Sunday, November 25, 2007


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.


csdenton said...

I have been thoroughly programmed by the culture in that I do crave a LTR, yet not only have my best intimate and sexual encounters been short-term, but *all of them* have fallen into that general category. I'm not sure if that means I'm doing something right or not.

Someone who I described my romantic/sexual history to said that I seem to stumble onto intimacy, like Dick Van Dyke or Charlie Chaplin.

jamesdotca said...

A friend of mine in college had a theory that because gays and lesbians don't usually have the chance to date until after high school (moving out or going away to university) we end up going through all of our adolescent dating experimentation at a much older age. That is, we're developmentally delayed compared to our straight counterparts when it comes to dating and romance. Thus, a pack of gay men in their thirties "date" like a pack of 18-year-old first-year university students. It's just that our dates involve a lot more lube and yoga stretches.

My personal view is that the rush to the sack prevents gay men from learning the skill of dating. However, a FB can turn into a LTR at the drop of a hat. I'm still with my last FB, 5 years later.

Doug said...

I agree that attempting to convince someone into a LTR is the best way to scare them off. It seems our society is filled with people who know better than everyone else.

Steven said...

You definitely have shed a lot of light on what I may be going through at this time and it has opened my eyes as to what "he" may be thinking. Thank you for your perspective and good luck. I agree with James' comment on adolescent dating.

Michael said...

Right on, Gay Prof.

I agree that so many people are just programmed to look for a LTR without any serious thought to whether a LTR is the best thing for them and/or the person sitting across from them is the best candidate. At best they've failed to think things through, at worst, they're in this hyper-panic mode: I must have a boyfriend! I must have a boyfriend! All will be right with the world once I have a boyfriend!

On the other hand, so many of my friends claim to want a relationship desperately, yet pass up opportunity after opportunity. They turn down Mr. Right because they're waiting for a porn star with a trust fund to walk into their lives.

I always say, when it comes to relationships, there are two non-negotiables: Do you like each other? And do you want to be married? Everything else can be worked around. I'm not saying you should settle, I'm not saying you shouldn't have any other dealbreakers, I'm just saying that a lot of dealbreakers don't have to be.

Anyway, I'm rambling.

I think, Gay Prof, you're doing the right thing by saying up front: "At this time, I do not want to be married." Where a lot of guys get their heartbroken is somebody SAYS they want to be married, but really, sometimes even subconsciously, they don't. So things get messy.

Dr. Crazy said...

"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?”

This made me laugh out loud, Gayprof.

I just wanted to drop a comment to note that what you describe about the complicatedness of dating resonated with me, a straight, single woman in her 30s.

pacalaga said...

Most people just find it unbelievable that someone as cute (in any kind of leather) and as intelligent as yourself is still on the market, I suppose.
This is going to sound completely ridiculous, and would only work if you were interested, but is there a Buddhist temple in your area? The first thought I had when you mentioned dating for dating's sake was along the lines of "how Zen".

CoffeeDog said...

At least as a gay man you have a few options. In the lesbian world there are ZERO options, you are either in a LTR or not; there are no FB's, lesbians can't do FB sex w/o getting attached.

Earl Cootie said...

I've always found dating complicated in a Dungeons & Dragons kind of way. You're going along easily enough and maybe even getting into it, and though there are all these rules and (short) equations and weird dice that you're not too sure about, you trust that your Dungeon Master knows the rules and equations and has enough experience not to let you die right off the bat.

(Sorry. I don't know what I meant up there. It made sense when I started.)

I used to joke that I wanted a bumper sticker (tee shirt, whatever) that read "Relationships happen." I tended to go on a date, and if I enjoyed myself, agree to another, and so on, until before long, Whammo! With my friends, I called them "situations". "Looks like I've gotten myself into another situation." Just because I enjoyed some guy's company didn't mean I wanted to buy my dream hilltop Victorian and pet yak with him. If it continued for more than a couple of months, we'd have to have the Situation Talk - never pleasant.

Ack, you've dredged up a lot of unsavory memories today, GayProf.

Antonio said...

All of those categories definitely describe what I've seen, except for the "wants a LTR, but gets too drunk on the first date and ends up in bed too soon". That definitely describes me, errr, a friend of mine.

I suspect part of the reason MFT's residents seek LTRs is that there isn't a large dating pool as it is (I'm assuming you don't live in a large city like, say, Chicago). If you go through several FBs, it won't be long until you run into someone who knows someone else you boinked. That gets awkward and earns you a "reputation". The city I live in has about 350,000 residents (including nearby cities pushes it up to about 700k). I started dating someone who moved here two months ago and he already new several acquaintances (thankfully I haven't hooked up with any of them)

Artistic Soul said...

I am also weary of the LTR people. My current partner and I were "sort of dating" for two years before we even considered ourselves in a LTR -- and were dating other people throughout that period. The thing that always rubs me the wrong way about the LTR folk is similiar to what you said - they aren't that introspective about why they want the LTR. And as a result, they often believe that once they find the LTR, they will suddenly be "whole" or "fulfilled" in a way that they cannot be alone. So in a sense, it's like they're just trying to get in a relationship so as not to be alone -- which to me seems the wrong reason to get into a relationship.

Anonymous said...

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.

I couldn't agree more. In fact, I think that pushing for a LTR right away is a sure sign that the person in question isn't ready for one. They're more interested in the idea of a relationship than they are in an actual relationship with you.

It sounds like (despite all the complicatedness) you are in a good place. Having a life outside of looking for a relationship (of whatever type) makes you infinitely more dateable than someone who doesn't. Hang in there!

Marlan said...

After six years in the gay world after a 20+ year stint on the other side, I have no answers, but a few speculative thoughts on this grave subject.

1. The no-marriage rule in the gay world has had a profound influence on how we behave. Why "date" if there is no real future?
2. I'm can see where the FB to LTR thing works, but it also can be hard to accept if one or the other wants or doesn't want it to grow that way.
3. It gets worse as you get older--a bad combination of people who are not only set in their ways and abject desperation.

Finally, the gay (male) couples I know who remain together after many years seem to have handled the "monog/open" thing well. Kind of like the Clintons.

Anonymous said...

Well, I incline heavily towards monogamous LTR - so let me say in a small voice that we're not all that bad...

I think it's because a very introspective nature and a very cautious personality. This means two things -

1) My inclinations are not a default reaction. The alternatives to an LTR would probably have a detrimental effect on me (I confess an open relationship would most likely provoke me to jealousy, for example). That being the case, I'm not prepared to risk things.

2) I am probably the slowest mover in romantic history. I might say at the beginning that I'd prefer an LTR, but it will be weeks and weeks before I feel confident enough to ask for one. This isn't just out of shyness - it's because in the meantime I'll have collated enough information about you to decide whether there's a possibility of the relationship going anywhere. Having a relationship simply for the sake of having a relationship seems horrendously misguided to me.

So, here's my little flag-waving for the LTR lot. Granted, I've probably just convinced you that if we aren't delusional we're merely insane, but I'd rather be insane.

Roger Owen Green said...

I suppose this may be obvious, but I think we tend to crave the LTR BECAUSE dating is complicated. At some level, I probably have.

Margaret said...

Oh GayProf, you are so wise.

That is all.

Marius said...

Great post. I'm more of an LTR kind of guy, I guess. However, I agree with Roger, some people may crave being in a LTR because it dating can be complicated. There are different personality types. Anxious people take fewer risks, and, if I had to guess, they probably seek fewer sexual partners. A friend of mine once confessed that dating was just too stressful. Other people are the exact opposite. They're extroverts and they love meeting new people. Human behavior is a fascinating topic.

gwoertendyke said...

you are funny and articulate and clearly aware of your own boundaries right now. you could say to first-date man: my first priority is finishing research project of doom. i don't know what this means for love/sex/friendship. if stabbing in dark is cool, jump in (or on:)

it hurts to have you lumping us straight people altogether though...we're not one gigantic group of simpletons racing for LTRs...fbs, somethin in between, this actually seems more common than LTRs.

& i completely agree with you: nothing is less attractive than the relationship questions at the start. go get a mail order bride/hunk...methinks you need someone smarter and a bit darker, like say another dr.??

Anonymous said...

As long as your sort of on the subject, what I really want to know is why does it seem like I have to take someone to bed before we can be "just friends" ?

dykewife said...

aside from not really liking people that much, one of the many reasons i'm not out looking for that perfect woman is because of the old joke about what the car is on a lesbian's second date...a u-haul.

i think that perhaps the older a person gets, regardless of what their sexual orientation is, the desire, or perhaps the pressure is to "settle down" to that one special someone.

after that 8 years with your ex, i don't blame you in the least for not wanting to dance into another tango like that.

good luck in finding someone who wants what you want. i'll keep my toes crossed for you.

Bryce Digdug said...

What a great blog.

bardelf said...

Isn't life delightfully complex? Sometimes the best moments, the best relationships, just come from out of the blue.

Thanks for mentioning Garbo. As you probably know, until she died she always claimed that she had been misquoted. Being hounded by reporters at every turn, she says that her line was, "I want to be LET alone".

GayProf said...

Chad: Stumbling into intimacy is better than no intimacy.

James: I think the theory has some merit. Given that young people are coming out in their teens in larger numbers, I wonder if this will remain true.

Doug: It is really strange that so many of us presume to know how other people think.

Steven: It's tough out there. Eventually, though, I think that we all find what we are looking to find.

Michael: Yeah, sometimes I am concerned that I will fall into the "turning down Mr.Right" category. This gives me pause.

Dr. Crazy: Yeah, many of my single straight friends report similar frustrations.

Pacalaga: It's funny you should mention Buddhism as the current beau studies it. This does not seem to alter the heavy investment in the future.

CoffeeDog: I wanted to steer clear of the lesbian angle because it's such a terrible stereotype. Now that you mentioned it, though. . .

Earl: Oh.My.God. I think that I am replicating your life. Certainly I think of myself as having gotten into "situations." I wonder if this means that I will later become a birder.

Antonio: Hey, at least you -- or, er -- your friend actually went on the date before having sex.

Artistic: Sort-of dating for two years seems so much more reasonable.

Sarah: I agree that if somebody pushes for a relationship right away they are more interested in the relationship than in the actual person in front of them.

Marlan: I am not sure I see the legal status of marriage impacting gay men's imaginings of the future. Although, I would suggest that Boston had some gay men who were seriously invested in marriage since it was legal.

Baron: I don't think people who want a LTR are bad. In many ways, I would put myself in that category. What makes me nervous, however, is the people who want a LTR without thinking things through or taking things slowly.

ROG: Yeah, being in a couple is much easier than dating. I think that is why many bad relationships continue for so long (including, perhaps, my own dreadful LTR).

Maggie: Wise and cute. Just sayin'.

Marius: I for sure wouldn't consider myself an extrovert. Still, I think there is a way to date without always thinking in LTR-terms.

Adjunct: I didn't intend to make too many generalizations about the heteros. Rather, it just seems (from the outside) that the pressure and expecation for a LTR (with children) is much greater for heteros. I know that real individuals make numerous other choices about organizing their personal life.

Hermit: I am not sure I understand the question. Is this "Can two single gay men be friends without sleeping with each other at some point?" Or are you feeling pressure to sleep with somebody just to have their friendship? If the latter, screw them (but not literally).

DykeWife: It will probably be easier to find that person when I decide exactly what I want myself.

Bryce: Thanks!

BardElf: Yeah, I knew of Garbo's correction. Still, why should we bother with what somebody actually said when the myth is so much better?

Alan said...

"Of those three, Midwestern Funky Town is dominated by those seeking a LTR (preferably with an individual who enjoys camping)."

LOL. That made me laugh. :) Take heart! At least you'll be spared the camping conversations for the next 5 or 6 (or 7) months. ;)

Watching from the sidelines, it seems to me that MFT is also dominated by those seeking a LTR who are <22 years old. Or older guys who are seeking a LTR with guys who are <22 years old. Seriously though, the "Logan's Run" aspect of living in a college town appears to have pretty dramatic effects on dating, from my observations. Not to mention, the effects of the transience of college towns, as you've only got a few years, at best, before the person you're dating is likely to graduate, or finish their post-doc, or get hired at another institution, etc.

Mel said...

I have to say that I'm basically in the first category, which might explain why no relationship before my ex lasted longer than 2 months. After 4.5 years in what turned out to be an emotionally abusive relationship with the ex, I moved back to Maine with no real intent of jumping back into anything. There were a couple hookups that were incredibly hot and exactly what my ego needed, and then I started seeing my current partner. I think the fact that we were both kind of tentative at first (he knew my whole sordid history) actually gave us the space we needed to let the friendship grow first (though we got around to the sex part within a few weeks). The sex may not carry quite the same rush as a hookup, but for me it's more satisfying.

dpaste said...

At this point in my life I don't know what to do. As an Aristotelian ideal, the LTR beckons, but I don't trust myself to make proper judgments while I still work through my not-so-recent breakup. At the same time, the idea of hook-ups is emotionally repellent to me, and if I'm not emotionally connected, FBs get tiresome quickly. That leaves me with precious few options. And a tired right arm.

Marlan said...

My point in the marriage comment simply is that since gay men and women could not marry, that became in some cases, an excuse to avoid commitment or any form of LTR.

It also means that any form of gay commitment still is and has always been viewed as "less" than marriage.

Yes, it will be interesting to see how that changes over time in MA.

Anonymous said...

Either we are the same person, or we are so perfect for each other that we should commence affectionate, liberally naked, unpressured dating immediately.

The ideology of romance is so powerful that even you begin to offer reasons for your current desires toward the end of your post. You historians and your iron law of causation... ;-) The line between reason and justification is so dotted that I try not to give reasons any more for my low LTR desire when asked (which I am constantly, being the hot and brilliant boy that I am). It's just not what I want right now, nor has it been for much of my adult life.

The obvious rub (hee) is that it's easier to change your mind later in the direction of less rather than more commitment. I don't often worry that I'm passing up Mr. Right, but I do worry that in the future I may want an LTR even though I don't so much right now. I guess I'll burn that bridge when I get to it.

M-Dub said...

I have had the great fortune to struggle over this issue with both sexes (he says with extra sarcasm). I dated women to try to get into a LTR so I wouldn't look gay, then I had men as FBs so I wouldn't look gay even though I was and wanted a LTR with a man! Thank God I finally got out of the 80's and became me. I have screwed up a few LTRs in my day and enjoyed a few FB situations, but at the end of the day, you gotta be happy where you are at now.

Paris said...

Since my relocation, I have nothing to contribute to this issue.


Another element of gay dating, I'm afraid.

Oso Raro said...

Nice post,and nicely parsed too. I really can't say more now, but the resonance of the challenges you trace here certainly hit home, in relationship to a lot of things that are happening chez moi at this moment. It is complicated, it is hard, it is unclear, but the best place is to know thyself, and go with it, whatever that may be. And learn, too, from experience.

Anonymous said...

It's all so fucking hard.


Pardon me. I just cursed, didn't I?

There was a time when I so enjoyed the hook-ups. Every weekend I'd have some great story to tell. I was having a good time.

I think I'd love them still, but I have to get up early,and walk my dog, and you know... my house is too messy for anyone to come over...

At this point, I would like one of two things: either a ready-made, LTR I don't have to do any of the prep work for (Yeah, I know, but I can dream) or a cadre of friends in the same boat as mine. You know, a crew of single folks.

This winter is going to be long and cold.

Tenured Radical said...

I think it is hard to think about these things because it isn't just that couple-dom is a cultural ideal, but singleness is pathologized. Thus, the notion of not wanting to merge your life with another person, and compromise on all the most difficult things in life, is seen as not very (ahem) mature. Or Responsible.

I don;t know anything about your last relationship other than what you said here, but a lot of couples stay together because they are willing to lie and to accept each others' lies. And I'm not sure that is even so wrong -- but it's not for everyone.

I think the polyamory people have a lot to say to all of us -- I couldn't bear to live in such an emotionally intense way as they do, but they do keep all the most difficult questions about relationships alive in ways the rest of us -- single and coupled --refuse to, and I really admire them for that.

Having really good friends matters a lot.