Months after my six-year relationship ended, I returned with angst and anticipation to the once-familiar dating scene. Six years out of circulation, meeting guys, receiving passes, flirting and dating felt foreign. Following advice from friends – blind dates courtesy of Liz, sexier underwear styles recommended by Jay and forward flirting techniques from Dave – pushed me further beyond my comfort zone.
Out of practice, I felt awkward and alone, but as the dates kept coming, I discovered I wasn’t.
Flirting fumbles, disastrous dates and intense self discovery are all familiar to Toronto’s recently created singletons as they find their way in today’s dizzying dating scene.
Grant Wheaton, author of The 7-Day Dating and Relationship Plan for Gay Men, says dating among gay men moves faster and entails more relationship options, given society’s validation of gay relationships and the option of marriage. It can be intimidating.
“It’s natural for men to feel shaky about putting themselves out there,” he says. “But eventually, once you’re feeling pretty ready, it’s time to ease back into it.”
Recently returned to single life, 25-year-old Austin Vieira says, “It was difficult getting back into dating. I was very rusty.”
A daycare attendant, Vieira says he is reverting to a bad habit that repelled men before he entered his most recent relationship, which lasted three years. “During conversation I can get nervous and start to share too much of what I do for a living,” he says. “My whole day revolves around kids, and a lot of guys don’t like or want children.”
A recent date at Zyng Asian Grill demonstrated his chronic problem of bringing work to the wok. “I went on and on about kids, and I could see him start to drift off, and I thought ‘Oh God, I screwed this one over,’” he says. “At the end of it he said, ‘Well, I hate kids,’ and there was a really awkward silence.”
The maturing dater
Few observers would expect Francis Gaudreault, 26, to suffer from dating dilemmas. For the handsome bartender and party promoter, meeting men is inherent to the job. But Gaudreault – now one year single – says breakups have taken a toll.
“It was easier to date when I was 18 and 19 because I fell in love so much more easily,” he says. “I’m jaded now.”
A fixture on the party scene and attracted to slightly older men, Gaudreault occasionally wrestles with the life experience of the men he dates.
“Now I’m dating men in their 30s, and these are guys who’ve been part of the party lifestyle and cleaned up their act,” he says. “Recovering alcoholics tend to be adamant about their recovery, which I support, but they can be really vocal. I’m not an alcoholic, but I do enjoy a glass of wine, especially on a date, and I’ve had that thrown in my face.”
Tempo of texting
For fitness instructor Dave Grant, the influence of technology and sexual liberation on the world of dating while he was in a 12-year relationship left him startled upon his return to an unfamiliar scene in 2007.
“Everything’s happening a lot faster now,” says the 37-year-old Burlingtonian.
Even after a flurry of dates – 47 in the first two months following his breakup – he was stunned that a first date was no longer about “dinner, a movie and a nice goodnight kiss.” Instead, if the chemistry’s right, he says in a low voice, “It’s about ‘Come back to my place.’”
The rise of PDAs, dating websites and social media are also factors. With countless ways to communicate electronically and avoid in-person breakups, Grant says, “Men no longer have balls. Before it was crass to do it on the phone, but nowadays, it’s technology doing the talking.”
Compounding the challenges, Grant has also navigated through the dating scene with relatively little support; after his relationship ended, only two friends stuck by his side, so he’s been forced to build a new network.
The botched blind date
For civil servant Josh Lacombe, the incentive to date – to find the sizzle and security of a boyfriend – has waned. He’s documented two of his own breakups on his blog, joshuajimmy.blog.ca, since 2008.
“It’s easy to be single,” Lacombe says. “I have a great place, a good job and I don’t feel sad when I wake up on Saturday morning alone.”
But the 26-year-old says he still wants a husband and kids, and his friends spur him into dating with introductions and setups.
“Some people think since you’re both gay and you’re the same age that you’ll get along,” he says. “But obviously there are other factors for compatibility.”
Lacombe says his breakups have given him a new measuring stick for evaluating his prospects.
“I now ask myself, ‘What kind of ex will they be?’” he says, smiling.