I thought the dating world would be different. Years of Friends and Sex and the City led me to believe that my twenties would be filled with meetings at coffee shops, exhilarating phone messages confirming second dates, Sunday afternoons spent laying in bed cuddling, devastating break-ups peppered with the occasional one night stand to spice things up. Most of all, I thought it would just happen naturally, that if you were an outgoing, cool, not hideous-looking young person dates would be all around you, like water in Canada. Turn on the tape and there’s some men! Rather, dating is like fetching water in sub-Saharan Africa: it takes time, patience, fortitude and, after spending all day walking back home with a jug on your head, you discover it’s filled with bits of grit, chemicals and other defects.
Other than the pot-smoking anarcho-lesbian music students, there were no other queer people at my high school. That’s a lie, there was Gerry. Gerry was beautiful, red-haired, a dancer. He led me on and then changed schools. Only after years dwelling on this first disappointment did I look him up on facebook and he told me our non-started relationship had nothing to do with me.
But I was promised sex in university: “Undergrad is all about sex!” I was told. Not so much. I didn’t date a soul in first year. When I look back on it, I’m kind of glad, because not having a boyfriend gave me the time to make a lot of friends and have an amazing, life-changing time. But it hurt my feelings when I saw those around me hooking up.
“Why do you need to be with someone?” my well-meaning friends asked last night over pints.
“I don’t need to be with someone. But don’t you like kissing? And cuddling? And sex? Isn’t that fun? Isn’t that life?”
“Can’t you be happy to be by yourself?”
‘We had all of our childhood, and most likely the majority of our dotage for that!’ I think. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
At Guelph, all the gay cliques were formed in first year, and they were sort of incestuous. Because there weren’t that many of us, you knew who they all were, but your attempt to meet new people and infiltrate another group was often met by awkward stares.
My first real boyfriend, my first love, was a friend of a friend, and I never thought it would end. But it did, because love is simply no match for the unavoidable fact that people change.
After a series of one-night make-out sessions, usually followed by them saying “let’s just be friends” and me having a fitful night of tears, I decided to try this internet dating thing, and I met a lot of people fast.
I always considered myself kind of cool, interesting and talkative, and, despite having the insecurities that we all do, I didn’t think I was unattractive. I thought, ‘Here are guys who have really put themselves out there, who admit that they want something more. And, look, he’s already sending me messages with little hearts! The question is, who will become my boyfriend first!’
Yeah, you can guess how that turned out.
I met a lot of nice guys, had a fun time with them, and never saw them again.
‘Maybe I’m not attractive…’ I wondered, sometimes aloud.
“No!” my friends chime in. “You are a handsome guy! There’s any number of reasons why you didn’t hear back from them; maybe they just wanted friends; maybe they had nothing in common with you; maybe they’re still getting over their ex…”
“Maybe,” my friend Dorrington whimsically suggested, “you remind them of their uncle.”
“Those are all possibilities,” I acknowledged. “But you can only meet so many guys, guys who have made the effort to meet new people and admit they want to date, who tell you they just want to be friends before it has an effect on your self-esteem.”
“But, Max, why is how you feel about your looks tied to other people?” Sandy asked.
“Because that’s the point of looks, to attract people,” I said, bewildered at the question.
“No. You need to be okay with the way you look for yourself. And eventually others will pick up on that.”
“I don’t know if I believe that…”
“Anyways,” she added. “Isn’t it a tad superficial to think that not being attracted to you was the reason you never heard from them again? I have never not called someone because I didn’t immediately find them hot. Who does that?”
“Okay,” Dorrington jumped in. “Say they don’t find you attractive. Why should that hurt your feelings?”
“Because, if they like your personality, and it’s just your looks that are holding you back, how does that not hurt? There’s nothing you can do about it!”
“Precisely,” Sandy said. “So why are you worrying about it? What use is that?”
(This is my truncated version of an incredibly long, enlightening conversation about dating and physical attractiveness)
Beyond my insecurities, what it finally came down to for me was that I always thought people went into dating with the same mindset I did: that if the other person seemed nice and interesting and you found them attractive, you would try to see them again. I’ve only gradually learned this is not the case.
I hear that some guys use internet dating sites to see where they are in the picking order, never being serious about dating someone in the first place. Others have crazy-high expectations that they have to immediately fall in love with someone on the first date. Still others really just want friends, boys to add to their extended group, maybe for a dance-floor snog at some point, but nothing serious. We are the facebook-RSVP generation, automatically clicking ‘maybe attending’ just to be safe.
So I’m going to be single for awhile, because I rarely meet gay guys in the organic, pre-internet way. It’s easy to blame Toronto: in Dublin every other night I went out I ended up talking with someone, and sometimes actually getting phone numbers. Toronto bars, like the queer culture of Guelph, are for those already with friends. But Toronto gets blamed for enough, so let’s leave that aside.
I guess I have to get over ‘blaming’ my looks as well: Dorrington and Sandy were relentless in their attempt to convince me I was being paranoid and uselessly hard on myself. I’m a rational, scientific person (don’t push me, because I will say ‘MacBeth’ in a theatre just to bug you) and I always thought you figured out your looks based on the evidence of other people’s attractions. The concept that one’s beauty is inherent, not based on another’s gaze (is it not in the eye of the beholder?), is something I’m still getting my head around. But, I agree, much less destructive to worry about.
What’s left to blame? I suppose I can blame the TV shows that taught me my twenties would be all about sexy fun dating. Chalk it all up to another lesson of what life is about: it sucks sometimes but there’s moments of pure beauty and joy, if you can get over what you thought it was going to be like. That’s what your twenties are actually about.