Once upon a time, two men got legally married, had children, bought a house with a white picket fence, and lived happily ever after, just the two of them, the kids, maybe a dog, and the occasional trick or threesome.
If you’ve not yet read this particular fairy tale, it’s because gay men are still writing their marriage books. Fidelity, or lack thereof, is a central theme. The Stonewall era that led to the AIDS era that led to the mainstream era that led to the modern marriage era has, so far, been mostly aimed at the fight for equality and children. It has not addressed how decades of sexually active gay men can or should adapt to a monogamous way of life, even in parenthood.
Many gay couples, with and without children, choose to live sexually committed lives; others do not. For this article, I spoke to three gay men who have three things in common — partners, children and a lack of monogamy. The variables in the men are age, length of partnership and sexual commitment in their respective relationships. All of them spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, in order that they would feel freer to speak about a topic that touches personal buttons. I appreciate their candor on a topic that deserves faithful objectivity.
Alex and Mark
Alex and his partner Mark have been legally married for five years, and have a two-year-old adopted son, who lives with them in their New York Lower East Side apartment. Everything about Alex, 38, is husband-like: his devotion when talking about how he met his partner (at an art gallery opening), to having a child (“a dream; something I knew I wanted way before I knew I’d ever be able to marry a man”), to his new life that involves getting into bed by 10 at night and ending his job so he can be the full-time Dad while hubby goes to work.
Everything, I should add, but one factor, a factor that you rarely read about in heterosexual family profiles: Alex and his husband sleep with other men. Ask him about the topic and it’s like asking him what type of health insurance he prefers; it’s an obvious, important aspect of adult life, an issue to be addressed out of necessity.
“Men are not made to be monogamous,” says Alex, adding that he doubts women are, either, but he doesn’t want to speak for them. “When Mark and I met it was love at first sight. By the third date we knew we wanted to live together and have children. We also knew we’d have multiple partners. There has been no dishonesty in the relationship.”
For Alex and his husband, threesomes at home were out. “We have a kid, and I would never expose my child to this very adult issue. I wouldn’t know how to explain that there was another man in the bed, and I don’t feel I should at this point in his very young life.”
While Alex says they did have the occasional threesomes before they married and adopted, their sexual choice now is, in Alex’s eyes, simple: “We both meet men, separately, and sometimes together. Whether it’s Grindr or at a bar or on the street or at the beach, if we’re together, we let the guy know we’re not exclusive, and if we meet them individually, it involves scheduling and making sure there’s no interference in home life. I don’t pick up men if I’m with my son.”
“Obviously, this is something neither one of us can do that often, because of our schedules,” says Alex, adding that “Mark probably does it more because he’s out all day. If I meet someone, I have to make sure Mark can be home for the evening to be with our son. It’s his night to be Dad.”
Alex says he has sex outside the relationship about once every two weeks, and rarely is it a 15-minute trick. “I can’t leave the house for a half-hour, so if I meet a guy, I tell him upfront that I have a child, and that I’m in a relationship, and if he’s cool with that, we can go have dinner or to a bar. Or spend time at his apartment. To be honest, most men who want sex don’t care. Many are happy I don’t come with any sort of obligation.”
There are inevitable scheduling conflicts, Alex admits, and he says they’re mostly comical, like both meeting a guy they think is super hot but only one can head out for the night. “Yes, I think we may have flipped a coin once or twice,” he laughs. “That’s small stuff. What’s important is that we are both honest about it, and we both love each other and our son, and we know who we are going to be with at the end of the day."
I asked Alex if his friends knew about his arrangement, and he said that most did not, as gay men are now becoming as puritanical as straight couples.
“Everyone’s living this make belief life of ‘Oh I’m married to the man of my dreams; He’s the only one I’ll sleep with for the rest of my life.’ That’s absurd. Everyone sleeps around. If not at the beginning of the relationship, then later on. I’m so glad we’re upfront about it now, so fifteen years from now we’re not two bitter old queens wishing we’d lived our sexual lives to the fullest. Look at all of our parents, and their parents. As a gay man, I’m proud of my sexual liberation, and no children or marriage license should have to change that.”
Alex ended our conversation by saying that, years from now, when he and his son talk about sex and relationships, he plans to be completely honest about Dad and Dad. “I grew up being told someday I’d meet a girl, fall in love, have children, the end. That wasn’t honest, so why would I make up a story for my own child? I will tell him about having two gay dads, how times have changed, how love is love and sex is sex and how being an honest man is the only way to proceed with life.”
Greg and Patrick
Greg, 46, who’s been partnered to Patrick for five years and who has his own, 10-year-old adopted child from a previous relationship, has taken a slightly different route from Alex, when it comes to sex outside of the relationship.
“We don’t talk about it,” Greg says simply, if maybe with a bit of frustration. “We moved in together right away, and he loves my son very much. My last relationship was completely monogamous on my part, but not on my ex’s, and I didn’t know until long after we adopted. So now, I kind of feel like it’s inevitable that sex outside the relationship is going to happen. I’m not crazy about the idea, but there are worse things.”
Greg, who lives in New Jersey, says that when he and Patrick got together they acted as if they’d be monogamous, but they never specifically said sex outside of the relationship was a deal breaker.
“We’ve both done it,” he adds bluntly. “Patrick started it a couple of years ago, and it was so obvious that he didn’t even have to tell me. I confronted him anyway, after he kept skipping out on nights at home, and we had a pretty ugly period. After I struggled with the infidelity I had to make it clear to him that, no matter what happens, my son can’t be exposed to other men in our home, and that has never happened. He cheated a bit, but he never did it here. I’m sure my son has never had a clue.”
Almost as if to join the bandwagon, Greg started being unfaithful. “I’m not bad-looking, I’m still young enough that I get hit on by lots of men, and I figured, ‘Why not?’ I’ve always been the ‘good boyfriend,’ with men who cheated on me. I don’t know if what I’m doing is right, but it feels good. And maybe my idea of happily ever after doesn’t really exist, as far as the monogamy thing goes.”
Greg told me that when he meets men, it’s usually online, and it’s usually when his son is at school or having a sleepover with one of his friends. “I’ll admit, I’ve had men here in the home, but only when my son was gone, and obviously when my partner is gone. It’s rare, and I usually run over to their apartment for a little bit. I’ve even had sex at the gym, in the steam room.”
“Patrick is the bad one,” he continues. “I’ve stopped asking him who he has sex with and when because I think it’s pretty frequent. Even though we live together he’s not an official Dad, so he probably feels he’s entitled to spend more time going out and stuff. As long as he’s safe, and he comes home, then we have a pretty good relationship. Should that ever change, it would probably end. I like that my son has another father figure around, I like the family unit. I’m a child from divorced parents and I know it’s always better when there’s two people present; two happy people.”
When I asked Greg if, should Patrick agree to monogamy, they’d be monogamous, he hesitated for a bit. “I think if I made it an ultimatum, he’d say okay,” he finally answered, before adding, “But I don’t think he’d stick to it. And at this point, neither would I. Eventually, it just happens, so why fight it?”
Greg did tell me point blank that he has no plans of telling his son about the infidelity in his relationship, unless absolutely necessary. “It’s tough enough being a kid, tough having a gay dad. He has a lot to get used to. What would be the point of saying, ‘Oh, by the way, your dads sleep around?’’
Hunter and Grant
Hunter, 51, was the most eager to talk to me, as he’s admitted to spending a lot of time in analysis trying to figure out the monogamy game.
“Grant and I got together ten years ago and moved in,” he says, adding that he is the one with two teenage children from a previous marriage.
“We were faithful for five years,” he says, explaining that it was his idea to explore an open relationship. “I was rather pushy about experimenting. We agreed that we would only have sex while we were with each other. When we traveled we would try and have another guy over."
“It made our relationship like combustion," he says regarding the first couple of years of threeways. It was a turn-on. It boosted our own sex life, so when we had sex, it was wonderful."
“But then the threeways became a sort of obsession, with me doing the searching and digging and him waiting for it to happen. It became a full-time thing. I created a monster," he adds.
"I fond out he was seeking men outside our relationship," says Hunter. "Then he got intimate with someone and I went ballistic. We almost broke up. I found emails saying he was trying to meet up with guys while he was away on business. And he would have occasional pick-ups on the street. I had one falling out to get back at him, and then we stopped having sex altogether. That was about year six or seven.”
Looking back now, Hunter says there was a bigger sexual void he wanted to fill. “I didn’t believe in monogamy because I’d been cheated on so many times. I just opened the floodgate. I figured, if it’s gonna happen, it might as well be initiated by me.”
After about seven years, Hunter says he no longer wanted an open relationship (“I didn’t need it anymore — I got it out of my system”), but the unexpected result was a relationship void of intimacy.
“We never had sex unless I initiated it,” says Hunter. “After awhile, I’d watch him looking at Grindr right in front of me. It was like a drug to him. We went to therapy for a year. That’s when I realized the relationship wasn’t meant to be.”
Hunter and Grant broke up last year, and he now says the open relationship was an excuse for something lacking in their relationship. When asked about his children and their other dad, he says he never considered telling them about the indiscretions, as he wanted to be a good role model. Times have changed.
“Depending on the stage in my life, I believed in monogamy or did not,” says Hunter, who adds that his parents have been monogamous for fifty years. “My daughter would get it now,” he says of discussing extramarital sex. “I would tell her and my son the truth. I don’t hold much back from my children now that they’re older. What makes a relationship perfect is what makes you happy, not what society says should make you happy.”
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I spoke to Scott A. Kramer, a New York psychotherapist, about his feelings on the monogamy issue, which in many ways echoed what couples have stated.
“From what I see, every couple is different,” Scott says in regards to fidelity and raising a family. “They make their own rules and parameters around monogamy and what that means to them. There could be some couples who don’t necessarily change their rules, but the availability of other people becomes less because the priorities are with the kids. If one or the other has a friend with benefits, that could still happen. Sometimes the partners know about it, sometimes they don’t.”
Scott adds that the Grindr factor does play into the scenario. “Say the kid’s at school, and one of the couple needs that experience. That app makes it easier. But the rules still apply. If it’s a don’t ask, don’t tell, it’s going to stay the same. If they played together before kids, that’s probably not going to happen.”
What’s lacking with modern married men, according to Scott? Talking about monogamy before raising a family.
“There are a lot of things men talk about before they start a family, but I don’t think that one is high on the list,” says Scott. “They talk about how to raise a child, school, but I don’t think the change in their sexual lives is part of that discussion.”
As for Hunter and how he feels about open relationships now, he states flatly that he would never be in this kind of relationship again. "It would be a deal breaker. If they cheated, I’m done. It’s too much s*** to go through.”
Scott A. Kramer can be reached at https://www.scottakramer.com or (347) 620.5433.