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Couples Chronicles ó Interview 9
The Rest of Our Lives
by Demian
First published in November 1987
© January 7, 2018, Demian

Bruce MacDonald, 37, and Sam Shimabukuro, 43, have been partners for four years. Bruce is a social worker, and Sam is a customhouse broker; he helps importers meet U.S. Customs regulations. They live in Seattle, Washington. [Sam has since died from AIDS-related complications.]

How did you meet?

Sam: I always think of that song, ďSome enchanted evening ó across a crowded roomÖĒ

Bruce: ÖAt Lesbian & Gay Folkdancing. He saw me across a crowded room.

What did you first think of each other?

Sam: I thought he was cute and I wanted to meet him.

Bruce: I thought he was cute, but I didnít have quite the fire about it that Sam had. That changed a few months later.

Sam fell in love right away.

Sam: Yes, it was amazing, because I donít even make friends that easily. He was not only cute; he was vibrant, full of fun and life. However, just because I like somebody doesnít mean heís going to like me. When he said he was seeing other people, I backed off.

Bruce: I was impressed with his response, because it showed that he knew how to pay attention, rather than just insist on his own fantasy. That made him even more attractive.

Which came first, friendship or sex?

Bruce: Both came at the same time.

Sam: We met on October 22, 1983. We had our first date about a month later, when we went to a play.

Bruce: I guess you could say that sex came first, because it was on our first date. We didnít acknowledged being in love until six months later.

It was another year before we actually moved in together. It was nice having a longish courtship, with a lot of time spent together, yet living apart, establishing that we had our own lives.

What were your concerns about moving in together?

Sam: I has hesitant, having lived alone for over ten years. I was concerned about losing my independence and individuality. I said, ďJust because weíre in a relationship and living together, does that mean that from now on everything that Bruce does, I do, and vice versa?Ē

I also told him that we could live separately and still be in a relationship. We were seeing each other often enough. But he kept pushing it.

The truth of the matter is that I like and love him very much. Even if I resisted our living together, it was an inevitable move. So, I thought I might as well not delay it.

Did you lose any independence?

Sam: In general, no. Weíre basically independent people.

Bruce: The previous winter we had gone to Hawaii for two weeks. There we had a chance to test our compatibility for a longer period of time. It worked out great!

I thought about moving in together shortly after that trip. I was sure it would work out. I can be very persuasive and insistent; he finally gave in.

We found an ideal place to live, with enough room for us to have separate bedrooms. The way the place is laid out, itís like having two separate apartments.

We spend time apart, even when weíre here together. It relieves a lot of the pressure some people feel ó present companies included ó when they live in a tiny place and only have one bedroom. Itís one of the things that has helped keep our relationship working so smoothly.

Anything else you do to give each other space?

Bruce: We generally do things together, but we have our separate activities. We pay attention to each other when weíre scheduling things, but donít have to ask the other person for permission to go out.

Do you have a ďmonogamousĒ relationship?

Sam: I donít think weíve ever set down any kind of a rule, but it has been.

Bruce: Well, it has been for Sam. Weíve talked about it a little bit, and I donít think either of us feels possessive. I see somebody about once every three months whoís an old relationship.

Is there an understanding about safe sex?

Bruce: We have a high awareness of safe sex. Weíve known about it for quite a long time, and continue to practice it, both within and outside the relationship.

I have a rule in my head that Iíve mentioned to Sam, which is: there is no possibility of another relationship coming along that would threaten ours. If it appeared to do that, or if he felt uncomfortable with it, I would stop it. The relationship is way too precious to allow some affairette to threaten it.

It hasnít been a high priority for me to look for other people.

Sam: I donít feel the need to go out and look around.

Bruce: I know a lot of couples are very specific and contractual about monogamy, and that works for them. Weíve been fortunate enough to get away with being a little more vague, because Sam and I have an incredibly high level of trust.

We can afford to be non-monogamous, if we want to, because itís a completely trusting relationship, and we know we will be with each other for the rest of our lives.

Sam: One of the reasons I felt it was O.K. to move in with Bruce was that I had the sense that if we did have a disagreement, or if a problem came up, we would be able to talk about it, deal with it and solve it. I felt getting into a relationship with Bruce was safe.

Have you been able to talk about everything that has come up?

Sam: Iíd say we have.

Bruce: Uh huh. Weíve been amazingly compatible in a lot of areas. We almost take it for granted. Weíve been compatible around household cleanliness, food, sex, and money, which seem to be issues a lot of couples struggle with.

If there is an issue, it has to do with a sense of, ďWhoís in control of what?Ē I feel Iíve had a lot of power in the relationship. For example, Iíve made a lot of the social arrangements, and Sam seems to go along.

Sam: Iím comfortable with that.

Have there been any particular points of conflict?

Bruce: Driving. Iím the kind of person who, three miles ahead, wants to make sure Iím in the proper lane. Sam just goes along in his more easy-going way.

When heís driving I tend to say, ďGet in the right lane and make sure youíre where youíre supposed to be, and donít miss the exit, and nya-nya-nya!Ē

Sam: When he tells me how to drive, I usually get upset, if not outright mad. Part of the reason it bothers me is my concern about losing individuality. Weíll have a little verbal spat in the car.

Bruce: Driving along at high speed. Really a great time to have an argument. But itís almost a testimony to how easy this relationship has been, that something this trivial is one of the few sticking points we have.

I end up driving more often, but Iím not sure that is a totally reasonable solution. It would be better for me to let go of needing to control things.

Are there any special points of cohesion?

Bruce: One of the things that holds the relationship together in a better than average way is that we have both met and appreciated each otherís families. Itís not like a ďneutral acceptance of the miserable reality of a gay relationshipĒ that our families feel. Itís much more positive.

Of all the people in our families, the most difficult is my father, who has a hard time with the whole subject of gayness. But when he met Sam, that all melted away.

All of Samís family is more accepting, having a more laid-back Hawaiian style.

How much of your own personalities do you think derives from your social and ethnic backgrounds?

Sam: Iím less quick than others to attribute my personality characteristics to culture or race.

My dad was born on Okinawa. My mom was born on Maui, but both her parents were from Okinawa. Genetically speaking, Iím pure Okinawan. Culturally, I have an Asian-Hawaiian background. I was born and raised on Honolulu.

Bruce: My background is Scottish-English. I have three Scottish grandparents and one English. All were emigrants a long time ago. I was raised in the Boston area.

Itís said that after living together for a while, some couples start looking alike. We will never have that problem. Iím 5'10" with brown hair, blue eyes.

Sam: Iím 5'2" with black hair, brown eyes, Japanese-American and very cute.

Bruce: I do think that our issue of control vs. laid-back style has some strong cultural components. I remember when we went to see the play Miss Minidoka of 1943, about Japanese-Americans in the American detention camps.

Sam: A song in the play presented a concept that Iíd never heard of: ďenryo.Ē Itís a Japanese word that refers to the behavior characteristic of not making waves, whether for fear of embarrassment, or fear of being put down.

The point of the song was that it was time we Japanese-Americans had no enryo. I was really touched when I heard that song, because, yes, thatís the way Iíve always been. I had never considered it a cultural trait, but I guess it is.

Bruce: Part of the reason I do more of the social arrangements, and sometimes have more control than I wish I had, has to do with enryo. I think that white people have always taken advantage of that kind of thing. Itís easy to slip into being patronizing, or jump in too quickly to manipulate situations.

Has your wanting to control been a problem?

Bruce: Itís been an issue since I had to take more control of things this spring after Sam got quite sick and was diagnosed with AIDS. Since I work in the health care field, I know what to ask of doctors. He doesnít always know, so I struggle with, ďHow much do I bug him about what questions to ask or what kind of care to get,Ē and ďHow much do I leave him alone?Ē

Sam: I donít think the control issue, as he has called it, has been necessarily related to AIDS. It was just magnified when I got sick. Before that I always felt he was trying to run my life, but it wasnít as critical a problem until I got sick. Just because he was in hospital social work, he seemed to me to be a bit presumptuous, thinking it was his duty to be more than a caretaker.

Bruce: Since most of our friends seem to be social workers or nurses, we had tons of people giving him advice.

Sam: Depending on the mood Iím in, I can ignore the whole thing, or, if it gets too unbearable, I get mad. I complain that enough is enough.

Bruce: Samís getting AIDS was a huge surprise to us. It was a shock really, because heís been sexual with only two people in his life. Iím one of them, and I tested negative twice.

How have you dealt with the illness?

Sam: The major change has been to work only part time. I canít go hiking anymore. I tried hard enough this past weekend, but I donít think I can go on big, long hikes. I get tired more quickly.

Bruce seems to feel that I havenít cut back enough of my activities, and harasses me about being careful enough about my health. Well, Iím going to run my life the way Iím going to run it.

Have you been treated differently since others learned of your illness?

Sam: I havenít noticed any big difference, but as a result of the diagnosis, Iíve been able to spend more time with people that had drifted off over the years. One friend said that it took a sickness for her to suddenly pay a little more attention to me. She emphasized that she spends more time with me because she likes me, not because Iím sick.

Has the illness changed your relationship?

Sam: From my point of view, it hasnít.

Bruce: I think itís like youíve said, it magnified things that were already there.

Emotionally, Iíve had a harder time, and been more stressed about it than Sam. He has come to a level of acceptance that I havenít come to.

Iíve started pulling together more support from outside the relationship. I went to one meeting of a ďshouldersĒ group for spouses and significant others of people with AIDS. It looks pretty good, so I will continue with that. Also, I started seeing a therapist again, to get supportive time. [For information on caring for an ill partner, please see Nursing Your Relationship]

Do you have any legal papers on each other?

Bruce: We havenít gotten around to it yet. Itís stupid; we should, but we havenít.

Letís do it this week, dear, O.K.?.

Sam: Sounds good.

Was that an example of a typical interaction, where you suggest something and Sam agrees?

Bruce: (laughing) Yes, youíre right.

How would you summarize your relationship?

Sam: It has turned out to be just wonderful. I feel lucky to have met Bruce.

I though I would never get into any relationship. I was too fussy about the kind of people I wanted to deal with, or could tolerate. I cannot believe Iíve met someone like Bruce whom Iíve found so easy to live with.

Bruce: I would say, ďAll of the above.Ē

The way itís changed my life is that here is an area thatís now settled. Thatís a nice feeling. Itís very different from being single, and the energy that you put into looking for someone. Thatís one of the hardest things about Samís having AIDS. It has called into question the security I thought I had.

Heís wonderful to live with.

Sam: Thank you, dear.

Any words of advice for relationship-building?

Bruce: Appreciate what you have.

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