By Bob Minor
We met George and Jack in the "New Towne Saloon" in Phoenix at one of those Sunday afternoon BBQ and cheap beer events that are common ways for gay bars to bring people in on the day before the work week begins. George was 78 years old and Jack was 69. They had been together for 39 years. And they regularly went out together on Sunday to the bar.
They were probably the oldest people in the crowd. They knew that. They wondered if they were somehow out of place. After all, gay couples don't go out to bars when they've coupled up. Instead they often criticize those who do, probably out of their own guilt about what bars meant to them when they were uncommitted singles and their fear that they couldn't just go out and have a good time together without replaying those unforgiven activities. Such unexamined guilt (reflected in the put-down in gay ads, "not into bar scene") keeps us from seeing such long-term relationships where we probably need to see them most. So, it was good they were there to break out of the gay huddling pattern.
Relationships do change, one hopes, by becoming increasingly emotionally intimate, by pursuing personal and coupled growth, by sharing more and more of who we are, by taking more and more chances with the vulnerable places in our life, by valuing the good and being open to what needs work, by supporting each other's growth and pursuing what keeps us from being present in the relationship, by seeing all relationships as process not finished products.
Cultivating romance is a part of the growth that we are freed to pursue, if we are growing as a couple. Romance is words as well as actions. It's paying attention. It's treasuring the one who is before us. It's believing and assuming the best until the other has confessed they meant less than the best. It's saying "I love you" over and over again because you do. It's saying "I love you, too" in response because that is true. It's admitting when it is hard to let love in because doing so has seemed to fail us in the past. It's looking in each other's eyes deeply and, as one looks, remembering why this person is special. It's the unexpected deeds, large or small. It's the routine activities that come to have meaning like the sacred rituals you can count on when you neeed to count on something -- opening a car door, asking if there is anything I can do to help, keeping quiet company, preparing a meal together in the kitchen.
And it is touch. We know that without touch new born babies will die. But somewhere along the line we were touched inappropriately or violently. Somewhere along the way we were told we shouldn't need it. Somewhere along the line we became afraid to ask for the touch we want or afraid of being rebuffed when we initiated the touch we gave. We were put out of touch with our humanness.
And homophobia taught us that we should be more separate, particularly in America, while it did one of the cruelest things of all to LGBT people. It taught us that we shouldn't touch. It forbid us to touch publicly. And it made us feel that our touch is less than human, more like animals and deviants.
The romantic touch, often casual and unconscious, is an important element to cultivate. It's absence is an important thing to notice. One's personal lack of interest in or fears around the romantic touch is an important response to investigate. And the belief that romance does not have to end is worth pursuing.
Romance is a choice and also taking a chance. But don't wait for the world to approve or your beloved to initiate it again. Talk about it with your beloved. Explain what you want and negotiate what you have. Just to talk about the touch you want in your relationship sounds romantic to me.
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D. is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human (HumanityWorks!, 2001) and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas. He was a member of the Values Panel for the Kansas City Star's nationally award winning "Raising Kansas City Project" which was concerned with the values we teach the next generation. He may be reached at Minor@libertypress.net.