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Couples Chronicles — Interview 24
The Best Thing in My Life
First published December 1986
First published in March 1989
© January 7, 2018, Demian

Gary, 34, and Bob, 41, met seven years ago through friends at a bar. After a year-and-a-half, Bob moved in with Gary for the winter, then again for the next winter. By the third winter, the move was permanent, and the couple has now lived together four years. For the past couple of years they have operated their own landscaping firm during the warm months. During the winter they hire out as forestry workers. Bob’s family of origin had a landscaping business, for which he worked 12 years. Gary’s background is in art. The couple live on their 40-acre farm in a tourist area in Minnesota.

What did you first think of each other?

Gary: At first, it was definitely a sexual interest. Seeing his character — that of a nice easy-going guy — took longer.

Bob: Gary had the most wonderful smile and he was — is — very good looking. It really tugged at my heart strings. Right from day one, I saw it as a friendship.

At what point did it develop into a primary relationship?

Gary: Not quite a year after we met I remember thinking that it was turning into more than a “sexual only” relationship. But the moment we made the commitment to each other was about a year-and-a-half after we first met, when we were spending the night at a friend’s place after a party. We had fallen in love with each other and it would have been painful for either of us to break off.

Bob: I thought, “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this guy or is this going to be a passing situation?” My answer was, “Yes, this is a nice guy. I want to work at this, develop a friendship and a sexual and loving relationship.” It required a lot of thinking on my part.

What was your family background?

Gary: I was raised as a Congregationalist. Now I’m rather adamantly non-religious. I guess I’ve become anti-religious in reaction to what I see as the hypocrisy of the church.

I have a brother and sister, both older. I grew up in Minnesota, in a good, small town. At nine, our family moved to France. Living there for two-and-a-half years was a turning point for me. It really broadened me, after being traumatic for a while. After France, we moved around quite a bit because my dad was changing jobs.

In my early twenties I moved to San Francisco, where I discovered my sexuality, oddly enough. San Francisco was a great experience.

While there I fell in love with somebody, which quickly brought me out in the open. I lived with him for two years and, when that broke up, I retreated up here to get my sanity back. It had been crazy in that I was infatuated with this one man.

Did you have any idea about your sexuality before then?

Gary: Oh yes, but I was constantly denying it. I wanted to be “normal.” High school was a difficult period for me, since I was working on my sexuality while attending a very conformist school.

Bob, what is your family background?

Bob: I was raised Lutheran in a small town with four brothers and two sisters. My first four years of schooling were in a one-room schoolhouse.

Right after high school I spent four years in the Navy. I went into the Navy because I liked their uniforms and thought it was going to be safe, but I spent three years in Vietnam hauling supplies up and down the rivers. I was home ported in San Diego, where I had some wonderful experiences of the sexual nature.

I always knew that I was gay.

How did you know you were gay?

Bob: Intense attraction to men since I was four or five years old.

While in high school, I remember buying and hiding an issue of Life magazine with an article about homosexuality. When I read it, it was a revelation: “Oh my God, I’m not alone.” I had been sexually active in high school. I had my play buddies, some of them quite regular.

When in San Diego, I became aware of the city’s gay areas, stores and bars. Oh, my gosh, my first gay bar. It was such a wonderful experience. All of these men crowded in one bar, everything was so free.

In ’69 I moved back to Minnesota and eventually went back into the family landscaping business. I was not looking for a life-mate. When I met Gary, I was having an almost celibate existence. Gary was a pleasant surprise and he ended up being the best thing in my life.

Meeting him and having this relationship grow was a turning point. There were other times in my life when, after being with a man for a while, I had made a conscious decision that the relationship couldn’t go any further because it would interfere with my work. Coming from a small town, working in a family business, I wasn’t real open with my sexuality.

Does you family of origin know you are gay now?

Bob: Oh yes, and my family supports the relationship. I get a lot of support from my sisters and my mother. My dad and I don’t have good lines of communication, and while my brothers are accepting, it isn’t really talked about a lot.

Gary: My family is supportive of my being gay and very much supports our relationship. They’re good people and they like Bob very much. In fact, I think my father communicates much better with Bob than he does with me.

I came out to them when they moved up here because I couldn’t stay and keep it a secret. I didn’t want to live that way.

How did you tell them?

Gary: I had been upset for days, telling myself, “This is it, I’m going to tell them.” When we finally got together I said, “Mom and dad, I’m gay.” I must have mumbled it because my dad asked, “You’re engaged?” My mother impatiently turned to him and said, “No, he said he’s gay.” My brother often brings it up to embarrass him.

Have you had any difficulties in the relationship?

Gary: We had a problem with sexual openness when we first started living together. I misjudged and wasn’t thinking when I had a small fling with a guy. When I told Bob about it — I hate keeping secrets like that — he got very upset. It was a shaky time for him. We had just begun living together and it caused him to question the foundation of the relationship.

His reaction was a shock to me because there was suddenly a wall between us. That was so frightening that it pretty much took care of other sexual encounters for me for several years, until the urge came around again.

Bob: I was scared. In my mind I was thinking, “Did I make the right decision?” I had sold my share of the family business, which was my security. I moved here with no job, had sold all my possessions, and we were living over the garage on Gary’s parent’s property.

Why did you leave everything behind?

Bob: I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Gary. I love this guy. Even though I had known him for three years, it took me a year to make the decision to move.

There had been times in my life when I had passed up an opportunity to share my life with someone because of family or work. This opportunity was presenting itself and I knew I had to do something about it.

There was a lot of family pressure when I told them I was leaving. I did not get any support at all. That’s when everything came out in the open.

So when Gary had this little fling, boy, my confidence was really shaken. You don’t always know how much commitment the other person is putting into the relationship, how hard are they working at it.

How did you communicate your concern?

Bob: Not very well. Being new to a relationship, that was something I had to work on. Gary is a much better communicator than I am.

I became quite silent and did a lot of thinking. Several days after he told me about his fling, it finally all came out.

We don’t function that way any longer. If we have a problem, we come out with it immediately; we don’t stew in our juices.

What had been your agreement around monogamy?

Gary: We hadn’t talked about it. We would have had to if we lived in a populated area, but up here there is no choice. The closest gay bar is two hours away. Especially during the winter there aren’t many gay people up here, although that’s changing quite rapidly.

We had no agreement; just trusted each other. Now things have changed and we’re more open about that. The agreement now — Bob, have we kind of made an agreement about…?

Bob: No. (pause) Do it safely…

Gary: Do it safely and go ahead and play. It’s not like we possess each other, we’re not possessions.

So you don’t have a formal agreement, but you do have an understanding?

Gary: I would find it very difficult to be with someone who insisted that I be “monogamous.” In fact, if would drive me crazy.

Bob: I feel exactly the same way as Gary. I don’t want to base our relationship the same way heterosexuals do. We have a strong trust, love and respect for each other and we know exactly where we stand in each other’s eyes. That can’t be shaken.

Do you pool your economic resources?

Bob: Yes we do. We share everything.

Have you drawn legal papers on each other?

Bob: No we haven’t, but that’s something we have talked about and want to do.

Have there been any special highlights in your relationship?

Bob: Every day is a highlight. If you’re doing exactly what you want to do, and you’re doing it with exactly the person you want to do it with, that’s always a highlight.

Some people would have difficulty working with their partner.

Bob: Yes, but we don’t have any problem with that. We enjoy each other’s company a lot even though there are times when we have differing ideas on how to do a landscaping job. Often times there are words exchanged, but we know it’s just the spur of the moment and don’t take it home. We get along really well.

Gary, any special highlights for you?

Gary: I feel good that we’re able to be friends and have a relationship, even when we’re together almost constantly. I’m sometimes just amazed how well we seem to fit.

How do you deal with those times when there is too much interpersonal strain?

Gary: After several weeks of being together and we can feel the tension, one or the other will have to leave for a night or a day, and go visit some friends in the big city or something. I think we’re just beginning — at least I’m beginning — to know when it’s time to get out, instead of acting stupidly and taking tension out on each other.

What do you see as the future of your relationship?

Gary: I’d like to grow old with him.

I see our relationship changing a bit, actually growing apart on the business side, which is not unhealthy and could make it even a little easier for us.

Bob: I don’t want to spend the rest of my life landscaping. It’s awfully hard work. I see a role for me back on the farm raising some nursery stock. I enjoy growing vegetables and fruits, doing a little truck farming. That’s on a business level.

On the home front, I’d like more time for us to do things together like take trips and get away from work more often than we do, enjoying life a little bit more. Running our own business is all pretty new for both of us, so it’s going to take time to get it to a point where we’re happy with it.

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