A friend and I were watching a movie with a wedding scene and one of the groomsmen, in an attempt at humor, made some unsavory remarks about both the bride and the groom – typical Hollywood pandering. I said to my friend, “I’ll never let guests speak at my wedding.” Shockingly, I had uttered the words “my wedding”, words that, together, left my vocabulary some thirty years ago.
Thirty years ago I had come to the conclusion that I was gay. Thirty years ago I realized any relationship and any home I’d eventually create would not include marriage. I deleted thoughts of honeymoons, picket fences, anniversaries and every other cultural implication of marriage, including the word “husband”.
Thirty years ago the term used by gay men for a live-in partner was “lover”. That word never sat well with me because of it’s clandestine characteristics but it was a word that would eventually define my romantic interests for the next three decades. I didn’t realize that it was also defining me.
Finding a lover was a matter of being at the right place at the right time and interacting with the right person, or so it seemed. It was the bar after bar, party after party, and eventually the coffee shops, where one was expected to appear coy while peering over the top of a book or a laptop computer. I was constantly on the look-out for the one who would become my lover.
I wasn’t very adept at the activities required to find a lover. I’ve never been fond of crowds. I dislike small talk. I’m perfectly happy sitting alone in a bar or a cafe, and I never really cared if anyone talked to me or not. Regardless, this is the routine I had adopted. An act, a series of motions that I was pretending to enjoy for the sake of finding a lover.
When I sensed a level of interest from another man, I’d readily board a plane to spend a weekend with him. I’d drive across the state to see a man for an afternoon. My long-distance phone bills were in the triple digits. I thought I was doing everything right, but things just never seemed to work out.
Most of the time things didn’t work out because I was making unwise decisions. I spent one summer dating a former East German soldier who was living in Frankfurt. It wasn’t the most convenient place to have a lover, but it was exciting and romantic, especially when we’d stay in the lake-side dacha that was previously reserved only for the top communist party bosses or when we’d zip to Berlin to visit his friends.
There was the horse trainer from Provo. Acres of land, a barn filled with horses, tight Wrangler’s and muddy boots. He was a dark and mysterious lover, and rightfully so. As it turned out, he had one of his own who already lived with him.
I shouldn’t omit the guy who owned a shop in East L.A. that sold First Communion dresses. I had a lot of fun jetting to and from the west coast and our passionate kisses in front of the airport were something that I looked forward to each week.
The German was the perfect lover because immigration laws meant that we’d never be together permanently. The cowboy’s pre-existing lover meant that I got to have all the fun and wasn’t the one left cleaning the stalls. And the language differences with the guy in East L.A. meant we never had to really share our thoughts – though I’d picked up enough Spanish to get around on my own. Enough Spanish in fact to find yet another lover in Los Angeles when things fizzled out
We were all great lovers at the time. Mysterious. Passionate. Elusive. Jetting to and from. Airports and hotels. Never having to disclose a whole lot to one another and then always retreating to our own homes when our time together ended. We had all the makings of lovers, including being disposable.
Now, for the first time in Illinois men can finally start talking about marrying the man that they live with and refer to that man as their husband. I can’t help but admit that this new vocabulary is changing the way that I think of myself because husband is a vastly different construct than lover.
It is a state of being that I never expected – not of myself and not of any other gay man I’ve met. It is a term that requires more than the physical act of love. It is a role that asks us to love, honor, cherish, and respect, for better and for worse. It requires us to care for and protect.
Being a husband requires commitment, like sticking around on Christmas Day, rather than doing what I had once done, which was to leave my lover home alone on our first Christmas together. I did that once, choosing instead to drive to the other end of the state to be with a friend who didn’t bother to question my judgement. The funny thing is I despised Christmas because someone had done that to me – a lover, the software guy from Little Rock. The straight married man I had been seeing did the same thing a couple of years earlier.
This new vocabulary requires more of me. I’m no longer afraid to talk about the man I’m seeing because for the first time I see this man as someone who could be my husband and not simply a mysterious lover who would remain absent from certain parts of my life.
I’m more comfortable saying that we’re planning a vacation rather than simply telling my coworkers or other acquaintances that I’m going on a trip. This new vocabulary requires me to introduce the man I’m seeing as someone other than just a friend. It requires me to care about his emotions and his well-being. It requires me to treat him better than if I only expected him to be my lover. Society is changing and it is redefining my expectations, mostly of myself.
I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different if I had grown up with the idea that I could marry the man I love and that I could be his husband. I’m not one to regret the past…it was a whole lot of fun, but with this new vocabulary, I have for the first time, a place to go that is beyond the illicit. I have, for the first time, a legal vocabulary that is also a destination for how I want to live my life.