Q&A with "The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage" Author
Author: Michael Dale Kimmel
What inspired you to write The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage?
Michael Dale Kimmel: When I was a young gay boy, I dreamed of the prince who would carry me away on his horse, make me happy and take care of me forever. Reality appeared shortly after, and I realized that I was going to have to be that prince if I ever wanted my dream to come true.
I never, as a young gay boy, imagined that I would be able to legally marry that prince someday. And here we are, now, with marriage to that prince not only possible, but very real: what do we want to do with this opportunity, now that we’ve finally got it? That’s the question that motivated this book.
Legal gay marriage is a relatively new phenomenon. What are some of the issues that gay men are facing now that they have the option to marry?
MDK: For centuries, heterosexual people have defined marriage. Now, as two men considering getting married, we don’t have to do it “their” way any longer. This is a cause for rejoicing! So why aren’t we more excited? Because, it’s quite daunting to re-invent a cultural institution like marriage. It’s much easier to just follow what other people have done.
This book is an invitation – a radical invitation – to not settle. Instead, the book asks readers to really examine and investigate the idea and institution of marriage and come up with their own version of what works for them and their partners.
How are gay marriages different from heterosexual marriages? In what ways are they the same?
MDK: In many important ways, marriage between two men is dramatically different from heterosexual marriage. It’s a double testosterone marriage. We will probably not handle sex the same as our heterosexual or lesbian counterparts: we are likely to desire more of it and with a wider variety of partners.
Many of our relationships start off monogamous. However, it is my experience that about half of them – over time – do not remain so. Many gay relationships – married or not – begin to “open up” after the first few years (I call it, “The Three Year Itch”).
Our marriages are probably the same in that we share challenges such as: loving someone as imperfect as we are, weathering financial and emotional storms, challenges of aging, not losing our identity in our relationships and working hard to stay interested in someone that we’ve seen burp, fart, and load the dishwasher in a way that drives us crazy.
Is an open marriage often a good choice for gay married couples, or do you find that monogamy can be a better option? What should couples look for when trying to decide which option to choose?
MDK: An open marriage is a pretty high-maintenance experience. Both partners are inviting new people and personalities into their lives, and jealousy and insecurity often come along for the ride. On the other hand, many gay men in monogamous marriages find that – over time - sexual monogamy doesn’t work well for them. They want to go through life with one man they “love” but need to have other men that they have sex with. And many gay marriages go through both “closed” and “open” periods (this is much more common than many think).
In this book, we follow two married couples: Tomas and Larry, representing a harmonious open marriage, and Ethan and Jake, representing a fulfilling monogamous marriage. Each couple will experience the joys and difficulties of their double testosterone marriage, giving readers a wide range of options and possibilities for their own marriages.
Many gay couples struggle with other issues besides whether to be sexually open or monogamous in their marriage. What are some of the other common issues you see in your practice when working with gay couples?
MDK: Over the years, I have observed that relationships between two men typically have more conflict and competition, in ways that opposite sex and lesbian relationships do not. Is it biological or cultural? As men, we are trained to compete with each other; we are trained to win, to want to be the best. This is how we’ve been socialized, isn’t it?
And yet, more-and-more often, I meet young men who don’t make all those traditional assumptions about what a man “is” and who we “should” be. I wrote a chapter about redefining gender roles, because we have an amazing opportunity to determine who we are, as two men married to each other. How do we divvy up the household tasks? How do we decide who is the more nurturing one? The more aggressive one? The more career-oriented one? The more childcare-oriented one?
Moving from a partnership to being married can often be as difficult for gay men as it is for opposite-sex couples. What advice do you have for those who are finding the transition to marriage difficult?
MDK: Having common goals, good communication skills (being able to talk about almost anything) and some degree of “structure” both partners can fall back on, make the transition easier. Creating a marriage is like designing a house: wouldn’t two partners decide what are the elements/features that each want in their house? What is important to both partners? For some guys, the kitchen may be really important, for others, it may be low on the priority list.
I encourage gay couples to look at their marriages in the same way: what elements of the marriage are most important to each? In the book I call this “designing your marriage” and, ironically, very few couples – gay or straight – are ever encouraged to do this. It’s a great way for gay couples to communicate about what matters to each of person in the relationship, while the partners - mutually - create a structure/framework for a happy, fulfilling marriage.
What happens in a gay marriage when the partners can’t agree about whether or not they want children? How do you recommend they resolve their different attitudes about the possibility of becoming parents?
MDK: Remember the story from the Bible, where wise old King Solomon had to decide to which of two mothers a baby belonged? Remember how, in order to find out who the real mother was, he recommended that the baby be divided in half, so that each woman could receive half? That’s how he found out who the real mother was.
Whether or not either or both gay partners want children reminds me of that situation. Gay or straight, it’s a tough decision that demands a lot of wisdom and patience. As a psychotherapist, it is my job to help couples work through their difficulties and come up with a solution (or solutions) they both agree on.
When I meet with gay couples who can’t agree on whether or not to have children, I encourage them to talk it out. I ask both men questions like: What is it about being a father you’d like? Not like? What about it scares you? What was your father like? What kind of father do you think you’d be? What kind of dad would your (future) husband be?
These kinds of questions bring our subconscious fears and concerns to conscious awareness, where they can be discussed rationally and openly. We all have old unresolved stuff from our family of origin that will continue to haunt us and run our lives unless we recognize it and address it.
Becoming fathers brings up a tremendous amount of old emotions; by talking about them and hearing each other out, we can learn a lot about our husband, who he is, and where he came from. Often, this kind of discussion is enough to help the couple come to a mutually-agreed upon decision.
What are some of the issues that parents face when they learn that their gay children plan to marry? What advice do you have for both the parents and kids in these situations?
MDK: In my experience of counseling parents of gay children, here are the most common questions parents ask when their gay sons want to marry:
- What should I do if I don’t approve of gay marriage?
- What do I tell my friends, relatives, co-workers?
- What if my church doesn’t condone gay marriage?
- What if I don’t like my future (gay) son-in-law?
- What if my other children disapprove of -or- want to distance themselves from my gay son and his fiancé?
- What if the marriage will not be monogamous?
- What if the married couple plan to have kids?
- If my child has children from a prior relationship, how do I talk with my grandchildren about that?
My advice for parents depends on their relationship with their children: if the relationship is good, and they have a history of being able to talk about difficult topics, then, they should be able to respectfully bring up any of the above questions. The parents should try to stay neutral. If they have a lot of emotion, then they may want to wait before speaking with their child. Parents should talk it out with their spouses or a friend first, so they can get to a more neutral space. Most kids turn off to their parents when they feel judged, so parents should try not to go there, if possible.
If the parents’ relationship with their children isn’t so great, the parents may not be able to bring up these topics in a way that works for both themselves and their gay children. In that case, parents should talk with their spouses, friends, or a good psychotherapist to work through any emotional reactions. Ultimately, no parent has control over what his or her adult child chooses to do. If a parent can’t talk about issues calmly, then talking with anger, disappointment and hurt feelings could easily make things worse (I’ve seen it).
The adult (gay) child should try to remember that his life is his own, and who he chooses to marry is his own choice, as well. But, if a gay adult is close to his parents and they don’t approve of his partner or marriage decision, getting married may be tough for all individuals involved. Gay adult children should take the same advice I give to parents (see above): if they can talk with their parents calmly and respectfully, then, they should go for it. If not, then they don’t want to make the situation worse. I encourage some clients to tell their parents: “I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to talk about this stuff now. I think it’s too difficult, so let’s table it for later.”
Of course, any family member is free to bring anger and pain into a conversation and make a big old mess, but, I am assuming that most individuals, deep down, don’t want to do that.
The Gay Man's Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage by Michael Dale Kimmel
Hard Cover: 978-1-4422-6801-2
Rowman & Littlefield (June 8, 2017)
$35.99 ebook/$36.00 print