|by Bill Sievert
|Taking a Gay Relationship from 3.5 Minutes to Decades
When Phil and Kevin invited us to their home for Sunday brunch a couple of weeks ago, we had no idea we would arrive to a roomful of friends toasting us with a hearty "happy anniversary" and bearing a rainbow-decorated cake with the words "John and Bill, 35 years."
John immediately turned to me with a quizzical look on his face. "Is it really our 35th anniversary?" he asked. His query brought a laugh from our friends who figured it was typical of his deadpan, sometimes Gracie Allen-esque sense of humor. But, truth is, unless I point it out, our anniversary might go completely unnoticed by my life partner (a term that has increasing meaning with each passing year). One of my jobs in our relationship is to keep track of the calendar.
Divvying up duties and responsibilities according to each partner's personal priorities and proclivities is one of the factors that can lead a short-term romance into a long-term connection.
The question comes up frequently, especially in conversations with younger people: How have you guys managed to stay together so long? The most honest answer is: We don't know; time just passes on its own. The most useful answer is: We don't think or worry about it.
If I were writing a book about Grummies (Gay Relationships for Dummies), my key piece of advice would be: Stop dwelling on success. Almost every gay man or lesbian I know who is in the throes of a budding relationship follows the introduction of his/her new partner with a whispered aside of, "It probably won't last."
"Probably not," I want to respond. "But who cares? Just enjoy each other right now."
As a chronic worrierit's an ailment I picked up in early childhood from my motherI never thought I would be in any kind of relationship for three-and-a-half minutes let alone decades.
In the weeks after I first met John in a bar in San Francisco in May of 1973, I spent most of my time fretting about his well being (when he wasn't around) and that he would quickly tire of me (when he was around).
It was only after we decided to take a virgin (for both of us) trip to Europe a couple months after we met that I began to relax and liveas they say"in the moment." During our eight-nation travels, mostly by slow train, we had plenty of uninterrupted time to explore what we had in common and discuss our aspirations for the foreseeable future. We found that our goals meshed nicely, and our travels helped prove that we really did enjoyand detestmany of the same things.
So, my tip number one regarding "Grummies" is: Don't buy a condo together until you know you have sufficient overlapping interests and values.
If your idea of a perfect weekend is to sit by a swimming pool with a chilled Cosmo in your hand and his is to pitch a pup tent in a mosquito-infested campground with a can of insect repellant in his palm, then your relationship is not likely to last. That does not mean you shouldn't attempt to broaden your horizons by joining him for an occasional nature trek, but if foraging in the forest is a major passion of his and you despise bugs and snakes, the odds are you will come to regard him as just another pest.
Please don't take this advice too far. Just because you could kill for an order of soft-poached Eggs Benedict on Sunday morning and he thrives on scrambled, do not assume a hardboiled attitude. He is allowedand I believe it is written in the Geneva Accordshis human right to a breakfast of choice.
Like most of you, I have witnessed differences in habits of consumption break up some otherwise very likeable people. Just recently, a younger gay couple we knowboth men attractive, personable and fun to be aroundgave up their attempt at partnership after not quite a year. They were often the life of the party and the kind of guys everyone was hoping had come across true romance. (In fact, several matchmakers in our circle had encouraged them to hook up.)
Problem was: While Jason enjoys nursing a couple beers and taking an occasional hit on a blunt, Joshua prefers a wider variety of mood-altering substances. And Josh often didn't stop drinking until Jason had to carry him home. It was a task Jason initially tried to address by encouraging his barfly partner to stay home with him. But evenings spent watching Survivor and American Idol were not Josh's cup of teaso he started going out on his own. When that happens on a frequent basis, the writing is on the proverbial wall.
Seemingly little things can count. John and I both acknowledge that one of the first signs of our long-term compatibility was that, as much as we enjoyed going dancing and dining, we were often quite content to stay home and watch sitcomsparticularly Maude and Mary Tyler Moore's shows. It didn't hurt that John always has been a good cook and he has never minded (well, rarely) preparing tasty meals for us to enjoy on our TV trays.
Some differences are more important than others. Personally, I cannot imagine staying in a relationship with anyone who espouses a political or moral philosophy dramatically different from mine. Sure, any two people will disagree occasionally. But I continue to be amazed by couples like contrarian political operatives James Carville and Mary Matalin, who somehow continue to keep their marriage going.
So what do I know? Even after 35 years I certainly don't have alleven mostof the answers. My best advice is to avoid dwelling on the matter of whether your new relationship will thrive, seek and keep seeking common ground with your partner, and be willing to forgive and forget.
When I broach the subject with other paired people who have stayed the course for a long period of timeand we know numerous gay/lesbian couples whose relationships have spanned four to six decadesthey generally shrug off the questions in much the same way John and I do.
The hosts of our anniversary brunch, snowbirds from Massachusetts, were legally married there two years ago. "This summer we'll have notched up 24 years together and 24 months of formal marriage," said Kevin. "That's if I don't divorce him as soon as we get to Boston this month."A sense of humor always helps.
Bill Sievert can be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 05 May 16, 2008