I’m writing this from a sad mental place. My latest breakup did not start with this blog — I should have seen it coming for months — but my post about Folsom was the final straw. My ex-boyfriend Jose read it and struggled with it. He didn’t like reading about an amazing sex night I had.
I’ve tried to open up our relationship and get him more comfortable with non-monogamy, but it’s time for me to accept that he is as he is, and I am how I am. And I am not made for monogamy.
This breakup has to mean something. Our relationship was beautiful, but our underlying incompatibility — his preference for monogamy and my inability to deliver it — was known and talked about well over a year ago. If we had peacefully ended things then, we would have spared ourselves months of pain.
Neither of us did anything wrong. We simply wanted different relationships and both of us pretended we could be happy with one that didn’t suit our needs.
Now I’m single in L.A. where I know no one, and I feel incredibly alone. What an awful city to be sad in. L.A. is a city of dizzying glamour that seems to demand round-the-clock happiness from its inhabitants. But I’m not happy. I feel guilty and heartbroken over a relationship that I knew had no real future.
I left him on the East Coast when I moved here a few months ago for a career opportunity. I am a thousand miles away from him, but if I could somehow fold America over like a map, I could drop into our old backyard behind the apartment we shared in Savannah, Georgia. I could walk into the bedroom where we slept together before I moved here. I could tell him I’m sorry and that I’m ready to fix things.
But it would be a lie. I’m not ready to fix things. I don’t want to fix this.
I thought I could be monogamous at the beginning of our relationship, and besides, monogamy was not our biggest issue. When we met, I was graduating from college and he would be a student for another two years. We knew our relationship would probably not survive very long. The promise of those first wonderful weeks was that this setup was temporary. That was understood. But that’s not what happened. I graduated and found a job in town. We moved in together.
He was easy to love. He was sensitive and a good listener. I never realized what a valuable trait that is — I’ve never dated someone who waits for me to finish speaking and hears what I say. Now I want to be that person for future lovers. Everyone should experience someone like him. The man he chooses next will be very lucky.
Gradually, I realized I wanted more sexual freedom — the same realization I’ve come to in every relationship — so we started to make compromises. We agreed to only play together with occasional guys we met at the bar. We were what the sex advice columnist Dan Savage calls “monogamish.” And that was fine. It was enough. And then one day it wasn’t. I don’t know when it stopped being enough for me, I don’t think any specific event happened, but I simply wanted more, and I felt guilty for wanting more. I wanted to fuck people without his approval, without him present. I wanted to go home with guys, then come back to him. I made promises: I would tell him beforehand. I wouldn’t stay overnight with anyone. I would always shower after sleeping with them. But he couldn’t bear the thought of me fucking someone without him, and that’s what did us in. I started badgering, complaining, and starting fights over what I called his “restrictions.” My job in Los Angeles came almost as a relief — at least it would stop the arguing.
A few days ago, he called me. As soon as I answered the phone, he said, “Alex, I want us to break up.” And so, here I am.
I’ll be frank: I’m not doing very well. I was looking forward to going home, kissing him, and telling him I was ready to stay with him. I had my words ready. But I know in my heart that those words were pre-packaged lies, promises I would never be able to keep. I would eventually become dissatisfied again, start complaining again, and we’d be back in that same toxic cycle I’ve shared with too many men. And I feel broken, like some part of me is deficient. Why can’t I do what everyone else does? Why can’t I be faithful?
Here’s the truth: I don’t think everyone else does it. I don’t think monogamy is natural. In fact, I think it goes against every basic instinct we have as human beings. And I believe that, in most cases, it fails, either through cheating, dissatisfaction, bitterness, or simply a sad expiring of one’s sexual urges.
I think many gay men find themselves in relationships like the one I was in, and I think their connections either grow toxic, or they successfully open up. I want to be clear: the man I loved was never inadequate — he was amazing in bed — but our boundaries were inadequate for me, and my efforts to change them amounted to an effort to change him. And you can’t do that — you can’t rewrite someone’s needs.
Non-monogamy was a concept I knew about when we started dating, but it wasn’t something I seriously researched until we started having problems. The term “non-monogamy” defines a range of relationships that exist on a spectrum between completely monogamous, or closed, and completely open. I learned that fully open relationships are ones in which both partners are free to have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want, with or without each other’s knowledge or permission, and that kind of setup isn’t scary to me at all — I think my next relationship will be a fully open one — but many people consider open relationships too threatening. Most gay men I’ve talked to fall somewhere between the two extremes — “monogamish” — and have rules like the ones like Jose advocated for: they only sleep with others together.
In our relationship, I realize I wanted something closer to the “open” end and he wanted something closer to the “closed” end, and we argued over details. This means we were incompatible over slightly different versions of non-monogamy. That’s all it takes for something to not work out.
Let this be a lesson for everyone reading this: if you want a non-monogamous relationship, both you and your partner must want the same kind of non-monogamous relationship and agree at the outset on its boundaries. You both must desire those freedoms equally — one can’t push the other.
All my relationships in the past were monogamous because I didn’t have the language of non-monogamy when I was in them — I didn’t know it was an option. And I think most people who struggle to date faithfully are in similar predicaments. It’s powerful to learn the term “non-monogamous,” which leads to other exciting terms like “polyamorous” and “relationship anarchy.” I’ve since done my research and become something of an expert on non-traditional relationships.
As part of the LGBTQ community, I participate in a culture that has always rejected heterosexual constructs and pioneered free love. I want to be part of that history. After talking to non-monogamous couples, I know their relationships are not without struggles, but non-monogamy still feels like the healthier way to go. And besides, if humans were really made for monogamy, we’d have an easier time doing it.
I miss Jose. I miss how it feels to hold him. But we had to break up so that I can find someone like me. I know they’re out there. The non-monogamous community is growing. Come join us.
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