Modern Love (?)


Save an Uber, Ride a Cowboy is a column exploring queer millennial sex culture. The stories presented here are based on true events. Identities have been changed to protect the privacy and reputations of those involved. 

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Two young fags were on a bus when, inevitably, the conversation veered into their orientation’s capacity to sustain conventional relationships.

One them was a career slut, while the other found himself in a very millennial more-than-fucking-but-not-quite-holding-hands-in-public dynamic. The slut told his friend he was overthinking it: if the sex and conversation were good, there should be no problem.

But evidently that wasn’t enough for Ethan, just as it’s not enough for lot of young queer men.

A mixture of the B43’s bright fluorescents and the fact that newly-coupled Ethan wasn’t going to sleep with him made Riley edgy. He suggested that his friend’s desire to define his relationship in crowd-friendly terms was bred from personal insecurity.

“Maybe,” Ethan shrugged, “but I’m not sure we can ever separate our insecurities from our relationships.”

Riley looked at his friend.

“In some way, aren’t we always trying to get rid of our insecurities with someone else?”


Several days after Ethan had left New York, Riley still mulled over his words. Although he didn’t feel compelled to find a life partner tomorrow, Riley intimately understood this impulse to fill gaps within himself. But did that imply that the hype over coupling was partially based on it being the opposite of a deficit — a kind of emotional Vicodin for loneliness? The high sounded tempting, but Riley feared the comedown.

Young queer folk have no problem with love as a concept, but the way in which it manifests gets sticky.

There’s one crop who consider monogamy a bullshit heterosexual notion, advocating for open relationships: “Fuck many, but cuddle with only one.” However, this lifestyle is about more than just indulging physical impulses. Radical queers view monogamy (and by extension, marriage) as an assimilation technique — heterosexual molds meant to constrict and normalize queerness, an identity that lends itself to unconventionality. Why define queer love by a different orientation’s rules?

But it isn’t easy to unlearn conditioned ideas of what relationships should look like.

Mark stared deep into the soul of his whiskey sour at a dive in the Lower East Side, “I want to be in an open relationship, but my boyfriend would never go for it.”

Riley rolled his eyes, “Have you actually talked to him about it?”

“I don’t have to! I know him and I know he’d be hurt if I even brought it up.”

“But isn’t it better to be honest about what you need? You don’t seriously think you’re not going to sleep with someone else this summer,” Riley sipped his rum and coke, “do you?”

“I would never cheat on him,” Mark shot back earnestly enough that even Riley believed him.

Mark and his boyfriend’s situation is common. Two queens caught between old and new perceptions of love. It’s not as simple as selecting a lifestyle  that jives with you; somewhere between sucking your first dick and waking up to a partner’s morning breath, gay men will begin to realize how royally heteronormativity has fucked them. While on the surface, it may appear like they operate separately from the norm, queers spend much of their romantic lives running back towards it. We bed a non-typical gender, but ultimately, we usually select partners whose traits complete traditional pictures of hetero relationships: top for bottom, butch for femme, etc.

What motivates this? Probably the long internalized ache of never feeling “normal.”

Regardless of the acceptance we experienced in our upbringing, a persistent need to fit in still plagues many queer folks’ romantic decisions. We’re culturally conditioned to value hetero concepts of love over our own. Fast-forward twenty years and we’re suddenly caught thinking our relationship isn’t real unless it bears some semblance to the values we were raised with. Mark’s boyfriend probably can’t envision a meaningful relationship that isn’t monogamous.

However, it’s reductive to say that queer folk who embrace nontraditional couplings are more intellectually liberated than their monogamous counterparts. For many, monogamy is not a trap.

“I think I want to break up with my partner,” Patty told Riley one day at work, “but we live together, so I figure I’ll just tough it out until the end of our lease.”

“When is your lease up?”

“A year.”

She had a point. The slow dissolve of love is child’s play compared to navigating the New York City housing market solo. Five months later, Patty had ditched then gotten back together with her partner. 

“Being single in New York was not as fun as I remember,” she confessed on a rooftop in Brooklyn, “people kind of suck. And when you have someone nice waiting at home, sleeping around loses its appeal.”

Riley went drinking later that night.

While it’s true that the sensory overload of New York (bright lights, hot people) can make it difficult to commit to one person, monogamy thrives in the city for those who look for it.

New York’s twenty-five in “queer years” is the jaded equivalent of thirty-four in other towns. Frankly, people just get tired. They’ve played the field aggressively and long enough that the game isn’t fun anymore. So they find their rock and sign a two-year lease. Stability is a commodity in a city that’s  constantly changing. 

Riley wanted to buy into the fantasy that New York was crawling with sexual deviants, but the reality was that at only twenty-one, he had lost nearly all his fuck buddies to monogamy.

A boy once told him while they were walking together, “Wow, look at that gay couple holding hands. I want that.” Riley had to suck his dick to shut him up.

A few months later, that boy found someone who wanted what he wanted; Riley found his hand.

Sometimes when he gets high, Riley wonders if he’s really committed to a radical queer lifestyle or if he’s just kidding himself. But before he has time to answer the question, there’s always someone new to distract him.

“Honestly, if I’m conditioned, I’m not so sure I want to unlearn it,” reasoned Ava between drags of a Malboro menthol. “I don’t really have the energy for all that.”



The photos featured are from gaytona.beach, a project highlighting photographer Andrew Harper’s experiences on Grindr.