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Having spent most of my adulthood chronically single, I’m starting to realise that I’ve acquired a skill, much to the likes of a sportsman or an artist who has spent years nurturing their talent. My skill is that of dating. Not sex. Not relationships. Not even ‘Friends with benefits/extras/bonuses/overtime/cupcakes’. But real life, hardcore, unapologetic and unadulterated dating.
My friends (of all sexual orientations) approach me for dating advice regularly. Again, please note; not sex or relationship advice, as I’m not significantly experienced in either of those domains. My state of chronic singleness with an (hopefully) endearing touch of urban neuroses has enabled me to pretty much represent the UK in a Gay Dating Olympics. This may just sound like I’m bragging, but my rhetoric has benevolent intentions – I’m hoping this will ignite hope to those who believe romance and dating is a far gone concept in the gay world.
In order to contextualise my dating bravado, I will divulge a recent scenario where the person in question was the exact opposite to me, i.e. a terrible and inexperienced dater. The first date was immaculately orchestrated by myself – it was so good it didn’t even matter what they guy was like (which is probably the only reason we ever had a second date).
It started off at an authentic North Indian restaurant, followed by a hidden Chinese cocktail bar and finished off with edamame and whiskey in the dark corners of a Japanese bar in Soho.
As we decided to meet the following Friday I foolishly left it up to him to decide what to do. He suggested, and I quote, ‘2 for 1 Burritos by Leicester Square?’ which I quickly vetoed. For those not in London, Leicester Square is like purgatory with a horrid vortex of theatres, tourists and bright lights thrown in for good measure, best avoided at all times, especially for a romantic occasion. Burritos would also qualify in a top 10 list of the world’s unsexiest foods.
My intention with this piece is to clear up some confusion about gay dating, and hopefully initiate a demolition of commonly believed myths in the LGBTQ community.
Myth 1: Gay romance is dead
Social media and online forums in our community collectively articulate an idea that romance is dead. For some reason, I find this perception most common amongst those in their early twenties. Come on, you’re way too young to be that cynical already!
Romance may be difficult to find at times, especially with gay men who are notoriously blunt. However, the problem tends to be our expectation of romance, and where to find it. Romance is seldom found in a seedy gay bar where the floors are sticky from cheap beer and poppers. Romance is also seldom experienced with a complete stranger. I know mainstream culture, and especially Hollywood films, beg to differ.
During my time on the dating scene I’ve had some excellent displays of romance. Midnight bike rides in the rain, kissing by the beach on a stormy night, candlelit dinners in French restaurants. I’ve also had even more ‘anti-romantic’ situations, as most of us experience on the gay scene; infinite unsolicited penis photos on Grindr and Whatsapp, the drunken gropes by pilled-up old men in clubs, and I once had a guy stare me straight into the eyes and whisper ‘I’m going to put my knob in your mouth’ in the middle of a crowded bar.
What I’ve learned is that defining the expectations of romance pretty much ruins it. If you have an idea of what a romantic situation is, or what it should be like, it’s very likely it will never happen. Most of my romantic encounters have not even seemed that romantic until afterwards and upon reflection. As proclaimed in the Rocky Horror Picture Show ‘Don’t dream it, be it’.
Myth 2: Online dating and Grindr are inherently bad ways to meet guys
Ah, the ever so popular topic of gay men and the monogamous relationship with their Smartphones. I think it’s safe to say most of us have had exposure to the majority of these applications and websites, Grindr, Gaydar, OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Guardian Soulmates, and loads of other rubbish that are basically re-wrapping the same concept into various palatable interfaces to suit different needs and personalities. If you’ve been in the game as long as I have, you’ve probably seen the same guys on a variety of these sites, which sometimes makes you wonder if you all share a specific genetic coding making you unsuitable for normal relationships.
It’s hard to imagine a time when online dating was considered a weird practice only reserved for those without any abilities to interact with people in real life. Online dating has now become the norm rather than the exception, especially in places like London where no one really talks to each other anyway. As I’m writing this Grindr Xtra is number 19 in the list of the top grossing apps in the Apple App Store. Let’s just take a moment and let that sink in.
Let’s be honest, it is true that there are a lot of weirdoes in the world of online dating. The talking torsos on Grindr, the pseudo intellectual arty guys on Guardian Soulmates, the piano playing men on OK Cupid (yes, a guy once sent me a recording of himself playing the piano to me as a conversations starter). They all represent a myriad of sometimes entertaining, and sometimes disturbing, characteristics.
However, my point is not that online spheres are inherently good places to meet people, nor are they inherently bad. They are simply just that, a tool to use to meet people. Yes, people show a lot less inhibition than they would do in real life, but there’s no reason to discard the whole practice for the sake of the weirdoes. Someone who offers to pay you money to lick your shoes (this has happened to me more than once) is simply trying to find their way through the nest of modern dating life. And if you think meeting guys is hard, imagine how hard it is if you needed to lick someone’s shoes in order to get off. I suggest that we accept the weirdoes for who they are, and to be fair, letting go of inhibitions is an excellent use of the internet – and really, if you’re genuinely disturbed or annoyed by someone, it doesn’t take much effort to either ignore or block.
Myth 3: Gay dating is harder than ‘straight’ dating
I’m the first to admit that gay dating is different from straight dating. There’s always the conundrum of who pays the bill, who asks who out and let’s not forget how critical gay men can be about each other – hence much added anxiety about what wear, and what to say, where to go, etc.
For obvious reasons the practice of gay dating is reasonably new, and for that reason we have the opportunity and the advantage of doing it in whatever way we so desire. I’ve had dates ranging from traditional dinners at 8 pm to cocktails at 2 am, and lazy (and sexy) afternoons in bed – all of which with people I’ve just met.
Think about it. The idea that there’s no ‘real dating’ in the gay world is only true if you define ‘real dating’ as something you don’t do yourself. There’s so much space to make your own rules and as the practice is much less established, you have the control to turn into whatever you want – whether this being a Meg Ryan fantasy or a quickie in a toilet stall (No judgement! Well… a little judgement).
Dating doesn’t have to be scary or hard, it’s really easy – you just have to stop thinking about it and actually do it. As with any craft, it’s a skill you have to learn how to master, and it sometimes takes much practice. For me, it involved lowering my standards, like, a lot. A few years ago I would literally date almost anyone who showed any interest (note, not sleep with).
Learn how to walk before you start running, and if all else fails, get drunk. Even the worst date is tolerable after a bottle of wine. I once fell of a chair whilst seated as a bad date with a boring gay Tory drove me to order a fourth martini.
Where do we go from here?
My optimism may be sickening to some, but let’s get something clear; I am not a confident person and the prospect of engaging with people I don’t know consumes my entire being with unspeakable anxiety. This is also why I am confident that dating is only difficult if you make it so.
What is missing from my general impression of recent gay dating discourse is exactly that sickly sweet optimism, which is annoying, but is also a very crucial part of the dating survival kit.
If you’re like me, and you date more often than most people do their food shopping, it becomes a natural part of your everyday life. Us dating extraordinaires can’t but help share our experiences as a philanthropic gesture to those gays lost and confused in the dating world. Most normal people who do date as much as I do would have found themselves in a relationship by now, which leaves me with one final question that defies all logic – how the hell am I still single?!