My personal trainer (who is straight) often likes to workshop his dating dilemmas with me. It's a bit like when your dentist asks you questions - it's a slightly one-sided conversation as you have your mouth filled with a suction hose and multiple instruments; at the gym I'm usually gasping for breath trying not to embarrass myself on the bench press.
He generally doesn't agree with whatever sage advice I manage to impart, and it is often affectionately dismissed with:
'But you're gay - it's different for you.'
In many ways I guess dating is different for gay men - the reality and rules of our relationships can often be almost unrecognizable from the Hollywood version of dating that straights seem to aspire to. I'm a huge fan of Zooey Deschanel and her TV comedy 'New Girl'. One of my favorite lines is when her character Jess is dealing with the break-up of a relationship:
'But I even tried on floppy hats for him!'
The casual and open nature of gay relationships and sexual encounters can be incredibly liberating, but for some people the ups and downs of trying to meet other guys can be a frustrating and isolating experience.
For gay men, meeting other guys has always required a bit of ingenuity. Thankfully I grew up in a time and place where being gay wasn't a criminal offence, the horrific stories that we still see today in the Middle East and Africa of gay men being publicly humiliated or executed are terrifying. I am however old enough to remember life before the internet - I recently tried to explain to a friend (in his 20s) how personal ads in magazines were one of the main ways that you would try and meet people; even as I was explaining the writing of letters (and waiting interminably for responses) it sounded prehistoric and implausible.
With the decriminalization of homosexuality in many countries, the rise of gay bars certainly made it easier for gay men to meet each other, each weekend drawing men of all ages together in the bigger cities, creating a gay 'scene' and a sense of gay community. When I was 18 I moved from a small rural town to Melbourne - I remember nervously walking into my first gay bar (The Peel, in Collingwood) and being a little disappointed that I wasn't immediately jumped on by sex-crazed men, you still had to make a bit of an effort to talk with people, to engage. But if you're not a particularly confident or social person (or if you don't live somewhere with a reasonably sized gay population), then spending your time trawling the local bars may not be the answer for you.
The rise of the internet and the shift to online dating was certainly a huge leap forward from the days of the personal ads; this has been accelerated even further by the invention of the smart phone and the rise of location-based dating apps - a real game-changer for gay men. Grindr was the first to market (and is still the world's most popular), enabling you to quickly and easily identify gay men in your proximity, chat with them and arrange to meet - making it surprisingly easy and convenient to have sex, wherever you are. When I showed my personal trainer how Grindr worked, he was a bit dumbstruck, silently processing the power of the technology, getting to grips with how easy it is for gay men to have casual, no-strings-attached sex.
But what do you do if would like to find that special someone - someone to go out for dinner with, to the movies, or a weekend away on a romantic mini-break? If you're not into bars, clubs, or casual on-line hook-ups? I'm not claiming to be any sort of gay dating expert, but here's four lessons that I've learnt from many years of experience and the occasional heartbreak:
- You are not going to meet anyone by sitting at home in your flat, eating ice-cream, looking out the window, and listening to Adele's latest album on repeat. Finding someone that you want to spend time with takes some effort and you have to put yourself into situations where you are meeting new people.
- Your friends are not going to have sex with you. It can be comfortable doing the same old things with people that 'get you' and make you laugh, but if you want to make a change in your life you need to push yourself to be doing new things, in different places, with people you haven't met before.
- Take up a new activity that puts you in contact with other gay men - this could be a gay sports club, a community organization, a singing group, a charity, or why not go on a group holiday or expedition aimed at gay men? You may not want to sleep with any of the guys that you meet, but dating is a bit of a numbers game.
- Don't take it too seriously if it doesn't work out. Gay men are notoriously flighty and flakey. Enjoy the moment - enjoy your time together. If one of you decides that it's time to move on, it's okay to be upset or disappointed, but it's not the end of the world. Pick yourself up and put yourself back out there.
Happy hunting gays. Happy hunting.