Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia was relatively easy for Jim. Family values and Catholic schools taught Jim early on that being gay was taboo, and if he kept his hands away from his private parts, he would have great eyesight later in life.
Joining a fraternity at Penn State led Jim down a gay fantasy road, but during college, he fell in love with a girl. After college, he moved into his own apartment and got engaged, but the gay fantasy continued to dance like sugarplums in his head. He sought the help of a psychologist.
“After one session and a sarcastic recommendation involving electrodes, I decided to come out,” laughed Jim. It validated what he’d known since he was a young man. Jim was different. Jim was gay.
CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME
It was 1985. “We are the World” was the number-one Pop Single and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” was the number-one year-end single. And with that as a soundtrack, Jim was heading to San Francisco.
Despite not knowing anyone or having a place to stay, he wasn’t concerned. He knew he’d find something and he believed that embarking on a new beginning in San Francisco and living authentically was not only the best option, but it was also his only option.
He found a place to sleep, and although it was a mattress in a tiny closet, Jim felt like he was home.
Along the Long Island shoreline in West Haven, Connecticut, is where 15-year-old John came out gay. Luckily, he found other kids like him, and they formed a sanctuary of acceptance and security while they were growing up.
John’s mother wanted nothing to do with John’s life and forbade him from speaking about it with any of his family. At a time of desperation, he needed comfort and understanding; he went to his mom and still remembers her rhetorical reply: “What am I supposed to do about it?” That was the moment he knew there was no reason for him to stay in West Haven.
John took a job in Washington, DC, and was there for 11 years. Half the time, he was single, and the other half of the time, he was in a long-term relationship with Tony. Forty years later, John and Tony are still best friends.
In 1993, John was heading to San Francisco for vacation. Two weeks later, he decided to make a permanent move there to work with Target. By this time, Jim had been in San Francisco for 11 years and was ready to meet someone. He loved to travel and crave adventure and wanted to see the world with someone special.
STARCHED AND TUCKED
In 1996, Jim was at Badlands Bar in San Francisco with some friends, and he noticed the good-looking man in a white starched shirt tucked into a pair of tight jeans and cowboy boots. Hold on! It was about to get Urban Cowboy. Jim thought this guy was either extremely vain or simply loved his shirts stiff with starch, but either way, he was going to find out. With a sly twinkle in his eye and a confident grin, Jim approached John.
“Do you starch your underwear?” he asked. “I’ve heard it makes them easier to fold.”
In a stern tone, John answered his voice flat and direct, “No,” and then walked away.
That could have been the end of the story, but Jim doesn’t give up that easily. Besides, it was 1996, and Tracy Chapman’s "Give Me One Reason” was heard everywhere.
Jim needed to give John a reason to “turn right back around,” and by the end of the night, Jim had his number.
It took three weeks for Jim to finally call John.
“I’m a busy guy,” Jim laughs, to which John responds, “ Yeah! A nutty one!”
Jim describes himself as a “serial monogamist.” He was used to dating one person for a year or two and then moving on. He’d never really felt a serious connection with anyone; he was just having a good time.
DRAGONFLIES, SPIRITUALITY & SIGNS
They made a date to go to the beach, and that day Jim knew something or someone was trying to get his attention. Early that morning, dragonflies unexpectedly appeared as he was preparing to leave, reminding him of the dragonfly tattoo on his back. While he was heading to John’s, he kept receiving a stream of spiritual messages, reinforcing the message: right place, right time, right man. Driving toward the beach, he turned onto a street with the same name as a dear friend of his who had recently passed from AIDS. This wouldn’t be the final sign John received, but after so many, he believed he had connected with a person who was destined to be someone special in his life.
At the beach, John looked around for the perfect spot to put down a blanket and settle in.
WHAT’S YOUR SIGN
John’s head was spinning as he lay there, breathing the salty ocean air and soaking in the sun. Being a spiritual man, John felt he was exactly where he should be, but what was next? John was almost afraid to ask, but he did anyway.
“So what’s your sign?”
”Pisces,” Jim answered.
“Of course it is,” John thought as he continued.
“February 24th,” Jim answered.
With that, John sprang to his feet and yelled, “What is going on? That’s the same date as my friend Chip who just passed away. I don’t believe in in coincidence! This is really happening!”
Jim said at 36 years of age, something changed inside him.
“I was ready. I was ready to settle down and find my life partner,” he says. And John agreed. After living in San Francisco for three years, John was ready to take a chance on a man who was becoming more charming by the minute. But it took some time to get there.
It took a while to connect sexually. Jim was determined to go slow and not rush anything, and John wasn’t used to the pace, but he hung in there. In less than a year, they were living together.
It was 1996 and Hootie & the Blowfish’s biggest song from its debut album was “Only Wanna be with You.” What a perfect segway into the life they were getting ready to share.
“Well, there's nothing I can do
I Only Wanna Be With You”
They gave each other trips to Mexico and Disney on their first Christmas, and they’ve been traveling ever since. Because of John’s job in retail, traveling anywhere at Christmas was out of the question, and living in San Francisco made it hard to see family back on the east coast. Jim actually wondered if John had any family, but there was this woman who would call once in a blue moon claiming to be his mother, so Jim decided John must have a mother.
One day, a wedding invitation appeared in the mail from John’s cousin. Without hesitation, Jim jumped up and announced they were going! Staying with John’s mother in the house where John grew up was another unexpected yet meant-to-be moment. By the end of the trip, they knew they would be back sooner rather than later. They’ve been visiting each year since.
After about five years together, Jim found himself in unfamiliar territory because of his pattern of serial monogamy. Jim and John began to drift apart in all areas of their lives, including sexually. The familiar solution for Jim was to pack it up and go; after all, five years was a long time for him.
His work offered a paid personal growth program, so he decided to participate. Over time, it began to open his eyes to what was lacking in his and John’s communication.
Together, without consciously knowing it, they both realized that each was keeping a “back door to their hearts open.” They were both planning for an escape by not fully committing to each other. The entire relationship was in jeopardy with every little argument. Leaving is always the easiest choice.
Or is it?
Understanding this revelation, they pledged to each other to work on their relationship because it was worth it. They agreed use the personal growth program to change the course of their relationship. Of course, they still have arguments, but now nothing threatens the relationship. They’re now committed to working through things and not letting each argument be a threat. Jim and John’s honest and open relationship is built on a foundational bond of trust which creates the basis of their love for and commitment to each other.
“It started by truly communicating openly and honestly with mutual respect,” they say.
EIGHT EIGHT EIGHT
In July of 2008, Jim and John were cruising in Barcelona and were discussing if it was the right time to get married. It had been 12 years, and while they felt married, they didn’t have legal protections as a couple. If something was to happen medically to either one of them, the other could be shut out of healthcare information completely, including hospital visitation. California legalized same-sex marriage on June 16, 2008, but Proposition 8 was on the November ballot, which could create a constitutional ban against it. They didn’t want to take a chance on missing what could be the window of opportunity to get legally married in California. Nine days after returning home from their cruise, they were married in their Salsalito home surrounded by eight friends on 08-08-08.
On August 8, 2008, Alicia Keys’ hit number one on the R&B Chart with Love Me Like You’ll Never See Me Again.
“I don't wanna forget the present is a gift…”
What began as a legal event to protect themselves turned quite intimate and personal when their friend Colleen became an ordained minister for the day to perform their ceremony. They wanted to write their own vows and create a special moment that made sense to them as a couple. While researching, they discovered the Celtic hand-fasting ceremony, which dates back to the 12th century but is still used today. It was exactly what they were looking for.
Jim wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he held up fine during the ceremony, even when dragonflies made an unexpected appearance on their outside patio. He stayed calm as John started to lean and needed Jim’s strength to stand. At this precise moment, they both realized the depth and strength, and breadth of their love.
”Obviously love, yes.” Jim interjects. “But this was different! It felt different!”
Telling this part of the story was one of the few times Jim and John stopped during the interview and locked eyes.
“Yes,” they agreed.
With the support and love of friends and food from a great caterer, they had a perfect wedding day. The caterer even matched some missing glassware and created a stunning table in celebration. An altar area covered in white roses created an exquisite backdrop as they bound their hands together, signifying the binding of their lives.
Looking back, Jim and John wished they had shared their wedding plans with other family and friends prior. Focused on their plans, they didn’t think it was a big deal, but they said they were wrong. As word traveled, the congratulatory messages poured in, and many wished they had been there to help them celebrate their love on such a special day.
Do I see something coming?