Defects, he had a few, and Daniel was perfectly willing to own them. The 34-year-old businessman from Spain revealed one of those "defects" (his word) on a Sunday afternoon at Van Hunks, my favorite burger/pizza joint in Cape Town. Variety was his spice of life, and whether he was in or out of a relationship -- or with or without his boyfriend, if he had one -- he had a hard time keeping his pants zipped.
I assured him that a proclivity to play wasn't necessarily a "defect." From where I was sitting, he didn't strike me as being a sex addict. Not once during our two-hour conversation did he suggest removing ourselves from the public premises and slipping into someplace more comfortable. He was just a man who, like so many others, was horny all the time.
He mentioned two long-term relationships during which he didn't cheat... a lot. The longest one lasted six years, and it was with a man who used to regularly disappear on weekend-long drug binges, which made him sound a lot more defective to me. Daniel was convinced his ex had been too madly in love with him to stray. For Daniel's part, he'd only cheated twice.
I held my applause, although I wasn't completely unimpressed. Twice in six years? That hardly sounded defective, especially when you consider that humans are not monogamous by nature. Men, in particular, are probably more wired to exercise the polygamous option if it's offered to them. That's why open gay relationships are easier to find than open straight ones. It has nothing to do with gay men being more promiscuous by nature. If more women gave their significant others permission to do it, straight guys would sleep around just as much as gay men are believed to. Many of them already do.
I'm not saying that monogamy and fidelity are impossible dreams when boy meets boy. I'm saying let the boys to decide for themselves. Daniel, by his own admission, couldn't imagine being faithful to anyone for more than one week (especially now that Grindr and modern technology play the pimp so effectively), but that's not necessarily defective. It might be if the pursuit of sex were preventing him from leading a normal, productive life, if he were endangering his well-being and/or that of others, or if he were deceiving a monogamous partner (hence "cheating," in the truest sense of the word). Daniel, however, is single, and the family business that he runs in Angola is doing just fine.
But what about that seven-day itch? Can you scratch it and still keep a relationship intact? Cheating and I have a stormy past. It tainted my childhood view of love and marriage, and for years, I swore I'd never take back someone who cheated on me. I've come around, though. As with most things in life, there are now exceptions.
I'm also less judgmental about open relationships. I understand why some couples see it as the only way two gay men can remain together once that initial burst of sexual passion has subsided. But I still don't see it as an option for me.
I'm insanely jealous by nature, and I'm not secure enough to be okay with a boyfriend hooking up with someone else. As for threesomes, I find the idea of having one with a boyfriend even more unsettling. Someone other than the "guest star" might feel left out (have you ever found both halves of a couple equally attractive?), leaving one boyfriend spinning like a third wheel in his own bed.
I don't know that my ego could come back from that. Even without threesomes, I would probably spend my open relationship wondering what kind of connection my boyfriend was making with other guys. What if he ended up falling for one of them? I know one's lover could fall for someone else whether your relationship is open or closed, but why tempt fate?
Some couples enforce rules to offset the risk: No kissing, no intercourse, no exchange of bodily fluids, no future contact with the other guy. I've always found the latter to be the cruelest aspect of open relationships and probably the No. 1 reason why one-night stands don't call back. Years ago when I was out with a Brazilian local in Lisbon whom I'd befriended months earlier in New York City, I was introduced to a man named Antonio who later invited me back to his apartment. We drank wine, listened to his Amália Rodrigues CDs, and shared our life stories, but he withheld one crucial detail until we were lying in his bed the next morning.
"I had such a great time with you, Jeremy, but I'm afraid this can never happen again."
"Because I have a boyfriend."
"You have a what?"
The boyfriend was out of town, so while he was away, Antonio felt free to play. Now he was feeling pangs of guilt. He apologized for not telling me sooner, somewhere between "Barco Negro" and ripping off each other's clothes. I was less upset that he had withheld such vital information than I was disappointed that our grand foreign affair was not to be, and after a few rounds of "I can't believe you" indignation, I forgave him. We hung out as platonic friends several times during the rest of my week in Lisbon and then kept in touch by email when I returned to New York City.
One day, about a year later, after I hadn't heard from Antonio for a week, I sent him an email to see if everything was okay. A few hours later, a response arrived in my inbox.
Hi Jeremy. This is Antonio's boyfriend. I'm sorry to tell you that Antonio died last week from a tumor on his lung. His funeral is on Sunday, and he will be buried in the Algarve. I'm sorry to have to tell you like this.
First, I was crushed. Antonio was a heavy smoker when we met, but he'd mentioned quitting in one of his emails. Now I knew why. Still, he'd just turned 38. I wouldn't have expected lung cancer to take him out so young. He and I had become such close email friends, and now he was gone. I didn't even get to say goodbye.
Next, I was suspicious. I wondered if the boyfriend had read our string of emails. There was nothing incriminating there, but had he drawn the wrong conclusion anyway? Was Antonio's death wildly exaggerated by a jealous boyfriend? That would have been diabolical, and I knew it, but I wasn't putting anything past a Danish model whom I'd never met.
Finally, I was God-fearing. I considered the possibility that He had punished Antonio for some past sin, maybe that lie of omission that had gotten me into his bed that first night. But I quickly banished the thought. It sounded so holy-rolling. Even a wrathful God with a fistful of thunderbolts who handed out capital punishment for the most egregious sins surely wouldn't consider giving in to sexual desire to be one of them.
Like living, like dying, it's merely being human, and aren't we all?