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HOW TO “LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER” … THE GAY WAY
You have no doubt read the centuries-old children’s fairy tales, seen the story lines and plot twists in movies and TV shows, and heard hundreds of anecdotes about the process of finding that one person with whom to “live happily ever after.” The thing is, though, all of those present a heterosexual model of courtship, coupling, and commitment, and really have nothing to say about the equally legitimate same-sex attraction and love you are now feeling as a teenager or young adult who has just come to terms with his/her sexuality. Especially if you are not particularly flamboyant in the way in which you act out your sexuality in public (i.e., if you are more “straight-acting,” whether by choice or by nature), it may seem to you as though you’re never going to find the happy relationship you seek — modern culture (in general) doesn’t offer you much in the way of role models to give you any idea what to do, and it likely seems daunting to try to figure it all out on your own. In this essay, I will offer advice that I hope will help you to avoid some of the most common, avoidable pitfalls in same-sex love and relationships.
A very common mistake made by young gay people who have just accepted themselves as gay is to assume that they are alone; that is, that he/she is the only gay person that exists outside Will & Grace or anywhere other than San Francisco, or some such line of hooey. Believe me, I know how tempting and easy it is to reach this conclusion, but it just simply isn’t true. The problem with making this assumption is that it invariably makes you feel far more desperate to find a partner than you ought to feel, and desperation is not a proper base on which to build a mutually happy, healthy relationship.
You can find gay people in almost any imaginable situation, even if there are none in your neighborhood, your school, or your workplace. I mean, you are bound to get out of the house to carry on such regular activities of life as shopping, banking, getting gas for your car, or enjoying an hour of recreational time at a local park; I certainly can’t guarantee that you will find the love of your life in any or all of these situations, but my point is that being open to possibilities in all different situations will greatly improve your chances of meeting that special someone. Keep an eye out for the cute guy who gives you a coy smile in aisle 7, or the guy who keeps checking you out as he fills up his car at the pump; such an occurrence is bound to happen sometime and somewhere, probably when you’re least expecting it.
I would also recommend that you be willing to look beyond your own school and/or hometown in a search for a partner. For example, a young gay man in the insanely homophobic fictional town of Bumblebutt Mountain, Tennessee (population 60), obviously isn’t going to have a whole lot of luck finding a suitable partner in his hometown. However, if he takes the attitude that he is going to be open to possibilities when he visits the supermarket up the road in Podunk (population 7,000), or when he makes the 80-mile drive to the nearest big city of Knoxville to check out all the cute boys at the University of Tennessee, he will greatly increase his chances. I wouldn’t suggest completely writing off your school or hometown, but if I were you, I would also be willing to cast as wide a net as possible.
If you are desperate to enter into a relationship, you would truthfully be far better served in the long run to “take yourself off the market,” so to speak. When you are desperate for a relationship, you will accept anything that comes your way, and frankly, this is a real tip-off (and turn-on) to the most twisted, abusive, and/or sadistic fringes of the gay community. (We have our few bad apples too, just like the heterosexual community has its rapists and wife-beaters.) Your desperation will result in your getting used and/or abused in ways you may not like at all, and even worse yet, will cloud your judgment to the point where you won’t be able to come to your senses and extricate yourself from such a bad situation.
Having a relationship is not going to solve whatever “problems” you feel that you have in your life, be they character flaws, perceived physical flaws, or emotional, psychological, or family issues. After the initial euphoria and new-ness of such a relationship wears off, your problems will still be lurking nearby, and may well have become worse as a result of your ignoring them. In addition to that, if you do believe that finding a relationship is going to cure all of your problems, you are sadly mistaken on at least two fronts: (1) you would be basically using your partner to deal with problems that aren’t his, which is not fair to him at all; and (2) chances are he is going to enter the relationship with at least a few issues of his own, and it is the exceedingly rare (and almost guaranteed to be much older and more mature) person who has the strength to deal with your issues on top of his own. If you have issues and/or problems in your life, those are things you must figure out a way to deal with on your own — it is not healthy or fair for you to shove them off on a partner, nor is it realistic to expect that they will magically disappear when a partner arrives in your life.
You also really should not feel any sense of hurriedness to find a partner, either, because that doesn’t do you any good. This is another form of being desperate, and as I pointed out above, desperation will not attract the type of man you are hoping to find — in fact, it is likely to attract weirdos to you. Considering that my target audience for this essay is under 30, roughly speaking (although some men do come out quite a bit later in life), I must remind you that the average American male life expectancy of 74 years leaves you with a minimum of another 44 years to accomplish everything you want to do in your life — including finding a partner. A loving, committed relationship is something you can’t rush; it has to develop over time. Not only will exercising patience help to keep you from going nuts, but on top of that, patience is perhaps the most valuable character trait needed to maintain a healthy, loving relationship — it would behoove you to develop this trait in your personality.
Another common mistake made by young gay people is figuring that they need to drastically change their behavior patterns to make their sexuality obvious to potential partners. People who do this are operating under the misguided notion that if they don’t make a huge effort to make it obvious that they are gay, they will never find a partner and will always be alone. This may help you in the extremely short term, but making abrupt, drastic changes in your behavior and personality will result in your being just as alone as you fear over the long haul.
I know that there is a “pressure cooker” social environment in many high schools that puts tremendous pressure on you to “fit in” with a particular clique, and you may feel that you have no choice but to change certain behaviors to fit into the “gay” clique. However, if you’re the kind of gay guy who likes football, monster truck races, and “masculine” things, or if you’re the kind of lesbian who just loves the latest “chick” gossip, why should you give up part of your identity just to “fit in”? (This is, of course, dependent on whether there is a “gay” clique at your school, and how the people in it tend to act.)
What truly draws people to you in the real world is simply being yourself. If you’re a masculine gay guy, stay that way. If you’re a more effeminate gay guy, be yourself. If you’re a butch bull dyke, embrace that. It becomes really difficult to keep up a particular act of being something you’re not over time, and partners will see that you are not being true to yourself — that will repel people over time. It doesn’t matter how weird you think you or your hobbies and interests are; at some point in time, you are bound to run across somebody who shares those same interests with you. Maybe it won’t happen while you’re in high school, but college environments are much larger and nowhere near as cliquish, so chances are you’ll find somebody who is right for you.
A lot of gay people figure that they should look for a partner online, because trying to meet people in real-life situations may not always be the wisest thing to do. You might be tempted to think, “hey, everybody here is gay, so everybody is cool,” but you need to bear this in mind: in general, you’re going to find the same types of people online that you will find in real life, and this can be either good or bad — there are no guarantees. The best way to approach it is that online dating sites are a decent way to meet potential partners, but beyond that, the fact that you met somebody online won’t help you to maintain or repair a relationship with them any more easily than if you had met somebody offline.
Of course, as everybody who uses online dating sites should know by now, you will probably run into a few bad apples online who pose as something they aren’t. What appears to be a personal ad for a cute 19-year-old twink may well have been put up by an obese, balding 40-something man who thinks that fooling people is the only way he’s going to find sex partners. Worse yet, you don’t know if the guy on the other end of the chat window is secretly into BDSM or torture — or, God forbid, a “fundamentalist ‘Christian’” homophobe who lures young gay men with the promise of sex only to turn around and kill them — and it may be too late by the time you find out.
I know I’m repeating what you have no doubt heard a thousand times before, but you need to be as careful and diligent as possible when you first meet an online acquaintance in person. Arrange your meeting in a public place, and be sure that you have established a reasonable comfort level with your acquaintance before you put yourself into any potentially compromising situations. Going to somebody’s house or apartment for sex on the first date may not be such a great idea — how do you know, after spending maybe two hours with somebody, that he/she is worthy enough of your trust to be having sex? (The lesbian corollary to this rule of thumb derives from an old joke: ladies, don’t go rent the U-Haul after your second date.)
I alluded to the questionable wisdom of sex on a first date in the previous paragraph, and I need to expand on that topic. A lack of sufficient time to establish trust, quite frankly, is far from the most important reason why first-date hanky-panky isn’t such a wonderful idea. By heading to his house and romping in the sheets that first evening, you’re sexualizing a relationship that has just barely started to get off the ground, in all likelihood sabotaging said relationship in the process. It’s akin to stepping into the shower, turning the water on, and only then undressing — you’re skipping necessary steps in a mad rush to the sack, and it doesn’t make any sense. Even worse yet, you’re sending out subliminal, subconscious signals to your date that (a) you only care about him for sex, and (b) you’re a slut — and who in their right mind would want to establish a long-term relationship with a slut who only cares about sex? (On the flip side of that, if your date is the one who is all gung-ho for sex, you know he is bad news.)
Don’t misunderstand me, I am not trying to say that sex is bad — far from it. It is perfectly normal and healthy to experience strong sexual desire — it’s just a part of being human. The problem comes in when you sexualize a relationship too early, before there is any appreciable level of trust and emotional intimacy. This is an all-too-common problem for many gay men, especially, but by being aware of it and understanding it, it can be easily overcome. I am going to use the next few paragraphs to explain it.
All human beings, gay and straight, have a basic need for intimacy. What is intimacy? You may think of “intimacy” as just another word for sex — this is true, but it’s only a small part of the definition. Intimacy means closeness; sharing; hiding nothing and being completely open and honest. Sex is physical intimacy — physical closeness, physical “sharing” of bodies. There are other forms of intimacy that can be shared with not only your partner, but also friends and family. Emotional and psychological intimacy involve sharing your feelings, opening up to your partner/friend/family member, and not hiding things from them. We as human beings hunger for all types of intimacy — our hunger for physical intimacy manifests itself in our sex drive, and our hunger for emotional and psychological intimacy manifests itself in our desire for close friendships and romantic relationships.
The problem for gay people often starts in the early to middle teenage years, as we reach puberty and start experiencing feelings of sexual attraction. The suffocating stench of our society’s homophobia, fueled largely by right-wing politicians and so-called “Christian” leaders, stunts the emotional growth we should be experiencing — the growth our straight peers are experiencing — during this phase of our lives. Fearing scorn, abandonment, condemnation, and even physical harm from our friends, our neighbors, and even our parents, we are scared shitless about sharing that most fundamental part of our identities; over time, this concealment — this act of emotional anti-intimacy — becomes a conditioned response. This doesn’t reduce our need for intimacy — rather, we end up becoming starved for it.
In much the same way that the starving sailors of centuries past were known to start eating sawdust from the ship’s planks when the food ran out, our need for intimacy eventually becomes all-consuming when we get so starved for it, and we become compelled to find some source of that intimacy. It takes time and effort to find the emotional and psychological intimacy we are so desperately hungry for, but in our intimacy-starved state, we need anything we can get — and this is where so many of us fall into the trap of promiscuous sex. Physical intimacy — having sex — temporarily fills our need for intimacy, but it’s not what we really need. It’s not what properly nourishes us in the manner that only emotional intimacy can.
I put forth the following analogy: sex is like junk food — candy, chips, Coke, etc. — and emotional and psychological intimacy are a balanced, nutritious dietary regimen involving all different types of food. When all else fails, you can survive on junk food for short periods of time, but over time, a diet of 100% junk food will kill you — you’ll put on 80 pounds, you’ll develop diabetes, and you’ll clog your arteries all to hell. For a long, healthy life, you need to eat the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and calories — for example, pasta one night, then a pot roast the next night, and so on. Junk food can be OK in moderation, if you’re already eating a balanced diet, but you can’t just live on junk food.
It’s the same with our need for intimacy. Having sex might get you by for a bit, but over time, you’re not satisfying your true need for the “balanced diet” of emotional and psychological intimacy, and you end up becoming even more hungry — leading to yet more sexual encounters. In the same way that a 100% junk food diet causes severe health problems, trying to use sex to obtain the intimacy you need is fraught with the risk of becoming infected with HIV or other STDs. To be truly happy and satisfy your needs, you really have to invest the time and effort into finding a partner with whom you can share complete emotional and psychological intimacy. You have to overcome the concealment response you learned as a teenager, and be willing to risk kissing a few frogs before you find Prince Charming, so to speak. Once you have that emotional and psychological intimacy that truly fulfills your needs and satiates your hunger for intimacy, sex with that person is a bonus — a tasty treat, like the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae.
Let me make clear one more important distinction on this topic of sex on the first meeting: the distinction between potential relationship material and mere sex partners. While I personally don’t see any redeeming value in one-time sexual encounters (of either the homosexual or heterosexual variety), such encounters can be fun and pleasurable if proper protection (such as condoms) is used, and if they are approached in the right mind-set without unreasonable or unwarranted expectations on either side.
If you do choose to meet somebody for sex, I would recommend approaching the encounter on an entirely different emotional plane than you would for a date: that is to say, go into the encounter expecting that he doesn’t care about you or the mundane details of your life, that he is just looking to have fun, and that chances are you may not ever see him again. The last thing you want to do is develop attachment to him, because 99.9% of the time, you will end up disappointed. If anything further does develop, consider it a pleasant surprise. And I can’t say this enough: USE A CONDOM, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE.
There is one other important difference to consider between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Although I will freely admit I am going with stereotypes here to some extent, it would be dishonest to suggest that there are not some innate behavioral differences between males and females. For example, a fair number of males tend to have an ultra-competitive streak in their personalities, and females sometimes tend to nurse hurts and resentments longer than is healthy. Same-sex couples simply need to be aware that the double dose of their gender’s worst qualities can be an additional obstacle to overcome when things go wrong.
An example of this would be when a gay male couple gets into an argument about something, whether it be money and finances, sex, housework, or any of the usual issues experienced by couples who live together. In an opposite-sex relationship, the man’s more competitive streak and the woman’s tendency to be a bit more passive have the effect of moderating each other, making it easier to compromise and find the middle ground. It’s not that a gay couple can’t make compromises — it is simply that the double dose of male competitiveness is something that the couple needs to be aware of and work that much harder to overcome, in order to find a happy medium. Or, to use my example from the previous paragraph, a lesbian couple would need to make that little bit of extra effort to work out hard feelings or resentments before they reach an unhealthy level and fester into relationship killers — again, it’s just something that same-sex couples have to bear in mind and be prepared and willing to deal with.
Despite what hateful so-called “Christian” organizations want everybody to believe, it is absolutely possible for same-sex couples to maintain long-term romantic relationships just as rewarding, fulfilling, and happy as opposite-sex marriages. There are a few things that are different about maintaining a committed gay relationship, but with a little knowledge and the same level of dedication put in by long-time straight married couples, these relationships are just as simple to keep up. Knowing these things, you can, in fact, “live happily ever after.”
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