Thursday, December 11, 2008

House Rules

I was still reading the Economist when Ron got home last night. He had been on a hot date with a new friend. I had gone to dinner with some friends. We spent a few minutes catching up with each other's day, and had an interesting conversation about gay relationships in general, and ours, in particular.

The guys at dinner asked me about my relationship with Ron. I always hate that question, because, inevitably, the word "open" comes up. Ron and I have a non-monogamous relationship, but we are committed to each other and to our relationship. So, yes, our relationship is open to the possibilities of us being involved in the lives of other men, but we have committed ourselves over the years to remain and thrive in a relationship with each other.

Gay men have many ways to fashion their lives with each other. I think most of us want to be in some kind of an important relationship with others, whether it be boyfriends, partners, fuckbuddies, or soulmates - with or without benefits and sexual access. That is, we are free to make the kind of relationships we want, but we still can get blindsided by jealousy, cultural prejudice, and fear.

Every relationship forges its own rules. On the basis of my own non-scientific and anecdotal polling, most relationships pay some lip service to monogamy. Some couples are monogamous, through and through.

Some Miscellaneous House Rules

  • You can have sex only with me and no one else.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but don't let me find out about it.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but only once per guy.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but only if you're out of town without me.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but you can't fall in love with them.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but only if it's in a three-way with me.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but not in our home.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but not in our bed.
  • You can have sex with other guys, but not with anyone we both know.

You can probably add a few rules of your own. These rules all attempt to do two things: they try to limit long-term sexual contacts outside the relationship, and they try to reduce the risk of emotional connections outside the relationship. Of course, the peril of sex outside the relationship is that it promotes emotional connection.

The house rules have other purposes, too. They provide a cover of monogamy for a coupled relationship, because they provide plausible deniability about the persons in the relationship having sexual affairs outside. Culturally, it's easier to admit to gay monogamy than other kinds of relationships. I think that's what the clamor for same-sex marriage is all about among gay men. All of us want to be respectable, and respectable relationships don't openly engage in scandalous sexual affairs.

Also, with rules in hand, persons in the relationship can tamp down jealousy, or at least keep it in check. As long as you keep your affairs out of my field of vision, I won't go looking for trouble. I won't ask, and you'd better not tell. I can't be jealous of the other guys you sleep with, because I know you won't see them again.

The rules also address the fear the couples may feel about the permanence and stability of their relationships. The rules make it difficult to have a significant friendship outside the primary relationship so that the men in the relationship feel closer together, more secure.

So how did Ron and I end up in our family? It became evident during our conversation that we have a very different set of house rules. Here's how we handle commitment.

Our House Rules

  • Always love your man, whatever that means.
  • Trust him, unconditionally.
  • Respect his personal life.
  • Tell him about the guys with whom you're involved, and expect him to do the same.
  • Let him fall in love with someone else, even if it hurts.
  • Assert your claim to his heart.
  • Tell him, occasionally, that you need a hot sex date with him, just because you feel horny.

Ron and I have remained with each other because he let me be who I am. He let me love whomever I chose to love. He risks losing me, because that was the only way he could have me. Of course, now he can't get rid of me. Our relationship is still wide open. It's wide open to all kinds of possibilities, sex, risks, fulfillment, and love. It's also a committed relationship between Ron and me. That's our house rules.