There’s a joke about gay dating that encapsulates the difference between how men and women approach romance. It goes like this: What do lesbians bring on a second date? A U-Haul. What do gay men bring on a second date — What second date?
In the perilous journey that is the search for a suitor, it’s generally easier to find a man who wants to be tied up, flogged, and humiliated for sexual pleasure than it is to find someone to cook at home with and watch Mad Men together. As gay men, we have a surplus of opportunities to fulfill our sexual urges in a variety of new and exciting ways, making the thought of settling for one person hardly enticing for many in the community.
But should you wish to trade meaningless sex for his and his towel sets, actually finding someone who wants the same comes with more obstacles than Lindsay Lohan’s path to sobriety. First, there is the claustrophobically small dating pool. Let’s begin with the fact that only 5% of the population is gay (or at least will admit to it). Half of them aren’t thinking past their next hookup, half of that won’t be sexually compatible, and maybe a tenth of what’s left are people you wouldn’t mind getting to know over coffee. That leaves approximately seven people in your city as potential mates.
Now the question is how to find these seven gentlemen suitors. Likely your friends don’t have anyone for you or you wouldn’t be single. There is the chance that you could meet someone at work, and this is probably still the best and most organic way to meet. However, if you work alone or your office is full of guys who make Danny Devito look like Don Draper, then you’ve go to step outside the cubicle confines.
That leaves two main options: meeting someone at a bar or online. Personally, I’ve been going out to bars in both New York and Los Angeles since I was 19 and I’ve never met anyone in that setting that wasn’t more than a hookup. I’m not saying it can’t happen, and I’m not saying that Ron Paul won’t be the next president. It is possible.
But more likely you’re on some combination of Grindr, OKCupid, and my new favorite, Tinder. There are a few other apps I’m leaving out, but those are more explicitly aimed towards casual encounters with pornographic-sounding names like “Jack’d,” and “Scruff.”
At first blush, you might think you’ve discovered the island of lost men – so this is where they keep all the handsome single guys. But soon one discovers this is really the disenchanted forest of beasts. Because gay men have been finding hookup buddies online since Al Gore invented the internet via chatrooms and Craigslist, there is a prevailing stigma against taking anyone seriously encountered in the virtual sphere. There is either the underlying supposition that they’re simply horny and looking to get off, or they’re some socially inept Quasimodo incapable of finding love in a more traditional locale.
This means that even when you think you’ve find the perfect guy – you both like KCRW, The New York Times and HAIM – there is a slim possibility that it will ever go further than a swipe to the right.
On these virtual meeting grounds, we’re judged to varying degrees on superficial criteria. The picture(s) you choose to represent yourself, a brief blurb with Shakespearean copy such as “Masc4Masc,” “No Asians,” and “No Fat or Femme”. Welcome to the world of online dating, which I’m told is just as awful for straight people as it is for gays.
Even still, I’d rather be a woman dating online than a gay man, for whom courtship is as démodé as mesh tank tops. I can’t imagine a straight man opening with a question about bra size or bush growth expecting to get anywhere. Among many gay men, “hung?”, “looking?”, and “bottom?” are all considered charming conversation starters with a complete stranger. These apps are a microcosm of the demoralizing experience that is men dating men.
In real life, most gay men are just as superficial as their online simulacrums. We’re a minority obsessed with subset categorizations: top/bottom/bear/otter/twink/jock/daddy/platypus (I made only the last one up). Granted, everyone straight or gay has a “type,” but finding a normal guy who is not predominately defined by his sexuality is the most rare of all.
So let’s say against the odds you find someone that tickles your Tinder, you arrange for that momentous first date, and they actually show up instead of standing you up an hour before. Within the first 0.5 seconds of seeing the person, you’ll each know whether there exists the remotest possibility of this going anywhere. If there so happens to be that mutual magic spark, the journey has only just begun. Will they kiss you at the end of the night? Will they call again? Who should call? An agonizing litany of self-doubt prevails.
One would think dating between two men should be, for lack of a better phrase, straightforward. There are no gender barriers that confuse conversation, no destabilizing monthly hormonal mood swings, or disagreement when one person wants to watch Girls and the other ESPN, just two guys who probably both want to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. But there are also no rules, no applicable dating wisdom passed down from parents. Instead, we’re alone in traversing a wild, and sometime treacherous terrain filled with bears, pigs, otters, and silver foxes. Oh my.