If you ask me, the most common problem for gay men in Vancouver is a feeling of being lonely and disconnected.
I’m not talking about whether or not you currently have a boyfriend. I’m talking about not feeling close to anyone.
I believe that feeling of aloneness, of disconnection, alone/not connected, is the single biggest cause of guys becoming HIV-positive.
Vancouver may be full of friendly people, but there’s a common perception that it’s hard to make friends in this community. For most of us, making friends is an extremely important part of living a happy life. Feeling alone leads to social withdrawal for many guys. To build a strong community, we need to nurture confident, happy guys. We need to build a healthy community ourselves.
The beginnings of this strong community lie in supporting and respecting each other. As a therapist, I see many isolated gay guys who feel they cannot connect to anyone anywhere.
I have taken many courses in my life, most of them full of facts I did not want or need to know. But the two courses I’ve always wanted to take but could never find are Being Gay: How to Thrive in Gay Culture and Gay Sexuality: From Cruising to Kink and Everything in Between.
These are some of the most important skills for a successful, happy life, but they’re hard to learn with little or no guidance. I wonder why these courses don’t exist?
For more than 20 years, I have asked different groups in a number of cities to consider offering such courses, but no one has ever taken me up on the idea. Maybe they’re right: maybe no one (except me) would sign up.
I’d offer the courses myself, but I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. I need them as much as — or more than — the next guy.
I think bathhouses should offer monthly courses for new and old patrons alike. Imagine how much more enjoyable the bathhouse experience would be with a little instruction. (I’d sign up — I am a total failure in a bathhouse!)
And how about a course from online dating companies on Effective Bios and Effective Messaging: How to Find What You Want Online? They could even offer it online so people could remain anonymous.
I bet a lot of gay bar staff, who have observed years of bar behaviour, could give a course on How to Successfully Connect with a Guy in the Bar.
While we wait for gay school to start, there are some concrete things we, as individuals, can do.
We can smile more, make an effort to be more approachable and stop being so reluctant to say hi to strangers.
We can strike up a conversation first and not wait for the other person to find the courage to reach out to us.
We can stop expecting everyone to like us — and stop taking it so personally if they don’t. (Less than half the people you meet will be interested in developing a friendship with you, or with anyone else for that matter.)
We can be truly interested in the people we’re talking to, in discovering who they are and what they might share with us.
Remember: sitting at home knitting will not help you build friendships and connections.
You may wonder where I got my list of suggestions: it’s all the stuff I don’t do but think I should. I’ll try if you will. Together, maybe we can make a difference in our community and in our own lives.