I’ve been providing relationship coaching and couples therapy for gay men since 1992, and over that time, I’ve noticed some patterns that will help, and hurt, a relationship.
Lots of things help, but one that thing than can hurt is complacency. Straight people know all about this; it’s the whole “married-now-let-yourself-go” syndrome — which can make a wandering eye even more wandering — even in an open relationship. Changes happen over time, like regular aging and the slowing of the metabolism, so a little graying here, a little wrinkling there, or a little softy-paunchy somewhere is just a fact of getting older. But beware of too much complacency, which doesn’t help romance or, let’s face it, your sex life. I wanted to write about gay men’s grooming and its importance in relationships.
Remember how much time and effort you put into looking good for strangers, back when you were unattached? Or how you would change clothes a couple of times before a hot date? Or the chicken-and-broccoli diet plan you followed for weeks before Pride or a big party? Now that you’ve found Mr. Right, doesn’t he deserve at least that much attention to detail? You don’t have to develop “bigorexia”, an eating disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or an addiction to your own reflection, but a few grooming basics can make a big difference in how you look, and that sends a message to your partner that he’s worth the effort.
A few suggestions:
Keep it clean. It goes without saying (except I’m saying it anyway), regular bathing and a touch of manly scent is never unwelcome. Clean and trimmed nails and hands/feet are sexy. And showering together has some obvious additional benefits.
Tame your hair. Top to bottom (ahem), hair is one of the most important grooming statements you can make. Start with your haircut. Just because it grows that way doesn’t mean you should let it go. The right cut for your face can make a huge difference in your look. If you’re not sure what to do with your ‘do, ask the person who cuts your hair (and DO NOT tell me that you cut it yourself, unless you go for the completely shaved look).
Tame ALL of your hair. Unless your guy is into bears, keeping your beard and body hair under control is also a good idea. Beards can be a real asset, especially if they’re well clipped, but if you decide to go with facial hair you need to give it as much attention as if you were shaving regularly. As for the rest of you, you don’t have to emulate the skinned cat look of a pro cyclist, but keeping body hair (yes, down there, too) trimmed to about half an inch makes you look groomed. Shaving back hair is up to you; if you do decide to shave, there are lots of shavers with extensions made just for that job, and there are some great estheticians who can help (in West Hollywood, SmoothCheeks is my friend Gabriel Suarez, who is excellent).
Dress right for you. No, this doesn’t mean it’s fine to keep pulling on the draggy-butt sweat pants and stretched out T-shirt that is your go-to lounge wear. There are comfortable clothes that will do a lot more for your body and your relationship. It doesn’t hurt to keep track of trends in menswear, but just because something shows up in GQ or Details doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Your guy has probably already let you know what looks best. If he doesn’t have much to say on the subject, put your friends or a friendly store clerk to work.
Join the skin game. Your face needs more from you than a shave. Giving it a good cleaning will brighten up your look and prevent blemishes. Moisturizer will help your look stay supple; if you apply the moisturizer right after a shower when your pores are still open, the benefits will multiply. A moisturizer with sun block will prevent your viz from premature aging. (Gabriel Suarez at SmoothCheeks can also help with this, and my buddies “Michael and Michael” at LA Skin can help with the use (judiciously, please) of Botox and prescription medical fillers (Juvederm, Restylane, etc.) if you’re into going that far.)
Consider accessories. Not everyone looks good in a hat, but if you do, a hat can say a lot about your style. Look beyond baseball caps, please; they’re so common they say nothing (except, perhaps, if worn backwards. Ahem). There are a lot more choices out there. A necktie may be a required part of your working wardrobe but as a fashion statement, eh, depends on the outfit. Suspenders are an interesting addition. A leather cuff can be sexy. Shoes should be appropriate to your activity, but unless you’re going bass fishing they should be clean topside and well-maintained.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Drink lots of water, at least 8 glasses a day. Your body is about 65 percent water and you need it for functional reasons – to digest your food, to maintain your body temperature, and to move nutrients around. It also contributes to looking good. Water isn’t a magic diet aid, but if you’re drinking water instead of a caramel macchiato or sugary Red Bull, you’ll take in fewer calories and your body will burn fat faster. There’s debate about whether water makes a noticeable difference in how your skin looks, but not drinking enough water leaves your face dry and wrinkled. Drinking plenty couldn’t hurt.
Groom your personality!: All of the aspects of appearance are important, sure, up to a point, but we don’t want to invest everything on how we look alone; that’s just an homage to appearance privilege (my article on that, here.) Pay attention to your manners, your own self-talk, being interested in the other person, being as generous as you can with your spirit, and at least try to “pretend like you like each other” (as lesbian actress Marjorie Main said to characters in the Judy Garland classic, “Meet Me in St. Louis!”). You want a nice-looking outside to match a gracious inside.
There are other, perhaps way more important elements to keeping a relationship strong and healthy. But making a good effort for your partner can go a long way. It sends the unspoken meta-message of “I care about you.” Combined with other elements of a healthy relationship, such as my thing about Commitment, Communication, and Compromise, these tips can certainly help sustain the romance and sexiness for the long haul. And if your relationship needs some help that these tips don’t really cover, then consider having some couples counseling to address those more serious issues. Would be glad to help you decrease conflict, work through problems, and increase relationship satisfaction now, and for hopefully many years to come. Call/text me at 310-339-5778, or email (Ken@GayTherapyLA.com) for more information or to make an appointment. We can work in person if you’re in Los Angeles/West Hollywood, of if you’re elsewhere in the country, we can work (either therapy or coaching) via phone or via Skype.