This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
Here’s the story. Two middle-age men are dating. One of them (me) feels like his boyfriend has only allotted a tiny portion of his time and space (literally) to the relationship.
We hang out on the weekend. It’s lovely. We watch movies and play video games. I can spend all day with him and not grow tired of his “I have four degrees but I’m pretending to be a himbo” shtick. But Sunday ends, and so does our dynamic. Monday and Friday are dinner with his conservative immigrant parents (I’m not invited; he’s closeted); Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are potential hangouts after work, but more often it’s sports practice for one of the teams he’s on.
A year into our relationship (which has now passed the two-year mark), my apartment flooded. I brought a suitcase to live with him in his one-bedroom apartment for a few months. I was happy to have a place to stay, but it put some strain on him. He’d never really lived with other adults. His parents live ten minutes away and his mom still does meal prep for him!
It was maybe a shock. He did eventually allocate half of the top shelf in his closet — which he cannot reach — to me. When I’m at his apartment, I look around and see tons of pictures of his family: him, his older brother, his older brother’s boyfriend of over ten years, his parents. I wonder if there is room for me. I found a new place, but only after some tense conversations.
He said his place was too small and living with other people was hard. I countered that I understood, but if living together was too stressful, then what would our future look like? I told him I was starting to feel like the weekend boyfriend. He told me he was moving into a new condo next year, a two-bedroom, and that we could take that as a chance to introduce me to his parents as his “roommate.”
A plan! But as my current lease crept up on its expiration date, I realized his parents are putting up the money for the place and have expectations to use the other room (to visit? to live?). Beneath this is my boyfriend not wanting to rock the boat. But in not doing anything, I feel he has sort of strung me along in the nicest and cruelest way possible.
I haven’t nagged him to come out to his parents. I think that’s his battle, and regardless, my experience of calling and coming out to my dad while he was stuck in traffic on the 405 is probably not a reproducible model. Our relationships shouldn’t be contingent on plans to move in together, but at some level this is what I want, and I’m looking at the prospect of it never being possible. I feel that whatever sliver of his temporal and physical space I’m taking up now is about to be further eroded by his parents being even more around.
So, what to do? Break up? Talk it out, knowing that he’s not going to be able to appease everyone? Settle for the casual neglect that I grew up knowing too well? Help!
Hey there, WB!
Wait a second. Computer, enhance this sentence: “When I’m at his apartment, I look around and see tons of pictures of his family: him, his older brother, his older brother’s boyfriend of over ten years …”
Do you mean to tell me that his older brother has a boyfriend of over ten years? Is his older brother out to his parents while you’re creeping around in the rafters like the Phantom of the Opera? I mean, sure, everyone has their own coming-out journey, but at the same time … girl …
All right, taking off my stylish, herringbone, wool-blend Sherlock Holmes hat now. I’m sure there are redeeming traits to this guy and to the relationship, but I, for one, could not be middle-age and running the emotional gauntlet for the coveted title of “roommate.” I happily left all that in college, where I was an excellent roommate to half the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.
Regardless of what’s going on with his conservative immigrant parents, their meal-prepping, and their plans to move into his chic two-bedroom condo, you need to establish what your goals and priorities are with this relationship and be frank about them. I’m sensitive to people having different family dynamics and cultural norms, but if you’re not getting what you need, then you need to look for it elsewhere.
It seems as well that there’s some baiting and switching going on. He said the two-bedroom place would be an opportunity to take your relationship to the next level, but now it’s suddenly for his parents to move into, and for you to be upgraded — or downgraded — from “secret weekend boyfriend” to “roommate.” This makes sense as they’re the ones paying for it, but he shouldn’t have floated that possibility if that was the case. That’s textbook “stringing along.”
He doesn’t want to rock the boat with his parents, but it sounds like you don’t want to rock the boat with him either. I get it. Not many people like when the boat rocks. I’m very susceptible to motion sickness myself. Nothing like a smooth boat ride! But if he’s not going to be straight up with you about where he sees this relationship going and next steps, then you’ve got to be the one to do it, even if you don’t like the outcome.
Sit him down and tell him what you want. If you’re not on the same page, see if there’s a way to get there. If there isn’t, then you need to end the relationship, unless you’re willing to accept half of the top shelf and weekend hangs for the foreseeable future. If that’s the goal, then it seems pretty attainable off of, like, one weekend intently browsing Hinge, but maybe the market is worse than I remember right now.
Also, yeah, the whole himbo shtick has been grating me. You are not a himbo; you are a distinguished graduate in the humanities. You’ve at least heard the name “Foucault.” He can probably spell it, too. Grow up.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on March 24, 2023.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.