Is the grass greener on the other side? With SKAM and Call Me By Your Name showing us beautiful depictions of same-sex relationships, what happens when you want something else, something more?
I’m 28 and have been in a monogamous relationship for almost 10 years. I love my partner and can’t imagine life without him, but I feel like I’m missing something. I know most long-term relationships can’t stay exciting for ever, and that there are other advantages in return, but he’s only my second sexual partner. Apart from a teenage fling that came before him, my love life has been made up of secret crushes. As my thirties approach, I’ve started to long for the feeling of being newly in love again while I’m still young enough.
This feeling is steadily getting worse, and watching movies like Call Me by Your Name or series like SKAM can be triggering. While I enjoyed their beautiful depiction of same-sex love, they also made me sad by highlighting what’s missing from my own life, this feeling I missed out on something during my ‘best years’ with the ‘gates of opportunity’ rapidly closing. Writing this makes me feel awfully pathetic, but ignoring or supressing those thoughts hasn’t helped thus far.
Should get my act together and try to enjoy more what I already have? Should I talk with my partner about these emotions? Could an open relationship be the solution? I really don’t want to end this relationship just so I can have new lovers, but I’m feeling increasingly depressed about the whole thing. It seems like this not just a relationship problem but maybe also some kind of quarter-life crisis.
The Guyliner replies:
You’re not pathetic at all. Just human. I think most relationships go through things like this, especially if you’re not hugely experienced sexually. It’s also part of the ageing process – you start to wonder whether you’re still attractive or not, or anxious that now could be the “prime” of your life and that you should make the most of it. Even someone in the happiest of relationships can benefit from the validation of someone thinking they’re appealing. When relationships go on for as long as yours, that initial buzz and excitement settles into a kind of contentment, but other things may be lacking. Attention, compliments, romance – all things that we dismiss as shallow but are still important.
So you’re wondering whether the grass is greener elsewhere. I won’t lie: sometimes it is. Often, however, it’s plastic grass, or has been Photoshopped, or is married to someone else and has halitosis. And I totally get the SKAM thing, but while on one hand it’s amazing how much more LGBTQ-focused drama there is nowadays, it has the downside of holding a mirror up and/or showing us alternatives to our current situation or how much we could’ve missed out on. And this is the trouble – the LGBTQ experience is different practically every time, with so many other factors helping or hindering our progress.
The love story in SKAM was beautiful, evocative and in some ways relatable, but it sold us a lie. It made us believe our paths could’ve been different if only… but if only what? If only we’d been hench Norwegian upper middle class kids who lived in their own flats and could share lingering looks with hot new boys who’d inexplicably have access to subterranean swimming pools and – most ridiculously of all – want us as much we wanted them. When does that happen? Never!
The love story in SKAM was beautiful, evocative and in some ways relatable, but it sold us a lie.
As wonderful and groundbreaking as that show was, it suffered the same syndrome as Call Me By Your Name, and claimed sexy angst, followed by inevitable perfection, were possible and available to us. As fairy-tales go, its romantic trajectory made Cinderella’s look like gritty realism. But of course what shows like this do is make us question our own humdrum existences. Why couldn’t I have had that at 17, like Isak, or Elio? You think, maybe if Iyou get out of this relationship I can feel that buzz, have that happy ending. But what you are actually longing for is not a squeaky clean coming of age story like Isak’s – you want to know you are still desirable to others, or feel the touch of another, just something alien, or exciting, even for one night. I get it, I have walked out of much surer things for much less. You want to see what the world has to offer you, and grab it by its appendage. And you are looking for permission.
Open relationships only work if both partners are on board and the decision is reached organically rather than one of them deciding they fancy seeing a different cock for a change, and an affair would be destructive. What you should do, then, is talk honestly and say, if that’s what you mean, that you want something else. How much worse could it get? Bottling your feelings inside will make you feel steadily worse and will only lead to resentment, making your partner’s life miserable too. If you’ve been down lately, he’s probably aware something is wrong – he’s known you 10 years, after all. Maybe it’s a phase, perhaps the feeling will retreat – but it will be back one day. Better tackle it now than another five or ten years down the line.
In short, he doesn’t deserve to be left dangling and you deserve not to die wondering “what if?”. But this is the thing: when you give up the perceived safety of a relationship for insecurity you must be prepared to take all that comes with it. If you can arm yourself against the disappointments – spoiler: there are plenty of those – and don’t lose your head at the highs, then you should make the decision that’s right for you. But don’t expect your boyfriend to thank you for it. New starts break hearts – make sure his is the last and make it as gentle a fracture as you can.
Image: Isak and Even in SKAM, NRK