Gay Men’s Dating Situations That Are “No-Go” – And Their Alternatives – PART TWO
In Part One of this article, I discussed topics that are a “no-go” in gay men’s dating situations, such as racism/bigotry, money neurosis, unresolved trauma, and several more.
As a long-term (30 years in 2022) gay men’s specialist psychotherapist for individuals, couples, polycules, and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist (CST), I work with guys daily on relationships – finding them, improving them, and, in some cases, coping with ending them.
I hear a lot about that first one: finding them. It seems like for every gender and sexual identity, modern dating is just plain hard. But for gay men, we have that extra layer of challenge because often we didn’t “practice” dating in our teen years, so in our 20’s, or beyond, we’re still identifying and refining the skills of dating.
Dating a new person can be thrilling, brimming with excitement, lust, laughter, and the warmth of companionship. For guys who don’t have this, I hear about the longing, yearning, hopes, fantasizing, and wishing that somebody good will come along, somehow. Guys want to be dating a good guy, but what happens if he’s really just not a good guy? You don’t need to strive for perfection, because every relationship requires work and compromise in the long term, but dating well requires learning and applying certain skills.
One of those skills is when to walk away. Dating situations can become untenable, and then it’s time to move on. I hear complaints from clients about when this happens, and while it’s a disappointment, it’s better to know about a potential partner’s “fatal flaw” now, rather than later.
Below, in Part Two, I will discuss 5 more of the most common deal-breaker scenarios that can be discovered in early dating. For each of these, I offer some alternative suggestions for dating in the future:
- Dishonesty (interpersonal/civic)
I always say that guys lie when they are too anxious or ashamed to tell the truth. They might hide if they broke something, because they’re afraid to take responsibility for it. They might lie about sexting or flirting because they think their sexual fantasies need to be kept hidden (because for most gay men, we had a lot of practice with this growing up). A little “white lies” or avoiding the issue can be human nature, and the impact might be relatively small enough that you can communicate through it and get to the other side.
But there are some kinds of dishonesty that run deep, like the Antisocial Personality Disorder, which really is just code for “criminal” who doesn’t care what he does or whom it hurts as long as he benefits. A dishonest salesman, embezzlement, ponzi schemes, severe lying on his resume, telling one person one thing and one person another to manipulate the situation to his advantage, and even outright denials to you when you confront him on some kind of behavior the violates the rules of the relationship or even basic courtesy/dignity.
Dishonesty can be interpersonal, manipulating friends or coworkers, for either money or ego/power, or it can be more “civic”, such as being involved in a “marriage for immigration” scheme.
Alternative: Demand that the guys you date deal with you “on the level”. There are plenty of guys out there who don’t deal in dishonesty. Watch for a congruence between his words and behaviors/actions. There can be dishonesty when he’s saying he’s doing one thing that night, but you learn later he did another (like seeing social media pics after the fact). Also look for how he lies to others, such as talking to his friends or his parents on the phone and how “easily” lies come off as everyday conversation; if he’s good at lying to others, he’s going to be good, eventually, at lying to you.
Good communication means that you have the “difficult conversations”, including about things that are embarrassing. Create an environment where you are vulnerable and honest, and expect him to do the same. Having tough conversations (such as about sex or money, usually) isn’t fun, but frank honesty helps you do the work to get you through to other side of issue, successfully.
Also full disclosure: I was in a relationship with someone who had developed an unhealthy abuse of prescription opiates, as well as crystal meth. At first, the impact on the relationship was only mildly annoying, but over time, as these things go, the impacts got deeper and more frequent, and eventually, I had to bail. It hurts to feel like you’re giving up “something good,” but it’s a necessary act to preserve your own sanity.
Lots (most?) gay men have some kind of recreational relationship to alcohol or party drugs, and for many, depending on what they’re using, how, and how often, it has relatively little impact. It’s part of gay male culture, worldwide. I sometimes wonder how many MDMA pills or capsules are consumed in the gay clubs of major cities throughout the world on any given Saturday night (and the straight clubs, too), or how many worldwide gallons of GHB. That’s another whole topic (my article on discussing drug use in a gay male relationship is here), but know the difference (which can sometimes be hard to discern) between a reasonable “use” (although not exactly a super food) and problematic use. I cite and apply a lot of the Harm Reduction Model in my work, but I also work frequently with guys in recovery, either through AA or its alternatives (like SMART Recovery), with a good success rate.
But in dating and relationships, especially early on, try to realize when this guy is in too deep to really get involved with him. You’ll always be “the other man” to his drug use, and it will suck to feel like you’re Second Place to it.
Alternative: Be aware, and just observe/watch what kind of “relationship” the guy has to his own drinking and any recreational drugs. Look at the type, setting, frequency within the night, frequency of “party nights” per month, amount drunk/used, and behavior in groups versus behavior being alone, or alone with you. Follow your gut. Watch for “messiness”, dangerous situations, or “collateral damage” afterward. Be sure that you and the guy you’re dating are on reasonably the same page with this stuff. There can be some room for negotiation, especially if either you, or he, are not well-versed in these things, but there has to be a healthy consensus of what, if anything, you want to do.
- The Role of Having Kids (or Not)
More and more gay male couples are considering having kids, especially since the legalization nationwide of marriage equality, and advances in gay foster parenting, adoption, or surrogacy. Just like with pets, I think it’s better to “get a rescue” and give some poor kid loving parents, rather than make a thoroughbred by mixing sperm or taking turns, but this is a very individual decision for each couple or even polycule.
But guys can have strong feelings about this. The guys who want kids see being a father as key to their existential experience of this lifetime. The guys who don’t want kids can be firm that they don’t want that role, or the necessary sacrifices that being a parent requires.
Alternative: Look for guys who share your values on whether or not it’s an important life goal to be a father in this lifetime. Some ambivalence is OK, but strong expressions like, “I never want to have kids,” or, “I absolutely want kids” are clear messages you would need to be in agreement with. “Supergirl” on TV had a story line about this, with a lesbian couple, and they broke up, and it was probably the right decision, as difficult as that can be in an otherwise-good relationship on every other level.
- Lifestyle and Location
If you meet a guy in one city, but you live in another, you have to be prepared to cope with the long-distance relationship syndrome (my article on that is here).
Even if everything else is great in your relationship, you have to have compatibility in terms of lifestyle and location. If you meet in a city, and he can’t wait to sell his penthouse condo and buy a farm in Kansas and watch Dorothy fly by, beware. Similarly, if you meet in a small town, and your ambition is to shake the dust off the crummy little town and head to the big city, take note.
The 60’s sitcom “Green Acres” was about a Manhattan socialite who marries a farmer, and the comedy came from the contrast (not unlike “The Beverly Hillbillies” or even “Bewitched”). But in reality, your “urban versus rural versus suburban” values of where and how you want to live must reasonably match, regardless of how you already get along.
Similarly, how near or far you are from your family of origin is key. You miss out a lot on watching nieces and nephews grow up, or being close with ever-aging parents, if you always have to hop a plane for 5 hours to get there. Most gay men I work with earn enough that this is not a hardship, but if you don’t have a lot of surplus income for “jet-set” travel, it’s a major life consideration.
Alternative: Decide your “dating radius” that you can tolerate, geographically. Think about your work commute, the time you spend daily or weekly “on the road,” and your daily schedule that balances work, home chores, hobbies, and self-care. Ask yourself if you have the time to “commute” to your dating life. And, be clear on any differences between how or where you live now, versus how or where you want to live in the near future.
- Being “Out” to Family/Work
I’ve worked with many gay male couples who have had conflict because one partner feels dismissed and devalued because his partner isn’t “out” as gay to his parents or workplace, and the first guy feels like a “dirty little secret.” This can feel humiliating, and can appear like the guy you’re dating (after a reasonable period of time) is not being a grownup and is putting his “allegiance” to his parents or to a homophobic work environment (perhaps to get perceived, implied heterosexual privilege) first, before you, supposedly the most important person in his life.
Alternative: Decide what level of being “out” you need your partner to be, and be aware of the devaluation that you could feel if you are his “dirty little secret” by not being out at work, or with his Family of Origin. Confidence is sexy, and your partner defending you to whoever challenges him about you is also sexy, and inspires loyalty and even love. Date guys whom you can feel “have your back” at all times.
- Sexual Style
It could be be the first date, or sometime later, but eventually, you “go there” sexually with a guy you’re dating. Navigating the whole top/bottom/side thing is one hurdle, but so are things like at what time in the dating process do you date exclusively (or if you even do), what you do when (you might be kinkier later in the relationship), whether you engage in kink play, and whether you involve other partners (like having a threeway on vacation; my article on that is here.).
In general, guys fall naturally on a sexual spectrum of interests, from the generally vanilla to the elaborately kinky, such as the leather/rubber or BDSM communities. Any, judgements against each other for being “too boring” or “too extreme” can emerge if you don’t naturally fall into the same arena of interests. This can often be negotiated; some guys who seemingly aren’t into anything kinky change their minds once they really have a chance to experience it (I’ve had lots of observation of that phenomenon). But the more vehement the opinion about the difference, such as disgust or frustration, often expressed energetically, the more there could be a “basic compatibility” problem.
Similarly, sex therapy can help a guy overcome certain sexual anxieties, such as becoming more comfortable being penetrated by talking through his fears or experiences. Sex therapy for a couple can also help them bridge the gaps in their preferences or interests, well before the point where a relationship ends over it. It’s generally a good investment, and while I offer this, sex therapy or relationship coaching specifically by and for gay men is rare, even among nationally AASECT Certified Sex Therapists.
Alternative: Look for guys who at least have an aptitude for exploring and discussing meeting mutual sexual needs and a reasonably compatible sexual value system. Guys with the ability to communicate their feelings and interests, even if you disagree greatly at first, can be good candidates.
- Lacking commitment/communication/compromise aptitude
In my popular article on the “building blocks of a healthy relationship,” I cite the Three C’s of Commitment, Communication, and Compromise (that article is here).
I coined these Three C’s after many years of doing couples therapy with gay men, and seeing patterns, over and over, of where relationships go wrong, and what tends to repair them (or probably would have, if they had the opportunity to do the gay-male-specific couples work).
If you feel like the guy you’re dating is doing it kind of half-assed, or ambivalently, that’s not a strong commitment, especially after a few months of dating.
If he “doesn’t like to talk about things” or gives you stonewalling, the silent treatment, or avoidance, that’s going to be a problem in the long term. The biggest thing I help gay couples with, and what they ask for, is help with improving the quality and effective outcomes of their communication.
If he’s stubborn and “not good” at discussing things intelligently and crafting creative, practical compromises that help you bridge a disagreement somewhere in the middle, that’s not a good sign for the long-term. When we say “all relationships take work,” we usually mean the work of communicating mutual needs, or forging acceptable, “good-enough” compromises that prevent breakup or chronic dissatisfaction.
Alternative: Look for guys who at least have an aptitude for these core relationship skills, which you can “evaluate” in your mind, through experience and observation over time. He will show you, in his everyday behavior, without your having to ask.
- Common Interests
When sex in a relationship decreases in frequency, or even stops altogether (which is a much more common experience than most gay men realize; my article on how to deal with a “sexual stalemate” is here), what’s left is the emotional intimacy and enjoyment of common interests.
Gay men tend to have classic common interests, such as the gym, an appreciation for the arts, travel, being entertained, being reasonably involved in current events, being charitable, being especially social, and being great pet-dads, among others. That can keep a couple busy all week an all year, and yet sex wasn’t mentioned there.
While some gay couples break up when sexual attraction or activity fades, others sincerely want their relationship because sharing common interests is a huge factor in quality of life, well into the senior years.
But you have to have some overlap in your interests. If he wants to watch three, three-hour football games every Sunday afternoon in the Fall, and you can’t stand that, that’s not a good sign. But if you both squeal like little girls at the mere mention of preparing costumes for Comic-Con, then you might be onto something.
When dating, and you feel you “just don’t click,” that’s often a lack of sharing common interests in how you like to spend your leisure time (and recreational money) outside of work life. But if you walk away from even a first date with your sides hurting from laughing with him, or fascinated with his mastery of Marvel Comics canon, or the intricacies of “Game of Thrones”, then that might be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Alternative: Let it be OK if you realize that the guy you’re dating doesn’t share your interests or your idea about how to spend your leisure time. If you’re a sports guy, it’s going to be hard to date a non-sports guy, and vice versa. If you don’t like going out a lot, it’s going to be hard to date a guy who wants to party every weekend. Look for the “proportions” of how each of you likes to allocate your free time among various pastimes, with maybe some reasonable room for compromises and “being a good sport” to accompany the other on outings that you might just learn to like.
These aren’t the only “no-go’s” in dating, but they are the ones I’ve heard the most about in my long practice with gay men, and among my personal friends, over many years. Dating is not easy; your hopes to find the “right guy” can be frustrated or thwarted by any one of these unfortunate situations. But if you keep your focus on observing, identifying, and connecting with guys who show the “alternative traits” to the ones mentioned above, your have your “sketch” of who a compatible partner might be. It’s worth the hunt.
If you would like more specific help on your dating life, or any other aspect of gay men’s mental health, well-being, or life goals, consider therapy (for residents of California) or coaching (nationally, and worldwide). Having support for clarifying your values can help you present your best self to the dating pool, and even enjoy the process more. Call or text 310-339-5778, or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com, for more information, or to make an appointment. And, please tell your friends about my blog (and podcast) if you think they could benefit from this material.
Ken Howard, LCSW, CST, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, Life/Career/Relationship Coach, academic, activist, and LGBTQ+ advocate, with over 30 years experience as a gay men’s specialist. He also offers speaking engagements, and expert witness services on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues. He is a Certified Psychiatric Social Worker, and has an additional Certification in Consensual Non-Monogamy and Polyamorous Relationships from the Sexual Health Alliance. He has been successfully living with HIV/AIDS since 1990. He lives in West Hollywood, California with his husband and pets.