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Too soon to settle down?

settle down, gay news, Washington Blade

Feeling trapped?

Dear Michael,

 

My partner Craig and I have been inseparable since middle school and came out together as a proud gay couple in high school. Our parents are overwhelmingly supportive as are our friends. They all have so much invested in our relationship and it’s getting to be so much pressure! What nobody knows is that I have been feeling trapped over the last year or so, as though I don’t ever remember actually making a decision to spend my life with Craig.

 

Craig is a great guy and I love him. However, he’s now talking marriage and kids. I realize that’s the next logical step and I don’t know why I’m so hesitant. We mostly have a great time together with many shared interests. We are both good about household chores and encourage each other in fitness/health goals. We are still great in the bedroom and try new things with each other to keep it interesting.  I find him more physically attractive than ever, but neither of us has ever had another sexual partner.

 

Am I missing out? Everyone else I know has dated many people before settling down. I don’t want to end our relationship or our lifelong friendship, but I can’t shake the feeling that when I am 50 I will regret not having dated other people. Should I put my life up to the vote of well-meaning friends and family? Craig and I usually have great communication, but this issue has me too terrified to openly discuss it with him because I’m afraid of what this means.

 

Michael replies:

You are wise to be trying to decide for yourself what’s right for you rather than responding to pressure from others. Before you get married or have a child, you definitely want to have both feet in.  I’d like to offer a few ideas to help you move forward.

You say that you’re terrified to be on a different page from Craig, but I want to reassure you that nothing is wrong. People often arrive at different life stages at different times and now that is happening to the two of you. It makes sense that you might be hesitant to marry your first and only boyfriend whom you’ve been with since middle school, just as it makes sense that Craig might be ready to tie the knot after so many years together.

If you keep all this to yourself, you’re likely to continue to feel trapped. But if you talk, you’ll be taking a risk because you don’t know how Craig will respond. Maybe he’ll recognize that you’re making a brave and intimate move to let him know you better and the two of you will have the opportunity to learn how to be a strong couple despite having some differences. But he may also be hurt by your revelation.

You face a similar dilemma if you choose to date other guys.  While you may get the clarity and life experience that you’re seeking, you may also put your relationship with Craig at risk.  Again, you will have to take a chance.

I understand your concerns about missing out by not dating other people, given that you met so young and Craig is the only person you’ve ever been with. Know that there are many couples who meet when they are young and happily spend their lives together, even if they haven’t been with others. Also keep in mind that there probably is no “best” partner out there; everyone has some pros and some cons and a relationship that pushes you to take risks in order to grow, just as is happening now with Craig, is a good thing.

Life forces all of us to make big decisions without knowing the outcome. You can only do your best to determine what is most important to you and accept that it is impossible to get everything you want in one person. You and Craig have a lot going for you. I encourage you to see your situation as an opportunity to become stronger by learning out how to navigate some difficult challenges. And please remember that part of your growth will come from tolerating a fair amount of tension as you take the time to figure this out.

Finally, if you get stuck, a therapist who is skilled in relationship issues can help you find your own direction. I wish you and Craig the best.

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
Jul
2014

Intimacy barrier

close, angry gay couple, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

Hi Michael,

I love Julian, my boyfriend of three years, but lately, it’s hard for me to tell him. I feel exposed and uncomfortable when I do. It’s like I’m pulling away from him without wanting to. This is a new feeling.

Also, over the last few months I’ve felt more and more irritable with him — like we’re in competition. I don’t ever want to be wrong or lose an argument or do things his way instead of mine. This is even becoming an issue in our sex life.

Julian seems pretty shut down and defensive, too. I don’t know if he’s reacting to my own pulling away, or we’re just feeding off each other. So, we’re always bickering over nothing and sex has gotten pretty limited. Talking with him about what’s going on inside me feels too revealing right now.

I’m not sure what’s going on. Like I said, I want to be close and a few months ago we were talking seriously about marriage. Now, all of a sudden, I am running into this weird barrier inside me and Julian doesn’t seem much different.

Any advice? Or a helpful perspective?

Michael replies:

You are facing the same dilemma that others face in their relationships: While closeness can feel great, especially at the start of a relationship, closeness can also feel dangerous. The closer you get to each other — which discussions of marriage can do — and the more you care about each other, the more vulnerable you are to being hurt.

But if you try to protect yourself by keeping your partner at a distance, you’ll wind up with a limited relationship. You can’t let your partner really know you unless you are willing to get up close and open your heart to him.

The other big issue you have to contend with is that it’s impossible to have a close relationship when you are competing with each other. However, when two guys are in a relationship, they may find it really hard to avoid competing.

While the urge to compete is absolutely not limited to men, guys do tend more toward competition, especially with each other. So, collaboration with other men may not come easily, but that’s what gay men have to do in order to succeed in an intimate relationship.

It makes sense that you and Julian are distant and squabbling lately, especially since you’ve put marriage on the table. Though your situation is difficult, there is a big upside: your relationship is pushing you to figure out how to be truly close to another man. If you want to be in a long-term relationship, that’s something you need to figure out.

If closeness means more to you than playing it safe, if your goal is to be close to Julian more than to be the victor, consider this: Challenge though it is, you’ll have to be vulnerable with him and you’ll have to tolerate the discomfort and uncertainty that come with that. You’ll also have to learn how to collaborate, which means you can’t always win or be right.

Are you ready to shake things up? Make the first move and discuss your dilemma openly with Julian. You’ll be stepping out of the competitor position by moving toward him and you’ll be performing a courageous act of intimacy by letting him know what’s really going on inside of you.

Of course, there are good reasons for all of us to want to protect our hearts and figuring out how to accept vulnerability — our own and our partners’ — is tough work.  Also, it isn’t easy to shift from being a competitor to being a collaborator. For all these reasons, you and Julian may want to find a couples therapist to help you move toward a relationship where you can become loving teammates.

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.

24
Oct
2013

Heat of the moment

erection, hands, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

Dear Michael,

My sex life with my boyfriend of six months is verging on dismal.  I have a really hard time staying hard and am doing my best to avoid his finding out or having this become an issue in our relationship.

This has been a problem for me in other relationships and has been a cause for concern to me for many years. Before I have sex, I’m always worried that I won’t be able to get or keep my erection, so I have to concentrate on things that will get me aroused. I have a virtual library in my head of fantasies and porn scenes that usually can do the trick but it isn’t easy to stay focused on them the whole time.

If I open my eyes I start to get nervous and often can lose my erection. The same thing often happens when my partner wants to do things that are outside of my routine. I get distracted and nervous about how it will go or if I will be able to stay hard, then I can’t. Things work best when I stick to my routine and stay focused on what’s in my head.

I also have trouble achieving orgasm. The only way I seem to be able to come is by blocking out whatever is happening and focusing on some fantasy inside my head that can get me off.

I know this is not a recipe for hot sex, but I am so afraid of things not going well and my boyfriend thinking I’m not attracted to him (which isn’t the case at all). In the past guys have dumped me over this and I don’t want to lose Jeff.  But I don’t know how to get out of this cycle of anxiety.

Michael replies:

Take a nice, slow, deep breath in, and then slowly exhale. Relax — this is fixable.

Right now your anxiety is running the show. And when you’re extremely anxious, it’s difficult to get hard, stay hard or come. You can help yourself by finding ways to stop being so fearful that you won’t be able to maintain an erection or reach orgasm.

First, accept the reality that, like all men, you are guaranteed at various times in the future to lose your erection or not reach orgasm. This happens and the more you worry about it, the more it happens. In my work, I find that it’s especially common for gay men to have these fears, perhaps because so much emphasis is often put on sexual performance in gay male relationships. It doesn’t feel great when only one of you has an erection.

Second, take some pressure off yourself by letting Jeff know that you have a history of getting anxious about getting hard and coming. Keeping this a secret makes your problem worse by heightening your pressure to perform well, in order to avoid being found out. And by not letting Jeff know that this is a long-standing struggle, you’re making it more likely that he will take it personally when you don’t get hard or come.

Yes, there is a risk that Jeff will believe your difficulties are somehow his fault or a rejection of him. You can’t control that, but you can give him the information that would help him understand that your anxiety has nothing to do with him.

Another important move for you to make: Take your attention off the state of your penis and off the fantasies and images in your head. Your focus on these things turns sex into a tense, almost solo experience, rather than one of intimate connection; and it keeps wiring your brain to be turned on by fantasy, not reality. Gently redirect your focus to simply enjoying the encounter with Jeff.

Your erection may come and go; you may or may not have an orgasm. You will reduce your anxiety by accepting that what you fear will sometimes happen and then staying in the moment with Jeff. Although an erection certainly comes in handy at times and orgasms feel great, you really don’t need to be hard, or to come, to give yourselves and each other pleasure.

Please remember that I’m giving you an outline for how you can move forward, not a comprehensive approach that uniquely fits all aspects of your struggle. So I urge you, and other readers facing this issue, to work with a therapist experienced with erectile dysfunction who can help you get a grip on your anxiety.

One more point: You may also want to consult with your physician or urologist to rule out any physical contributors to your difficulties.

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.

07
Nov
2013

Should I take my girlfriend home for Christmas?

Dear Michael,

I’ve been dating Sharon for over a year and we are talking about getting married. Christmas is rapidly approaching and I’d like to bring her home to my parents’ house where my whole family (siblings, spouses, nieces/nephews) all gather every year.

But, my parents are not too keen on that happening (sibs are cool with it). To be fair, I just came out to my family a few months ago as things with Sharon got more serious. But after many years of being closeted around them, I no longer want to compartmentalize my life, so I would really like to have my significant other celebrating the holidays with us.

Sharon says she’ll understand if she can’t come but I think it would be very hurtful. I’m worried that her being excluded will damage our relationship and wonder how we can ever get along with my parents in the future if they insist on rejecting us as a couple now. On the other hand, I don’t want to force my parents to do something they’re uncomfortable with, even though a lot of my friends are saying I should give them an ultimatum (“either both of us come, or I’m not coming”). What do you suggest?

Michael responds: 

First of all, coming out to your family and facing the possibility of rejection was a brave step, and I am sorry that your parents seem to be unsupportive of your relationship at this time.

I’d like to suggest that you not think that this situation must be remedied by this Christmas. Your decision to come out to your parents was a process and it is often also a process for parents to accept that their child is gay. It is possible that over time, your parents will thaw or even warm, although they do not want Sharon to join you at their home over the holidays this year.

Toward this end, decide how you want to relate to your parents, going forward. Key factors in making this decision will include whether you think your parents will change; your willingness to tolerate their current unsupportive stance with some measure of calm; your interest in having a relationship with your parents; and, your ability to generate your own self-esteem rather than looking to them for validation and approval.

One possibility is that you do your best to be close with your parents going forward, even though they do not support your relationship. If you take this tack, you can still advocate that they welcome you and Sharon as a couple. Though you cannot force them to change their minds, you may well be able to influence them.  A caveat: If you don’t want to be treated disrespectfully, remaining close with your parents may be difficult, because one could make the case that you are being treated disrespectfully with regard to your relationship with Sharon.

Alternately, you can choose to cool your relationship with your parents until that time (if ever) that they change their stance. Choosing this path may feel like the best way to honor your commitment to Sharon, but without much engagement, do you think that it is possible that your parents will change their attitude? You should also consider how you might miss your parents’ presence in your life if you are contemplating distancing yourself from them.

I do think that your wish to avoid an ultimatum is wise. Trying to change others by making threats is a great way to inspire others to try and change you by using similar tactics.

One more point to consider: you write that you were not out to your family until recently, so I suspect that their opinion of you has been very important to how you feel about yourself. Given your parents’ disapproval of your being in a relationship with Sharon, you may be at risk of betraying your own ideas of how you want to live, in order to please them. Be careful: grasping for others’ validation can be a good way to erode your self-esteem.

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 in the questions has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

21
Dec
2012