Dear Dr. Ren,
I’m a bisexual man in my mid-40s. No, I’m not really a closeted gay man in denial… I’m happily bisexual. I like occasional sex with guys (which has always been on the down low) but my romantic relationships have been with women.
Sex with men is not the problem. In fact, it’s not really sex that’s the problem at all.
I’ve been in several long-term relationships and they’ve all been pretty good. I’m seven years into one now and the same thing is happening that always does. I get antsy and find some reason to leave. I begin picking at her, not showing up, breaking promises, and generally being an ass until she throws me out. I spend a few years single, find another great woman, and repeat the pattern.
I think I’m getting too old for this, but don’t know what to do. I can’t bear the thought of watching myself become some bored, complacent husband. On the other hand, I long for continuity with someone who really knows and loves me. Sometimes my whole life seems like a lie. Other times it seems like I’m getting away with the best of both worlds.
Can you help?
Dear Never Satisfied,
It may seem like you have been getting away with a good thing, but now in your 40s your goals are predictably changing and what looked desirable at 20 or even 30 now begins to look a bit empty.
You’ve designed an interesting life, negotiating situations where you can indulge your appetite for physically satisfying gay sex while enjoying the comforts of socially approved and emotionally fulfilling relationships with women.
The fly in the ointment is that you have not been able to commit to either camp, nor have you been able to be honest with any of your mates. That is a cost of living in the closet.
You tell me your life “seems like a lie.” It might not have needed to be so. Why did you not seek bisexual (or sexually liberal) girlfriends who would accept your MSM adventures?
Why did you not risk sharing this information with the women you lived with? Perhaps if you had, your mates could have met your intimacy needs and you would not have fled from them.
Or perhaps it was that they loved only the person you presented to them, and eventually you felt like a fraud and therefore unloved for who you really are.
The picking, disappointing and generally bad behaviour at the end could be a cry for them to demand that you show yourself in the light, to answer the question I’m sure they asked: “What the hell is wrong with you?”
How might things be different if you just told the truth in response? What if you answered honestly that you are a bisexual man who is basically happy in your relationship, and you are afraid of growing old and bored and never being fully understood?
Do you not think your partner too fears aging, boredom and alienation? Of course she does. It is part of the human condition.
You can use your bisexual nature to keep variety in your sex life just as you can use this time of crisis to renegotiate how you manage your primary relationship and your anxiety about it.
You already know that exchanging partners is not a solution. Authenticity may be.
Consider this: you are one foot out the door already. Would it not be worth the risk to let your partner see you as you actually are and watch what happens with that information? There are really only three possible outcomes.
First, she may not panic. What you view as unacceptable (your penchant for prick) she may see as no big deal. (She’ll undoubtedly be upset you withheld this info, though.)
She may well accept your commitment fears as part of the evolution of your relationship. If this happens, you could just exhale and stop running from both of you.
Second, she may welcome a mate who —finally —shows up. She may accept and love you warts and all. If so, you have, for the first time, the opportunity to explore intimacy and connection in a truth-filled, revelatory relationship with someone you already like.
Not only will you be letting her in, you can accept and love yourself just as you are. Imagine that.
Third, she may shut you down and turn you out. This is the worst-case scenario and puts you in the same place you’ll be if you risk nothing and bolt as you have always done in the past.
If this happens, you will know you have chosen partners who reinforce your own internalized homophobia and inability to be authentic. Do the personal work necessary on those issues before you start looking again, then fish in a different pond.
Some would argue that “happily bisexual” and “always on the down low” are mutually exclusive terms. Resolve this. Your chances of maintaining a transparent, authentic, intimate relationship with someone else increase as with your own self-acceptance. Your letter indicates you’ve already begun.