Exploring the dating habits of contemporary gay men continues to require huge investments of time and energy. Data collection is ongoing. In fact, I see no end in sight. The larger the study population, the better the results. And as you know, I want only the best for my readers.
Before we get to today, you need a better understanding of history. Specifically, mine — warts and all — up to my most recent ex. He doesn’t fit a mold I can only hope is now broken.
In the months after I came out, 21-year-old me fell in love about 427 times. Bouncing in and out of the closet cost me the best of the bunch — a kind, handsome man who wore a huge fur coat and drove a red Corvette with CRUISIN on the license plate. Things might have been very different for me had we stayed together. If a frog had wings…
Out of the closet, with a single-mindedness of purpose I’d never devoted to any other goal, I set out to find my man. The only qualification: love me. Our love would carry us through everything else, with the hard times sealing the bond and providing something to talk about in our golden years. Growing up, I might have watched a few too many musicals. Whatever the cause, I believed in the Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and LAFSUDDUP.
Not familiar with LAFSUDDUP? I beg to differ. Thanks to Walt Disney and the like, Love-At-First-Sight-Until-Death-Do-Us-Part is instilled in us from birth. True, some take the message to heart more than others. For a good forty years, I was devout, with a faith rivaling that of even the most ardent worshippers. Believing hard enough would make it true.
Three months was a rarely achieved milestone for those early love affairs. But I never gave up. Nope. Not even once. Being in a relationship was the most important thing in the universe. Days, hours, maybe even minutes after my heart had been broken, I was on the horse again, hanging on for dear life and hoping maybe this time to stay on.
Enter Steve, with his olive complexion, gorgeous hazel eyes, and Eastern Kentucky accent. We dated for a few months then carried on a long distance relationship for several years. No. That’s not right. We got really drunk one night at the bar, danced together, and woke up the next morning in the same bed.
He loved me, in his way. For the longest time I considered him my first love. But in truth, I was head over heels in love with the idea of being in love with him. We had nothing in common, and in between some wild adventures — including a few destined for the pages of future novels — we mostly made each other miserable. We reconnected again years later, just months before liver failure took him to an early grave.
Number two was the anti-Steve. He’d never set foot in a gay bar before we met because, well… he was married. Empathy was my excuse. I could imagine marrying at 19 or 20, before I knew I was gay, but not what I would do in the situation. He didn’t know either, so she decided for him, kicking him out when she found out. His religious family shunned him, and because he had no place else to go and I was desperate for love, I let him move in with me. For like eleven years.
Number three was the gayest man in America. He moved in after he got evicted and had no place else to go. He didn’t much like to work, which was just as well, because with his smart mouth and know-it-all-attitude, he couldn’t keep a job. But he was right up in the middle of every gay activity and function within a hundred miles. Because of him, we got involved in a little gay church, Our Lady of Perpetual Drama.
Though these three men were as different as night and day, things turned out more or less the same. All three shared an inability to tell the truth or keep it zipped. I can’t lie. Well, I could, and have — but I’m not good enough at it for cheating, playing poker, or commission sales. The shock came after my parents divorced and I discovered I’d married my philandering father not once, not twice, but three times.
Paging Dr. Freud.
I went through therapy, dated Steve, did time in rehab, had two failed relationships, wrote a memoir, got more therapy, and finally figured out the baggage I’d carried around for most of my life wasn’t even mine. They didn’t treat me the way they did because of who I was, but because of who they were. Seeing how little anything was ever about me, while maybe a bit sad, took a huge load off my mind.
Prior to this revelation, men I met fell into two groups: Yes and no. Now I can see four groups: guys I have no interest in meeting, guys I’d meet but never date, guys I’d date but never marry, and guys with husband potential.
Evaluating prospects is a complicated business with lots and lots of variables to consider. Lines between the various groups are fluid. Everything is negotiable, but dating material has to be single, with a a place to live, a functioning vehicle, and a job paying enough for him to at least break even every month.
Granted, the bar is low. But had these guidelines been in place forty years ago, I never would have dated Steve, the cheating husband, or the gayest man in America. Looking back, whether or not I ever actually dated any of them is an open question. We hooked up and, next thing you know, somebody was renting a U-haul.
Hindsight is always 20-20. The trick will be applying what I’ve learned to the present. I’ll keep you posted.