Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Gay Mike Brady

My (ex) wife Gabbie says I tricked her into getting married.   She says I didn't want her or her vagina, I only wanted her uterus, and that's why I proposed.

She's wrong, but not entirely so.  I wanted kids but I also wanted more than that.  My dream was to have a big, happy, supportive Brady Bunch-like family, anchored by a loving partnership between Gabbie and me.

I've realized that I want the same thing with Dean.  Gender and sex really aren't make-or-break factors for me.  Love, stability and happiness are.

On our first date Dean joked about waiting to have sex until we were married.  I played along and said, "No problem.  I can stay celibate before marriage for as long as you can."

"In that case, we might be in trouble!"

I've never been on a first date where someone dared to mention marriage, even as a joke.  The fact that he brought it up so soon made me like him even more.  Commitment is very sexy to me, even better than six-pack abs.

Dean has made several more jokes about getting married in the months since we first met.  Usually he says something like, "Too bad we can't get legally married in California - yet.  Not that it matters, of course, since you're already married and plan to stay that way."

Clearly, the fact that I'm still married bothers him.  And just as clearly, when he needles me about possibly staying married, he wants me to contradict him, which I do.

I like the marriage jokes, even when they come at my expense, because they suggest that our long-term goal  remains the same.  I really do believe that we are on the path to marriage, although getting there is likely to take years.

What's been frustrating is that Dean's actions do not always match his words.  If he really is open to spending the rest of his life with me then shouldn't I feel like a priority in his life right now?  For example: four days without a phone call.  Really??

Well, a decision Dean made last week gave my 'happily-ever-after' dreams a big boost.

Early in the week he asked if I had any plans for Friday night.  That was a surprising question because he always has his kids then, which means we can't meet.  "What do you have in mind?"  I excitedly asked.

"I have an extra ticket to my ex's performance.  I'm taking the kids and I was wondering if you might like to come too?"  His ex-wife used to be a professional dancer and still performs in local productions whenever she can.

His invitation really floored me because a week before I asked if he, his kids and I could all hang out together sometime.  He immediately rejected the idea: "No, that won't work.  I know my kids won't want to share me."

The invitation to his ex's performance was also a big deal because if I went, I'd meet his kids and his ex-wife for the first time.  Huge.

I said I'd love to go.

On-and-off for the next several days I was nervous about meeting his ex.  All I could think about was how awkward it would be (will be) if Dean ever meets Gabbie.  I'm sure she'd be polite but I just know she'd be thinking negative thoughts about him.  She never likes any of my friends.

As Friday approached, I asked Dean to check with each of his kids and his ex and make sure they felt ok about meeting me.  He did and everyone said they were looking forward to meeting me.  That information was so reassuring that I wasn't nervous again until the moment I walked into the theater.

His kids (9, 11 and 14) are all young for their ages.  His oldest will turn fifteen in a few months and he still hasn't hit puberty yet.  As I said hi to each of them I was struck by how child-like they are compared to my kids.  No wonder he talks about how sweet they are all the time - none of them has crossed the bridge to teenage attitude.

After saying hello, I decided to be as low-key as possible and not force them to talk to me.  They all sat on or around Dean, while he and I talked, or he talked to them.  They seemed comfortable with me and I was comfortable with them.

My biggest interaction with them happened during intermission.  All three of the kids begged Dean to buy them something to drink but he kept saying no.  I had brought flowers to give to his ex (three cheers for bribery) but I forgot them in the car so I went back to get them.  On my way back, I stopped at a convenience store and bought the kids a large bottle of water.  I didn't want to annoy Dean by countermanding his decision not to buy them anything, but I thought one bottle of water was pretty innocuous.  When I came back with the water he didn't seem to mind and the kids were genuinely grateful.  They drained the bottle in just a few minutes.  The next day the oldest told Dean to tell me that bringing the water saved their lives - they would have all died of dehydration without it.

As the show ended I got really nervous again because I knew I'd be meeting his ex-wife in just a few minutes.  We ended up waiting for her for at least 10 minutes, which made for a lot of anxious anticipation for me.

When she finally appeared, the kids and Dean mobbed her with hugs, as did several other people.  I stood back a little; the post-performance greetings were supposed to be about her, not about the two of us meeting.  I expected Dean to break the ice and introduce us, and just as I thought he was going to do so, he saw some friend across the room and cluelessly announced that he was going to go say hi to him.  That left his ex-wife and I somewhat awkwardly smiling at each other from about six feet away.  I said hello, complimented her performance, and gave her the flowers.  Just as we were about to exchange a few sentences of polite chit-chat,  a woman launched herself between us, and raved to Dean's ex about the show.  Several more people followed her and did the same.  I tried to stand and smile as casually as possible, but that's not easy to do when a bunch of people you don't know are enthusiastically hugging and chatting all around you.  As the minutes ticked by, I started looking around for Dean.  He was no where to be seen.  Finally, I heard him call to his kids and tell them it was time to go because it was late.  They ran to him and all four of them turned to go.

Of course I don't want to be rude to his ex and run off without really talking to her, so I turned back and said, "Thanks for giving your permission for me to come.  That was very nice of you.  I really enjoyed the show.  I've never seen it performed before."  Honestly, I don't remember how she replied.  I do know that she was polite and friendly, but also shy and nervous.  For some reason I expected her to be more bold, the way Gabbie would be.  With our three sentences exchanged, we said goodbye and that was that.

In what I consider to be the most bizarre aspect of the night, Dean never asked how it went between me and his ex.  Actually, it's now been six days and he still hasn't asked.  I have to say that I find his cluelessness/thoughtlessness on the matter to be frustrating.  What bothers me most (more than anything else he's done or said since we've met), was that he walked away to say hi to someone else when he should have been introducing me to his wife.  For him not to not know that our meeting was worthy of his attention leaves me speechless - and a little hurt.

Well here I am again, bitching about small slights that don't mean anything in the long run.  Maybe I'm more petty than I realize.  Whatever.  His insensitivity is not a big deal, except that it brings me back to the subject of the contradictions between what he says and what he does.  The obvious lesson for me is that I need to deal with my insecurities myself and not expect anything from him.

Overall, I'd say that meeting his ex and kids went well.  I'm glad to have broken the ice with them and I really hope that I'll be accepted enough that Dean and I will be able to spend more time together, with his kids.  The way I look at this is, we've taken an important step toward becoming the big, happy family I always hoped to have.

The next big step is for me to tell Gabbie and my kids that I have a friend named Dean.  I hope to be able to do that within the next 60 days.

Ultimately, I'd like to bring our two families together, although not necessarily to live in one house.  It's a fun idea to imagine us as the Brady Bunch with two gay dads; between us we have three boys and three girls.  All we'd need is Ann B. Davis to help cook and clean.

As always, thanks for reading and commenting.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Happiness by Force

Dean and I have been dating for about three and a half months.  It's going well.  We've had one minor scuffle, but other than that, he seems to be happy with me and I know I'm happy with him.  Still, there are times when I have struggled.  This week is one of them.

In his on-line dating profile Dean wrote about being self-employed, being busy with work, and taking  projects while he could get them.  Because he does short-term contract work, I understand how he feels.

Before we met in person we spent about four months trading emails and talking on the phone.  During that time Dean frequently used the excuse of numerous deadlines to postpone meeting me.  His obsession with work was a major red flag, but of course, I still wanted to meet him.  When we did finally meet, he confessed that the reason he dragged his feet so long was because he wanted to lose a little weight.  When he told me that, I assumed his work schedule wasn't as insane as he made it seem.  That assumption was borne out over the month that followed, which was June.  We met two or three times a week that month, which was as often as my schedule would allow.  Then, everything changed in July.  He was gone on various trips for nearly the entire month.  Instead of seeing him three times in a week, I saw him three times in a month.  "Don't worry," he said, "this month is especially bad.  I won't have to travel again until October."

He didn't travel at all in August and yet he still seemed obsessed with work.  He kept accepting more projects and I began to wonder if his goal was to work himself to death.  When I asked him about it, he said he could never turn down a job.  "If I say no, they'll find someone else and they'll never ask me again."  Fair enough. I get it.

Well...it turns out there's more to his madness than just the fear of losing a client.  His wife and kids live in a decent home, something typical for the area, and he lives in a one bedroom apartment, yet his monthly nut is huge.  He's been embarrassed to tell me, but he finally admitted that he's never kept a budget and neither has his ex-wife.  From what I can tell, Dean must maintain a gigantic workload just to stay afloat.  I don't begrudge him that, it's the American Way.  What does bother me is that between his obvious priorities of work, kids and other obligations, I feel like he doesn't have much time for me.  When he was home in August we met once a week, for just a few hours each time. We talked on the phone daily and that did a lot to keep us connected, but the truth is, I'm frustrated by how little time we're able to spend together.

As much as I could fault Dean for putting himself in a situation where he's forced to work far more than he says he wants to, I realize that's his cross to bear.  My problem is that I'm needy.

This week has been especially difficult because he's away on a job again.  When he's away he seems to fall into a bubble where all he thinks about is work.  It's Thursday and he hasn't called me once all week.  Yes, we've exchanged a few three-sentence emails, but those don't fill the void.

The bubble that Dean enters when he's working really bugs me.  Why is it so difficult to remember to call me when he gets a 15 minute break?

The more time that passes between our phone conversations, the more insecure I get.  And the more insecure I get, the more I start to question Dean's interest in me.

I think the fundamental flaw between Gabbie and me was that she pushed me to behave in ways that weren't genuine.  I can think of no fewer than six specific instances where I passively tried to break up with her but she steamrolled right over me.  That dynamic has been a major life-lesson for me: people have a trajectory in life and they are who they are.  Anyone can be manipulated in the short-term (by themselves or by others), but ultimately, the "truth" of who they are and what's important to them does not change.  This means that any kind of manipulation, like guilt and complaining, is self-deceptive.  I could bitch at Dean and force him to remember to call me, and his more regular calls would make me happy, but in time he'd become resentful of my bossy, needy attitude and that could kill our whole relationship.

Mostly I'm writing this post to vent my frustrations so that I don't take them out on Dean, but I also have a serious question for any readers who care to respond: could my hypothesis be wrong?  Can you force people to behave in ways you want them to and still live happily ever after, til death you do part?

Before you answer that question,  I have to tell you about the one scuffle Dean and I did have:

During the first week that we met, we got on the subject of birthdays.  As soon as I knew his date of birth, I immediately burned it into my permanent memory.  Why?  Because I knew he would be very important to me so of course I'd want to always remember his birthday.  Dean repeated mine back to me twice, I assume so that he wouldn't forget it.

Because my birthday was less than three months away, the burden of setting a precedent for how we'd handle our birthdays was on him.  As my birthday approached, I thought about reminding him.  Then I thought, no, that implies I expect something from him.  It would be better to let him do whatever comes naturally, because that will truly and honestly reflect who he is and how he feels about me.

My birthday came and went and Dean made no mention of it.  Forty-six is not a birthday worth celebrating (unless you're 47 or older), so I wasn't particularly sad.  What bothered me was the idea that, if I was at all important to him, he would have made the effort to remember it; entering a date on his electronic calendar would not have been a major commitment.  But, whatever.  I saw him two days later, we had a great time, and I got to entertain myself with the fantasy that I was still 45, so far as he knew.

About two weeks after my birthday was Dean's ex-wife's birthday.  Naturally, after knowing her for 20 years, that's a date he has memorized.  Late in the afternoon of the day before he called me to say hello while he did some shopping for her.  He ended up buying her some books and cds from Target.  I don't happen to think that last minute gifts from Target are very personal or thoughtful, but hey, it's his ex.  He knows the protocol.

The day after his ex's birthday, we were talking about what he and the kids did to celebrate.  It was during that conversation that he realized he had forgotten my birthday.  He said, "I know your birthday is about two weeks before or after my ex's, but I'm not sure of the date.   When is it??"  My answer was, "We already talked about this.  I'm in denial about getting older so I don't celebrate birthdays.  Besides, you knew the date at one time.  I'm sure you memorized it, like I did yours."  (Oops.  Guess I can be a little passive aggressive sometimes...)

"I meant to write it down, really I did!"  He begged me to give him the date and apologized if he had missed it.  That, of course, annoyed me even more because it proved that he didn't even know what month it was in.

We ended the conversation with him asking for the date and me saying it's not a big deal.  A short time later he sent me a visibly angry email where he said that I'd broken our agreement to be good communicators.  He also said that it was hurtful of me NOT to remind him because look how awkward and awful our  conversation had been.

We both ended up quickly apologizing for disappointing the other and that was pretty much that, except, I made one very important point to him.  I said, "I believe actions are more telling than words.  If remembering my birthday was as important to you as you say it is, then you would have made an effort to remember it."

He reluctantly agreed that my point was valid, but defended himself by saying his work is so detail -rientated that once he finishes a project he forgets 99% of what he did.  That's just the way his memory works.

I didn't buy that excuse, but, not being a needy, whiny boyfriend required me to shut up and move on, so I did.   I will say that he's going to KNOW his birthday is important to me.  I can't wait until it's my turn to perform.

A forgotten birthday and living in a work bubble, in my eyes, imply that Dean just isn't that into me.  But maybe I'm wrong to think that.  Maybe I'm being unfair and I expect him to be more thoughtful than he's capable of being.  I don't know.

I do know that either he needs to be trained to be more thoughtful, or I need to be less needy, or I need to make peace with the fact that I like him far more than he likes me.  One of those outcomes, or some combination thereof, is the solution, I'm just not sure what the right answer is yet.  If anyone has any constructive feedback, I'd be glad to hear it.

Epilogue

I held back from calling him as long as I could, hoping the jerk would think of me and want to say hello.  But then decided I needed to stop being a baby and act like a mature adult, so I called him.

He was glad I did, he'd been wanting to call me.

We had a great conversation, etc, etc.   He seems to be genuinely interested in me, etc, etc.

I feel much better now.  I really do.

I have a strong desire to delete this post and assume that I wrote it in a moment of weakness and unwarranted insecurity.  But the truth is, I know the issue of my neediness and his thoughtlessness remains.  At this point, it's a very long way from being a relationship-killer, yet I'd like to find some peace with it before it turns into something significant.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Closeted Man and his Secrets

I first became aware that I was attracted to boys at the age of twelve.  Naturally I wanted to be normal and like girls, so for about nine months I ignored my feelings.  Well, I tried to ignore my feelings but puberty made that impossible.

My inability to control myself made me feel like a failure.  Months of struggling turned me into an emotional basket case.  Finally, on one especially miserable day, I realized that I had no choice but to accept the obvious.  I forced myself to look in the mirror and say in a very matter-of-fact voice, "You're gay." 

As I said those words, I expected to be overwhelmed with relief.  That didn't happen.  Instead I cried myself a new ocean of self-pitying tears.  Eventually I just couldn't cry any more.  Not knowing what else to do, I decided to quarantine my problem.  I literally said, "Just because I'm gay, that doesn't mean I have to tell anyone.  It's my secret to keep and no one will ever know unless I tell them."  With those words, I happily entered the closet at the age of thirteen.

This was back in the early 1980s when the threat of nuclear war was very real.  At the time it was easy to correlate the finality of Reagan or Brezhnev launching a nuclear attack with the finality of me sharing my secret.  Just as they faced a doomsday scenario, so did I.  One wrong move and KABOOM, the whole world would blow up.

It's ridiculous and melodramatic now to compare coming out to nuclear war, but at the time, keeping my secret was deadly serious.  The fear that revealing my true self would be a catastrophic event was a constant, powerful and self-perpetuating incentive to stay in the closet.

Because I grew into adulthood with this deeply-ingrained, self-protective mindset, I never had a reason to question it.  Even as I began to explore sex and relationships with guys, and was therefore forced to take chances with my secret, I was always very cautious.

About eighteen months ago, a very wise straight wife told me about a pattern she'd seen among closeted married men.  She said that their need to keep their attraction to men a secret, at all costs, profoundly affects their personalities.  Instinctively and habitually, she said, they lie about the simplest and most inconsequential things.  Worst of all, lying about everything is such a part of their everyday existence that they become desensitized to it, to the point where truth and lies are so completely interchangeable that some lies become the truth and some truths become lies.

At first, I was very skeptical.  How can someone tell a lie and not know they're doing so?  How can a person be so delusional as to confuse lies with reality?  Why would keeping one big secret cause you to lie about a million little things that have absolutely nothing to do with the secret?  None of that made any sense.

Then I started paying close attention to my own behavior.  Wow, what an eye-opener!

I never kept an actual tally of how many "innocent" and "unimportant" lies I told in a day, but as soon as I started paying attention, I was shocked.  I'm addicted to lying - and I didn't even know it.

One of the many fascinating things about Dean, my boyfriend of three months, is his regard for the truth.  For example, less than a month after coming out to himself, he came out to his wife and his three kids.  Why did he do that so quickly, I asked him.  "Because it was important to me to tell them the truth."  What?!!  The truth is more important than the welfare and happiness of your family???  Not once had I ever considered that possibility.  Yet, when I hear about his happy kids and compare them to my grumpy ones, I have to wonder.

In situation after situation, Dean often comes back to the theme of honesty.   It's so important to him that if I wasn't trying to change my  tendency to be dishonest, I'd be sick of talking about it.  But I'm not.  If anything, I'm more captivated than ever.

In a very low-key way, Dean has become my spiritual adviser for honesty.  I tell him about situations where I either want to lie, or I actually do lie, and we discuss my motives and thinking.  He's not judgmental but he constantly and patiently redirects me to his belief that honesty really is the best policy.

One thing I've learned about the habit of lying is that it's very difficult to give up.  More and more, I'm inclined to believe that the wise old straight wife was right.  Perhaps the decades I spent in the closet have permanently affected my personality.  Still, I'm relishing the struggle.  It feels great to be much more aware of what I'm saying and why I say it.  I'm working on internalizing Dean's love of honesty.  That's been a fun and engaging challenge.

Here's an interesting example:

In my opinion, the biggest lie in my life right now is hiding my relationship with Dean, especially from my ex-wife and kids.  They're important to me, Dean is important to me, I hate sneaking around and I'm sick of making up lame excuses to disappear for long periods of time in order to see him.  These statements beg the question: if I don't want to hide Dean, why do I?

Because I don't think Gabbie can cope.  Why do I care if she can cope?  Because we still live in the same house four days of the week and I don't want to fight with her.  This is a pattern for me.  Given the choice, I prefer lying to fighting.

The key words in the above paragraph are that "I don't think" Gabbie can cope.  What if I'm wrong?  Then I'm making up all these lies and enduring all this anxiety by hiding Dean for no reason.  That would be totally stupid.  Perhaps this is exactly the kind of scenario where I need to let go of my old, closeted behavior of playing it safe, and instead I should just be direct and honest.

Perhaps.  Luckily (or unluckily, as the case might be), I recently had a chance to see if being honest and direct is better in the long run than lying in order to avoid conflict...

Last week, I spent a few hours with Dean on a weekday when I would normally be at work.  Because of my new determination to be honest as often as possible, I didn't lie to anyone about what I was doing, I just didn't volunteer the information.  That's an acceptable decision in Dean's book.  As I was getting dressed that morning, I put on a pair of tennis shoes, which is not what I would normally wear to work.  It just so happened that Gabbie was talking to me as I was putting the tennis shoes on.  Normally any "unusual" behavior on my part, like wearing the wrong kind of shoes, would spark some pointed questions from her.  That didn't happen, but believe me, I was very worried that she was going to ask.

My plan was to beat her home that night so she wouldn't ask me any questions about why I was late.  The usual drive from Dean's place is long, at least 75 minutes.  That night it took nearly two hours.  As the minutes ticked away I became more and more panicked.  Yes, someday, I will tell her about Dean, but I'm not ready to do that yet.  I was hoping, really, really hoping that I would get home before her, just so I could avoid being interrogated and not have to choose between telling a difficult truth or yet another lie.

Amazingly, as late as I was, I beat her home.  Barely.  Less than five minutes later she arrived.  And the instant she saw me she asked, in her very pointed way, "Why are you wearing those shoes?"

As someone who prefers lying to conflict, my usual answer would have been something like, "I twisted my ankle and my work shoes were killing me."  But now that I'm trying - really trying - not to lie, I simply said, "Because I wanted to."

I hoped that would be a good enough answer to satisfy her curiosity, but, of course, it wasn't.  She asked three more questions in rapid fire and grew increasingly suspicious as my answers continued to be vague and evasive.  Each of her questions narrowed down what I could have been doing that day, and more importantly, who I might be doing it with.  By the time I gave her my third non-answer, she knew I'd been out on a date with a guy.  She knew it, not because I said so, but because she knows me so well and because she eliminated all the other "sneaky" possibilities.

As I expected, she did not handle the news well.  She was extremely agitated, but did her best to control her anger, just so she could try to pry as much information out of me as possible.  "How do you know him?"  I didn't answer.  "Where did you meet?"  I remained silent.  "What are you hiding?!"

"I'm not hiding anything.  I just don't want to talk about it.  It's not a big deal." (Lies!)

I continued, "Besides, why are you asking?  Do I demand that you tell me everything that you're doing every minute of the day?"

"Well, some of us don't have the luxury of skipping out on work whenever we like!"  She went on a mini-rampage on that subject for a few minutes, and when I wouldn't engage her, she turned and left the room, then ignored me for the rest of the night.

Her illogical, angry reaction was exactly what I wanted to avoid.  In spite of all the crazy and bad things that have happened with us over the past few years, we've stayed on good terms.  I want that to continue and I'm willing to pay a high price to make sure it does.  If being honest with her about dating is going to make the next few months a constant nightmare, then I should have lied.  Dean and his love for honesty can go suck it.  That might work for him, but it certainly doesn't work for me.  If Gabbie really can't cope with the thought of me dating, then lying definitely would have been the better choice.

The next morning I had to eat those words.  It turned out that, for as pissed off as Gabbie was, her discovery that I am dating did not ruin our relationship.  She doesn't like it.  She even seems jealous about it, but, I feel like I've taken a big and necessary step with her. 

All she knows so far is that I've been out on one date, and I'm not ready to volunteer any more information than that - yet - but the subject has been broached, and now she can  mentally prepare herself for the inevitable.  And perhaps even more importantly, I can be a lot more confident about being more honest with her in the future.  Whether she likes it or not.

So, honesty pulled out a surprise win.  Who would have guessed?  Certainly not the old, closeted me.

***

Although this post is about my struggle with honesty, I don't think I'm the only one who'd rather tell a lie than start a fight, ruin a relationship, or be embarrassed by my own devious behavior. 

Yes, lying is a part of being human, but, the more I've observed the behavior of closeted bisexual and gay men, the more I've come to agree with what the wise straight wife said: many of us are uncontrollably unable to divulge the truth, even when it comes to very minor confessions. 

Protecting ourselves requires constant lying and hiding, often on a minute-to-minute basis.  We're forced to do it so frequently that we internalize the behavior and, without realizing it, it becomes part of our nature.

It's hard to say how our compulsion to lie affects our lives.  That's something each of us has to assess on our own.  However, I think the first step is an important one, and that's to be self-aware.  How often do you lie?  Why do you do it?  Do you lie only about extremely important things?  Or do you lie because it's easy to do?  I encourage you to think about it - and to spend a few days cataloging the lies you tell.  You might be very surprised by what you learn.