Are Jerrod Carmichael and His Boyfriend Still Together?

jerrod carmichael and michael
‘Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show’ Episode 7 RecapHBO

“My boyfriend doesn’t make me feel ashamed for being sexual or having desires outside of him.” Jerrod Carmichael says this to an audience at the start of episode 7 of Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show. It’s only half true.

The true half is that sweet Michael, Carmichael’s bookish and levelheaded boyfriend, hasn’t tried to shame him at this point. The false half is that “being sexual and having desires” are not the issues at hand. The issues are Carmichael actually having sex with other men and lying about it and doing it on camera on a show that the rest of us are watching and doing all of these things while also saying he wants to be monogamous.

“Opening,” as the episode title suggests, is about Carmichael and Michael coming to terms with the situation as it is—rather than as they say they want or as heteronormative society has insisted is the ideal—and opening up their relationship. It’s not going to be easy. “It’s funny because I’m the one who cheated,” Carmichael tells the audience, “but I truly couldn’t handle him doing the same thing that I did. I think straight men relate to this: It’s a way that he looks at me during sex that…” He pauses, winces. “Imagining him looking at someone else that way makes me want to buy a gun.”

“Every straight couple I know wants to fuck someone else,” he continues. “They just don’t do it. Maybe that’s what love is, wanting to fuck someone else and not doing it.”

jerrod carmichael and michael
Jerrod Carmichael and his boyfriend, Michael, in a scene from episode 7 of Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show. HBO

Maybe. But I’m looking forward to him saying—not to an audience or to his family or to a camera but to himself—who cares if straight men relate, and who cares how straight couples do it? Who says they get to decide what love is or how it works?

Carmichael visits Michael at the University of Iowa, where Michael’s dog Ronan is in a cone. This has been, as you may have heard vis-à-vis this Kristi Noem nonsense, a trying moment in history for those of us who love dogs, so right away I am emotionally invested. I become more invested when Carmichael starts singing Xscape’s “Just Kickin’ It” as Michael types away on what is either his novel or a massive test for his degree program, both of which are due imminently. I’d prefer Xscape’s version, but Carmichael’s version holds up.

Speaking of degrees, I don’t know if you need a separate degree to be a therapist on reality television, but it does seem to call for a slightly different set of skills, chiefly an understanding of the dual planes of reality at work here: There is what is real real, and then there is what is being massaged for the cameras. Whatever. Their TV therapist stops by for a Zoom session, and she suggests that as a first step to opening up their relationship—“An open relationship seems like a Mr. & Mrs. Smith competition to see who can fuck more people,” Carmichael says, like someone who hasn’t tried an open relationship—they try recruiting someone for a three-way.

“I wish cheating and apologizing could just be the relationship,” he tells an audience. He wonders aloud to an audience whether having sex with other people will be as exciting, as satisfying, if it’s talked about and agreed upon openly. He mentions that Michael has asked him, “Do you need the transgression?”

“Don’t ever date a reader” is his advice to the audience.

But Michael’s question is damn good and thought-provoking, and we should all be so lucky to date a reader. I put the question to Carmichael again when we spoke in March: Does he still need that feeling of having cheated? “I was stuck in the kink of that for a while,” he admitted. “I’m able to now have some control and calm down and not need the novelty as much. And my boyfriend’s very understanding about where I was and where he found me, and I’ve been really enjoying sex with love, with affection. Non-performative sex with him is great, deeply connected.”

“Without the secrecy of the closet, or the transgressive element of cheating or whatever, then it just can become…You put the cookie jar on the table in front of the kid and tell him to have as many cookies as he wants, eventually he’ll get sick of cookies. Eventually, it’s like, actually, you know what? Chicken and vegetables sound nice. You start appreciating the cooked food of it all.”

jerrod carmichael

The two of them recruit a third on Grindr, and the three-way idea turns out to be a winner. “We’re like my favorite WWE tag team,” Carmichael says. So, honestly, good for them. But I do wonder about Cynthia, his mother, whom we met last week and who is resistant to even acknowledge that her son is gay, much less that he is sexually active, much much less that he is sexually creative. I asked if he thought about her reaction, and here’s what he said:

“I desperately want my parents’ attention. I want their response. I wish she asked more questions and took more of an interest in my life. That actually would be a blessing. There are parents who are like that, and my friends who have parents that ask a lot of questions find it overbearing. My mom has cognitive dissonance like a motherfucker, she can ignore and not ask, and I want her to be invested in my life and to care.”

Which is natural, but when he tells Michael, “Hey, look, this guy sent a picture of his lubed-up asshole,” it is also natural to wonder whether that helps a mother lean in. I feel like no.

As for sex outside of the relationship, Carmichael and Michael’s therapist helps them draw up a set of rules, which go like this: Carmichael must disclose whether he is going to hook up with someone, meaning that he must give a heads-up before. Michael, by contrast, must only give notice, meaning that he has to reveal a sexual experience after the fact. Initially, Carmichael bristles: “Saying that maybe I want to get a blow job later feels very difficult,” which suggests that maybe he does need the transgression.

The episode also marks the return of “Anonymous”—Carmichael’s friend who wears a mask and distorts his voice (according to internet sleuths, it’s Bo Burnham, though Carmichael wouldn’t reveal his identity to me)—who does some psychoanalysis of his own: “I think you think that Michael is the woman in the relationship, and that he is better than you in the way that your mother is better than your father.” I’m not even a Zoom therapist, but I think he’s right.

jerrod carmichael and anonymous
Jerrod Carmichael and his friend Anonymous, in a scene from episode 7 of Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show.HBO

Carmichael and Michael both do some extracurricular hooking up, with Carmichael letting Michael know ahead of time. While Michael is in New York, Carmichael makes a date to fuck a couple, and Michael sends him off with a letter that says, among other things, “There is a blue whale on this card, because our love is the biggest thing on Earth.” It would indeed be difficult to fuck someone else with these words in your head. But I am here to tell you that Carmichael manages.

I asked him where his relationship with Michael stands right now. They’re still together, and they’re still open. “We both still have our freedom,” he said, “and I hooked up with somebody the other day. It was fun. It was nice. It wasn’t the same.” Now that they’re being fully open and honest with each other, Carmichael adds: “I don’t need the extra so much.”

Next week, the final episode of Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show. I’ll be watching. After this one, though, I cannot vouch for his mom.

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