

 

Michael replies:

 

Two men can have a monogamous relationship if they want to. The question is, does Dan really want to?

Relationships push people to figure out what’s most important to them. Dan has an opportunity to decide if he would rather be with you and be monogamous or end the marriage and enjoy playing the field. Just as you face the decision of leaving Dan or tolerating his hooking up from time to time.

These decisions may be excruciatingly hard for each of you to make. No one else can tell either of you what to do. Before deciding, talk together about why monogamy is important for you and about what Dan feels he would be giving up and why he might not want to commit to monogamy. The more you understand each other’s position, the more thoughtful a decision you can come to.

If you’re hoping to trust that Dan won’t hurt you again, know that it’s inevitable that people hurt each other from time to time in relationships. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

If you’re hoping to trust that Dan will never lie to you again, understand that you can’t know for sure. Has he explained to you why he didn’t tell you about his affair? Did he think it would hurt you or did he want to avoid your asking him to choose between outside sex and marriage? Knowing his reasoning might help the two of you figure out what it would take to have an honest relationship in the future, if you both want this.

Some questions for you: Can you count on yourself to start paying closer attention going forward to what you are seeing, hearing and sensing, so that you are more likely to know if Dan steps out again? As a matter of self-protection, that would be a very good skill to have. If you’re not good at picking up on what’s really happening, how could you get better at this?

While being a great husband is no guarantee that your partner won’t cheat on you, can you identify any part you might have played in Dan’s decision to step out? Is there anything you might do to make it less likely that he’ll hook up with someone else if you stay married? Were you doing your best to keep your relationship and your sex life vibrant? Any big or bitter conflicts that you’ve been sweeping under the rug?

Because you’ve had a bad shock, give yourself some time before making any big decisions. While your anger and heartbreak are unlikely to disappear, you’re more likely to think clearly about your future when everything is less raw. If you decide to find a therapist to help you decide how to move forward, seek out someone who will not demonize Dan. That would not be helpful to your healing or to the possibility of your staying in your marriage.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

23
Apr
2014

Needs vs. wants

needs, gay news, Washington Blade

Developing self-esteem and a loving attitude toward yourself when you didn’t get that growing up is a tough challenge.

Dear Michael,

 

I’m in a bad place because Jason, my boyfriend of eight months, whom I dearly love, can be really thoughtless of me sometimes.

He didn’t make a special plan for my 30th birthday. Usually I am the one who has to call him, or we don’t speak all day. I am the one who usually initiates sex, though he is happy to have it when I do. I could go on and on.

I should explain that I had a pretty bad childhood (extremely strict, right-wing, religious parents who have rejected me big-time) so it is very important to me that my boyfriend makes me feel valued. I didn’t get that feeling at all growing up so I am really craving it.

I’ve brought this up with Jason and he didn’t seem to take my concerns too seriously. He said he tries to be a devoted boyfriend and doesn’t want a list of things he has to do. I’m not trying to give him a list, but I think these are pretty basic needs and it’s not too much to ask him to meet them.

Advice?

 

Michael replies:

 

You missed out on an extremely important experience growing up: feeling cherished by your parents. Positive and loving regard from others helps us learn to love ourselves. When kids don’t have this experience with their parents (or at least with someone important in their lives) they desperately seek it in their adult relationships, hoping that love from others will provide what they don’t have inside. The trouble is that once we grow up, no one else can give us that feeling; we all must find ways to value ourselves. This is where you must put your energy and effort.

About Jason’s not meeting your needs, there’s a very popular belief that a love relationship should be like a perfect parent-child relationship, where your spouse will always give you love and always strive to meet your needs. But this expectation can strangle a relationship. It’s nearly impossible for your partner to always be loving and supportive in ways that you desire. He may have his own ideas about how he wants to do things and live his life, his own desires and wants that conflict with yours, which means that he will not always be there for you. It’s far better that you work at being resilient, accepting that Jason may sometimes let you down because he is human and a separate individual, than to spend time stewing over your disappointment in him.

Keep in mind, too, that needs are very different from wants. Your needs — food, water and shelter — are your responsibility once you grow up. You want a boyfriend who plans exciting birthdays, calls you frequently and initiates sex. While you absolutely can advocate for these wants, you cannot count on getting them. Watch out for using “needs” to push Jason into doing things he doesn’t want to do.

I’m curious how Jason feels about connection. Does he reach out to you consistently in some ways that you value? Does he really let you know him? Or do you feel like he’s frequently distant? Keep in mind that even if you feel like he often isn’t there for you, your ability to see him clearly may be warped by your history. We often tend to see the present through the lens of our traumatic pasts, and because you got a lot of rejection growing up, you may now experience distance even when it isn’t really happening.

Developing self-esteem and a loving attitude toward yourself when you didn’t get that growing up is a tough challenge. I urge you to find a skilled therapist to help you become more solid and resilient. Doing that work will help you weather the inevitable letdowns of a relationship, more deeply enjoy the good times and simply feel good about yourself.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

06
May
2014

The monogamy myth?

monogamy, gay news, Washington Blade

‘We’re wondering if we should just accept that this is how things are supposed to be and stop feeling bad? ‘

Hi Michael,

 

Can two gay men really have a monogamous relationship?

 

My boyfriend and I have wanted to be monogamous, but neither of us has been able to totally stop the occasional hookup. It’s taken a toll on our relationship in terms of hurt feelings, trust and closeness.  Lately, Jim isn’t even trying to hide it and I really don’t like seeing him on Grindr out of the corner of my eye or having him suddenly disappear for two hours.

 

We’re wondering if we should just accept that this is how things are supposed to be and stop feeling bad? For what it’s worth, none of the gay couples we know are really monogamous, either (though sometimes one of the partners thinks they are).

 

Michael replies:

 

I think that gay men are capable of having monogamous relationships. But there are some powerful reasons why so many gay men endlessly chase sex, even when they would rather not.

Most of us grew up feeling bad and hiding our true selves from our closest family and friends, fearing rejection. When children and young people don’t get the sense of being loved for whom they really are, they aren’t able to develop their own sense of self worth. As a result, they keep looking for that love as adults. I think a lot of gay men are still seeking the validation they never really got. Finding another man who wants to have sex with us can seem like a great way to get it, although once we’re adults, validation from others doesn’t actually have much lasting impact on our self-esteem.

Another reason why monogamy seems so scarce among gay men is because of the heavy stigma around being gay, most of us didn’t have opportunities to date and romance other guys early in life.  Instead, we had sex when, where and with whomever we could, often in shame and secrecy, learning how to be sexual before we learned how to be close. As a result, it’s hard for many of us to connect sex and emotional intimacy. That combination can be unfamiliar and even uncomfortable, so we often seek out the familiarity of anonymous hookups instead.

Gay male culture also tends to put sex and hooking on a pedestal, for the reasons I mentioned above, and as a reaction against gay sex having been so taboo and forbidden to us, growing up. And men in general are socialized to have few qualms about pursuing sex. The emphasis on sex in our community puts a lot of pressure on us to define our success by our desirability and conquests. Keep in mind that all of these factors meld together in a seductive and addictive swirl, so that many of us wind up using sex (and porn) like a drug to soothe and feel good about ourselves.

All of this is doesn’t make it easy to be a monogamous gay couple, much less an emotionally healthy gay man. And I haven’t even delved into the reasons why monogamy is hard for just about everyone, including non-gays.

If you’re a gay man who wants to be monogamous but find that you can’t stop hooking up, or if you simply want to feel better about yourself and have a healthier relationship to sex, you’ve got some important work to do. It is absolutely possible to move beyond the negative messages and self-damaging behaviors that most of us learned as we grew up. And it’s also possible to move beyond other people’s definitions of what it means for you to be a successful gay man.

All of this is hard work and can be lonely. A lot of my clients tell me how isolated and different they feel for wanting to buck the hypersexual norm. Most of us grew up without a real peer group, so we aren’t eager to repeat the experience of feeling like we don’t fit in. Just like coming out, you have to decide whether it’s worth pretending to be someone you’re really not in order to not feel alone.

If you decide that you want to work on these issues, I strongly suggest that you seek out a therapist who has an expertise in working with gay men. This stuff is not easy to untangle. I wish you and Jim good luck going forward.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in gay couples counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

03
Jun
2014

Harmless lie?

lies, gay news, Washington Blade

What’s the point of sharing something so hurtful and potentially damaging?

Michael,

 

 

The guy who wrote you wondering whether gay men can have monogamous relationships criticized his friends for having sex on the side without letting their boyfriends know. Is this really so terrible?

 

I love my boyfriend and he only wants a monogamous relationship. However, over the years in my opinion things have gotten a little tired between us. I don’t want to criticize Rick or make him feel bad, but I am not ready to be done with hot sex, so I hook up from time to time. I think it’s the best of both worlds because Rick and I have a very close and warm relationship and I also get to have some pretty erotic adventures with other guys who don’t mean anything to me emotionally.

 

If I told Rick, he would be very hurt, he would definitely stop trusting me and it could destroy our relationship, which would be devastating to both of us. What’s the point of sharing something so hurtful and potentially damaging?

 

 

Michael replies:

 

Right now your boyfriend trusts you, but from what you tell me, he shouldn’t. And you don’t really have a close and warm relationship with him, because he doesn’t really know you.

If Rick wants a monogamous relationship and you love him as you say, how do you justify taking away his opportunity to have what’s important to him, if not with you then with someone else?

You’re facing three crucial choice points here:

Would you rather be honest or not? I cannot overestimate the importance of this question. We determine who we really are by our actions, not by how we describe ourselves or what kind of person we aspire to be. Do you want to simply give the appearance of being trustworthy or actually be a trustworthy person? If you have high standards for yourself, there’s a lot riding on how you answer this question.

Would you rather be in a monogamous relationship with your current boyfriend or not be in a relationship with him at all? You say that Rick has set a bottom line for being in relationship with you; he wants to be exclusive. You don’t need to be in an exclusive relationship with Rick, but staying with him and having sex with others is not an option that he is offering. If you decide to be honest, you may have to choose.

Would you rather speak up about tough issues or avoid confrontation? Most of us don’t like confronting people we love about problems we’re having with them because we don’t want to shake up or even threaten our relationship. When we talk about what’s bothering us, our partner may disagree, get angry or be profoundly disappointed. On the other hand, if we don’t speak up, we don’t have much chance of resolving the problem, and are likely to get increasingly unhappy and disappointed in the other person and in the relationship.

Rather than sneaking around on the side, you could address with Rick your dissatisfaction about your sex life. Maybe the two of you might find ways to improve things or maybe you would conclude together that it is time for some sort of change in your relationship. By choosing to be silent, you’re missing an opportunity to get better at difficult conversations and you’re also missing an opportunity to collaborate with your boyfriend on finding a solution to a problem that concerns you both. Hard work, yes, but also a great opportunity to grow.

People lie to their partners all the time, not just about sex, but about everything from credit card debt to drug use to binge eating. Lies easily become complicated, lead to suspicion, create distance and have the potential to erode your self-esteem. Beyond all these problems, maybe the saddest part of building your relationship on pretense is that you miss the spiritual experience of knowing someone intimately and being deeply known for whom you really are.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in gay couples counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

17
Jun
2014

Pandora’s box?

open relationship, gay news, Washington Blade

Whether you choose an open relationship or monogamy, you inevitably face great opportunities to figure out what’s most important to you and how you want to behave.

Michael,

 

Your recent letter from the guys who say they want a monogamous relationship but were upset because they can’t stop cheating on each other made me wonder about my own relationship. I’ve been with Doug for eight years and we’ve had an open relationship from the beginning. Our motto is, “life is short, don’t miss out.”

 

Things seem fine between us but is it inherently problematic to pursue an open relationship if we’re both OK with it?

 

Michael replies:

If your outside hookups aren’t having a negative impact on your relationship with Doug, you have your answer.

But if you are pursuing sex with others even when it hurts your relationship, impacts your life negatively or feels like a compulsion, then you’ve got a problem.

Keep in mind that open relationships and monogamous relationships both might seem easier than they are. Each has its specific challenges.

In an open relationship, it can be difficult to:

• Stay emotionally connected to your partner. You don’t say whether or not you and Doug tell each other about your hookups. When couples have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, they often become distant because they’re keeping a veil around a pretty central matters in their lives. And when couples do agree to talk about the other men they see, they may still grow distant as a way to avoid being too hurt by their partner‘s sexual adventures. Even if you have an agreement to be open, it can still sting when your partner is having fun with someone else.

 Make sex with your partner a priority. Newness is often an aphrodisiac and familiarity with your partner can lead to sex becoming less interesting. So, if you have an open relationship and are looking for a hot sexual experience, it’s often easier to seek an outside partner than it is to put some erotic effort into creating a sexy rendezvous with your spouse.

• Be honest with each other. Partners may decide not to tell each other about liaisons, either because they worry about hurting their partner’s feelings or because they have violated a rule of the open relationship, like having sex multiple times with the same person or having sex with someone else in the couple’s bed. Lies complicate relationships in many destructive ways.

• Not fall for someone else. When you meet a gorgeous, charming guy and start sleeping with him, it’s easy to develop all sorts of feelings. In the meantime, your partner of eight years may seem pretty stale by comparison.

In a monogamous relationship, it can be difficult to:

• Keep sex interesting. A healthy long-term sex life doesn’t just happen on its own. Sleeping with the same person for years isn’t likely to stay exciting unless you put forth plenty of ongoing effort and imagination.

• Resist outside temptations. When you’re with just one guy long-term, other men can seem increasingly alluring. Your task is to get clear about why you want to have a monogamous relationship and then figure out how to honor your own commitment to this goal.

• Tolerate emotional intensity. A monogamous relationship has an inherent intensity. When your partner is the only person you turn to for sex, romance and closeness, you have the opportunity to get to know each other intimately. You also have the opportunity to more regularly be disappointed, because so much is riding on one relationship. Some people embrace this challenge, but others don’t like the vulnerability and risk that come with intense connection. If you want to be exclusive, you’ll be pushed to develop your ability to tolerate some pretty intense feeling states.

Whether you choose an open relationship or monogamy, you inevitably face great opportunities to figure out what’s most important to you and how you want to behave. I encourage you and Doug to keep your eyes open to potential problems and carefully consider how you will handle the tough parts.  As you say, life is short. Don’t miss out on the chances to grow.

 

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in gay couples counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

02
Jul
2014