The Commitment Thing – Sticking with It

You’re in love, the feeling is mutual, and you have been spending a fair amount of time together. So now what? Commitment. It’s a concept that gives a lot of men anxiety attacks, but one that you’d better get used to, if you plan to have a long relationship at some point.

The ideal man
Though there weren’t any insurmountable obstacles during those first few months, some small hurdles will have to be dealt with once you get used to each other more and get into a daily routine. Small differences in personality and interest that did not seem important may come to the fore. But these irritations should not get blown out of proportion. His snoring like a buzzsaw, your cutting your nails in front of the TV, his not using coasters, your not being able to remember hanging the shower curtain outside of the bath after showering, his not being approachable while he watches his daily soap, your not being approachable before you had your first cup of coffee in the morning and his not being able to separate darks and lights when doing the laundry — none of these things are reason enough to ditch the relationship if you love each other enough. There are specific solutions to these kinds of problems. You put in earplugs and he tries to minimize the snoring. You cut your nails when he is not around. You wipe away moisture rings and wax the table a bit more. He hangs the shower curtain outside of the bath himself when he passes by. You entertain yourself while he watches his soaps. He leaves you alone in the morning apart from a kiss on the cheek. You do the laundry and just let him hang it.

Concessions like these would not be necessary with The Ideal Man who is the perfect match for you in every way, sharing your interests, seeing to all your wants and fulfilling all your needs. Unfortunately, The Ideal Man does not exist. Nobody is perfect — not even you — and apart from a physical spark, it’s mostly the conscious effort put in by both parties that sustains a relationship. Realize that you cannot change who your boyfriend is. You may be able to fine-tune some settings, but you’re stuck with his basic operating system. So if you do unexpectedly end up running into substantial issues that you can’t deal with in the long term, you should not fault him for being a bad match nor should you try to mold him into who you want him to be. This will ultimately make you both miserable. Unfortunately, the best thing to do would be to break up and start looking for a new boyfriend.

“Gay liberation should not be a license to be a perpetual adolescent. If you deny yourself commitment then what can you do with your life?”
– Harvey Fierstein, writer/actor

When formulating the requirements for a partner, it’s important to realize that there is a difference between what you want and what you actually need to be happy. You may have had a successful businessman in mind, someone with drive, money and ambition. But if you are currently in love with a relaxed hippie who shares a lot of your interests, burns with love for you and who regularly blows your mind in bed, then do you really need someone with a higher social standing? And if you were looking for someone well-endowed, but the guy you fell in love with is just average, is that something you can live with if he is a fine match on all other fronts? The most important consideration should be: will he make you happy in the long run or would you miss something you feel is essential?
The cohabitation conundrum
There are couples who are perfectly happy living separately for years, balancing their need for intimacy with their need for freedom. Because this will likely mean spending more time apart than a couple who cohabitates, this generally requires more trust and a more conscious effort to keep from drifting apart. However, most couples will end up living together. No matter how much you love your partner, living with someone is a challenge, especially if it’s with a lover. If you are the more experienced cohabitant, be patient with someone who has never experienced it or for whom it has been a long time. Learning to compromise and balance needs can be tricky for a beginner. Before either of you gives up your house, a trial run is a good idea. Going on holiday together is not good enough; you need to see if you can function as a couple when combining your daily routines. Pick the house you are likely to end up living in, if it will be your or his current home, and pretend you moved in together already.

Unless you are both candidates for sainthood, you will discover things about each other that annoy. Even some of your lover’s little quirks that you found so adorable in the beginning, can start to irritate when experienced on a daily basis: his laugh, how disorganized he is, the way he waxes his legs, etcetera. Are these things you can live with?

On the other hand, you may find that you complement each other in unexpected ways. He likes to cook and you would rather do the dishes. You don’t mind cleaning, he likes to do the groceries. Time and money can be saved this way, and of course it will hopefully be very homey and nurturing. You will have someone around to share experiences with every day and, of course, to be the focus of your love and lust.

Having an occasional disagreement is perfectly fine, as long as the conflict doesn’t get blown out of proportion. It can actually be useful to vent little frustrations, as long as both parties focus on trying to get their point across, rather than on hurting their partner (also see here). Having a sense of humor about your relationship and about life in general helps; it keep the irritations in check. Having to pick up his stinky socks from the floor is annoying, but is unlikely to actually kill you. Airing your problems is better than sticking your head in the sand, pretending everything is fine or running off to the next potential boyfriend at the first sign of conflict.

Apart from the emotional aspects of living together, the material side can also present its challenges. Merging your furniture and other belongings is a tricky business. Especially if your and his taste with regards to interior design aren’t in alignment, this can lead to a power struggle. Try to come to a compromise and make your personal styles mingle as best you can. Showing you are willing to meet each other halfway is always important when you are trying to become a team. If your IKEA and his antiques don’t go together well when placed in the same room, pick one specific style per room. If you have the money for it, you can also decide to throw everything out and buy new furniture you both like. In the end, both of you should feel right at home in your new shared home. If one of you feels like a guest, it can upset the balance within the relationship.

“It’s a shame that a lot of men don’t take the effort to form a deep emotional bond with a partner. They tend to be distracted by the neighbor’s greener ass. Most gay men claim to be looking for love and a relationship, while simultaneously stating that most other gay men are only looking for sex. That mindset leads to some not very constructive self-protection: rejecting others before they might reject you. That, in turn, strengthens the initial assumption.”
– Logan

Balance
Relationships are one big balancing act. You have to respect your partner’s needs as well as your own, encouraging and supporting each other. But you also have to stay critical in a way that is productive and not destructive. The time you spend together should be weighed against time spent with family, friends, hobbies and work.

A balance of power should be maintained within a relationship. Sometimes a relationship is unbalanced right from the start because of the combination of people in it; one of the two has the upper hand and the other is dependent on him. This is most likely to happen when there is a considerable difference in age or if one of the two has a lot more money, more practical knowledge or a higher social status. Not only may the stronger partner start to resent having to do the heavy lifting, but the dependent partner can start to feel helpless and worthless. This can only turn out okay if there are areas within the relationship in which the power dynamic is reversed. This may happen in the bedroom or by the ‘stronger’ partner leaving a lot of the daily decision-making up to the ‘weaker’ partner to keep him from feeling powerless.

“My two-year-old nephew says ‘I love you’ to everyone. My sister says he doesn’t know what it means, he just says it to get something. I think he knows exactly what it means.”
– Tim Young, athlete

Let’s stay physical
A lot of couples, gay and straight, end up living together like siblings, the romance and sex life dead and gone. For the average gay couple, it is less likely that there will be kids running around, demanding all the free time. This gives the couple more opportunity to keep focusing on each other. But it is easy to get wrapped up in schedules and daily tasks and let the spark first fizzle and then disappear. You are unlikely to feel in love continuously over a long period of time, but you will hopefully love him a lot most of the time and stay physically attracted to him. When you have these feelings, make sure to let him know. Hugs as well as the words “I love you” are very powerful when they come from the heart, especially with the weight of a long, shared history behind them. Ideally you will both take the initiative occasionally when it comes to sex. Try to avoid extensive discussion about it or too much planning; strive for spontaneity. Keep in mind that you are not required to go for the Holy Porn Trinity of kissing, sucking and fucking each and every time. Two out of three will often do.

A big difference between partners in their levels of sex drive, over a long period of time, is likely to cause friction within a relationship and may very well sink it. Masturbation and even having sex with others, be it openly or on the down-low, will generally not be seen as an equally fulfilling substitute for having sex with the guy you love. The big gap may have been there from the start but may also have widened over the years. One of the partners may become less interested in sex, even though he still loves his significant other. When you have had sex several hundred times with someone, it is not likely to be as surprising and new as it was the first time. There are only so many variations on the theme before you start to repeat, even if you are very imaginative and start getting kinky with it. But the sex does become a much more layered and emotional experience, meaning you hopefully won’t get bored. Passionate sex with a stranger may be hot, but making love with the guy who has stuck with you for years, will strengthen the bond you have and will touch you deeper than a couple of inches.

If the amount of sex you are having is on the decline, the reason isn’t necessarily an emotional one tied to a change in the relationship dynamic. The cause may be physical; not just women go through hormonal changes as they age. Young men are generally hornier and more sex-oriented than older men, who start to give more value to cuddling and forms of physical intimacy that don’t necessarily involve genitals.

Don’t blame your partner for his sex drive, be it higher or lower than your own. And you should expect him to also respect yours. It is a primary, natural drive. Masturbation and porn should not be seen as a threat, unless it becomes an addiction that negatively impacts your life together. The less horny partner should make some concessions to his randy counterpart. If the former isn’t completely in the mood yet at a moment when his boyfriend is roaring to go, kissing and other foreplay may get him there. And even if both partners don’t quite end up at the same level of horniness, simply lending a helping hand may be enough to satisfy. The hornier partner, on the other hand, should accept that his boyfriend will just not be in the mood sometimes and not keeping nagging about it. Complaining a lot about a lack of sex is just likely to make matters worse, as sex will stop being seen as something fun, satisfying and romantic and will start to seem like a problem and an obligation.

A significant shift in the amount of sex you are having is something that should not go unnoticed. There’s a good chance that at least one of you isn’t be happy with it. It can mean the beginning of the end of a relationship unless a compromise is reached or the emotional cause is uncovered and addressed.

Evolution & evaluation
A relationship will have ups and downs, but as long as the good days outnumber the bad by a comfortable margin, there is no real need to worry. From time to time you have to re-evaluate. Would you be happier with or without your partner? And remember, if you choose to stay with him, that doesn’t mean you have to be joined at the hip. Having some time and activities to yourself might give you more to talk about and give you both some breathing space. However, also make time to do things outside of the house that you both like, even if those things are fairly simple and mundane, like going to the beach or going to see a movie together. Remember that his love for you is not guaranteed. Staying together is a matter of love and routine, but also simply a choice both you and he will consciously have to make again and again. Put some effort into staying attractive to your partner, both mentally and physically. Don’t let your body go into decline just because you are no longer hunting for a husband. Avoid getting stuck in a rut, and try to keep the relationship interesting. Keep the lines of communication open to avoid finding out after the fact that you have been drifting apart. Don’t just talk about superficial, day-to-day subjects but also about emotions. If you sense that your partner is having a hard time, ask what is going on, and support him as much as you can. As long as you feel love for your partner and are clearly showing that to him, he will be more likely to respond in kind, like two mirrors facing each other, the warmth will be reflecting back and forth between you.

From time to time you may start to have feelings for someone else, but don’t be too quick to give in to them. The butterflies in your stomach when you first meet someone can’t be compared to the feelings you have for your current boyfriend. And you can’t predict how a crush might evolve over a period of years. You may end up back in the exact same emotional struggle, but with one extra relationship under your belt.

However, even after taking a good long time to assess the situation, it is possible that you will meet someone who seems a better match. Should you decide to jump to the new love interest, don’t expect much in the way of understanding from your current partner. It will likely be seen as treason, even if, in your mind, your relationship was on the decline and about to end. The decision to end things will not have been mutual, after all. Jumping from one relationship straight into the next may land you, your ex and your new boyfriend in a world of drama. If you decide to get out of a relationship, being single for a while is advised. Also see here.

Sticking with a satisfying, long-term relationship will probably pay off. If both parties put in their best, the emotional investment begins to pay back, with interest; ties grow stronger and get harder to break. Your significant other may let his hormones stray on occasion, but as long as home does indeed feel like home and not like a prison or a hotel, it will be where his heart is.

“It’s easier to keep half a dozen lovers guessing than to keep one lover after he has stopped guessing.”
– Helen Rowland, journalist

Last edit: 13-10-2018 Dutch version here.