Saul wasn’t sure what to expect from that week, but it answered questions he didn’t even know he’d had.
A few months ago, I had the chance to spend some time with one of my polyamorous partners, who happens to be a man. This is new territory for me — I haven’t been open to this kind of connection with a guy before — but it’s exactly the kind of same-sex dynamic that I would end up in.
It’s semi-nomadic, unconventional, and completely devoid of any jealously or romance. It might be the only kind of same-sex connection that I’m open to — precisely because it doesn’t have any of the characteristics that would make me feel uncomfortable with it.
I’ve known Ruben for several years now, and we’ve spent time in some of the same communities along the West Coast. We’ve run into each other at festivals, and attended and hosted polyamory discussion groups when we lived in LA. We’ve had sexual experiences with a mutual female partner.
But this would be the first time we’d get to hang out one-on-one in a while, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would we still share a bed without Ophelia between us? Was it presumptuous to expect that we would? Should I ask him about it directly before he arrived?
Maintaining relationships with long-distance partners can be difficult; it’s easy to forget or to reset the level of intimacy that we’re comfortable with. It almost requires going through the whole process of connecting all over again. Fortunately, things worked out, and we had a great week.
Our dynamic, for the most part, is a platonic one: during the day, we practiced yoga and meditation, worked on musical projects, and cooked vegan dinners. We brainstormed ideas for an intentional community in Portland and planned out road-trips we might take some day.
There’s nothing “romantic” about our friendship — not because I’d be ashamed if there were, but because it doesn’t come naturally to us. I’m not interested in holding his hand and going on dinner-dates.
I think of him as a close friend who happens to be on the same sexual wavelength. We’ve connected, not because of some built-in sexual identity or orientation, but because we listened, and communicated, and found ways to make things work for us.
That makes it somewhat difficult to explain to other people. When I told my roommates that a friend would be visiting, I didn’t get into the specifics. What, exactly, was I supposed to say? Surely they would catch on that we were sharing a bed.
Would they also think that I was trying to cover it up and keep it a secret? Oh, well. Anything that I said beforehand would risk jinxing our dynamic, since we hadn’t really addressed it ourselves yet.
The truth is, there aren’t very many role models for a friendship like this. You’re expected to either date, fall in love, and get gay-married, or else be platonic bros-for-life. Our connection is neither.
That’s why I think it’s important for me to address it, so that other people know that it is an option, that it can be done.
Once, while I was visiting Ruben and Ophelia, we sat outside to eat dinner, drinking wine and watching the sun set over the mountains.
“So how do you identify?” Ruben asked. “I mean, would you call yourself bisexual? Pansexual? Heteroflexible?”
I took a sip of wine and considered. Their genders weren’t irrelevant to me; they weren’t gender-neutral, and I wasn’t gender-blind.
But sex with Ruben and Ophelia didn’t feel like bisexual sex, any more than sexual experiences with Ruben felt “gay”.
It was just sex. There were no clear boundaries as to when an act shifted from one kind of sex to another — no point at which an outsider would be qualified to judge what category it fell into.
It seemed absurd that I’d spent so much time trying to identify my innate orientation — obsessing and fretting over OKCupid parameters, over what language to use to attract the right match.
What did it matter? When it came down to it, none of the relationships I’d been in had fit my pre-conceived notions about them anyway.
Orientations are useful ways to build community and fight for political rights. They can help people with specific kinks or relationship preferences meet other people who share their needs.
But confusion over your orientation shouldn’t keep you up at night. It shouldn’t get in the way of your sex life.
I shrugged. “You tell me,” I said. “I’ve given up on deciding.”
The older I get, the less relevant my orientation is, and the better off I am. I’ve found that you simply don’t need to know, understand, or be able to explain your sexual orientation to others to have a healthy sex life.
In earlier years, I might have passed up a connection with a guy because I didn’t think it fit into my identity. I was so used to feeling rivalry, jealously towards other men that this kind of dynamic seemed impossible.
Or, a same-sex experience might have caused me question the validity of my relationships with women. I might have worried that future partners would see me as too adventurous, too open-minded to commit to.
None of that has turned out to be the case.
My week with a male lover wasn’t a discovery of some innate identity that threw all of my previous relationships out the window — it was just further proof of how irrelevant sexual orientation can be.
For more thoughts on sex and relationships, check out my blog at www.saulofhearts.com, or my new e-book, “Sexual Disorientation: A Pansexual Search for Love and Connection,” now on Amazon.
Photo: Tiago Vidal Dutra/Flickr