Monday, September 28, 2009



"You'll never find peace of mind until you listen to your heart." - George Michael, "Kissing A Fool"

#Gay Relationships: Intimacy & Commitment

Gay Relationships: Intimacy & Commitment - GAYTWOGETHER.COMIntimate relationships come in many flavors: dinner-and-a-movie dates that develop slowly into something else, dating one guy exclusively and becoming boyfriends, establishing something more permanent, perhaps as lovers or husbands or partners. Some relationships evolve hastily; others take time. Some men are comfortable “playing the field,” while others move so quickly to stake a claim on a boyfriend’s affections that it feels like a return to California Gold Rush days.

An unarmed encounter between two vulnerable individuals” is my favorite definition of intimacy. Most of us understand the “unarmed” part of that equation without too much difficulty. But “vulnerable?” That’s tougher. Especially for men; toughness is associated with masculinity – vulnerability is something we’re taught to avoid. Vulnerability is a paradox. A friend recently talked to me about how much closer he felt to the person he was dating after getting food poisoning while on a skiing trip.

The experience of being cared for while he was weak (and not very attractive!) helped him to genuinely feel the loving words his boyfriend had been speaking for several weeks. He’s not eager to feel that sick again, but he recognized that amid the misery, he received an offering that was very intimate and loving. If we are going to allow ourselves to open up and feel vulnerable, we need assurance that the person we are with will continue to respect us and will not abandon us. We need loyalty from the other person. In a healthy relationship, that means he’ll want a similar assurance from us as well.

Commitments aren’t all the same. Some commitments are lifelong pledges of fidelity, and that’s probably what most of us thing of first when we think of commitment. But a commitment may look quite differently. Ron tells Jeff he won’t date anyone else while they are going out. Mark and Ray agree that while they may have sex outside their relationship of several years, they will always put one another first. Jim and John agree not to discuss ending their relationship until they have given counseling a try. That’s a commitment, too.

It’s understandable that people often feel hesitant, even ambivalent, about making a commitment. Choosing one person means not choosing someone else. It can be hard to make that sort of choice – especially in a culture like ours, that values romance over commitment. Also, many of us have seen marriage commitments not taken very seriously. Why would we be eager to do the same?

The lack of legal structure in gay relationships means that we have great latitude in deciding what we want our relationships to look like; all areas of commitment are open to negotiation. Sometimes the lack of a formal ritual (like a wedding) can mean that we find ourselves with lots of assumptions about our relationships, but little frank conversation about the nature of our relationships.

Making our commitments clear helps to make them powerful. Sitting down with your boyfriend or partner to talk about your spoken and unspoken understandings is important work within a relationship.

Some suggestions:

  • Choose a time when things are going well, rather than when your relationship is struggling.
  • Speak about your own needs and desires; use statements that start with “I.”
  • Listen as much as you speak.
  • Remember that a commitment is much more likely to mean something if it is freely offered and not given because your partner feels intimidated.

John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. -


Gary Kelly said...

First of all, I have to say that the photograph of the young man resting his head on his arm is brilliant. The message he sends with his eyes is clear and very persuasive.

However, I'm not sure about George Michael's quote. Listening to your heart can get you into big trouble. By the same token, what SHOULD you listen to? I'm not sure about that either.

All this commitment jazz reminds me of my Krishna love and flower power days, when I was told that happiness is the avoidance of attachments. It's not the most romantic of notions, but I can see the logic. Almost all the pain I've suffered in my life has been the result of losing something or someone to which or to whom I was strongly attached.

Eastern philosophy taught me that the less you have the less you have to lose. In my experience, I have found that to be true.

Seems to me that relationships are formed out of a need to feel "whole". Any given person who feels that he/she is not "whole" as an individual, seeks attachment to another person - or thing. You often hear the expression "my better half" or "my other half".

Attachments are cool... provided you understand and accept the risks involved. For me, life is less complicated without them.

J said...

What a great post.

Coop said...

I like the part on how intimacy/commitment can have several different definitions...

I KNOW I'll be monogamous & faithful to my sweety. I can't see fallin for somebody and then saying "I'll always put you first dude but I also want to be intimate with other people."

I am believer in love at first sight but I'm not EXPECTING to fall in love with the first guy I meet.
The most conspicuous gay folks, however, are those preoccupied with aesthtics and how they (or someone else looks).

I met a great guy who is a friend/colleague and it took me FOREVER to figure out he was gay.
I've also met obviously gay folks that I wouldn't sit with at lunch.

All the good ones are STRAIGHT (see Justino I can say that) or taken.

Coop said...

Yup Justin I DO have things to say...

There IS a secret formula for me to feel attracted to another dude. It has a lot to do with attitude; like the way a guy carries himself; the look in his eye, the way he smiles; how he behaves...
A guy who is comfortable in his skin and doesn't need clothes or preening or a set of measurements (including the kind a tailor would take) to validate himself.

Checking out guys without "checking them out" is a talent. I've gotten 'the nod'or eye contact with a smile in return from more dudes than I can count.
Connections like that are electrifying.