We’re More Than Friends from School. We’re Married.

The four of us sat in a group at the front of the funeral hall. It was visitation for my husband’s late grandmother, Mae, who’d passed peacefully at her nursing home a few days earlier. The mood was somber, tense, and was haunted by all the happy memories Grandma Mae had left behind. I’d only met her a couple of times, but those moments were enough. “…and this is my husband, Jamal.” There was a power in that introduction, and because of it, I’ll never forget those first few minutes of meeting Grandma Mae. My husband and I had been together almost four years, and I’d never heard anyone from his side of the family refer to me as “husband.”

Time and small talk took a moment, as my husband’s mother and father approached.  “Come meet the kids! You remember David, and his wife Alice…” His mother continued with a smile. “…and our youngest, Stanley, and his friend from school, Jamal.” I smiled, gave a polite nod to the cheerful strangers, and felt phantom burning around my wedding band. I’d come to expect this introduction in any situation that involved meeting friends of my parent-in-laws. In the past I’d let it slide – chalking it up to their old school ways, and not really knowing how to introduce their son’s husband to familiar faces – but this time, the word “friend” really got me thinking.


I wondered why being referred to as “friend” was bothering me now. To villainize my in-laws is not my intention. The number of favors and help they’ve provided my husband and I, is beyond anything I could ever imagine for us in any time of need. Was I being introduced this way as some subtle form of protection? Is the term “husband” one that is uncomfortable for them in uncharted social territory? I still don’t have the answer to those questions, and they’ve haunted my curiosity ever since.

Advertisements

Bored.

Tuesday nights he has class. Any other night, he gets home about an hour after I do, and the usual weeknight routine of hanging out and decompressing on the couch together commences. Best Coast plays in the background as I sit here at the kitchen table; trying my best to think of something to do, or decide which band I should listen to next on Tidal. Boredom hits me pretty hard every once in a while, and most of the time will guide me in a very unproductive and lazy direction. This was almost one of those instances, but some nagging energy from within managed to place my ass in this chair in front of this computer screen.

“What to do, what to do?” Tonight was the first night I went walking, solo, on the trail near our condo. The weather was too charming for me not to get an extra workout in, and despite violent winds, I enjoyed my hour stroll around Eagle Creek. “Now what?” I’m glad we canceled our cable, because even the streaming services were failing me, and YouTube was not piquing my interest in the slightest. “I guess I’ll shower.” I showered because I was bored, and continued to avoid cleaning the refrigerator; something I’ve been meaning to do for the past few weeks. The intensity of my walk was no more than that of walking a dog, so a shower most definitely was not a need, but it was something to do. “I wish he were home… then at least he could be in charge of picking what show we watch… or we could play Mario Kart… Do I want to play Mario Kart?

Significant others, boyfriends, or girlfriends make the time pass easier during these bored moments. I can’t stand being bored and alone, because I can never decide what I want to do.  “What do you want to do?” is a common response to him asking me “What do you want to do?” At least if he were here, being lame and bored with me, I’d have someone to interact with while scrolling through Netflix listings. No activity, show, or chore sounds remotely appealing at the moment, so sitting here listening to music and attempting to write something seems to be the best way to battle boredom’s persistent energy. I have one hour or so until S walks through the door. Let’s see if I can finish this post by then.

Huh?

“What’re we doing again?” he presents this frequently asked question as I bring up pending plans for G’s birthday celebration down in Bloomington.  “We went over this!” I tease, waiting to repeat the information for a third or fourth time. “Ugh, just tell me!” Selective hearing is a trait he, his brother, and father all have in common. You could be sitting next to S with a cigarette lighter in hand, mention a gas leak, and get nothing – maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s humorous nonetheless.  The manifestation of quick, mischievous panic is the usual expression displayed when he tunes back into our conversations; sharing nothing but wide eyes and a smile. Softening to his plea, I administer a small dose of guilt with one of my very own frequently asked questions. “You didn’t hear anything I just said, did you?” And the beat goes on.

The Wedding

“All I know is, when I get married, I will be in a Chanel suit…” is what I would say amongst friends when we would fantasize about weddings of our respective futures.  I never knew if I wanted a big ceremony, a small event, or to run away and elope, but what I did want was that top-of-the-roller-coaster-before-the-big-drop feeling. That feeling was boldly present on May 16th, 2014, the day of our wedding.

Being married to a CPA has its perks, and the ability to budget money well was a big one. We didn’t believe in placing ourselves in debt for a wedding, or placing unnecessary stress on our families. Why follow the “go big or go home” theory for a single (wedding) day if it would only invite stress into the marriage the day after the honeymoon? The important thing was joining our lives; to officially become one. A larger scaled celebration of our relationship could wait, so for now, we were happy with our decision to marry in a courthouse, with a few of our closest local friends as witnesses.

The mild, warning rain that threatened the day was welcomed as we made the drive from Indianapolis to Champaign, Illinois. “Rain on a wedding day means renewal… this is good” was my thought as I gazed out the window. The excitement in the car grew with every mile we placed behind us as we continued our approach to Champaign and the courthouse. When we arrived, we met the last member of our wedding party at The Courier Café; a delicious little breakfast spot popular among the students of the University of Illinois.

After brunch we made our way to the courthouse. I’ve never been a nervous person but the nerves began to make their presence know the closer we got to the main doors. “Omg you guys my knife! I can’t take it inside!” G digs a small grave for her pocket knife under a tree just outside the courthouse doors. Our wedding party was the perfect mix of individuals. I’d met G working at Goodwill back in Bloomington. E was one of my best friends, of ten years, and had the daunting task of picking up our rings and delivering them to us the DAY before the wedding. SB and SC were also two amazing friends I’d had the pleasure of knowing for ten years – SB was a student in Champaign, and SC volunteered his photography services for the big day.

There we were, in the courtroom, the judge’s warm voice instructing us on what was about to happen. Enter the nerves. G was crying, E looked longingly into both our eyes – of all the people with us that day, she knew me the best – and all the others were beautiful. I never knew what my wedding day would be like, but in this moment I was beyond happy that these were the people I got to share this day with.  What happened next was a blur. I remember saying my vows and then repeating them – stealing S’s turn because apparently I was nervous – shaking with each word I shared. Then it was done. We were married.

The night that followed was priceless. Everything was so simple and so easy. M made us the cleanest most delicious, layered, red velvet, gluten-free wedding cake. SO good. The girls and I powdered our noses before heading to our hotel, where the pre-gaming for a night at the bars would take place.  There’s so much pressure put on the process of a wedding. Was everyone as lucky as S and I? We were never stressed in any moment, the night was flawless, and we had a great time with people we loved.

Returning home the next day to a bouquet of white roses was the absolute icing on the cake. I don’t know if my friends know this about me, but white flowers are my weakness. There’s something about them that make me melt and dance inside; like a ballerina riding a fiery avalanche.  Only this group of people – my beloved, and highly valued musketeers of Bloomington’s past and present – would know how to make S and I’s day effortlessly perfect. We thank them for helping us skyrocket into this new chapter of our life.

Whine & Cheese

Why must romance plateau after moving in with one another? “We hang out all the time” was his counter after I hinted at wanting a date-night in the near future. Lying in bed, and keeping my voice at a neutral tone, my twisted face is hidden in the darkness as I process his response to my inquisition. I’m a self-proclaimed cheeseball, so the slightest touch of romance shared between the two of us completely satisfies me for a long while. Do I keep asking for a date? Do I wait around and sulk? Should I take the initiative, plan a romantic day, and lead by example? I guess I could, instead of waiting around like some pissed off Disney princess. Restaurants and creative, thoughtful nights on the town are more than appreciated, but there’s nothing wrong with a simple walk in the park on a beautiful day, or a day of exploration together in the city. Maybe he just doesn’t get it… a classic case of the romantic and the non-romantic.

The Key

Communication is the key to life. Communication is the key to love. Communication is the key to us… Will you communicate with me? – TLC & Dallas Austin. “Communicate-Interlude.” Fanmail 1999.

Communication will make or break any relationship. What do people fear when they’re finally in their own relationships, or marriage? One thing I knew I would have to respect – maybe “fear” is the wrong word – within my relationship was the communication aspect.  This stems mostly from growing up in a two parent home, up to the age of sixteen, just to watch it all fall apart because my parents did not communicate properly within their situation. Do I think my parents would have stayed together if they did communicate effectively? No, probably not, but I think they would have gotten to a better place as peers – raising their three children together – faster than they did in real time.

Communication can be simple if both parties are willing to participate, listen, and learn. I remember a time during my husband and I’s first months of dating. I was usually the one to initiate communication – whether that be text or call – and after some time, I decided to give him the chance to reach out first. Well two days went by before I heard anything, and I was absolutely pissed.  I ended up calling him and making sure he knew how I felt. At the time we were living an hour apart, and during those couple of days of no contact, I didn’t feel wanted anymore; this worried me, but I had to test him.  From that point on, if there were ever any issues, I made sure to communicate them to S, and encouraged him to do the same with me.

You never stop learning when you’re sharing a life with someone. Flash forward to yesterday – married and three years into our relationship – when I was expecting my husband home at a certain time. I decided to call after the minutes on the clock totaled to an hour past his estimated time of arrival. Now, I was not mad at him, but I was worried. I don’t make excuses for anyone, and he is no exception. Any form of message informing me that he would be running late would have kept my spousal jitters at bay. There is no perfect way to communicate. The act itself can be as easy, or as hard, as you make it. The important thing is that you try. I’m a firm believer in communication, and as long as it’s present… you can’t lose.

Workout for What?

When one is single, working out and staying in shape is important for the wrong reasons. Most will say that it’s for their health and wellness, and mask the fact that they’re sweating it out to better their chances of hooking up come time to play the field.  I recognize that there are people who take their health and fitness seriously, but during the partying years?..  Let’s be real, everyone has ass on the mind.  If not for health and wellness, does the reason for exercise change when you land that special someone?

Something happens when you become one with another; at least it did for me. Before S, I was a heavier guy, and legitimately began working out and dieting to add years to my life. Now that I’m married, I find myself working harder than I had before on my health and overall fitness.  My reason for working out, in addition to general health, is to maintain my attractiveness for my husband. I get off knowing that I look good, and even more so when I know it’s for him and our relationship. Hey now, I work out for me too! I love working out in the morning, and gain so much energy going into my day. I even workout on weekends to keep my energy on the up and up.

I’ve come a long way from refusing to run in gym class back in high school, to doing cardio, yoga, and strength training five to six times a week. S has gone through his own fitness transformation as well, but doesn’t possess the cocky confidence that I do. Even when I was a bigger guy – pushing three hundred pounds – I could work with what I had and still pursued guys without hesitation.  I love when I catch guys eyeing my husband, and how he doesn’t even notice. What I love more is when other, thirsty, guys realize what they have to get through before they can get to S.

I find it entertaining that even after you’ve entered a serious relationship, you still have to maintain what you had once worked so hard to obtain, to keep your prize. By no means am I saying that you need to be in shape to keep a partner. We share numerous cheat days and battle the scale together now – after falling off our low carb wagon here and there – and gain great pleasure when we notice changes in each other physically.  Earlier I said that working out, as a single partier type, was done for the wrong reasons. When it comes down to it, maybe working out (then) for the approval and validation of others is just practice… We say we do it for ourselves, to make ourselves feel better, but eventually all that nonsense, worry, and stress turns into the very elixir that provides us the power to keep a comfortable grip on what we’ve achieved.

STRAIGHT

Forbidden fruit comes in the form of the heterosexual male.  During my time in the closet – from eighth grade until about three weeks into my college career – I had plenty of secret crushes on straight friends that I knew I could not have.  I strongly believe that it’s this time in the closet that causes the craving for a straight guy to brew and reach extremely potent levels.  I remember when guys would ask me “what I was looking for” in a guy – in various gay dating chat rooms – and I would simply respond with the descriptor: “straight-acting.”  What does that even mean?! That description is still frequently tossed around in regular conversation amongst gay friends. Stereotypically speaking, the term “straight-acting” represents a heterosexual guy who is macho, strong, and handy, is into sports, and doesn’t mind getting dirty; someone that can wrestle in a godly fashion. The picture next to my interpretation of the definition would be an image of thick, burly, muscular lumberjacks; complete with tight denim and a big axes.  He would be a bearded, gloriously-sweaty – Gaston from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” – or a Gerard Butler type of guy.

Little did I know then, that I would end up with my “straight-acting” guy.  It’s always an adventure with S, especially now that we live under one roof.  My daily interests revolve around the performing arts – having played music from a young age – Pinterest boards, organizing our closet, and stressing about the growing bald spot at the back of my head.  S will spend the entire college basketball off-season counting down to the first game of the next season. He grew up on a farm with real chores – raising horses and cleaning stalls – and can change the oil on his own car.  You’d think that being from Alaska I would be a better outdoors person, but he takes the cake in that area too.  We went hiking once with friends, and I spent the entire time running from ticks. Occasionally I’ll get in his car and he’ll have it tuned to a sports radio show. “What’s this?” was the question I would ask with the look of instant boredom smeared across my face. He would then proceed to laugh and let me plug in Spotify; set to the “Radiohead Radio” station most likely. I imagine S probably has the same look on his face when I turn on an episode of ABC’s “Scandal.”   Since our beginning, I have joked with friends and family about S being my “straight curse.”  Every day I gain life from the gifts my curse provides… for this I will be forever thankful.

Blue balls and the Brain

Sexual appetites are something that need to be fed in order to keep a relationship flowing.  People can get along fine within a relationship without sex, but for how long? Being realistic, what is a long-term relationship without regular sex? Some argue that sex is not the most important factor when it comes to making a long-term relationship last, and others say the opposite and argue that it is the most important factor.  When it came to my relationship – before I had any relationship, really – I knew that sex would be big factor.  Being a big astrology and zodiac enthusiast, I fully embrace my Scorpio identity, and carry a great amount of sexual energy; Scorpios are said to be the most sexually dominant of the astrological circle. When S and I were living apart from one another, I could confidently expect to get some action at least once a week; during weekend visits. Now that we lived together, I wondered how often sex would come.

Most guys – even us gays – welcome the idea of being drowned by sex once living with a partner commences.  Dan Savage’s “Savage Lovecast” is a weekly sex and relationship podcast S and I both listen to regularly.  Savage’s sharp, honest, and enduringly blunt tone has a way of getting one’s mind to open up regarding everything sex; not to mention all the stories and experiences shared by listeners, both gay and straight, of the show. We took our relationship one day at a time. There were never any specific talks regarding how much sex either one of us expected, so I would do my best to close the deal any time I was in the mood; and I was in the mood pretty often.  Much to my dismay, I found that I would have more adjusting to do when it came to our shared life.

Adjusting sexually to one another isn’t a bad thing. Internalizing any rejection during dry spells, I would feel pretty down – even paranoid or worried – when more than a couple weeks would pass without any intimate, nighttime action.  I’d become accustomed to sex at least once a week, so anything less than that forced feelings of insecurity and visions of red flags on the horizon. What I came to learn was that my sex drive was way higher than his.  Being the paranoid individual that I am, I would ask questions: “is it me? What’s wrong? Did you get off today?” I wasn’t looking for signs of cheating, but I was looking for a way to make him want sex as much as I did.

I found the answer wasn’t to make him want sex more, but to adapt and have fun whenever play-time did come around.  Sexually I am satisfied. My feelings of insecurity were completely natural, because sadly, we humans pay attention to the negative more than the positive of a situation.  When it comes to us, the good continues to outweigh the bad. There are weeks where I am more than happy in the sex department, and plenty of times where I am caught off guard – in the best and most appetizing ways – by him.  Sexually starved is definitely something we are not, and having lived together for going on a year and a half now, we are more than pleased with each other in every aspect of the subject.  Patience is an ongoing lesson, but one thing I will continue to harass him about? Is a lap dance. If I can get a lap dance out of S, I would probably pass out from shock and/or excitement (lol).

Real Compared to What

There were no storybook-happy-endings looping in my head when it came to S and I living together. What I enjoy most about our relationship is that it doesn’t feel like work, we blend, and above anything else we respect each other. All of this sounds pretty great when reading it aloud, but the reality of the situation is that not every day is smooth sailing. There are days that feel like our relationship is work, and depending on the situation, our problem-solving skills have to come into play.  In the past my role as the token gay friend plagued me with the curse of knowing all details of my friend’s relationship ups, downs, and all the drama that nested between their frequent battles.  Looking back on my time as a couple’s counselor – providing advice while having not been in a relationship of my own – the hours spent on phones or over coffee, listening to bitching and moaning, really turned out to be a gift. All the advice I provided to my coupled friends in the past, was now mine to apply to my own relationship.

Much like the beginning of a new relationship, the honeymooner phase returns when you move in with one another.  Our honeymoon phase didn’t last very long, mostly because there was a natural feeling about being with each other; that or we are a couple of boring queens compared to the shenanigans of our friend’s relationships.  If there are fights we manage to just talk through the problem, and learn from what happened. S doesn’t like to talk about problems all the time, but I don’t let the subject die until it’s completely solved; this may seem annoying for S, but I don’t do well with negative energy.  Beyond the fights, there are other things like learning his pet-peeves – I’m saving that topic for a future post – and various other things that probably drive me crazy, as I’m sure there are things I do that drive him up the wall.  So far it has been smooth sailing, and I’m happy that I have been fortunate enough to not run into any situation that required the application of any advice I once shared with flustered friends. We have our days where we both feel like wrapping hands around each other’s throat, but without that flicker of irritated emotion… every once in a while… I would be more worried; because at least we know we care…