Friday, June 2, 2017
A Q&A With Michael Dale Kimmel, Author of The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage by Michael Dale Kimmel
San Diego therapist Michael Dale Kimmel is the author of The Gay Man's Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage ...
What inspired you to write The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage? When I was a young gay boy, I dreamed of the prince who would carry me away on his horse, make me happy and take care of me forever. Reality appeared shortly after, and I realized that I was going to have to be that prince if I ever wanted my dream to come true.
I never, as a young gay boy, imagined that I would be able to legally marry that prince someday. And here we are, now, with marriage to that prince not only possible, but very real: what do we want to do with this opportunity, now that we’ve finally got it? That’s the question that motivated this book.
Legal gay marriage is a relatively new phenomenon. What are some of the issues that gay men are facing now that they have the option to marry?
For centuries, heterosexual people have defined marriage. Now, as two men considering getting married, we don’t have to do it “their” way any longer. This is a cause for rejoicing! So why aren’t we more excited? Because, it’s quite daunting to re-invent a cultural institution like marriage. It’s much easier to just follow what other people have done.
This book is an invitation – a radical invitation – to not settle. Instead, the book asks readers to really examine and investigate the idea and institution of marriage and come up with their own version of what works for them and their partners.
How are gay marriages different from heterosexual marriages? In what ways are they the same?
In many important ways, marriage between two men is dramatically different from heterosexual marriage. It’s a double testosterone marriage. We will probably not handle sex the same as our heterosexual or lesbian counterparts: we are likely to desire more of it and with a wider variety of partners.
Many of our relationships start off monogamous. However, it is my experience that about half of them – over time – do not remain so. Many gay relationships – married or not – begin to “open up” after the first few years (I call it “The Three Year Itch”).
Our marriages are probably the same in that we share challenges such as: loving someone as imperfect as we are, weathering financial and emotional storms, challenges of aging, not losing our identity in our relationships and working hard to stay interested in someone that we’ve seen burp, fart, and load the dishwasher in a way that drives us crazy.
Is an open marriage often a good choice for gay married couples, or do you find that monogamy can be a better option? What should couples look for when trying to decide which option to choose?
An open marriage is a pretty high-maintenance experience. Both partners are inviting new people and personalities into their lives, and jealousy and insecurity often come along for the ride. On the other hand, many gay men in monogamous marriages find that – over time - sexual monogamy doesn’t work well for them. They want to go through life with one man they “love” but need to have other men that they have sex with. And many gay marriages go through both “closed” and “open” periods (this is much more common than many think).
In this book, we follow two married couples: Tomas and Larry, representing a harmonious open marriage, and Ethan and Jake, representing a fulfilling monogamous marriage. Each couple will experience the joys and difficulties of their double testosterone marriage, giving readers a wide range of options and possibilities for their own marriages.
Many gay couples struggle with other issues besides whether to be sexually open or monogamous in their marriage. What are some of the other common issues you see in your practice when working with gay couples?
Over the years, I have observed that relationships between two men typically have more conflict and competition, in ways that opposite sex and lesbian relationships do not. Is it biological or cultural? As men, we are trained to compete with each other; we are trained to win, to want to be the best. This is how we’ve been socialized, isn’t it?
And yet, more-and-more often, I meet young men who don’t make all those traditional assumptions about what a man “is” and who we “should” be. I wrote a chapter about redefining gender roles, because we have an amazing opportunity to determine who we are, as two men married to each other. How do we divvy up the household tasks? How do we decide who is the more nurturing one? The more aggressive one? The more career-oriented one? The more childcare-oriented one?
Moving from a partnership to being married can often be as difficult for gay men as it is for opposite-sex couples. What advice do you have for those who are finding the transition to marriage difficult?
Having common goals, good communication skills (being able to talk about almost anything) and some degree of “structure” both partners can fall back on, make the transition easier. Creating a marriage is like designing a house: wouldn’t two partners decide what are the elements/features that each want in their house? What is important to both partners? For some guys, the kitchen may be really important, for others, it may be low on the priority list.
I encourage gay couples to look at their marriages in the same way: what elements of the marriage are most important to each? In the book I call this “designing your marriage” and, ironically, very few couples – gay or straight – are ever encouraged to do this. It’s a great way for gay couples to communicate about what matters to each of person in the relationship, while the partners - mutually - create a structure/framework for a happy, fulfilling marriage.
Do you plan to write more books on gay marriage and relationships in the future and, if so, what can you tell us about them?
I get my ideas for my books and columns both from my clients and participants in the workshops I facilitate. I’ve already begun two more books: one will focus on successfully aging in the gay community (a topic that often terrifies gay men) and the other on psychology, spirituality and humor for gay men (humor and spirituality are such underutilized resources).