By Monika MHz & Gula, PQ Monthly
I’m a gay man in my mid-twenties. I met a man and fell madly in love with him last November; however, recently our relationship has had some serious turmoil. The crux of the issue is that I want to put a label on our relationship—basically, to say whether or not we are boyfriends—and he wants to stay completely unlabeled. I want to know that this relationship means as much to me as it does to him; he’s told me that he’s frustrated that I “can’t meet him where he’s at” in regards to being unlabeled. I don’t want to lose him in my life, but I also don’t want our relationship to exist in the grey zone. What’s reasonable to him and I to expect from each other here?
Heartache in Hosford-Abernethy
I am our resident anti-labeler, but I’ve totally been where you sit before. It’s the chair basically everyone sits in at some point, but I swear to gay Jesus there’s a broken spring and it’s probably missing some stuffing. It’s also leather so it squeaks a bit, and you’ve gotta clean it with a special cleaner… OK the metaphor got away from me, but suffice to say that many people want to be able to say the words, “This is my boyfriend/girlfriend.” It’s part convenience, because it’s quite difficult to explain a no-labels relationship, and it’s part about emotions. You say you want to know that the relationship means as much to him as it does you, and that tells me there is, to you, a special emotional connection you have to the word “boyfriend.” That’s OK, by the way, but he may or may not have the same connection.
Let’s say your boo has a strong connection to the word, but is avoiding it because of that. Typically the Advice Industrial Complex would demand I label him a, “commitment-phobe” and tell you to ultimatum his ass, in a distinctly unsexy way, into either being “official” or take your sexy self to the net looking for your next mate. But, I hate labels and “Big Advice,” so I think it’s more complicated than that. Dealing with someone who is “afraid” of commitment takes a sensitive hand if you actually care about them. Maybe it’s time for a non-accusational chat and really work to see his side. He may have past trauma, or you just may learn something about your boo. Often these things are less about the labels and more about more complicated emotions or concerns a person has.
However, there are those, like me, who just prefer no labels and no-expectations that haven’t been specifically detailed out. Labels can come with unsaid expectations and lead to arguments and turmoil because one person assumed “boyfriend” meant something the other didn’t. They can also come with possessiveness and jealousy he may be worried about. You worry your relationship doesn’t mean as much to him, but it absolutely could labels or not. A label doesn’t guarantee emotional meaning, as I’ve had fiancées, girlfriends, boyfriends, and no-label-ers alike for whom our relationships meant nothing.
Ultimately, anyone who insists they don’t want labels on relationships has to be ready for a lot of communication to square expectations and know you both are on the same page. Gay sit down, have a gay talk, and gay work it out. If he can’t have a conversation with you about expectations, emotions, and what you mean to each otherthen you need to change things up faster than you can alt-tab at work.
Gay, straight, trans, bi, cis-gendered, race, misogyny, sugar-free, gluten-free, mechanically separated meat, made in China…BOYFRIENDS. So many labels out there! Labels are great to know instant information—and knowledge is comforting. It sounds like you need that label for comfort and security. Your boyfriend might have had that label in the past and someone might have ripped that sticker label off and it left that sticky goo behind. Maybe he needs to clean that goo off before he reapplies that sticker again or maybe he is just label-free. What if he wants to wear the “free range” stamp?! You will have to have that scary “Where are we going?” conversation and make a label because that’s reasonable for everyone… Everyone should feel comfy and safe. I hope he will read this and want to make his partner happy and safe.
TV Time: The other day on that show “Looking,” Patrick accidentally uses the term boyfriend to Richie (his new relationship) and Richie’s response was a cute joke, and questioned “Is that what I am? Your boyfriend?” that made Patty squirm a bit and secondguess his footing. But the next morning Richie went to the store and got him a necklace, as a token of his affection and with grown-up words said he would be happy to be his man. That is something I wish for you (and I…a man that gives jewelry).
There was a time I was smitten with a boy, at first we would go do stuff—soon we were hanging out all the time! People started talking about us and we started sleeping together. To me, it was too good to be true—so I never asked the “What are we?” question. I wanted to know but he never brought it up and I didn’t want to ruin what I had. I wish I did.
We spent a good year together enjoying each other’s company. Until one night we were hanging out with close friends and “our relationship” came up. And he casually set the record straight with a little “Oh no, we’re just hanging out, we are just really good friends.” I died inside a little. But it was partly my fault for not getting what I needed—a label. I learned an important lesson.
Heartache, there should be a warning label on all relationships—from friends to family—but there isn’t. I want you to look at your man and really try to listen to what he says about his reasons for not wearing the “lover” label. Listen to his fears, feelings, and then you can decide if you can live with what you have; try to meet in the middle with the label “SOLD AS IS” or you could just tell him, “Look. You are my man and that’s it. Start ordering the wedding china.” Smack that boyfriend label right on his forehead. But you have to be open to the possibility you just might not like what you hear—or his reaction.