When a young gay man is in transition from the circuit party to the dinner party, the prospect of a long-term "plus one" becomes all the more attractive. Some gays jump right into the relationship spin cycle the second they hit the scene, while others choose to enjoy their homo-liberation with no strings attached. No matter when a gay man enters into the land of all things boyfriend, one particular question never ceases to arise:
Is it possible for two gay men to be in a long-term relationship and remain monogamous?
The short answer? Of course it is. But for the frustrated but hopeful "monogay," it often seems nearly impossible to find a homo couple who have surpassed the five-year mark without opening up their relationship in one way or another. Naturally, each couple is different, complete with a brow-furrowing set of rules that they have constructed over the years. Whether its "playing" as a couple only or allowing for out-of-town flings or no-kissing-allowed or sexual-position-specific extracurricular hookups, one thing is for certain: Monogamy it is not.
Assuming that most of these gay couples started out with at least the attempt of keeping it in their pants outside the relationship, why does monogamy appear to be so difficult for gay couples to maintain?
There is no societal or religious pressure, no relationship archetype or historical expectation for a gay man to be monogamously coupled. Unlike heterosexual relationships, gay relationships form simply because two people want to be together. A heterosexual union may be rooted in religious and cultural bylaws that reinforce monogamy long after the excitement has left the bedroom. Straight couples are forced to push past the immediate gratification of sexual desire and find more meaningful forms of pleasure and release. If they give into the carnal pleasures of sex outside monogamy, they risk the chance of losing their coveted place among the moral elite.
Of course, gay couples were never considered equal to their heterosexual brethren -- not even closely related. In fact, a homosexual relationship is possibly the antithesis of what a monogamous union should be by most traditional standards, an abomination of the sacred "one-man-one-woman" mold. Therefore, the gatekeepers of these standards did not hold gay men accountable to same societal norms and expectations that are the foundation for the modern family.
However, there is no denying the power of love and hormones (you know what I'm saying, Ted Haggard?), and gay men have proven that long-term, loving and substantive relationships are possible even in the face of ridicule, discrimination and hate. The homosexual culture formed its own definition of relationships, one that simply defined a union based on two people's desire to be together.
Gay men didn't seek out relationships because they were expected to but because it felt good -- it felt natural. Arguably, this is the one and only construct that defines gay relationships. And it may very well be the root of why so many gay couples opt for an open relationship once the pleasure of monogamy subsides.
Pleasure isn't necessarily in direct relationship to sex, but the attainment of pleasure is closely related. In regard to romance, pleasure comes in many forms. Whether it's the thrill of the flirt, the pride in the new boyfriend or the excitement of sharing a life together, it is all based on the value of a relationship being measured by pleasure.
As these waves of contentment begin to wane, some gay men may regard the lag in pleasure as a flaw in the relationship, a flaw that needs to be fixed in order to maintain the couple's happiness and stay together. Free from the historical bylaws that provide additional incentive for straight couples to see what's on the other side of their sexual drought, long-term gay couples often opted for a quicker solution to satisfying their need for pleasure while staying together.
And for many, this model seems to work. There are many gay couples who have made their own rules in their relationship and do not need to subscribe to the historical constructs of monogamy. But as the nature of gay culture is increasingly becoming less alternative and more mainstream, there is a palpable desire to achieve something a little more traditional. (Who has a gay wedding to attend this summer?)
As gay men continue to claim the lives that they want and dispel the clichés used to dismiss the substance of gay relationships, those seeking monogamy should fret not over the openness of others' relationships. Any successful gay union, open or not, is a testament to the strength and substance of our love despite the efforts of many to trivialize our lust.
Monogamy is just like any other value in a relationship: It is up to you not to compromise it. But with monogamy, there are a host of other values that must be held equal to pleasure if it is to be maintained.
Sure, monogamy might not be the gay culture's strongest suit. But as we stand on the precipice of gay marriage, one phrase keeps reverberating through my head: Practice makes perfect.