It doesn’t take long for single, gay, active men to build a cadre of ex-lovers—one timers, short term, long term—, each of them contributing to his perspective. I imagine that over time, the volume of experiences and sanding-down of expectations and hang-ups gives us all a similar outlook. Everyone has a Jack, everyone has a Simon and a Yates, and each of us is someone else’s Jack, Simon, or Yates. This makes it very difficult for certain people to settle down, since the collection of men is always dynamic, exciting, and unpredictable. A lot of New Yorkers (not just gay men) always believe they can find a better option than the one they’re currently sampling, seeing as there are so many: “He’s really handsome and smart and talented, and the sex is incredible, but I don’t feel ambitious around him. So I’ll keep it casual.” Truthfully, I think it’s that we’re afraid to abandon the variety, the gamble, the ability to break someone’s heart with very few consequences.

Quinn. Four months in 2011. And a few more sleepovers in 2012. We met on Grindr, but told everyone we met through mutual friends (since it’s impossible to not have mutual friends here). For a good while, I thought we were headed to Title Town, but was underestimating the fact that he had just been dumped by his boyfriend of three years. I chalk it up as bad timing, but he had a new boyfriend a couple months after we ended things, which meant he probably just categorized me as a layover. His relationship lasted a year maybe, after which I revived my role as rebound. I felt pretty self-loathsome, but he smelled good, had a nice apartment, and the sex was B+, so I tolerated the psychological abuse.

Hector. A one-night stand in 2012. Mostly unremarkable but significant in that I kicked a beautiful Mexican man out of my bed on very good principle. I got home from a long day of work, was needing attention and just coming off two or three months of feeling asexual. (This happens at least once a year, which is good for productivity and bad for the ego.) I downloaded every hook-up app I could think of, prowling for any cute boy to take the bait. I had a couple leads, but Hector was first to propose transaction. He biked over from Carroll Gardens at midnight, tiptoed with me into my bedroom as Talia slept soundly, and refused to reciprocate anything, then had the temerity to propose a sleepover. He slept in Carroll Gardens that night.

Kevin and Kevin. Three weeks in 2010. Talia and Joanie were appalled, and Bart was pretty jealous. I met the Kevins at a charity dinner, and without realizing they were hitting on me, gave them my number after they said “It would be fun to hang out with you sometime at our apartment.” I thought that that was pretty harmless, but I got there and realized very suddenly that I was being courted, helping them keep things interesting in their relationship. Luckily, I had the hots for Kevin 1, so I swallowed my hesitation and went with it. Then when Kevin 2 asked if he could see me 1-on-1, I knew it was time to call it off. But first, a solo week with Kevin 1 when Kevin 2 was away for business.

Josh. Two months in 2012. We had the perfect New York meet cute: our delivery guy mixed up our food orders, and we both called in to report the mistake. Turns out we lived around the corner from each other, and the restaurant arranged for us to exchange meals in person. Josh was a year younger, totally settled into his job and life here, and made it clear from the start that he wanted a relationship. I was anxious that he laid it out there right away, and overlooked how easy it was for us to integrate one another into our everyday lives—he lived in my neighborhood AND our friends all got along AND our sexual chemistry was terrific. I told him I needed a couple more months to get to “boyfriend” status, and that I felt good about it and was being monogamous, but he pressured me to make up my mind then and there. I cut him loose, and am reminded of it every time I see him and his current boyfriend hand-in-hand around Prospect Heights.

Drew. Two weeks in 2012. Met on Grindr. Completely physical. He was probably the biggest meathead I’ll ever know, but he served one purpose to gay mankind and performed his duties perfectly. I still can’t believe I got him in my bed; a guy like him—no body fat, all muscle, shapely beard, piercing eyes and perfect smile—will usually ignore anyone unlike himself. When I need to feel proud, I go through my phone and look at scandalous pictures he sent me. It’s a reminder of my achievement. Also, Drew gave me scabies, which sucked a hell of a lot and turned me asexual for a few months. But, believe it or not, those little mites are the reason I met Peter, so I guess Drew served more than one purpose.

Each of these experiences is shaping the idea of who it is I want to love. I hate that I consider these encounters “experiences,” as if they aren’t each human beings with a point of view, with hearts and minds and pulses. I worry I am too selfish to fall in love with the right person, as I have turned some men away for no reason except that I wanted to pursue more men. I pity people who marry their first love and have nothing to contrast it against, but I do admire that they can say “I love you” at all. Yates was still my only New York ex-boyfriend, but I learned that lacking a title with anyone else doesn’t lessen the significance; every man I’ve encountered is significant, and I will be forever grateful to have experienced their company, to have connected with them so intimately. I like knowing that the pursuit has purpose and offers perspective, that a little promiscuity and meandering will ultimately shape me into a better, wiser, more appreciative man.

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