Gay man in a relationship which could be going better
April 3, 2016 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm a gay man in a relationship with a closeted man. We've been dating for a few months, going out to dinner and to movies, texting each other for an hour or two every night, talking about all sorts of things ... but things could be going better. (NSFW)

On a half-dozen occasions we've gotten naked with each other. At first it was a lot of making out and then gradually getting undressed; now he comes over, we go immediately to my room, kiss, and undress each other and start making out--grinding on each other, jerking each other, me sucking him. I'm fine with all that. But we've never brought it to a finish; four or five times now he's gotten close, to the point that he's breathing ragged (and has even said "I'm so close"), and then he's said "I'd better stop." So we've stopped. Once or twice, I'd get it. Four or five times is making me crazy.

I don't understand what's happening here, and have tried to ask a few gentle questions to get some understanding of it. I'd be fine with us not getting sexy with each other. I'm in love with him, and I'm happy being his boyfriend. I just don't get the repeatedly getting naked with each other, him coming close to orgasm, then saying we need to stop.

He says he trusts me, and that he's not afraid I'm just going to use him and leave him--which is good, because I've tried to make it clear that sex isn't all I want from a relationship, though it is part of what I want from a relationship--and he knows that I haven't been expecting penetrative sex and that I'm not going to do anything with him that he doesn't want to do. We've both been tested, and I'm fine with us using condoms but he says he doesn't see the point.

He says he wants us to get to know each other better. I feel like we know each other well enough--full names, birthdays, what our childhoods were like, where we grew up, when we first knew we were gay, who we're out to (him: one of his brothers; me: everyone, including at work), people we've dated, how serious the relationships were, what ended the relationships, when we want to retire, what we want out of life, any dreams we'd love to make reality, if we could ever see being married (at all, or to each other), etc. He knows I'm depressive and have fits of anxiety, and that I was abused as a child. He's okay with that, he's been understanding of the anxiety when it pops up, and he's been wonderful in so many other ways. I have truthfully answered every question he's ever had for me, and I feel like he's been honest with me as well.

He's about fifty. I'm about forty. My last serious relationship was five years ago; his last serious relationship was as an undergraduate in college. They dated for a year and never had sex.

I love this man, and I don't want this relationship to end, but I'm not sure I can handle a year's worth of getting naked and getting sexy with each other only to cut it short. I'd love to know what sort of timeline he sees us on, and I've tried to get at that as gently as possible, but all he's said is "that will happen" (in re: me bringing him off and also us sleeping--literally sleeping--with each other, waking up next to each other). I don't want to pressure him to do something he doesn't want to do, and so I feel like I can't keep asking about what's happening here even if I feel like I still don't get it or maybe there's something more.

I don't know how to handle this and would love some advice. But I can't ask anyone I know because I can't tell anyone who knows both of us. It's at the point where I've considered starting therapy again just so I could ask someone about this in confidence.

How do I need to be looking at this? Am I being unreasonable? Is there any chance this relationship is going to make it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If good sex is important to you in a relationship, it's time to end it and to move onto someone who is comfortable with his sexuality. I suspect that this guy thinks that he's 'not gay' if he doesn't orgasm with you. I'm straight, but I wouldn't be with someone who couldn't/wouldn't acknowledge me as a partner and isn't on the same wavelength as far as how 'out' to be.

He's 50 and he's still not comfortable with who he is. Too much of a reclamation project.

Thank him for your time together and move on.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:51 PM on April 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

...with a closeted man...

Isn't this the whole universe of the problem? Like, the whole damn, awful thing?

Conjecture: There's something magical and final about actually having sex with a man, and he can't cross this line in his head. He's acting out much of the conflict right there in the bedroom, getting as much pleasure as he can before stopping himself.

I think you'd be well within your rights to have a kind but very assertive conversation with him establishing that there is a limit, and where it is for you. He is extremely extremely extremely, so extremely goddamn lucky to have found someone who is so understanding of him and his hangups, but he is ultimately squandering this maybe once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for love and acceptance late in life if he doesn't do the work on himself. It's not about you and how much you can wait or how much compassion you can give; it's about whether he can promise to work toward an upward trajectory, and whether he embarks on that path.

He should go to a therapist, and I don't think it would be wrong for you to assert that this is something you would like him to do if he would like the relationship to continue, out of a place of deep concern for him, and for your relationship.

I don't think it's impossible, but I do think he really must "come to Jesus" himself. If he can't, I hope you can be kind to yourself when you decide you need to leave.
posted by Keter at 3:58 PM on April 3, 2016 [49 favorites]

I read your ask and was reminded of this article I read very recently about a woman who came from a very repressive family and how she suffered because of it:
After Staying a Virgin Until Marriage, I Couldn't Have Sex With My Husband

He is 50. He is still mostly not out about being gay. He never had sex with the last person he was 'seriously' involved with and it sounds like that was an incredibly long time ago.

I think he just cannot accept his sexuality. It isn't you.

I am not going to suggest you DTMFA. I think that is something you need to decide. But if you stay, this will be a very hard row to hoe and may never really satisfy you.

If it were me, I think instead of talking to him about "us," I would talk to him about his relationship to his sexuality and does he foresee ever being more open about it. If not, why not?

If he can't even tell people he is gay, he isn't going to marry a man. That kind of requires admitting it to the whole world.

I don't say that to be critical. I say that as someone who has a lot of baggage myself and has faced relationship situations where I had to ask myself these types of questions. I have ended relationships -- or chosen to not start them -- because of asking myself some of these questions. If I or they don't want to admit being together, then sleeping with them means forever being a dirty little secret.

I would talk to him about his reasons for being in the closet. I would want him to a) be in therapy for this and b) have a concrete plan for coming out of the closet.

You can never marry him while he is in the closet. And he may be unable to consummate the relationship while he is unable to accept his sexuality.
posted by Michele in California at 4:02 PM on April 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

Is his current behaviour consistent with his behaviour with previous partners or encounters? Was he comfortable finishing with his last boyfriend?

Is it possible he is nervous about contact with bodily fluids and the associated risks of STIs? You say you were both tested- but is it possible he feels uncomfortable or unsure about the results of those tests for either you and/or himself, and therefore is nervous about any possible health risks associated with going further?

I agree with the above answers that his being closeted is probably contributing to his discomfort. So much shame and anxiety in that closet- hard to let loose.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:05 PM on April 3, 2016

I heard the other day: "You have to accept reality on reality's terms."

Here's a fifty-year-old closeted gay man that hasn't had a serious sexual relationship in nearly 30 years. That's a person likely in need of significant therapy. The only prescription here is love, support and professional help. This doesn't happen quickly, so you may need to reframe your expectations of the situation.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:09 PM on April 3, 2016 [18 favorites]

Depending on the environments you two grew up in, he may be on the "wrong" side of the cultural shift re: homosexuality over the past twenty years or so. You may think of being gay as a marginalized identity but one that you can make work, at least in tolerant parts of the world; for him, being gay may be UNTHINKABLE CATASTROPHE. It's hard (though not impossible) to maintain that you're not gay once you've come with your dick in another guy's mouth.

I can't offer advice, but I am sorry. It's a sad story, especially for him.
posted by praemunire at 4:11 PM on April 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't think there's any possible way that this man is emotionally healthy enough to have an adult gay relationship. He hasn't had sex for 30 years! He's still closeted at 50! These are huge red flags to me. I wouldn't hesitate to end the romantic relationship. You can love him and care about him without being his boyfriend.

And to be frank, this is why out gay people should never date closeted people. It's self-destructive behavior.
posted by Automocar at 4:17 PM on April 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

Is there any chance he's HIV positive? You say you've both been tested, but how recently, and was it together? Have you been explicitly clear what the boundaries would be if you were sero-discordant?

It just reminds me of some of the early days in a relationship I had where I was negative and my (soon to be) partner was positive, and that line was the line that he made us stop at until he came out to me with that status. I mean, I'd hate for him to lie about a status (because that would open up a ton of other issues with the relationship) but that type of behavior just makes me wonder.
posted by xingcat at 4:59 PM on April 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

You deserve much much better. I'm sorry that you feel so deeply for him - this is the lopsided way this relationship will always be. It will not change.

I hope you come to know and act on the truth that the more compassionate and courageous act of love here is for you to wish this man well and walk away.

... If you stick around, he will hurt you. And hurt you. And hurt you. Now, I know from experience that because you were abused you think sticking around is loving him, but it's not. Loving him is not putting him in a position to be neurotic and witholding in an intimate relationship! Full stop!!

Find someone who can give as much as you are giving. Be well and take care.
posted by jbenben at 5:40 PM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

This man has had fifty years to be ready and do the work on himself and he's still not. He's known he's gay for what sounds like a very long time and still can't accept himself, so how can he ever accept you? He represses everything, even his orgasm. At this late age, he's unlikely to change and certainly not in the time frame you'll need. I think both of you deserve so much better but sadly, chances are you're the only one who is capable of getting it for themselves - by leaving him and finding it. Go and don't look back.
posted by Jubey at 7:37 PM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

You say this relationship has only been going on for a few months and that you are happy to be his boyfriend.
But, does he think you are his boyfriend? How does he define the relationship?
If he's still closeted maybe he denies that you two have anything more than a cordial friendship and all this naked time is just out of the blue!

Ask him what he thinks the relationship is. I think that will be telling.

Sometimes people are super in love but one person can't let go of incorrect beliefs about themselves, which sabotages the relationship. I'm afraid this is what you have. I think your boyfriend has a big self-built hurdle and you can't fix it, only he can.

I think the options are you can live within your boyfriend's boundaries, which will probably be very painful unless you can make peace with it, or you can move on.

His emotions and his orgasm (and your orgasm) will only be available to you on his time and you'll spend a lot of hours and days suffering for it.

This is really really hard. You can keep him as a companion with the knowledge he'll never be a real lover without big intervention, or you can keep looking. Will he stay friends if you find someone new?

I'm so sorry for your heartache.
posted by littlewater at 8:41 PM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree with most of the answers here. I think this is too much of a burden for you to bear and he is unlikely to change on his own. But I feel like there is something conspicuous missing in your question.

Orgasm isn't the end all be all of sex, even for two people with penises. And both partners don't have to orgasm for the sex to be enjoyable. Can he get you off and make sure you are satisfied, even if he isn't comfortable being brought to orgasm by you? Since he doesn't want to sleep with you, I doubt this kind of giving intimacy is something he'd be okay with, either, but it is certainly worth a try. If I had a partner as kind and accommodating as you have described yourself to be, and I had difficulty with my own orgasms, I would fall all over myself to make sure my partner was satisfied even if I still had issues to work through for myself.

I suffered a horrible messy breakup because I wasn't ready for sex and ended up teasing the guy accidentally for months. I wish he had just ended it, but the two of us couldn't seem to communicate. It's okay and perfectly reasonable for mutually enjoyable sex to be a relationship priority. Don't let things fester if they don't have to.
posted by Mizu at 11:15 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

You shouldn't have to sacrifice a fulfilling sex life in order to be with this man. That's too tall an order and unfair to you.

I know you say you love him, but can't you love him as a friend, and support him in any quest he makes to accept his own sexuality (which, as has been pointed out, will likely take years of therapy) while moving on to dating other people yourself?

I get the sense you're going to continue with this man no matter what anyone says. But I'll nonetheless cast my ballot for DTGA (cuz he's not an MF, merely a confused and repressed Gentleman).
posted by mysterious_stranger at 1:26 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is just so much wrong with this 'relationship'. Closeted men don't make good companions. The almost climaxing thing is just too weird, unless you're both into edging, which I doubt.

Run. There is no future for you with that man. You'll find someone much better.
posted by james33 at 5:07 AM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

One thing that really stood out to me: so you both jerk each other off, but you are the only one who attempts oral? It feels so, so, much like this guy is trying to stay on the right side of Lines. But it doesn't have to be that he's a jerk - it may be that he's honestly trying to get past his conditioning, but hasn't been able to and doesn't want you to feel bad. Still, you need to consider how much you're willing to put up with.
posted by corb at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Unlike many people commenting here, I'm an actual gay man.

He's deeply closeted and having an orgasm with another man is a bridge too far.

And/or he has a wife or girlfriend that you don't know about.

Being in the closet sucks, yes, and everyone gets to come out on their own terms, yes. And dating someone that deep in the closet sucks for you. This is not a relationship with a future until he comes out and spends a couple years working the coat hangers out of his ass.

End it. Sure, have a flat out conversation first if you like. I mean blunt: "My sex life needs to include orgasms and reciprocity. I need to know why that's not happening, and I'm not going to accept 'it'll happen' as an answer, because I need to have all the relevant information to decide whether I'm going to stay in this or not."

And then end it anyway because dating someone in the closet means you're having to go back in there partially yourself, and it means there are large parts of his life that you will not have access to. And trying to keep a relationship with someone who's been in the closet that long and suddenly comes out is maddening.

Enjoy it for what it was, let him down gracefully, and move on to someone who is open about himself.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:18 AM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

Some additional perspective: I do know a gay couple who dealt with something in the universe of this problem. John and Jay (let's call them) were middle-aged men who came out at very different parts of their life, with John coming in to the relationship having been out since college, and Jay having never dated anyone prior to John and having essentially "come out" into the relationship. Jay had a mountain of hangups about his sexual orientation, a lot of internalized homophobia, and some intimacy issues related to but ultimately present separate from his orientation issues. In a lot of ways, the two got along smashingly, and loved each other. However, Jay's issues eventually, as they must, got very much in the way of their increasing intimacy and ability to have a satisfying sex life. John found himself feeling frustrated (sexually and otherwise), sad for Jay, and increasingly unable to tolerate these issues.

John came to Jay and laid out the problem kindly but honestly, confessing that the way Jay behaved in the bedroom and out hurt John, and that he really loved Jay yet could see that things were on a bad trajectory. He offered to be there for Jay—recognizing his traumatic past and late start on his love life—but only if Jay could be there for himself and his relationship by seeking professional help. They have been in couples therapy for a year, with Jay in individual therapy as well. Things are going a ton better. Crucially, of course, Jay made a stand for himself and for his partner to get his shit together, even if he wasn't 100% sure at the onset what that shit was and how it was going to happen. He felt deeply that his life prior to John was terrible, that he clearly was doing something wrong to lose and upset a guy like John, and that he was going to very seriously take the opportunity given to him (which John was under no obligation to do; see many of the comments in this thread!). He made the calculus that the relationship and his future self were more important than how he had been and the short-term pain he would need to do to be another way.

You are basically throwing a man in a dark pit a rope, and asking him to climb it. It's not an easy climb by any means, but it's sure as hell easier getting out with a rope than it is without one. Jay decided to take the rope. I have no idea whether your boyfriend will. Again, I really don't think it's impossible to change this late in the game—I am a therapist in training and I've already worked with clients making surprising, brave shifts later in life—but, it's all on him, and he needs to decide right now whether this is what he wants. He's waited 50 years, he can clearly wait more; what he needs is to choose.
posted by Keter at 1:55 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'd love to know what sort of timeline he sees us on

Buddy, I know you know down inside that this is not how people work. He is deeply screwed up and afraid and he is not doing anything to get unafraid and unscrewed and this will get messier before it gets better. So it's not like he can decide "Okay in two months I'm going to ejaculate with you." His mind is busy running around in crazy chicken circles. Basically anything he tells you about this is TOTAL hogwash. He's freaked out and freaking out. It's like people who are terrified of airplanes. If you ask them for a timeline they'll be like "Oh well totally next year I will fly," because next year isn't NOW, it's just LATER, so it doesn't have to be dealt with, but as the next year approaches, the anxiety grows and grows... And nothing gets better.

I'm also worried that you've been dating two months and you've gotten naked six times and you're going on like this about how much you love him! You BARELY KNOW HIM, which is why he is a mystery to you.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:45 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

RJ Reynolds is correct: Things like this mostly do not get better with time alone. Timelines are pretty meaningless to talk about. You need to be viewing it through a lens of milestones. This is why I suggested the things I did: because certain specific things need to happen in order to move forward.

Again, if he cannot openly admit he is gay, there is no hope that he will marry a man. So, "Are you planning on coming out of the closet and what are you doing to move that forward?" are the types of questions you need to ask. (And I am not suggesting this needs to lead to marriage. I am just latching onto that as a concrete example I can draw from the limited info available that I hope will be clear to you as to why A must happen before B has any hope of happening -- to demonstrate the principle of milestones versus timelines.)

The problem is this: Metaphorically, it is like he has a badly broken bone that healed wrong. It needs to be rebroken and reset so it can grow back straight. He wants you to gently lovingly magically make it all better, but the reality is that making it all better is going to involve pain and drama and confrontation.

You do not sound well equipped to metaphorically rebreak his bone so it can heal straight. The bad news is that even if you could, the most likely outcome would be that he now views you as a monster. This is why people are suggesting that he needs therapy. Because if you hire a surgeon to rebreak the bone so it can heal properly, no one is going to be charged with assault or become a monster in the minds of people who know what happened. It is generally a bad idea to reach across the table and rebreak the bone over tea and crumpets just because you are tired of hearing them go on about it and they won't go see a surgeon and you can see what needs to happen. That won't win you friends. It may dramatically improve their life, but they will probably kick you to the curb over it.
posted by Michele in California at 10:18 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thanks for the comments, everyone.

He came over and we talked about our relationship yesterday. He said that he was trying to be careful of *my* boundaries, that he'd thought *I* hadn't wanted to finish. That had me thinking back on past things I'd said wondering how he could have gotten that impression--that last time he'd been about to climax, when he said he should stop and I sighed and he told me not to get frustrated? That seemed like *I* was the person wanting to stop?--but I accepted it at first even though I suddenly felt like I'd walked into a badly written sitcom. After he left, I felt like what I'd actually walked into was a Lifetime movie. He'd answered a number of questions for me, including one that at first seemed to explain a few things to me and later just raised even more questions (a previously undisclosed sexual partner--if you count a handjob as sex, which I do and he doesn't).

At any rate, I realized that any deception at this point was a dealbreaker, and that (even with the most generous interpretation--that both his not climaxing and his not disclosing a sexual partner were simple misunderstandings) my sudden suspicion at this point was also a dealbreaker.

Between jbenben's comment and RJ Reynolds' comment I felt this shock of horror: what if it wasn't love at all that I was feeling, but codependence? All those years I'd wanted to start working out, just as some distant dream, and then only starting to work out with some regularity after I started dating this man? The fact that I'd stayed with him even though I've cried more in this last week than I did in the previous three *years*? Suddenly that just seemed like yet another enormous red flag I'd been ignoring.

We broke up today. He said he felt like he'd been on eggshells with me lately, and that he didn't want to cause me all this pain. I said that I felt like I wasn't well enough for this relationship, and that I wouldn't mind being friends but I couldn't stand keeping him a secret.

I think I knew this was over when I posted the question but I just couldn't admit it.

Tomorrow I will find a therapist who specializes in abuse, trauma, and/or codependence, and arrange an appointment.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:31 PM on April 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

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