Dating is complicated. I don’t mean “complicated” in the same sense that figuring out how to keep a skyscraper from falling over is complicated. I mean "complicated" in a way that doesn’t involve long equations or the potential for mass carnage. It’s complicated in a way that’s confusing. Every single person I know seems like they are in a constant state of uncertainty.
In the gay world, there seems to be three dominant modes of “dating/hooking up.” The first are those who are in a search/quest/life-mission for a long term relationship (LTR). They look at every date/encounter as the potential start of a thirty-year partnership. As a subcategory, there are those who want that LTR to be entirely exclusive. They won’t shy away from bringing up the question of monogamy on the first date – sometimes before the soup even arrives at the table.
The next group are those who seek the entirely opposite. Only random encounters inform their desires. He might spend the evening at your place reenacting that special scene from his favorite Falcon video (the one that involves a serious investment in lube and (hopefully) yoga stretches before hand). Yet, he considers shaking hands the next morning “just too much pressure for a relationship.”
The last group is the ever-favorite fuck-buddy (FB) relationship. Who doesn’t like a friend who is willing to lend a helping hand? As a Boston friend of mine points out, the winters are mighty long in the north. The cold nights pass much more comfortable with a friend providing warmth.
Still, the FB doesn’t appear as easy to pull off (no pun intended) as it seems. It has generally turned out, in my limited experience, that somebody ultimately thought of the sex as more than just a way to pass the time despite their claims otherwise. It’s all fun and games until you discover your FB rummaging through your garbage in the middle of the night with a flashlight and an auger. I am sure that many, many other people master the FB relationship without such trauma. I am quite jealous of them.
This is not to say that I think any of these three (or more) models for dating is better than the others. I really think that people want different things from sex/love/ companionship. Some imagine that every stranger is a potential partner for a ready-made relationship . Others want to make out with strangers in a pool of Redi-Whip. It’s all about choices and knowing what you really want. Then you have to find the person(s) who share that same outlook and be honest with them.
My problem, though, is two-fold. First, I am not entirely certain what I want at this particular moment. This, by itself, should be an immediate red-flag to anybody who wants more than to be my FB. While I generally think I want another LTR at some point in my life, I have noticed that when a viable option for one appears (like recently), I retreat. Sure, there have been occasional exceptions – Usually those have involved remarkably poor decision making on my part. Overall, though, I have become down-right queasy when somebody I am seeing starts pushing for a LTR (and they often start pushing right away).
This brings me to the second problem, which is my concern for those who pursue a LTR without much introspection. I understand fully those who pursue the casual encounter. Indeed, some of my most enjoyable memories of a “romantic” bent over the past couple of years have been short-term. I also understand (at least in theory) those who want to be a FB. Those who push for a LTR, however, often make me leery. This is not because I think LTR’s are bad or doomed to failure per se (although. . .). I do think, however, that the desire for a LTR often appears as a default without much consideration about why the person is pursuing it.
In many ways, our society puts tremendous pressure on everybody to be in a LTR. To be sure, it’s even worse for heteros whose entire worth is currently linked to their LTR status and desire/ability to have children (but that is another entry entirely). Gays at least know that other options are out there beyond the LTR. Despite that knowledge, the overall pressure for a LTR often permeates everything. This results, I think, in many people seeking a LTR without really considering if a) that is actually the mode of relationship that works best for them or b) that a person who is willing to get naked with them is not really signaling that they are on the same-page romantically.
Many men that I encounter see the world only as a dichotomy. Like Heidi Klum, they say that you either "in [a relationship] or you are out." They want to instantly jump to “boyfriends” with the understanding that we would be working on becoming a “Mr. & Mr.” (Or, in my case, “Mr. and Dr.”, thank you very much)). Why, I wonder, can’t there just be simple dating? Sort of a grey area between the FB and the LTR?
For right now, I want a relationship that has affection, but is not crushingly serious. Something that involves plenty of naked time, but doesn’t require that we spend every waking moment together. I want to date without the topic of a LTR even being on the table. You know, something where we have fun together, but that doesn’t involve a lot of heavy questions about “the future.”
You know, nothing turns me off more than a guy who asks too many of those “relationship” questions. Things like, “Where is this heading?” Or, “What’s your name?”
Probably my personal hesitancy about a LTR involves both my past and future. In the first year after the end of my eight-year relationship, I really wasn’t into the notion of another LTR. Indeed, I think it would have been a remarkably dumb individual who would jump instantly into another LTR after all of that time with one person. Now that more time has passed (almost two years!), that seems less immediate. Still, I am quite leery about making the same mistakes (and concerned that I have already repeated them, though on a smaller scale, with some people).
More important than my past, however, is that I am not imagining any element of my future. Right now, I have only a single goal: to finish the never ending research project of doom. Will I still have this job? Will I move? Will I find true love? Will I die my hair? Will I buy milk tomorrow? None of these questions matter to me. All that concerns me is finishing that research project. What happens after that point, I can’t (and won’t) think about right now. Romantic relationships certainly involve too much effort of projecting myself into the future.
When I have explained this (as I have always been committed to honesty), it has often been received as a challenge to convince me of the need for a LTR. This, by the way, is always a bad strategy. Never presume to know better than the person you are dating, especially if that person is GayProf. When this occurs, I suddenly become the reincarnation of Greta Garbo and "want to be alone."
The other problem with those who push instantly for a LTR is that I most often think that we don't really know each other. There is a big danger that they learn just enough about me that they think I am great for them. While I generally agree that I am the cutest thing in shoe leather, I am concerned that they fill in all the gaps in their knowledge with what they want to be true. It's easier than the months of work to actually figure somebody out.
Of course, there are more than just these three crude outlines of what gay men are looking to find in “dating.” There are thousands and thousands of other ways that people organize their personal lives. These include, but are not limited to, triads, open LTR’s, serial monogamy, etc., etc. By far, though, the majority of single gay men out in the dating world probably identify their interests with one of those first three. Of those three, Midwestern Funky Town is dominated by those seeking a LTR (preferably with an individual who enjoys camping).
What does that mean for me? I am not sure. As I said, dating is complicated.