by: Adam Guerino
Deciding you’re going to be exclusive with someone can be a beautiful experience. It’s a life-changing declaration that you only want to be with them. I mean, “I choose you!”–those three words–that’s huge, right? So then why does it all too often feel like a business transaction?
My boyfriend wanted to be exclusive before I did. Our feelings for each other had grown and the idea that I could still potentially go on a date, kiss or other sexy business with someone else made him uncomfortable. Though I knew he was boyfriend material and it had been a while since I even wanted to date someone else, I was still cautious. I wanted exclusivity to be a decision made upon the desire to only want to be with him, not because I only wanted him to be with me.
Regardless of how we approached the matter, I had no doubt we felt the same way about each other. It was only how we expressed those feelings that differed. Yeah, I know–that sounds like a bullshit excuse. But it’s the truth! Even so, I felt the pressure. Like my wanting to take it slow might become a deal breaker.
When I felt our relationship was ready, I asked him at dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in New York if he still wanted to be my boyfriend. I even gave him a shirt I knew he wanted that I brought with me covertly from Chicago. A little over the top? Perhaps. But I wanted it to be as much a romantic gesture as it was a matter of simply advancing our relationship. He said yes. And, maybe it was the candlelight, but it looked like he had a tear in his eye.
But when we had the exclusivity talk, it got decidedly less romantic. On our way back to Chicago, we defined our relationship. A term that was so heavily anticipated within our relationship and between my friends that we began to shorten it. “He wants to DTR.” “Have you two DTR’d yet?” and “Just DTR already!”
A parenthesis about monogamy: I’ve seen poly-amorous relationships work, I’ve seen them not work. Much like any relationship, what type of relationship or how many involved doesn’t determine the success-rate. That being said, I’ve only desired monogamy but support all consensual relationship expressions. Cool? Cool.
It was essentially understood, before we had even began dating, that we were only interested in a monogamous relationship. But what that meant to each of us… varied. To sometimes hilarious differences. For me, monogamy means no physical or emotional affairs. In other words, no touchy-touchy, talky-talky or texty-texty in a romantic or sexual nature. I don’t care if their dick stays in their pants, I’d feel our relationship was violated if my boyfriend engaged, or responded, to sexual or romantic exchanges. That seems pretty specific, right? Well, we’d be wrong.
My boyfriend felt the same sentiment, we just differed on a few applications. I told him it wasn’t a big deal if he was out with friends and made out with someone, I just wouldn’t want to hear about it. Of course by that I meant, I think it’s OK if I did that. The boyfriend disagreed. Next he said that sometimes he’ll cuddle with his female friends but it wasn’t romantic. I told him I wouldn’t like that. He explained how it’s a lot like a hug, except longer. And sometimes done while watching a movie. I disagreed. So we agreed to disagree on these two matters yet agreed we wouldn’t do them. Not because we both thought it was cheating but because we knew the other felt it was.
A relationship is a lot like a puppy. At first it’s so cute and exciting but sooner or later, it all becomes a question of responsibility. So before you get a puppy, decide who takes it out or else you’ll have to deal with a lot of shit. The metaphor works on many levels.
These ridiculous notions of what was or wasn’t considered cheating seem hilarious out loud. But consider if you don’t have these conversations. What kinds of things would you or your partner do that turn out to be grounds for breaking up? I have friends who do things I’d clearly call cheating but they claim their partner(s) are OK with it. Did they ask them? Of course not. They just “know.” It seems like three kinds of bull shit to me but they justify it to themselves with the logic of no rebuttal. Imagine if you found your partner engaging in a peep show with people via webcam. Would that bother you? If so, have you told them? Do you think it’s cheating to still be friends with an ex? Me neither but maybe your partner does. You should ask. We all have different ideas of what is acceptable within a relationship. And some can seem pretty strange.
I’ve had conversations where exes of mine were beyond puzzled that they shouldn’t be on a dating site, listed as “single” and interested in “short term dating, long term dating, casual sex” while in an exclusive relationship. Their explanation was that they hadn’t changed it since we became exclusive. Yet they were still on it on a daily basis. This is an example of something I would consider reasonable to assume. When someone is dating me exclusively, they shouldn’t be on a dating site. This doesn’t mean that they have different opinions, it means either they’re an idiot or assume I am.
I don’t want to be in a relationship where parties make excuses for their actions without actually discussing them. So, for one long conversation, we traded romance for something sturdier. Something to build a relationship upon. It sounded a lot like a contract but I’d rather call it explicit trust. On our itinerary from New York to Chicago, we made our itinerary to Boyfriend Land. And, to seal the deal, I gave him road-head on the Indiana/Illinois border. Like a handshake or a signature–but sexier.
Note: This was orignally posted on the author’s website, you can view this in and more here. You can also see Guerino at the edition of Queer Comedy at Zanies, produced by his company OutLoud Chicago.