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Every relationship counts

Tony confessed that he is a size queen. In more ways than one, as it turned out. Where relationships are concerned, it’s the length that counts for him. If it’s forever, it’s good; if it’s brief, it’s bad. Not me. I’ve had some very successful relationships which have lasted mere minutes.

I met Tony on the kind of night that makes me happy to be gay, filled with random connections that I know would be impossible if I didn’t inhabit such a socially lubricated world.

He had caught my eye at Woody’s and later at the Barn (before I was kicked out for an innocent frolic with my studly buddy Lou, whom I hadn’t seen in ages – you know the city’s going down the tubes when the cops have our cruisiest bar treating amorous patrons like criminals).

Tony is, well, toned, with friendly eyes and a butt comprised of two honeydew melons. He was direct about the fact that he was sizing me up, not as a mere sex partner, but as a boyfriend. At 30, he’s never had a boyfriend, and is aching for one. The scene, he says, isn’t conducive to it. But there he was, on the scene.

Tony is not alone. There’s a faint but constant, plaintive chorus hanging in the air above Church Street, emanating from conversations on the street, and from the thought bubbles of gay men at home in their bachelor pads. “OoowwIwannaboyfriend!!!”

Last year, I was on a panel about boyfriends. We did a show of hands. How many people are in a longterm, monogamous relationship? A smattering of hands among the 100 or so people in the room went up. How many people long to be in a longterm, monogamous relationship? Pretty much every hand in the room shot into the air.

Something was terribly wrong with this picture. A roomful of men were saying they wanted something – something very important to them – that they didn’t have. Is it that gay men lack the necessary skills to form and sustain relationships? Perhaps.

I know lots of other gay men, though, who are simply not cut from coupledom’s cloth. Unfortunately, partly because of the social pressure to couple up, many of them cannot see their lives as single guys as valid or complete. Nor can they see the other relationships in their lives – friendships, predominantly – for their true value. The current glorification of gay marriage is not helpful, propping up a caste system of relationships.

Contemporary gay men also have some very traditional ideas about what a relationship should look like. Tony, for instance, was aghast to learn that I already have a boyfriend. I explained that different people in different scenarios fulfill my different emotional and sexual needs. He was concerned that none of it was meaningful. But my conversation with him was meaningful to me. As was reuniting with Lou at the Barn.

In such encounters, the instant intimacy that gay culture allows can extend into candid conversation and connection, often with people you’d never meet outside a sexual context. When your world feels too small, go cruising.

It’s not uncomplicated, of course. I’ve been having a summer affair which may be doomed because of our differing takes on relationships. (He wants a one-and-only boyfriend; I’ve already got a boyfriend).

The practicalities of juggling boyfriends and sex partners aside, it’s very difficult in this culture to share one’s affections. I was bemoaning the situation with my dear friend AA, who pointed out that in France, the traditional after-work happy hour is set aside for men to visit their mistresses, rather than go boozing with their buddies.

Here, a boyfriend is an all-or-nothing proposition. As long as that’s the standard, too many of us end up with nothing.