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Gay Relationships and the Closeted Man

I’ve been doing research on the lives of gay men for a long time. For a long time, my research focused primarily upon issues pertaining to the impact of various forms of homophobia on decisions regarding a gay man desire to come out. Recently, though, the direction of my studies has shifted to models of gay dating behavior and the formation of long term relationships.

We know that among heterosexual couples, disagreements about money and instances of infidelity are two of the leading causes of relationship failures. In a gay relationship, money is an issue much less often, however, infidelity is often a problem in the relationship’s survival.

Joining the list of top stressing agents for gay couples, though, are differences in the relative degree of openness about sexual identity between the two partners. Heterosexual couples find their relationships publicly confirmed by various public actions that they make. Marriage is the ultimate such public pronouncement of their commitment to each other. But that is not the only one. Engagement or even “going steady” are also public declarations available in the culture.

If one member of a gay couple is reluctant to come out of the closet and the other is open about his sexual orientation, there is automatically severe stress in the relationship. While the open partner may want to be able to get public recognition (and potentially support) for the love that they share, the other partner can not simultaneously seek such support and keep the secret that is so frightening to him. 

This potential tension became apparent to me when my research took me to the gay personals pages of Craig’s List. I found men, young and old, who claimed to be interested in developing a long term relationship but who listed discretion among the attributes in the man they wanted to find. Clearly they did not realize the inherent conflict between their competing goals.

In the long run, one member of a couple wanting to stay in the closet and a long term relationship are quite simply incompatible.

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