I’m in an open relationship and quarantined with my ex-husband, his boyfriend, my partner, and a roommate. Here’s what it’s like.

Jeff Leavell opens up about what it's like to live in an open relationship while in lockdown in Hollywood, California.

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Jeff Leavell opens up about what it’s like to live in an open relationship while in lockdown in Hollywood, California.
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Layne Manzer/Instagram tinmanzer

My alarm goes off at 7:45 am. On some mornings my partner, Layne, is there laying next to me. But today it’s just me and my little terrier mutt, Paco, who sleeps with his head on my chest. He has terrible breath, but the cuddles are worth it.

Layne is at his house in Koreatown with his roommate. We have decided that, for the time being, we’re going to split our time between our two homes – some nights together, some nights apart.

“Good morning!” I text Layne, “I love you.” Checking in has become a ritual of ours during lockdown.

I let Paco out, feed the cats, and make coffee. I put Bon Iver on the record player and sit down to write.

I can hear Matías, a friend who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York City, in the guest room. Alex, my ex-husband, is moving around in his room.

My ex-husband is one of my roommates and he is part of my family

I am a 51-year-old gay man in an open relationship with my partner, which means we are allowed to play with other guys – together and apart. I’m quarantining with my ex-husband, his boyfriend, and our friend.

A lot of people ask me what it’s like to live with my former partner. I tell them that he is like a brother. Just because things didn’t work out in our marriage doesn’t mean we don’t want play a large role in each other’s lives.

We live in a small three-bedroom craftsman house in Hollywood with a guest house in the back, where our friend – Robert – lives. We also have a front yard, and a backyard.

Sometimes it is just me, Alex, and Matías. Sometimes Layne is with us and Alex’s boyfriend, Dylan, too. Dylan is quarantining in Silverlake with his roommate.

This is my family during the coronavirus pandemic: Five gay men, two cats, and a dog.

Leavell lives with his partner, his ex-husband, his ex's boyfriend, and a friend.

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Leavell lives with his partner, his ex-husband, his ex’s boyfriend, and a friend.
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Layne Manzer/Instagram tinmanzer

We are three separate households all coming together during this period of lockdown. We have very clear rules. We have all agreed to follow the guidelines around social distancing. We wear face masks when we have to go out, frequently wash our hands, and don’t engage in potentially “dangerous” activity with anyone outside our extended family.

We know it’s not just ourselves we are putting at risk.

Living in lockdown has forced us all to examine how we live our lives and how we approach our relationship with each other and other guys. Layne and I have had to talk a lot about what it means right now to be in an open relationship.

My partner and I put limits on our open relationship during the pandemic

We decided that for the duration of the lockdown we would not be meeting other men. We are allowed to chat, video chat, attend Zoom “circle jerks’ and exchange all the pictures we want. But for now, physically, it is just us.

We can revisit this as the world slowly begins to open up.

Being fluid is one of the most important tools in an open relationship. We both agree that we want to be able to explore other sexual partners, to be able to have experiences together and separate. But we are also aware that there will be times in our relationship when we will need to close things up, focus only on ourselves, or maybe renegotiate the rules around our status.

Leavell relaxes at home with partner, Layne.

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Leavell relaxes at home with partner, Layne.
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Layne Manzer/Instagram tinmanzer

I’ve learned that non-traditional relationships require a lot of communication. Sometimes I feel like all we do is talk – even more so than when I have been in more traditional monogamous partnerships.

It is important that Layne gets to express his feelings around my living with my ex and it’s my job to listen and to try to be as open and honest as possible.

For the most part it works. Layne is part of my family, just like Alex and Dylan and Matías are.

But living under stay-at-home rules can exacerbate any situation. We find balance in coming together for family time, when we eat dinner, watch movies, or just sit in the yard and in also allowing each other private space.

Finding this balance isn’t always easy.

Sometimes we don’t behave well. I have also found that small things can make me angry – if someone’s hat is left on the table, if there are a few unwashed dishes, or there are no more cookies. Things that in normal times would not have bothered me can make me want to scream. Learning to self-regulate has been a challenge.

We try to be patient with each other, but it’s not easy.

Giving each other space is the key to making our arrangement work

Some nights Alex will get the living room to work on his art. I’ll request the room to do my nightly yoga challenge. Matías uses his solitary time to play video games online with friends back in New York. Layne and I both enjoy our time together, but we have found that our time apart is equally important.

We give each other these moments, silently agreeing that this is part of the wellbeing of our household.

Around 8:30 am, everyone starts to come out of their rooms. We will make coffee, eggs, and bacon and usually plan one outing a day – a bike ride, a walk through our now quiet Hollywood neighborhood, or a drive through the canyons and out along the coast.

In the afternoons, we work out in our makeshift gym in the front yard.

In the evenings, we make dinner and watch a movie. When the house quiets down again, I like to sit alone in the living room, reading and listening to music.

Leavell Family 4

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Layne Manzer/Instagram tinmanzer

In my LGBTQ+ community, we talk a lot about “chosen family,” which arose because of homophobia and queer people being rejected by their relatives. We have built families out of friends, lovers, exes, and sometimes, our lover’s lovers. We aren’t bound by the same definitions as most of our heterosexual friends are.

Being gay has always felt like a blessing to me

“Living a queer life is the greatest act of defiance there is,” my friend Laurent once told me. This was years ago, back when I was in my early 20s living in New York City.

“Being gay is radical,” he added. “Loving who we choose, and not who we should, that is radical.”

gay relationship

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Getty

Months later, Laurent died of AIDS. After his funeral, I sat at the Washington Square Diner in New York City with six of his closest friends. I was the youngest, still a student at Sarah Lawrence College.

“We are all we have,” one of the men said. “No one else will ever love us as completely and as freely as we love each other.”

Robert walks from the guest house, past our open living room windows. Paco barks, startling all of us.

“Hey guys!” Robert calls out, “I’m making a store run. Do you need anything?”

“Milk!” Alex says.

“Ice cream,” Matías says.

“Cookies!” I call out.

“I’m taking a lunch break,” Layne texts me. “Want to eat sandwiches and go for a walk with me?”

“Absolutely,” I respond.

We are trying to figure out this new world – how to be safe, how to take care of each other, how to pay the bills, and put food on the table and make sure that none of us gets sick.

I can’t help but think that maybe that connects all of us, regardless of what our families look like.