David Sedaris: “Old Faithful”

Current_coverNestled in among banks of illustrations in this week’s “cartoon issue” of The New Yorker is a David Sedaris “Reflection” that is one of the most perfect short pieces of writing I’ve read all year.

It’s a meditation on monogamy and the various challenges it brings to the gay relationship.

“I’d met my first boyfriend at a place called the Man Hole,” Sedaris writes. “Not the sort of place that suggests fidelity. It was like meeting someone at Fisticuffs and then complaining when he turned out to be violent.”

But the four page story is mostly about devotion and is centered around the hilarious, if sickeningly visual ordeal of Sedaris’ partner Hugh having to lance a boil that had developed on his back. It’s buried in the middle of the issue and it’s easy to miss. How refreshing though, to have this piece of writing that celebrates gay domestic love at its most real.

As noted in comments, story online. (Thanks, Mark)


  1. Zach says

    This is an old debate, but I do feel the need to make a comment. Sedaris’ piece is sweet and thoughtful and funny (we expect nothing else from Mr. S) but to me, very sad. I feel so strongly that one of the principal lessons we should take from growing up gay is that we must question the conventions and the received wisdom that our culture hands to us. Non-monogamy doesn’t have to mean bare-back orgies and meaningless sex–it can be a long-term committment with someone you love and the variety and excitement of a trick every now and then. A connection with a stranger that is hot, intimate and without obligation. Our community knows that sex isn’t bad–celebrate it and enjoy it, and leave those long, silent nights of frustration and resentment to our straight friends.

  2. says

    I think Sedaris was actually very accepting that many people find non-monogamous relationships suitable and that it’s okay that they do.

    He just found that it never worked for him.

  3. zach says

    I agree with you, Andy. I am not defending non-monogamy in the face of a perceived attack from Mr. Sedaris–it just makes me sad to read this article and feel all the fear he has around the issue. Here’s a funny, educated, sophisticated guy missing out (only my opinion) on one of the joys of being part of this community. He’s clearly comfortable with the notion of being openly gay, but still defining his behavior by very conventional norms. Again, just my opinion–I hope he’s happy, and I wish him all the best.

  4. HoyaBoy says

    Actually, I feel sad for those of us who continue to hang on to this adolescent view that because we’re gay we can do anything, behave in any way as if it is some gay-birthright. Finding, developing and working at a healthy, committed relationship with one other person that has fidelity at its core is something to strive for in my opinion. Simply casting everything as hot or not as the measuring stick is pretty limiting. Would you also say that he or others were missing out if they were not into party-drugs?

  5. says

    Sad? This is sad: I go to a bar with a couple that has been together for 18 years. They have lived in Japan, and apparently have become lovers of Asian boys. As we enter, one of them is set upon by a mildly drunk Asian boy who immediately gropes, fondles and bestows kisses on this stranger. We sit; talk, mostly about what are the great cities to live in in Asia. I sense nothing about them as a couple. I sense no warmth, no fondness, and no sly connection acknowledging the hurried advances of the young Asian boy. Its as if they live a life of padded numbness. One of them looks sad. I always think in a relationship like this, someone is going to look sad. Gay relationships seem to have a short-term life. Another friend tells me about Gay Pride weekend in Palm Springs. They have an older friend who has a younger, attractive Latin boyfriend. It is the older one who is on the prowl he tells me, quite openly. They have been a couple for a about a year and a half. The younger one endures the cheating, because, well, he is somewhat supported. I guess gay people are supposed to reinvent the relationship. We can defy conventions, create a new dynamic that will allow us ultimately, to have our cake and eat it too. What’s so good about sitting silently in a restaurant when we could be out on a bar on Sunday bar afternoon, getting drunk on cheap beer and groping strangers? We can reaffirm that we are attractive, vital and that hill, that is somewhere over the rainbow, is not even in sight, yet. Or we could be blissfully enveloped in a three-way, a triangle (which is curiously defined as an ambiguous pattern. Breakout could be in either direction) where ultimately things are never balanced. Lust is rarely evenly distributed. These must be the “joys” of our community.
    I don’t think Sedaris’ piece is an “attack” on anything. It’s a thoughtful contemplation on the nature of relationships, not a rue.
    But then again, we invented “sex without obligation” which as a cultural imperative allows us not to tell our strangers our HIV status. You’re right; we have no obligation other than to only ourselves, not even in a bad relationship. We are free to court the wind, the senses, all desires, lusts; wants and needs need not go unfulfilled.
    Nothing defines us so much as we define ourselves.

  6. Ben says

    Just a running thought. I’ll probably blab on. Isn’t convention – as f@#king stupid as it can be – rooted in certain basic truths? Isn’t monogomy rooted in such normal human emotions as jealousy, trust, fear? I really believe that human beings are more similar to each other than dissimilar. We just prioritize differently. We all want to feel accepted (people will react to or against it), and behind that feeling is a basic fear that we won’t be. One security (and maybe one of the only securities?) we have in our lives is an intimate relationship with another person, and a good one is a safe place where two people can comfortable feel vulnerable – to be scared, to feel overwhelmed by life, to be unsure of who they are… things we can’t be or feel in front of other people, or at least aren’t supposed to. That takes precedence over something like sex, I think, in the long run. Even though my 21-year-old in me says otherwise. So each person has to make his or her own right balance.

    Maybe we gays already, comfortably, openly feel vulnerable, because society has forced us to, thereby making monogamy not that big of a deal. Or maybe we’re just really horny. Probably the latter.

    Anyway, what you say, Zach, sounds ideal. Have a core relationship with your guy, and have a few snacks on the side, with or without him. But there’s a lot at stake for some people! Admittedly, I did feel a similar kind of sympathy for Mr. Sedaris that you did, Zach. I guess I felt like fear was the overriding factor for all of Mr. Sedaris’ life-decisions. Just my opinion, too, of course. But he’s going to decide what will make him the most happy, and – in my opinion – understandably so.

    I don’t know, I’m not even sure what I said, or what my point was, in the end. Um, we all deserve to be happy! Yay.

    End of blab. For now.

  7. RRR says

    tell me about it….definitely not watching desperate housewives after that post from yesterday. apart from other reporting, it plays to numerous cliches that make up the surface and contradict plenty. leading to the disparity of what makes relations, well just that — relations vis a vis comments posted above. plenty of pertinent ideas delivered in these statements. there is a community and isn’t a community….the notion of identity, if realized, moves beyond tea dance and watering holes. part of the picture, yet not the completion. there is a rather involved cultural development that began its story prior to shower dances. fidelity is what it is. monogamy or tricking are elements just the same. there are aspects nonetheless that aren’t accepted by some looking in, therefore, attempts may be made to thwart people’s happiness based in their disagreement with the concept of coupling or partnership.

  8. Zach says

    As I said initially, this is an old debate. If you’re actually interested in the debate, Hoyaboy, then I think we need to check the polarizing rhetoric at the door. There is nothing more important to me than the support and love that I get from my long-time partner. This is something that I wish for everyone. It takes work every day. But, yes, I do believe that we can make up our own rules. As I said, we learn first-hand that what society tells us are “rules” (a boy for every girl. The movie star action hero is straight. etc. etc.) are not necessarily legitimate. That skepticism can serve us well in other areas. Is my relationship over if my partner strays? Can I “never trust him again” as Hollywood tells us again and again? Do I “own” my partner? Is that love? I don’t think so. Compulsive non-monogamous sex probably signals a problem. Two dead-eyed lovers pawing a boy in a bar–not a pretty picture. There are many more ways to do non-monagomy wrong than there are to do it right, but to decide–out of fear–against giving yourself or your partner the freedom to experiment seems to me like doing monogamy wrong, too.

  9. says

    I don’t believe the straight male is any more or less sexually active than the gay male. Because we are gay, we are always identified and defined by our sex lives. As far a “gay community” with a common goal, agenda and way of life….I don’t know if there really is one. The Gay Community we usually see portrayed in the news and in media is the most visual among us…the people who go to clubs and party and those who experiment with multiple sex partners and drugs, etc. The same behavior that goes on with Straight people, except they aren’t under society’s microscope as much as Gay people are. There is a large portion of “the Gay Community” who isn’t 18-25, don’t go to the clubs, don’t engage in permiscuous sex or casual encounters or may not be sexually active at all. Many aren’t obsessed with “beauty” and how they or others look, and don’t attend Gay Pride Parades. These people do get into relationships and they can be long lasting, monogomous and I suspect they are happy, too. It’s not about gay people fitting into society’s conventions because, quite frankly, I don’t think straight people are fitting into those conventions either. With a divorce rate as it is, infidelity within there own marriages, they are truly no different than we are, except that they are attracted to the opposite sex. I think everyone should have the choice and the right to live their lives as they wish, and nobody from either “community” gay or straight should be telling anyone else how they should be conducting their sex lives and neither should anyone be judging how someone else lives….be they monogomous, active with multiple sex partners, or whatever. Just be safe, responsible and if you’re in a relationship…be respectful of your partner’s dignity. If he/she is ok with an open relationship then that’s your business. Being monogomous isn’t following a convention, it is just how that individual or couple wishes to live their life.

    It disturbs me that Gay people who are judged so harshly by a homophobic society then judge each other and try to establish a definition of how we as a gay community should be living our lives. We aren’t all the same and we shouldn’t be trying to cookie-cut each other into our own narrow defintions of how to live being gay.

  10. RRR says

    “I don’t believe the straight male is any more or less sexually active than the gay male. Because we are gay, we are always identified and defined by our sex lives.” — patrick.

    true….and innocent or guilty, the picture painted during the scott peterson trial was not very well colored in portraying ruminations of marriage as a prison to the libido or desire. and sex/sexuality seems to be even more fluid these days….university life is not a sedate experience for many and doesn’t necessarily end there.

    as a community, there are centers that claim as a mission — “the assistance of people” within the community in seeking or offering programs to remedy a situation. albeit, there are other issues, yet, AIDS has become a primary focus. sadly though, this malady is being overlooked within society — consciously or subconsciously — as a disease of throw-aways. AIDS is not isolated to one group of people — community or not. as a community, properly managed centers should be supported. as individuals….chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal, caramel fudge, cafe con leche, or vanilla twirl….so many cookies beyond what some see as the “khaki brigade” that came to frown upon the historical fringes that made up that kaleidoscopic rainbow. and yes, safety or dignity are crucial considerations.

  11. HoyaBoy says

    Polarizing rhetoric or not, I stand by my comments. If you (gay or straight) need to look outside the relationship in order to find something you don’t have or nourish something that is under-fed, then you are not serving that relationship. That being said, I can totally understand the sense of desire or attraction we as men may feel for people who are not our partners, however, is that quick suck job in the steam room at the gym worth your own self esteem? the dignity of your partner? Yeah, yeah…it’s ok because it does not happen “regularly” or it’s fine because “we’ve talked about it and he’s ok with it”. Really? If you say so, great. I imagine that either couple mentioned above thought this was ok (assuming it was actually discussed) but did not realize that this could be a death of a thousand cuts. You may think me rigid, narrow whatever, but if we don’t take responsibility for the care and feeding of ourselves and our relationships why should we expect anyone else to?

  12. Zach says

    Hoyaboy–I don’t think you’re rigid or narrow at all. I think you’re probably thoughtful and pretty smart–I do question, though, your equation that a steam room blow job will cost me my self esteem or the dignity of my partner. I think that happens if you believe it happens. I guess I just don’t. A lot to think about, though. I’m going to go care for and feed my man…

  13. says

    Rather than join the debate in the comments, I just want to say that I saw the article (my partner sent it to me) and thought that so much of it sounded like us.

    We’re together over nine years, and I think a lot of what seems unique to our relationship isn’t all that unique. In a way, it’s rather comforting to know someone that well, to be with someone so long that you’re joined in every important way. Sadly, that sometimes includes home surgery. Whatever it includes–and it’s not all sunshine–the total package is great. :)

  14. says

    Another great short from David Sedaris. He’s my other literary hero.

    I agree with Alan and Chrisafer. Relationships are like shoes: there are so many kinds, you should probably try them all on and find one that fits you the best.

  15. says

    This post of Andy’s seems well picked-over and I don’t think I’d be able to shed any new light on this topic. With that said, I do believe Alan and Chrisafer have hit it squarely on the head. There isn’t a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ in which to approach monogamy vs. an open relationship. The ‘only way’, in my opinion, is that which works for all parties involved and, above all: honesty.

    (Hmmm…so much for me not having anything else to say about this posting.)

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