Alongside finding my best friends, a good profession, and a lasting home city, my late 20s are also largely memorialized by my pursuit of intimate companionship—I’ll henceforth call it “dating” if you understand that I’m lumping in any and all pursuits, from strictly physical one-offs to substantial relationships. I’ve lacked the “boyfriend” title since I was 24, when Dan and I formally broke up in San Francisco. I don’t know why that makes me feel like a pariah on paper—that I’ve spent the last five years of my life floating from one man to the next, and oftentimes overlapping them in the process. I don’t WANT it to be this way. In fact, since Buckminster moved, I have only wanted a committed, monogamous-for-the-foreseeable-future boyfriend. But honing in on only Buckminster-esque men (those whose worlds easily intersect mine) is not so simple: It’s not always obvious up front, and keeping an open mind about this is what creates such a process. I’ve been on hundreds of first dates—be it a bar, a diner, a walk, a bed—and far fewer second dates, and I can only wonder how different my self-esteem or point of view would be if I could just, for one fucking block of time—6 months, 6 years, 60 years—not have to constantly re-evaluate myself. There are positives to dating endlessly: Dating has given me some of my best friends and dozens of good acquaintances. Dating has given me mentors and mentees. Dating has given me red-flag examples of people I absolutely must avoid (and whose decisions I must not emulate). Dating has given me standards of things like politeness and thoughtfulness and intelligence and wit and sex. The mold of what I want and need is quite obvious to me now, but I haven’t been able to pin anyone down—or allowed anyone to pin me down—because all of these men seem to be just as harried and volatile and contradictory as I. I’ve seen many of my also-harried, also-volatile, also-contradictory friends get wrapped up in selfless love this last year (our “party of 8” is now 12), but all I can seem to find are detours and dead ends. Though let me tell you—in a way I’ll be sad to give up those detours and dead ends, too. (Did I mention ‘contradictory’?)
After ending things with Romeo, I got into a flirtatious back-and-forth with an NYU student. “Charlie” was smart, beefy, handsome, and we had a nice PG13 text exchange going. One day, he flipped the switch and went NC17, which threw me for a loop; I had really liked our cute, innocent dialogue. There was no going back now, though, so we encouraged each other with more texts, and then made plans to meet up. He had to cancel last minute to cram for a test (classic student!), so we rescheduled our evening encounter for a later date—first he had to fly home for a family occasion. When Charlie was home in the south, he started texting me some concerning things: He didn’t feel safe with his family, and knew that they would cut him off and possibly harm him if they ever found out he was gay. Our dynamic was flipped again, and I felt somewhat capable of handling this. I talked about his amazing future, how good his life could be without the burden of an unaccepting family, and that he would one day soon be in a position where he could entirely support himself, and that he just had to bide his time until then. We kept this exchange up throughout his whole vacation. When he returned, he switched back into hyper-sexual mode, but I couldn’t bring myself to reciprocate, much less to meet up for anything physical. I told him that if he ever needed to talk to someone about personal stuff, I’d be around, and would happily meet up to chat if he needed it. But otherwise, I couldn’t get any more intimate with him; it’d feel like I was taking advantage of his vulnerability, and I didn’t want to risk hurting him when he had invested all of that trust in me (granted I was still a stranger). I hope Charlie realizes I made the right decision; he didn’t seem to think so at the time, and we soon lost touch.
In February, a weeks-long, slow-burn Scruff conversation with a handsome young man turned into a quaint, no-plans-all-afternoon Fort Greene brunch. From my perspective, Taylor was the full package: intellectual, well read, emotionally intelligent, extremely fucking handsome, terrific sense of humor—with a pinch of self-deprecation—physically fit but it wasn’t his fallback, ambitious with a nice job, and, most endearing of all, fairly neurotic. We realized quickly that he was the ex of a good friend of mine—until then he only existed in lore—and laughed at the small world, though it left neither of us surprised anymore. (This same friend had previously dated Buckminster, too, and really, everyone has crossed wires in our world.) We had all the ingredients for a second date, now hours-deep into our brunch, subsisting on coffee refills and idiotic banter. After, Taylor walked me halfway home, until he met his turn toward Bed Stuy. We pecked on the cheek, made the classic “Let’s do this again soon?” plans as we departed, then followed up with texts after the fact: “Let’s be friends? You’re a riot. I think we’d get along great.” We shared this sentiment, realizing we had the social chemistry but perhaps nothing elevated. In theory, I’d probably count most of the guys I’ve dated as “friends”—people I’ll stop to chat with if I see them around—and a handful are actual friends, and one or two (like Kieran) are bests. Whenever a date ends “as friends” it usually means you can write the person off entirely, which is fine. Right when I was sure I didn’t need any new close friends, Taylor (@tpg_) slipped in and we began hanging out multiple times a week, and now I probably speak with him more than any other gay friend. Whenever gay men swear off these dating apps—”I don’t want to meet my boyfriend that way!”—I think of all the wonderful people that the technology has introduced me to; I wouldn’t have Dan, or Buckminster, or Romeo, or Cold Hands, or even a platonic relationship with Taylor. That’s what I’ll miss about dating around—the occasional kismet, the funny ironies of all kinds—whenever the time comes to turn it all off.
In early March, I got a “Hi” on Scruff from someone who was physically far out of my league. When I get attention from guys like that, I think “Well, he’s not my type but I shouldn’t say ‘no….'” We chatted—nothing substantial—and made plans to get a drink, to see where it went. I met “Omer” in Chelsea, and learned through his broken English that he was a Turkish refugee, here on asylum. He had his own fashion line but fled because, as a gay man, it became unsafe for him to stay home. Now, he was broke, waiting for his papers to clear before he could earn proper pay, working for petty cash at a Chinatown denim shop, and crashing on a friend’s couch. It was quite fascinating, and admirable. As was his body. I wasn’t sure why he found me interesting. I walked him home, and imagined him sleeping on his friend’s couch. Then I imagined him sleeping in my bed and doing other things in my bed, so I gambled. He accepted my invitation, and we hailed a cab. Back home, we immediately disrobed and overcame the language barrier. Ten minutes in, he abruptly stopped. He looked me square in the eyes and asked “You HIV-positive, yes?” I thought it was curious, because usually guys ask if you’re negative. “Uh, no,” I replied. “Are YOU HIV-positive?” I was sitting up atop him now, my objectifying on hold. “Yes,” he said, his voice layered in shame. “That’s fine!” I said. “It is. We’re gonna use a condom anyway. We’re fine!” Only it wasn’t fine: I was the first person he had told. It was a recent diagnosis. He didn’t even have an assigned counselor yet. His confession killed the buzz—that’s not a complaint—and we talked for an hour about where he could find help. He cried as I did my best to listen. Honestly, I wanted to disappear. I really hate that I felt so ill-equipped to handle what he was dealing with. After, as we slept, he clung to my body. I made him coffee when we woke, and we walked to the train. “Thank you,” he said, hugging me. “It nice to hold someone again. To be close someone. To talk.” I also hate that I was relieved when he left. I saw him out a few months later, dancing with friends. (He didn’t see me, though.) He looked happy.
In late March (pre-bed bugs), I picked up my sheets from the laundromat and excitedly made up the bed in anticipation of a Canadian visitor. “Paul” and I met on a dance floor in August 2013, on his Montreal turf. He made the first move, and the second, and the third. I batted him away each time. My pal Wade (@wadeaddison) encouraged him to keep at it, and I eventually accepted him into my dancing radius. I had been silly to push him away, seeing in the strobe of the disco that he was fairytale handsome. We could hardly understand one another over the noise, so our first few hours together were entirely non-verbal—dancing, eye contact, smiling, and soon, kissing. He stole me away from my pals afterwards for poutine—not a euphemism. I learned he was just 21, a recent grad on the hunt for work. Before my departure, we set another date, a simple, charged coffee chat, and made plans for him to visit me in New York a few weeks later. His visit was playful. Passionate. Intellectual. We fell deep, but I kept my wit about me: It wasn’t sustainable, given age and distance. He felt scorned, but we kept in touch. I’ve since helped him with job searches, broken hearts, and green-card plots. Naturally, I was excited for his return to NYC 2.5 years later. When he arrived that week in March 2015, he opted to sleep on the couch, implying plenty with non-verbal cues (despite being single). Now I was the scorned one. Nevertheless, our brotherly bond continued all weekend, and it pained me that we couldn’t be intimate given our history and connection. On his last night, he gifted me a sweater at dinner that said “AU REVOIR MONTREAL”, not recognizing the irony it packed. Our waiter kept asking questions about our relationship, and neither of us corrected him. Paul found it cute, and I liked pretending that we were together. Back home, as he made up the couch, I invited him very directly and politely into my bed. “It’s not like that anymore,” he replied, knowing it hurt. I moved close to him, and asked for one kiss. “Just one. Please. I need this.” It was non-verbal from there: I told him I loved him with my stare, stole the kiss off his lips, and disappeared into my room.
In early April, I went to the movies in Union Square. I was alone—I’m usually alone at the movies, and prefer it that way. As I rode the escalator to the top floor, a young woman cozied up two stairs below mine. (I was stalled by the person in front of me, who was not walking, which is my ultimate pet peeve. It’s a very long escalator ride, too.) I turned, gave the woman a half-smile in commiseration, and minutes later, again noticed her behind me in line for concessions. Another half-smile to the beautiful, young Andie MacDowell lookalike. She switched lines after anticipating that the other one was moving faster. “You’re smart,” I commented. “We’ve been doing a lot of waiting already.” She got to the front of her line, turned to me, and asked if I wanted her to order for me. “Very kind of you, thanks. I’ll get mine. It’s just a popcorn.” She ordered a large Sprite, then joined me in line. “No beverage?” she asked. “Nah, I hate having to pee during movies. No food for you?” She shook her head: “We are opposites. See you in there.” Now, a full smile as she left my side. When I went into the theater, she waved me down. I waved back, and stupidly took a seat by myself near the exit. After the film, she hustled to follow me out. We shared our opinions, mostly in agreement, and then discussed each of our evening plans. Hers were open-ended, and only now did I realize that she might have been romantically interested. I was wearing my best “aspiring Brooklyn dad” look, after all—dark jeans, flannel, brown boots—and didn’t “read” gay. She introduced herself as Alex, and asked why I came to the theater alone. “I don’t usually wait on my friends to see movies,” I said. “Plus I like to be in my own headspace.” “Me too,” she agreed. “I’m always here alone.” At this point, we were at the bottom of the escalator, and exiting the building. I accompanied her to the subway; she was heading to Park Slope, and I was walking to my temporary home in West Village. “Nice to meet you, Alex,” I said. “Maybe see you soon.” It felt presumptuous to say anything else, like “I’m gay, by the way.” We went separate ways, and I wished for a moment that it could have been so easy.