If you're the latest and don't want to know what your lover did with Tom and Dick, tough - Life and Style - The Independent

If you're the latest and don't want to know what your lover did with Tom and Dick, tough

Here's the problem (or perhaps it isn't a problem. You tell me). Big breath, exhale, preamble: you know that stage of a relationship when you gaze at the object of your affections and you feel your heart will burst clear through your ribcage, leaving you to die of happiness - though the pathologist will tell the inquest it was because of the dirty great hole in your chest?

And you find yourself smiling a Cheshire cat smile every time your pixilated mind alights upon the beloved - which is incessantly - and everyone knows because your supposedly secret thoughts are, as friends (huh) delight in pointing out, written all over your face in vapour trail, neon and letters larger than King Kong?

And, better again - or worse yet - cheap music proves its embarrassing potency by suddenly sounding profound, by spinning you right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby, yeah, even the most insipid Elton John song: I Believe.

Of course you know. Silly question. You've been there, done that. Such scars.

Anyway, I'm wandering around wide-eyed in Wonderland, Paradise Found, whatever, at the moment ("No!" you're saying) and I want to write to every man Andrew ever slept with and was dumb enough to let him go just to record my thanks, but I can't, because, frankly, who has enough money for that many stamps? You'd have to be richer than Donald Tramp... Trump. Trump. That should have read Trump.

Andrew's sexual history is typical of the urban gay male - longer than Gone with the Wind, shorter than Gibbon's Decline and Fall. I exaggerate, naturally. Oh no I don't. It's a veritable Yellow Pages, because, let my head speak now or for ever hold its tongue, boys will be boys, especially boys who've been told they mustn't, no, no, no; recreational sex is plentiful when the pick-up displaces traditional (and hypocritical) courtship ritual. The rules are different here: there aren't any. Here the emotional transactions usually demanded pale beside the almost compulsive need to assert and reassert identity.

So the physical becomes about that - I Make Whoopee, Therefore I Am - and things related. If it's not about Love and Commitment, it's free to be about being basically compatible or just comfortable with someone else or just, as the Pointer Sisters once moaned, coming and going in a heated rush. Forget Mr Right, grab Mr Right Now.

Or both parties will tacitly recognise that the partnership will be a short, sharp shock and boom, over: the intensity is acknowledged to be temporary (because sometimes that's life) and the next contestant please. Or the union might be of an open nature - the primary planet surrounded by sundry satellites and one-night stands. Which isn't to say that other people don't operate in similar ways; just that when heterosexuals do, it's still fairly exceptional or they keep very quiet about it. Whereas with gay men it's more or less the norm. Also the norm: when none of the variations on the theme works, then gay men - unlike many heterosexuals of my acquaintance - tend to remain friends afterwards. Sex and emotion burn off. Comradeship remains. Straights, take heed.

Enough head talk. Heart throb: understanding the reasons why Andrew's past partners are legion doesn't help. Well, maybe a bit. On the other hand, I don't want to be forcibly reminded of their existence. This invariably happens because the boys will be boys mode lets gay men believe each other's sexual escapades to be a proper topic of casual conversation, and if you're the latest flame and don't want to hear about what your lover did with Tom, Dick and Dick, tough. Tender sensibilities. How retro.

As retro as my uncool jealousy when we bump into Andrew's exes, in clubs, in pubs, now and again in my masochistic fantasies. He chats to them while I stand, shuffling, caught out by my own overwhelming adolescent rage and pathetic insecurity, knowing I should keep my lips sealed because I have no right to this intensity. And not because at least one of the exes is a joy - who couldn't enjoy Graeme? - or because at least one, Michael, is Satan's spawn. That doesn't make me question Andrew's judgement one iota, because who doesn't make mistakes?

No. It's becausebecausebecause Andrew isn't the anomaly. I am. I'm the weird one. I'm the one who was locked away in an enchanted castle for 18 years. I say enchanted, but cursed might be more accurate, for the castle's snug confines have kept me adolescent way beyond any feasible sell-by date. I slept and I dreamt. Swimming toward consciousness I'm dimly beginning to realise is that in many ways this is my first adult relationship, and adult relationships, gay style, means understanding that when someone says, "You're only the fifth person I've brought home to meet my mother," it's a declaration of deep, genuine feeling, not a string of ill-chosen words.

I'm a grown-up. I understand. The ache the sentence summons is right and proper; the pain is as awakening as the pleasure: they belong together. Only... cheap, potent music maintains its siren call. What does my friend Madonna say? That you can be shiny and new, look into his eyes (green) and somehow be renewed, finally made complete. And she's wrong and she's right, wrong and right, but, this second, mostly right. My ribcage says so.

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