When my life partner of 20 years and I ended our relationship, there was a sense of loss felt by all who knew us. But our rich history as a couple had very few of them adding fuel to a fire we ourselves weren’t stoking. We might have cast one another off as lovers, but we had triumphed in keeping our dignity as individuals, our decency as adults, and the individuality that each had admired in the other.
It is said jokingly that one year of gay marriage is akin to seven years of heterosexual marriage. That made our partnership one that had kept itself mostly happily together for 140 “dog years of gay marriage”. Two decades is a long time, no matter what kind of marriage it is, straight, lesbian, gay or other. Marriage isn’t for everyone, and all aren’t meant to be married. Time isn’t the defining factor of marriage; rather time becomes the commodity one loses track of in a happy marriage. How we – a boy from Huntington, West Virginia, and a boy from New Delhi, India, – met and made life together in New York City and survived is a conundrum. But that we smiled and shared, accepted and forgave, cried and consoled, fought and made up, freed and held one another – these sweet and challenging moments are the might and heft of the relations between two humans, moments that cannot be measured or defined by something as clinical as time.
We met as we were both at that pivotal place in our lives where the world was about to see us come of age. A moment when we were about to leave our marks in ways that both time and hindsight would define our public personas, our professional role playing, and also be fodder for retrospection. Moments of contemplation like this one, now, when I am on a plane, waking up from sleep and writing about a relationship that I got into when I was barely 29.
Our early days had us also most madly in love physically. Each seeing in the other those physical attributes that piqued our curiosity, that took us to indescribable moments of carnal pleasure and lustful oneness, where time, age, cast, creed, accents, nationality, and even name and identity hardly mattered. Orgasmic relief was ours because we saw in the other that which made us lose any connection to tangible things.
As the first days and weeks passed, as the years went by, we found new discoveries in and about the other. We celebrated each other’s traits, talents, hobbies and passions. We started to feel ‘stuff’ about one another, things which the other had hardly owned or knew about himself. How we navigated this time is a study in the utterly beautiful way a strong relationship functions and lives beyond the black-and-white parameters of spousal knots. One of us discovered early on that the other was colour blind, a fact both sets of parents don’t know even today. Such revelations fortified the depths of our early days together.
As the years went by and our relationship deepened, it never surprised either one of us how we both chose to step up and provide for the other when professional life threatened to take us to places that would have compromised our personal goals and the values we respected as a twosome. Having had my fair share of challenges in business partnerships, our relationship gave me strength to make the tough calls at work. I knew our duo would find a path forward, even if my decision cost our household a financial loss. We were each, in turn, a pillar of strength, the brave comforting lover, the person keeping our life afloat as the other worked hard and brought food to the table and did so with a smile. We were fortunate to have our parents provide when we needed, although we were careful not to share every detail of what our families said at such times, knowing that their protective instincts for the one connected by DNA would hurt the other and, in doing so, hurt both of us. We understood the power of words and when to edit those that could destroy our familial unit.
The state of our union was founded upon such deeply logical and emotional maturity. Our age wasn’t what kept us together; it was the elasticity of our hearts, our shared vision for our individual and collective future, our ability to finish sentences for the other, our knack for knowing what the other was feeling and thinking – these are the things that made us believe in the other and also had us looking ahead when our actions hurt and betrayed, pained and shocked the other. In how we erred we saw our mortal frailty; how we accepted that transgression, in our dealing with it, and how we navigated the moments after, these are the magical gifts I celebrate on this plane ride from Hamburg to Mumbai.
As I navigate life in India, a single gay man at 50, I am happy to see my ex start a new life in Indonesia. His courage to move on and smile as he does so is a testament to all the good that I saw in him 20 years ago. Recently he stayed a week in my flat in Delhi, a planned layover so he could spend some time with Clouseau, the bloodhound he lovingly raised on our farm in Hebron, NY, and whom he comforted when we had to move residences, most unexpectedly, to India. He became Clouseau’s pack leader during the lockdown, taking up jogging again, and in doing so made our darling pooch less nervous about the vexing traffic and mind-numbing honking. This is perhaps the reason we stayed together a couple of years longer than our relationship was meant to be.
In India, my ex found his current lover, and in our parting ways I have found a new life and home in India. Relationships are precious and gladdening, heartwarming and gratifying, rewarding and encouraging when they are one with time and yet not defined by it. We lost Gael Greene, the czarina of food criticism, earlier this year, and I remember her telling me about how transactional she thought marriage was. She had found joy and more with her long-term lover, Steven, despite not being married to him until it made sense to do so to protect each other for reasons of property and contracts, where such a document would ensure one of them a continuance of life after the passage of the other. To her, real love was about finding joy where another might be lost to the intricacies that take the magic out of a partnership. How fortunate I am that, even though I have lost a relationship that defines so much of who I am, I have not lost the love I found in sharing two decades of my life with another.