After telling how he fell in love with another straight man, Mike Iamele heard countless stories of other people creating relationships that feel right to them.
Over the past few weeks, since I wrote about my experience as a straight man who fell in love with another straight man, I’ve received (literally) thousands of e-mails from readers who offered their perspectives, argued their viewpoints, shared their own stories, smiled, laughed, and even cried.
I never expected such sincere outpouring of emotion and discussion from my own story. I’ve received every question under the sun from how we made this work, to where we go from here, to even if I’ve fully recovered from my sickness (which I have, thank you, with the help of doctors, alternative medicine practitioners, dietary changes, and herbs).
But, after hearing countless stories just like my own, I’ve realized that my story is just one in a very important discussion we all need to be having about the “new normal” in love, sexuality, and identity.
We’re at a pivotal point in history. Half of all marriages end in divorce, more than 10 percent of the country is finding love or sex through dating sites and apps, and almost half of the states in the U.S. have legalized gay marriage. The traditional rules for intimacy have fallen by the wayside. Without any rules to follow, people are creating lives that feel right to them.
I’ve received e-mails from gay men who fell in love with and married women. I’ve received messages from same-sex couples who share romantic love but keep their relationship open to pursue sex with opposite-sex partners. I’ve talked to people in polyamorous relationships, long-distance relationships, sexless, open, and every combination in between.
Normal is a very relative term, especially when it comes to relationships. And today’s normal is really just about happiness. It’s about creating a life that feels right and honest and authentic to you. It’s about creating your own rules for love because you and your partner(s) have never existed before. There’s no example of how to do this because you and your relationship are completely unique.
Labels are absolutely useful for helping people feel connected, relatable, even understood. But there comes a point where the label starts holding you back. And you have to decide if you’re willing to take life in with each moment, or if you’re going to stick so stubbornly to a decision you made about yourself and the way love is supposed to be long ago.
Years ago, way before Garrett and I ever started a romantic relationship, I remember he said something about his current long-term relationship with a woman. He said, “You say you wouldn’t do that now; but, when you love someone, you’re willing to try almost anything for them. You’re wiling to find an expression of that love that works for both people.”
Years later, I smile at Garrett’s wisdom and openness. That’s really all it is. That’s really all any of it is—a willingness to find an appropriate and comfortable way to express love for that relationship. I won’t say it’s always easy. I won’t say it’s always comfortable. For Garrett and I, it took well over a year before we found an expression that felt right to us. We tried many different models until we settled on something that worked.
In truth, our lives are all made up of relationships—many different kinds of relationships. We have family, friends, co-workers, romantic partners, sexual partners, lovers, and maybe some combination of that mix. With every single relationship in your life, you need to determine an appropriate and comfortable way to express that love.
Do you call your family once a week? Once a month?
Do you cross that boundary and engage sexually with a coworker? How far is too far? How do you act at work?
Do you commit to a monogamous relationship? Are your needs being totally fulfilled by your partner?
Do you try the long-distance thing? At what point is it just too much?
Do you engage in sex? If so, how soon? And what does sex mean to you?
We’re working through these questions all the time. We’re negotiating what feels right to us. And it’s really only the business of the two (or more) people in the relationship to make it work.
Of course, we have sexual preferences. Of course, we have our own predispositions. But if you want to make something work badly enough, you really can make it work. It might take time. It might take patience. It might even take moving outside your comfort zone. But you can absolutely make it work if you’re willing to negotiate a level of expression for love that feels right to you.
At the end of the day, love is love. And it’s not an incredibly interesting thing. It’s more of a Friday-night-in-front-of-the-couch thing. It’s more of a lounging-around-in-sweatpants thing. It’s an opportunity where you can be yourself completely—without the fancy outfit or funny lines—and another person still chooses you every time.
If you’re lucky enough to find that, throw the rules out the window. Throw the labels out the window. Throw any boxes or containers or restrictions out the window. Because you’ve got something special and unique and magical. You’re the only one who can make the rules for your life.
And, uncomfortable or not, that’s something worth fighting for.
Where It All Began: I’m an Otherwise Straight Man (Who Fell in Love With My Best Friend)
What Mike Learned About Love: What Love Is & What Love Isn’t