Sometimes I can't sleep. Sometimes when I can't sleep, I check my email. Sometimes I respond to an email in the middle of the night and the person I wrote back writes me back. Last night was one of those nights...
Hi, Dan. How are you? I need your help, please.
Insecure Male Seeking Advice, Dan
What can I help you with? — Dan
I heard you say on a Netflix special about monogamy that you and your husband have been non-monogamous for twenty years. I am 25 years old and my boyfriend is 40 years old. This is my first relationship. I used to believe in Disney fairy tale relationships, but this is not like that. I have been having open talks with my BF about being honest. If someday we want to be sexual with others, we will talk about it then and so on.
He has an issue in that he likes to flirt with people on social media. I was crazy about it—I was made crazy by it—but after we talked, I accepted it. I know he likes to feel that guys want him. I understand. So in order to make our relationship more honest, last week when we were on vacation in Croatia, I suggested we open Grindr there, maybe to meet new people and have fun. Everything was okay. But the last day waiting for our flight back home, I saw him flirting on Facebook and erasing the chats.
That makes me crazy because I didn't understand why he would do that if I'm giving him the trust to share flirtations with me and be open and honest. Why hide it from me? Why erase it? And just days before he told me he would stop flirting with people on social media!
So I got mad. This weekend we had a fight because I was still so upset by it. He said he doesn't understand what I want from him. Today, after I was clear about not wanting him to use Grindr in our home country, I checked on him and caught him on Grindr. His answer for me went like this:
1. Sunday morning I opened Grindr to see if you were on Grindr looking for me. But I didn't want it to be easy so I opened my old Grindr account to see if you would find that. And you did, so I was right.
2. All this fighting is bad. It makes me feel suffocated and when I feel that way I have to open Grindr to feel free again. You have to start believing me and stop stalking me. When I feel like someone is stalking me, it makes me feel suffocated.
Dan, I don't know how to react. I feel bad because I never win an argument with him. He always puts everything on my side because I'm the younger one with less experience. But I feel like he is not helping me/us to reach the relationship we want. And I know I have many insecurities. What do I do, Dan? I live with him. I moved to his country to live with him. What steps do I take in this relationship? I love him and I know he loves me. But gay life and social media are so complicated. Help me, please. — IMSAD
Are you dependent on your boyfriend? If you break up, will you have to return to your home country? — Dan
I am 100% dependent on him. But the good news is that I just got my work visa and next week I start my new job. Look, this is not a relationship between a kid and a sugar daddy. I really love him and he loves me. Also, he has done many things for me. Plus, he looks amazing for his age. Every guy wants him. We went through all of this, we did all of this paperwork for me, for love. He could've had whoever he wants in his home country. And before I met him I was planning a very different move to a different country. Then we met and fell in love and we made all new plans. — IMSAD
I wasn't making an accusation. I was just trying to get a sense of your vulnerability. — Dan
I know. But I want you to know everything so you have a clear picture. — IMSAD
So your boyfriend loves you. But he flirts with other men, lies to you about it, and then blames you for it? — Dan
Basically, yes. First, he says it is a need he has. Then he says he has no choice but to erase his chats because he knows I'm going to check on him and get upset. — IMSAD
Does he make you happy? — Dan
Yes, he makes me happy. He is a guy who gives me so much love. And he takes care of me. — IMSAD
Why does it bother you when he flirts with others? What are you worried will happen? — Dan
Because I'm scared to lose him. And scared he will cheat on me. And he is always saying that he wants to have a relationship where we can share everything with each other and be completely honest. He wants me to know that he would never leave me, that I am his husband, and that he loves me and would never do anything to break us up. But then this. And now every time he touches his phone, my heart beats fast. — IMSAD
Does he flirt to enjoy the attention and affirmation? Or does he cheat? — Dan
He cheated on exes of his in the past. He said he did it when his exes suffocated him. He LOVES attention. And he admits he has an issue with it but he says he can never change it. — IMSAD
The attention good-looking folks get on social media can be addictive. It can also be harmless. A time suck, yes, but harmless—at least in the sense that it doesn't always lead to cheating. Some people really do like to just bask in the attention and the attention is all they want from strangers—not ass or dick.
It is concerning, though, that he treats "I'm Feeling Suffocated!" like some sort of get-out-of-taking-responsibility-for-his-actions-free card. He only got on Grindr (after telling you he wouldn't) because you made him feel suffocated, so it's your fault. He only cheated on his exes because they made him feel suffocated, so the cheating was their fault. Ducking responsibility like that? Not a good look, not a good sign. — Dan
He says that this is who he is: He needs this kind of attention, and that's just that. He doesn't need to cheat, but he needs the attention he gets on social media and on Grindr. — IMSAD
Well, it's a good sign that he knows who he is. And just because he cheated in the past doesn't mean he's definitely going to cheat in the future. (Although a cheater is statistically more likely to cheat again because of course.) You have to ask yourself if you can live with and accept the person he is, the person who isn't going to change—because he won't or, more likely, because he can't. (Sexual needs can't be wished away.) If you can accept this part of him, if you can allow for it, you could make this relationship work. But can you? You have needs and desires too.
How long have you been together? — Dan
1 year and 2 months.
Look, I accept it. It was hard for me, because it shattered my Disney fairy tale notions about what love is. We talked about it and I cried when I realized it could never be like Disney. I started to work on my trust and let him flirt. Even when he told me he stopped, I didn't believe him. I knew he was continuing to do it. But I was okay.
But what I saw at the airport, that broke me. I saw him erasing things, hiding things from me. He had already said he was not flirting and then was. So I'm afraid that he'll say "I'm not fucking anyone else!" and then he will be. — IMSAD
Disney is famous for creating unrealistic expectations—Disney and romcoms. And those unrealistic expectations can make people miserable. Because real life and real relationships will always fall short of the Disney/romcom ideal.
Reality and human frailty and human failing—loving someone despite things not being perfect, despite everything not being Disney (or Love, Simon), is harder. It's also more valuable and meaningful. To love someone because they're perfect and perfect for you? That's easy—easy and impossible, since no one is perfect and no one is perfect for you. To love someone who's imperfect and imperfect for you? To love someone who screws up and who needs you to forgive them? And to be loved by someone who forgives you when you screw up? That's possible. — Dan
That's true. Disney has damaged me, I think.— IMSAD
And, again, what are you afraid of? Ultimately? Not just that he'll cheat on you, but that he'll leave you. Well, those are also possibilities. And remember: people cheated on their boyfriends before hookup apps and social media came along. The only way for him to prove to you that he isn't going to leave you or cheat on you despite the flirting is to... keep not leaving or cheating on you despite the flirting. Which means only the passage of time will set your mind at ease... or prove that you were right to all along to be worried.
That said, IMSAD, you need to listen to what he's telling you: this—at least flirting—is something he's going to do. He can't or isn't interested in changing. If you can't accept it and be at peace with it, you will be miserable in this relationship. So if you can't/won't change & you can't/won't accept this aspect of his sexuality (or this insecurity of his, i.e. his need for this kind of affirmation), you should leave him. I'm sorry to be blunt. — Dan
I can accept it, I think. Look, I'm 25. I know that at some point I also will want to have fuck with others. Because it is only natural, especially in guys. But I don't think if we agree as a couple not to look at Grindr in our home country that it's respectful of him to open it here. Even for his own reasons. — IMSAD
Is your sex life with him good? Is he into you? You're only a year and change in. Does he still want to hold you and kiss you and all that stuff? — Dan
Our sex life is amazing! Really amazing. He holds me all the time, we hug and we kiss, he kisses me in the street, home, everywhere. — IMSAD
Amazing sex life, you love him, lots of affection, things are great. And things are great even though he's on Grindr in the country where you live. So you could say that Grindr isn't taking anything away from you. It isn't hurting your relationship—the proof is right there in your relationship. He's on Grindr and your relationship is still amazing. — Dan
So are you saying I shouldn't worry about the Grindr issue? Because the relationship is still good? But don't you think that is playing with fire? — IMSAD
I'm saying maybe don't make Grindr an issue. Because laying down rules you know your partner will constantly break only generates conflict and that kind of rule is its own kind of fire. If you can't be partnered with someone who violates that rule, you can't be with this guy. If you want to be with this guy, you'll have to let go of this rule. That's what he's telling you. That's what he's telling you—in word and in deed. — Dan
OMG. Good point. Should I feel guilty? Or at fault? Now I want to cry.— IMSAD
Don't be upset! And there's nothing for you to feel guilty about. You're working through this. You're processing it. He shouldn't have made a promise to you that he couldn't keep — he was at fault there — but you weren't at fault. You told him what you wanted, he agreed to it (but shouldn't have). Now that he's walked that promise back and told you the truth, IMSAD, he's no longer at fault.
You know, Terry and I had crazy, loud, knockdown, drag-out fights about monogamy at the start of our relationship — and they happened about a year in. We had to figure out how to make "us" work for him and for me. So working through this is normal and necessary. And, yes, painful at times.
And zooming out for a second...
You need to put all of this — this conflict and this relationship — into perspective. There are no guarantees, IMSAD. Relationships end for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you'll be with your BF forever or maybe you'll only be with him for a few years. You gotta be zen about it. And you gotta tell yourself that, even if it ends, it can still have been good for you and the right relationship for you at this time in your life, even if it doesn't last for-Disney-ever.
Obsessing about "forever" and the stress of flirt-proofing or cheat-proofing or leave-proofing your relationship are a waste of time and emotional energy. And
in the end all that stress can destroy the relationship you were trying to save. — Dan
So you're not afraid that Terry will cheat on you and leave you? How do you deal in your mind when you know he is sleeping with other guys? — IMSAD
Well... mostly we sleep with other guys together. But it doesn't bother me when he sleeps with someone else on his own. Quite the opposite, in fact. — Dan
Something strange happens to me when he tells me a story about a guy that he had sex with before we met, some guy from his past. That always totally turns me on and makes me horny. — IMSAD
Maybe we should focus on that for a minute.
You want him to share everything with you but he knows that sharing this — the attention he needs, seeks, and gets from other guys — upsets you and makes you unhappy and it always ends in a fight. So... what if you let it turn you on instead? What if you leaned into that feeling you get when he tells you about the guys he actually fucked before you met?
If you could get to a place where you felt more secure in the relationship, IMSAD, and you were convinced he'd never leave you... maybe then it wouldn't just be his stories about the guys he fucked before you met that turned you on, but his stories about the guys he flirted with today that turned you on too.
I'm not suggesting you let him off the hook for his transparent attempt to shift the blame for deceiving you onto your shoulders. I'm referring, of course, to that "I'm feeling suffocated!" bullshit. He has to take responsibility for telling you one thing and then doing another; he also has to recognize that "feeling suffocated!" doesn't give him the right to cheat. (And there's no need for him to cheat, because you are open to opening the relationship at some point down the line.) If he can do that, IMSAD, you should be able to reestablish trust.
Pair reestablished trust with allowing yourself to feel about the guys he flirts with now the same way you feel about the guys he used to fuck, IMSAD, and he'll have no reason to hide anything from you. Right now he hides his chats/flirts because they hurt you and because they cause relationship drama. If they didn't hurt you or cause drama, he'd have no excuse for hiding them from you. — Dan
OMG. Thank you. You are so right. That's genius. I'm so happy you answered me. We say something in Spanish: "Si no puedes con el enemigo, únetele!" In English: "If you can't beat the enemy, join him!" — IMSAD