In “Both Sides of a Breakup,” the Cut talks to exes about how they got together and why they split up. After meeting in college, James, 36, and Taye, 40, forged a bond that they will never break, even if their story is filled with relentless cheating, lying, and fighting.
James: When I met Taye, I didn’t have a dating style. I’d been with maybe two guys before him. I was 18 and inexperienced. Being gay and from the South, my sexuality wasn’t something that was celebrated or flaunted. I had friends, and I was popular, but my dating and sex life hadn’t even come close to blossoming yet.
Taye: I had a little bit of experience when we met. There were guys here and there. But I was 22 and still had a lot to learn.
James: I saw him on this college social media site. Facebook wasn’t even really a thing yet. Immediately, it was over for me. Here was this short, muscular dude with a cute little haircut, and I was like, “Oh, that’s my type right there.” We started chatting right away, and we decided to meet later that night.
Taye: I don’t remember how we met, but it was online. I drove to his house later that night. At first sight, he looked like a nice, innocent boy. I guess I thought he was kind of cute. Let’s just say that I only had one thing in mind — and he was cute enough for that.
James: Just the fact that he was older and had a car had me all excited. He was really into fashion; he even did modeling on campus. I remember he drove me to his house.
There were other people there; they were all really cool and nice to me. But there was one guy there who I’d been chatting with, too, Tony, and I remember some people joking to Tony, “Ohhhh, Taye’s got your date here.” Apparently, Taye was known for having boys in and out of the house, but I didn’t know that then.
Even though I had been chatting with Tony, Taye was the one I had my eyes on. In fact, I never took them off him after that night.
Taye: Whatever James had planned for me, it was all thrown off because Tony was there. They spent the whole night together in one of the rooms! Finally, James came to my room. We ended up watching Cinderella with Brandy. We’re huge Brandy fans. That’s when I tried to “complete the mission,” but he didn’t let me.
James: I was in awe of Taye that night. I felt special. I knew that he was crushing on me too. We really connected right from the start. I remember after everyone left the room, him trying to rub on me, but we didn’t have sex. I was never in it for the sex. We were definitely best friends right away, and we started dating right away, too. The problem was that I’m a relationship dude, and he was — I can say this now — a sexaholic.
Taye: I didn’t have a deep connection to James, but he did seem like someone I could be cool with. In his mind, we started dating right away. I was like, We’re just friends. I even started dating someone else shortly after that. But everyone was like, “You know that boy likes you.” James was always at our house after that. He had this stern attitude toward anyone who came to hang out with me, like he saw everyone as a threat. But some of these people were just old friends.
James: Taye would say I quickly coerced him into a relationship. But he was all over the place, and I was like, “Nah, this is how it’s going to be.”
Taye: After eight months or so, I broke up with that other guy, and we started to date. To me, I was the protector. James wasn’t tough. He was younger than me. I tried to protect him in every way, even from myself. That’s why I lied about the cheating. It sounds weird, but I was just trying to protect him. Over time, I started to love James, too. I don’t know if I loved him the way he wanted me to, but he understood me like no one else, and that meant something to me. And yes, for a brief moment with him, I thought that monogamy was something I could do … I guess.
James: After two years, we moved in together. I always knew he was messing around. I’m investigator Bob. I was like, Who was this? Where were you? Why didn’t you answer the phone? He would lie to me. He’s not a good liar. He was sloppy. And I’m very sharp.
Taye: It wasn’t so black-and-white. We loved each other very much. We were each other’s support system. We depended on each other. Did I mess around? Yes. But James would have never let me have a successful relationship with anyone else without trying to sabotage it. So it’s not like anything went anywhere.
James: For about three more years, even after we graduated college and moved into a new place with our friends, we were still together but always arguing, mad, and breaking up. I tried to hold us together, but we looked at relationships so differently. For one, I’m not as sexually driven. It’s not who I am. I’m more about who you are on the inside.
Taye: I remember a lot of happiness together. We would visit his mom, and she would take my hand and say, “Make sure you’re feeding my baby. Make sure my baby’s eating.” Even to her, it was like I was his protector.
James: We had some amazing memories. I loved our road trips to see his family. They’re from way down South like mine. His parents are divorced, but they all still love each other and have so much fun, and Taye has a bunch of step- and half-siblings. I’m adopted without siblings and was always looking for belonging and connection; being with that family felt like being in a movie. Plus, I had Taye’s full attention on those trips. It was “us” time. A safe zone.
Taye: My family was very much into James. My aunt always wanted to do her hair special for him. They wanted to go fishing with him, and we don’t even go fishing. They wanted me to know they really liked James and that they supported us as a couple.
James: The fighting never ceased, though. I remember I went home for the summer for a post-college internship at a newspaper. I decided to surprise Taye one weekend in New York. He told me he’d be home, just hanging out and doing nothing, so it felt like a safe bet that he’d be around and the surprise would work out. When I got to the apartment, I walked into the house, and his room was really clean and untouched, and his bed was totally made. Without telling him where I was, I called him and said, “Hey, where are you?” He said, “I’m laying in my bed.” I’m like, “Oh really? Because I’m in your bed. Where the fuck are you?” Long story short, he was in North Carolina with our other friend’s boyfriend! See, that’s what he does. He drove all the way there to have sex and fondle and be with someone else — someone else with a boyfriend. That’s in his DNA.
Taye: What I love about James is that he stuck around, and he learned me. My cheating wasn’t about him at all. I’ve been cheated on, too. People have secret lives. It’s not good, and it’s very stressful, but that’s how it is sometimes.
James: We tried to be nonmonogamous for a short time. We had threesomes. I let him go out and be with other people. But it was not a lifestyle for me.
Taye: We’d have threesomes, and that third person would come back to be with me exclusively. Sometimes I would go for it without telling James.
James: None of it made me comfortable. During our “breaks,” I’d have different boyfriends. But then my current boyfriend would cheat on me with Taye. Three of them cheated on me with him! He’s very attractive. He’s sexually fluid. He would hit on everyone, and they’d fall for it.
Taye: There was at least one guy James was dating, and somehow I started hanging out with him too. I think maybe he cut hair. I went over to his house for a haircut, and it just happened. The guy felt guilty. He told James, and James told everybody. I felt like I was set up. It was like dangling a piece of bloody meat in front of the lion and then getting mad at the lion.
James: My most painful memory with Taye was confronting him about sleeping with one of my boyfriends. Taye was being real honest. He told me how they would wink at each other when we were all out. How they would text. All their secret meetups. In these moments, I was just like, “You were my friend and my brother … of all your options, you had to do this to me? Why?” Who does that?
Taye: There were so many twists and turns with us. The final end, for me, was after he saw me driving in a car with an old friend, Ricky. The guy was just a friend … well, fine, I’d slept with him before. But James totally flipped out. He’d never been so cold to me before. A few days later, Beyoncé had a new song that I wanted to listen to with him, and I begged him to clear the air and listen to music with me. He wouldn’t have it. He was pushing me over like never before. And I remember saying, “Yeah, this is the end.”
James: I don’t remember anyone named Ricky or any car situation.
Taye: We had two really bad situations that caused our final breakup. The first was all my cheating, and the second was James not being completely honest about who he was. For years, he said he was a bottom. The more we had sex, the more I realized he wasn’t telling the truth; because that’s not what he enjoyed. He just thought it’s what I wanted. But I wanted him to be who he was. We’d been kicking it for years … why would he lie about that? That was hard for me. I wanted him to be happy and not try to be a different person for me. I wanted him to be himself. I know it’s ironic, but people lying is tough for me. Anyway, we couldn’t really recover from those things.
James: Cutting the cord for good was the hardest thing I ever did. He was my first real boyfriend. All the things happened with him. The final ending was sad. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, but he didn’t want to lose me. He tried to keep me to an extent, but it wasn’t enough. No one believed me when I said I was finally done. Everyone would say, “Y’all not over.” We were still living together, but with friends, too, and shortly after, everyone in the apartment went their own way.
After about six years of our back-and-forth relationship, around 2011, we finally reached a friend zone. And once we were truly just friends, Taye started reflecting on himself. He realized he had a problem with sex and no control around it. But he’s kind of just leaned into that problem. He’s embraced it. More swinging, more threesomes. I’m with it for him, but it’s not for me.
Taye: I am dating someone. It’s relatively new. It’s been four months. James met him. They talked and laughed together. Monogamy is not something I aspire to have; it’s not a part of our relationship. I wont say it’s an open relationship. There are rules, but we have certain agreements. Let’s just say we like to partake together. We’re very much alike sexually.
James: Since being with Taye, my experiences haven’t been that much better. My bar is so high that I’m always let down. Men are men, bro. Taye was the biggest lesson of my life. Because of him, I can see through anything. People can lie to your face. People are selfish.
Taye: Since the night I met James, he’s never left my side. I would not date James now, nor would I sleep with him. But he’s my heart. He’s my little brother. I still feel I need to protect him. I will jump in my car and pull up for him no matter what. I want to support him in any way. I see him in his element now, and it makes me smile. But let’s be clear, he makes sure I never forget how much I hurt him.
James: Taye’s my brother now. We have best-friend tattoos. He’s my family. That’s the big takeaway. In the bigger scheme of things, I needed family more than I needed a boyfriend, and for that, I owe everything to Taye.