Relationships are hard. It doesn’t matter what kind you choose to be in: monogamous, open, poly, “monogamish” or some other variation. They’re all hard, and they will all take work. Recently, while hanging out a bar in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood, I stumbled into a conversation among friends about the many types of relationship available to queer men.
“I don’t think anyone is truly monogamous,” my friend Robert says. “If anyone tells you they’re monogamous, theyre liars and cheaters. It’s not in our nature. Humans weren’t built for monogamy.”
“Especially gay humans!” Chris chimes in.
“That’s ridiculous. Not everyone’s a big slut like you,” Peter says. “We don’t all need to fuck 20 guys a day. I couldn’t do it. I’d get too jealous. I don’t want to share my man with anyone else.”
“But monogamy just isn’t realistic,” Robert says. “We aren’t hardwired to want to sleep wtih the same person our whole lives. And jealousy is pointless. It’s just sex. It means nothing.”
The conversation goes on forever, with everyone absolutely certain their way is the right way. I myself have been in many different types of relationship, from monogamous to poly to a longtime open triad and monogamish, and what I’ve found is that there is no right way. There’s no one way inherently better than another. They are all contextual; depending on where you are in your life, who you’re in a relationship with, the compatibility of sex drives and the comfort levels of both partners.
I have found, for me, that the only “correct” way to approach relationships is to be fluid and open. There have been times when an open relationship needed to be closed, or when a monogamous relationship needed to be opened up. There have been times when we decided to explore threeways and sex parties, and times when all we wanted was each other.
A willingness to explore — to be open to your partner’s and your own needs — plus a willingness to try new things, be honest about the experience and work together to create the relationship style that works best for both of you — those are what have made for my most successful relationships.
But like I said, relationships aren’t easy, and there will be times when you’ll have to compromise, and times when you’ll have to decide between the relationship and getting what you really want.
Beverly Hills-based marriage and family therapist Jorja Davis discussed with me the idea of emotional resources.
“In the end, relationships are about resources and time,” she says. “How much time and energy do we have to give to the relationship? If there are two people or three people or four people involved, where do we start running out of emotional resources to be able to engage and support and love in a healthy manner? How do we learn to allocate the resources in a way that doesn’t over-strain our individual needs? No relationship style is without its struggles and challenges. Monogamous couples will struggle with maintaining desire over long periods of time; I’d think poly relationships would struggle with the idea of emotional resources.”
I also decided to talk to two people living in very different types of relationship.
Michael is 46 years old and has been in an open poly relationship with his partner for 14 years. They live in Atlanta. Jacob is 37 and has been in a monogamous relationship with his partner for 10 years. They live in New York City.
I show them both Jorja’s comments and ask them for their thoughts.
“There is always a balance,” Michael says to me. “One of the things Richard and I have said from the beginning is that we are the focus. He and I are the foundation of this lifestyle we have created. If anything comes along to shake that foundation, then we take time to reassess — to step back and figure out what we need to remain strong. There were a few months where I was just dating too many guys. I had three boyfriends and was trying to make time to see each of them weekly, plus maintaining my primary with Richard. It just didn’t work. Richard began to resent the time I was spending with the other guys. He felt like I was losing interest in him. We began to fight. Finally I decided that I needed to pull back and just focus on Richard.”
Michael tells me they took a vacation to Mexico and spent a few months just working on themselves, eventually coming to a place where they both felt valued again in the relationship.
“Sometimes I can be a little greedy,” Michael says, laughing. “I think Richard is less inclined to date other guys. He’s more into the casual hookup. But I like the cuddling and the romance of it, as well as all the sex. I’ve just learned that there’s a point where I can’t let it go any further. That’s not always easy. Sometimes you form real feelings with these guys. I’ve had to have some really hard discussions about why things can’t go any further. But I try to always be honest. Everything is based on honesty. If there isn’t honesty, then none of this works. If one or both people are lying, the whole thing will eventually fall apart.”
“Of course maintaining desire can be a struggle,” Jacob tells me. “But I think we have found that if you’re willing to play with each other, willing to explore intimacy and sensuality, then you get to have this amazing journey with this other person, and you realize there’s this whole deeper world. We tried threeways a few times, but it just wasn’t something I was good at. I’m not sure if it makes me a jealous man that I don’t want to see someone else fucking Brian or not, but I didn’t enjoy it. We tried topping only, but it was always so complicated, and we had stupid fights over guys, or being on the apps, and it seemed to take away from our experience. We spent so much time looking for other guys, or trying to be spontaneous in this forced way, that I don’t think it really added anything to our relationship.”
Jacob and Brian, the monogamous couple, decided to focus on other ways of enhancing their sexuality that didn’t include other guys.
“We both have our own apartments, our own lives, our own friends, and we really respect each other’s space. We find that kind of creates a space for us to be ourselves. We try to really honor each other and who we are, and this allows us to not feel trapped in our monogamy, which I think can become a real problem. I just don’t think I’d ever want to live with someone full time. I like our time together to be special.” Jacob laughs. “Though there are definitely a lot of weeks where I see Brian every day. He’s my best friend. He’s the man I love. Even when we don’t see each other I still text him all the time. I want to tell him everything. And I’ll be honest, getting an ass picture from Brian is still one of the sexiest things in the world.”
But it wasn’t always easy for the two of them. Jacob and Brian struggled for almost a year with managing jobs and their lives and finding time to have sex.
“We have very different sex drives,” Jacob tells me. “I could fuck Brian two times a day and still want more. He openly admits that he’d be happy having sex a couple times a month and spending a lot of time cuddling. This really created problems for us. I felt like maybe he just wasn’t into me, or that we had lost the spark. I took it really personally. I came to realize that we just have different sex drives, and different ways of expressing our sexuality. For Brian, intimacy and cuddling is enough. For me …well, I definitely need more.”
If I uncovered anything by speaking with these two couples in two different types of relationship, it’s that there is no right or wrong way to go about being with someone.
“For so long we were told that true love meant monogamy, and that was the only way to have a really meaningful relationship. And that’s bullshit,” Michael says. “I’m not monogamous. Neither is Richard. It’s not in our nature. But now it seems like so many in the poly world are acting like being open or poly is the only way, and monogamy is an outdated and restrictive concept, and that’s also bullshit. There is ‘no one size fits all’ approach to this. We should all stop trying to tell each other how to live our lives. If everyone just focused on being a good person, treating their loved ones with respect and love, and were honest with each other, the world would be a much better place.”
“I don’t think monogamy is the right choice,” Jacob says to me. “It’s just the right choice for me. It’s who I am. It’s what I need from my relationship. Even when I was single I didn’t go out and sleep around. It’s just not my nature. And I’m OK with that. The best part about being queer is we get to decide who we are and what we want and live our lives in accordance with that. We don’t have to buy into any one way of finding love. It’s all open to us. This is just what’s best for me.”