To our readers:
Dan Savage has decided to withdraw his column from City Paper, ending a long relationship between one of America’s leading advocacy voices and an alternative newsweekly that has delivered arts, entertainment and cultural coverage to Pittsburgh since 1991. Though disappointing, Dan’s decision has afforded us an opportunity to bring a fresh weekly advice column to these pages. We are excited to do so beginning Aug. 15.
Thanks for understanding — and reading.
I’m gay and have been dating a guy for 10 months. He’s great overall, and I would say for the most part we both want it to work out. But I am having a problem with his friends and other lifestyle choices. All of his friends are straight, and almost all of them are women. All of my friends have always been gay men, like me, so I find this strange. I don’t have any problem with women, but I don’t hang out with any women, and neither do most of my friends. He makes dinner plans for us with his straight friends almost every week, and I grin and bear it. They’re always old coworkers, so the whole conversation is them talking about old times or straighty talk about their children. It’s incredibly boring. He’s met my friends, and he likes some of them but dislikes others. It’s obvious that he is not comfortable relating to gay men, generally speaking. He does not seem knowledgeable about gay history or culture. For example, he strongly dislikes drag queens and never goes to gay bars. There is one woman in particular he makes dinner for every Friday night. It’s a standing date that he’s only occasionally been flexible about changing to accommodate plans for the two of us. Now he’s planning a weeklong vacation with her. When he first mentioned this trip, he asked if I would want to spend a week camping. I said no, because I don’t like camping. He immediately went forward with planning it with her. I’m pretty sure the two of them had already hatched this plan, and I don’t think he ever really wanted me to go. I think it’s WEIRD to want to go camping for an entire week with some old lady. He does other weird things, too, like belonging to a strange new-age church, which is definitely at odds with my strongly held anti-religious views. He has asked me to attend; I went once, and it made me EXTREMELY uncomfortable. The fact that I didn’t like it just turned into a seemingly unsolvable problem between us. He says I’m not being “supportive.” I need some advice on how to get past my intense feelings of aversion to the weirdness. How can I not let our differences completely destroy the relationship?
Hopelessly Odd Man Out
Differences don’t have to destroy a relationship. Differences can actually enhance and help sustain a relationship. But for differences to have that effect, HOMO, both partners have to appreciate each other for their differences. You don’t sound appreciative — you sound contemptuous. And that’s a problem.
According to Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute (a research institution dedicated to studying and strengthening marriages and other interpersonal relationships) — who says he can accurately predict divorce in 90 percent of cases — contempt is the leading predictor of divorce. “When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship, you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities,” he writes in Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. Contempt, Gottman argues, destroys whatever bonds hold a couple together.
You’ve been together only 10 months, HOMO, and you’re not married, but it sounds like contempt has already overwhelmed your relationship. It’s not just that you dislike his friends, you’re contemptuous of them; it’s not just that you don’t share his spiritual beliefs, you’re contemptuous of them; it’s not just that his gayness is expressed in a different-than-yours-but-still-perfectly-valid way, you’re contemptuous of him as a gay man. Because he doesn’t watch Drag Race or hang out in gay bars. Because he’s got a lot of female friends. Because he’s happy to sit and talk with his friends about their kids. (There’s nothing “straighty” about kid conversations. Gay parents take part in those conversations, too.)
This relationship might work if you were capable of appreciating the areas where you two overlap — your shared interests (including your shared interest in each other) — and content to let him go off and enjoy his friends, his new-age church, and his standing Friday-night dinner date. A growing body of research shows that divergent interests + some time away from each other + mutual respect = long-term relationship success. You’re missing the “mutual respect” part — and where this formula is concerned, HOMO, two out of three ain’t enough.
Here’s how it might look if you could appreciate your differences: You’d do the things you enjoy doing together — like, say, each other — but on Friday nights, he makes dinner for his bestie and you hit the gay bars with your gay friends and catch a drag show. You would go on vacations together, but once in a while he’d go on vacation with one of his “straighty” friends, and once in a while you’d go on vacation with your gay friends. On Sundays, he’d go to woo-woo church and you’d sleep in or binge-watch Pose. You’d be happy to let him be him, and he’d be happy to let you be you — and together the two of you would add up to an interesting, harmonious, compelling “we.”
But I honestly don’t think you have it in you.
I’ve been in an on-again, off-again relationship for the past four years. My girlfriend has an assortment of mental-health issues — anxiety, depersonalization episodes, depression, paranoia, among others — that make it very stressful and tiring to be with her. Despite my best attempts at getting her to seek help, she refuses to take the plunge. Whether it’s a result of her illness or not, she refuses to believe that I actually want to be with her. I do care deeply about her, and the good days are wonderful. But nearly every time we go on a date or have sex, it ends in tears, and I have to endlessly reassure her that I do really want to be with her. I’m exhausted by having to defend my feelings for her multiple times per week and I don’t know what to do.
He’s Exhausted And Lost
There’s only one thing you can do, HEAL: Put this relationship on hold — take it back to off-again status — and make getting back together contingent upon her seeking help for her mental-health issues. You’ve made it clear, again and again, that you want to be with her. By finally seeking help — by actually taking the plunge — she can make it clear that she wants to be with you.