Young Love, Older Love

First published at on Nov. 28, 2007

My partner Mark and I introduced “Bob” and “Jim” at a dinner party at our place. Bob, 31, is recently out of the closet, and Jim, 27, just returned to the U.S. after living overseas for four years. We weren’t trying to play matchmaker when we invited them, though the idea occurred to me as the party approached, and we rearranged the seating right before dinner to maximize their interaction.

That was two weeks ago. They’ve been inseparable since.

Young love is delightful, amusing, and—let’s admit it—occasionally annoying. Delightful, because it reminds us of the simple joys in life. Amusing, because it makes grown people act like kids. Annoying for the same reason.

“Giddy as a schoolgirl,” Mark reported after he had lunch with Jim later that week. “Ditto,” I confirmed after checking in with Bob. To be candid, I was a tad envious. Having been out of the closet for two decades and in a wonderful relationship for six years, I am grateful for many gifts. Giddiness, however, seems like a bygone luxury.

Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade what I have. It even has its giddy moments from time to time. And I’m certainly thrilled for my young friends. Yet I know I’m not alone in feeling a tinge of jealously in the face of young romance.

I discussed this feeling with some friends who just celebrated their 10th anniversary. “Oh yeah, I know what you mean,” one answered. “The most romantic thing we ever do anymore is share a flush.” He was joking, of course, but the joke pointed to a deeper truth. Married life carries with it mundane rituals, the familiarity of which provides comfort. But this comfort comes at the cost of suspense, and thus a measure of excitement.

Part of the reason Bob and Jim are so giddy right now is that they mutually wonder “Does he really like me?” and then thrill at every affirmative indication. How joyous to expose oneself to another and have the risk rewarded with tenderness.

I don’t wonder anymore whether Mark really likes me. I know he loves me, and vice-versa. A cynic would say that we’re “taking each other for granted,” and in one sense, that’s true: part of the value of marriage is the knowledge that someone is there for you, always. With mutual commitment comes mutual security.

The danger of security, however, is complacency. It starts in small ways, many of them innocuous. If a person loves you “warts and all,” then you don’t feel the need to hide your warts, whatever form they take. Your unsightly back hair. Your stinky morning-breath. Your flatulence. Then there are the personality flaws you took pains to suppress during the courtship: your short temper, your constant tardiness, your fondness for Celine Dion. Soon, you don’t even bother to conceal your vices, much less suppress them. You get lazy.

And thus you lose one of the great virtues of relationships: they encourage us to be better people. Initially, because we want to impress the other. Eventually, because we know they deserve it.

So as much as I envy Bob and Jim’s honeymoon phase, I also take a lesson from it. Mark deserves my effort at least as much as Jim and Bob deserve each other’s, as easy as it is to forget that in practice.

The good news is that ordinary things—done consistently over time—can make a big impact. Clearing the dishes even though it’s his turn. Bringing home some of his favorite chocolates. Calling just to say hello. These events form the warp and weft of our relationships, our lives. I’m reminded of them every time our enemies try to reduce homosexuality to a “lifestyle.” Loving someone is not a “lifestyle.”

Similarly dismissive is our opponents’ tendency to refer to “what homosexuals do in bed.”

“My partner and I have been together over 25 years,” an older gay friend recently remarked. “We do what most older couples do in bed. We sleep.” He meant it as a punch-line, but it’s no joke: sleeping with someone—not just next to someone, but with someone, for a quarter century—is an intimate and beautiful thing, morning-breath notwithstanding.

In this sense, it’s good to “take someone for granted.” That doesn’t mean you stop valuing them. On the contrary, you learn that valuing goes beyond passive appreciation: it’s an active commitment. You learn that love is not (or not merely) what you feel; it’s what you do. You do it even when it feels mundane, which—if you’re lucky—it eventually sometimes will.