Above: Next time you’re in L.A., visit Faultline, the city’s most famous leather bar.
My boyfriend and I broke up two months ago, and since then I’ve been driving around Los Angeles feeling lost. What a horrible city to be sad in. The fuschia donut shops, chic microbars, and boutique high fashion storefronts down Melrose scream with empty, dizzying glamour — a Hollywood facade of happiness. The billboards are filled with famous faces smiling down at me. “You’re supposed to be happy, ” they say. “This is the place where you want to be.”
Is it? I left him on the East Coast, in our small city, a smudge on the bottom right tip of the country. I am over two thousand miles away, but if you folded America over, I could drop back into our little yard. I could walk into the apartment we shared. I could tell him I’m sorry, and that I want to fix this.
The truth, of course, is that we can’t be fixed. Because we wanted two different relationships, and all my badgering and fighting and pleading with him to change our monogamous (or, rather, mongamish) parameters were emblematic of that. He wanted something more traditional than I did. We tried, but in the end, what he did was the best thing for both of us.
In the beginning, we knew dating was risky. I was graduating from college soon and he had just transferred in and had over two years left. We knew there’d be a span of time that he’d still be in school when I was out of it, and we knew the possibility of us lasting through that would be slim. But we did — longer than we expected. I got a job, he went to class, and the relationship got serious. I fell in love.
He was understanding and sensitive, gentle and kind, and a good listener. I did not realize what a valuable characteristic that is — someone who waits for you to finish speaking and processes what you have to say. But I wanted more sexual freedom than he did, so we made compromises. We agreed to only play together with occasional thirds. And it was OK until it wasn’t. I don’t remember when my pushing started, but at some point, I was verbally complaining. It got worse after we moved in together. We were arguing every weekend about his “restrictions.”
We were not compatible. Someone who wants monogamy can’t build a relationship with someone who wants nonmonogamy. It can’t work. There are not many things I consider absolute dealbreakers, but that’s one of them.
To me, nonmonogamy defines a wide range of relationship parameters — a grey area between completely monogamous and completely open, “open” meaning relationships in which both (or all) partners are free to have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want, with or without the other partner(s)’ knowledge. “Open” isn’t that scary to me, but many people consider a completely open relationship too threatening — or, more accurately, too far from a traditional relationship.
I’m not a fan of traditional relationships, mainly because I don’t think they’re for me, but also because I think the whole concept of traditional, monogamous relationships are built on ideas that are several hundred years old and rooted in harmful and outdated systems of belief — male-dominated religions, the systematic oppression of women, heteronormativity, toxic masculinity, and the archaic concept of the nuclear family as an “ideal” economic unit.
I think that being part of the LGBTQ community means being part of a culture that has always rejected these ideas. Queer people have long been at the vanguard of nontraditional, nonmonogamous, and polyamorous relationships. The leather community — a distinctly queer invention — is celebrated the world over for its embracing (and, really, its fostering) of cluster or “pack” relationships.
All that said, in my experience, completely open relationships are less common in the gay world. Even if guys call their relationships “open,” most of them are monogamish, meaning they are closer to what my ex and I had — a relationship in which certain allowances are made for certain occasions, like when two gay men in a relationship only play with others together.
Nonmonogamous relationships aren’t without pitfalls. Jealousy is a normal, human emotion that everyone gets, and jealousy still flares up in nonmonogamous relationships. But because these relationships demand such solid communication skill to get off the ground, I think they generally handle jealousy in a more healthy way. And despite the pitfalls, I believe nonmonogamous relationships are better for everyone, queer and otherwise, because they let people meet their sexual needs without cheating or dishonesty, and without forfeiting the intimacy and support that comes with having a partner (or partners). You don’t have to choose between a faithful partner or sex with strangers. You can have both — and I think that’s healthy. Because if there’s one thing our evolution and our history as a species teaches us, it’s that humans are wired to be very sexual, very promiscuous creatures.
The fact is, we’re not meant to be monogamous. As a species, we are not made for it. If humankind was meant for monogamy, we’d have an easier time doing it. Instead, the divorce rate is insane — so much so that, in our social dialogue about relationships, we assume failure. We expect cheating. We anticipate lies.
That’s a problem. Humans are supposed to be happy together, and I don’t believe the assumption that monogamous, sexually and romantically exclusive relationships are “normal” or “ideal” is making anyone happy. I think we need a relationship revolution. And it’s starting now. And it’s starting with me.
I hurt someone I loved and hurt myself because I attempted a relationship that I knew didn’t fit. I will not do this again. He didn’t deserve this terrible breakup, and I can’t imagine how he’s feeling back there. I didn’t deserve this either, but here we are.
I wish we had come to this understanding sooner. I wish I had talked more honestly about what I wanted, and realized that what I wanted would not — could not — work.
And I love him. I miss the hair on the back of his neck and what it smelled like when I came up behind him. I can’t yet believe that I’ll never feel that again. There has been an empty space next to me in bed since I came to this city, and I’ve been counting down the days until he fills it again. And now I know he never will.