A while back, a friend was dating some guy. Nothing terribly romantic, he said, which is another way of saying no sex. But they were having dinner maybe twice a week and getting along fine. After about six weeks, however, he started to wonder what was going on and decided to broach the subject with the datee. Good move, because, as you astute observers of the gay social scene will have guessed by now, there wasn’t anything going on. At all.
It wasn’t my friend’s usual style, he says, but he’d been through a couple of long-term relationships and he wanted to get this one right. It’s easy to sympathize. Who among us has not at one time or another, however briefly, thought that perhaps it might be a good idea to get to know someone before you had sex? It seems so sensible — and so completely in defiance of gay social norms.
I was shocked one day to find that a friend was dating two guys and (so far) sleeping with neither. In fact, he was actively toting up and comparing their qualities as — gasp — people. More power to him, I thought, but really this was just too Jane Austen for me. Frankly, I fully expected it to go the way of the example above.
In all my years as a fag, I think I’ve been asked to postpone sex until the second date exactly once and that was essentially a presentiment of failure. We both knew we weren’t getting along and we proved it when we finally went to bed.
Otherwise, my life is a splendid example of the old gay dictum: If you don’t sleep together on the first date, you’re not going to sleep together at all.
Which is another way of saying that gay men don’t date. Oh, we say we’re dating, but what we mean is that we’re dating after sex, which is not dating at all. It’s not courtship, it’s not even that popular proviso “getting to know you,” it’s really just working out the parameters of the relationship. Once you’re into sex — and I don’t care whether you’ve slept together twice or two hundred times — you’re into the thick of it. The hidden fears, the heightened expectations, the age-old hurts. The minute you scratch the itch of intimacy, all the old demons surface and you have about as much chance of rationally evaluating your partner’s human qualities as you do of finding a friendly ear at the baths.
Not that I’d really change this for world. Juggling all the conflicting and often ecstatic impressions can be a lot of fun.
Contemporary gay “dating” rituals bear about as much relationship to traditional courtship as does a letter to an e-mail. One is soft, slow and considered; the other blunt, hurried and prone to misunderstanding.
Which is probably why I enjoy reading straight tips on dating so much. Whether it’s Joyce Maynard on dating after 40 in O magazine, or Toronto Life’s May singles survey, “Club Single,” or the Toronto Star’s insanely detailed Relationship Challenge, I can’t get enough of this stuff. It’s so far removed from my own experience it’s like reading a 19th-century novel or, even more exotic, the marital travails of the English royals — endlessly entertaining because of complete irrelevance.
It’s not that you can’t learn something from these missives and, in the spirit of positive thinking, I’m going to share my two best tips so far, both gleaned in part from the Star. Tip number one: Smile at everyone whether you’re interested or not; it will make you look more approachable.
Tip number two: Reframe your pick-up technique. Instead of thinking of the first painful approach as a make-or-break event, reframe it as a low-risk social encounter. All you’re trying to do is talk. Succeed at that and you can play the rest by ear. Not a bad idea — even if you’ve got the confidence of a carny salesman on commission.
But what I like best is what I think of as wet-noodle advice, tips so tired, limp and goofy that they make my feeble attempts at social intercourse seem suave by comparison. Of these, my favourites — and these crop up again and again — are something along the lines of, “Believe in yourself,” as though you were a magic trick ready to go phut in the air for lack of a Harry Potter wand.
Or better yet, “Be yourself,” a hoary old slogan retailed yet again in Toronto Life. They’re going to get to know you eventually, so you might as well show your true self from the start. Great, now which self would that be? The self I trot out at respectable family dinners or the self I parade after a drunken night in the bars? They’re both equally me. One is just a little hornier than the other and not as likely to believe in the never-never land of dating.