Friday, May 29, 2009

How Do You Choose?

One of my biggest problems in gay life is that I appear not to be shallow enough. I don't go out of my way to judge people on their appearances, kinks, or preferences. Instead I go to the core of the matter, as quickly as possible. The man with x-ray eyes.

When I spend time reading online personal ads, which I don't spend a lot of time on, one thing I note is how often men put out, in an occasionally desperate tone of voice, a long list of criteria and demands that one is expected to meet, or conform to, in order to get through.

Now, it's one thing to state preferences and desires. it's entirely different to set so many conditions on people that no-one can actually live up to them. Setting conditions creates borderlines, creates prejudices, creates the very kind of judgmentalism so many of us claim to dislike when we encounter it directed at ourselves. Yet we turn right around again and make our own judgments. That's a clear double standard: don't judge me, but I can judge you."

It's hard for me to take anybody seriously who sets so many conditions on even a first date that one must navigate a maze of ideals in order to reach the prize at the center: an actual conversation, an actual date. Eye contact seems to be optional.

I've always tried to make it clear that when I state my preferences, they're just preferences. They're not demands, they're not requirements. They're just likes, or dislikes. For example: I prefer non-smokers to smokers, but I've dated, kissed, and made love to smokers. It doesn't mean I like smoking, it does mean the person is more important than the things they do.

Another example: I really like skinny younger guys, but I've been with lots of larger, older men. Older men seem to be attracted to me, and a few younger men. I had to laugh out loud one time, years ago, when a lover said goodnight to me from the sidewalk, near dawn, as I stood naked in the doorway, wishing him a goodnight after a long evening and night of orgiastic sex; he said to me, "Good night, Adonis," and he seemed to mean it. I was pleased. But I've never thought of myself as an Adonis, and I haven't been "height/weight proportional" since my 20s.

If you keep setting so many conditions on your own loving, it's no wonder you're alone.

Love with those you can genuinely name as lovers is meant to be unconditional: without conditions. Love with conditions is usually fantasy-love, the actual person hidden behind a fantasy-filter you project onto them. If you really want a long-term relationship, then you'd better let go of the fantasies and meet the actual person. As the saying goes, "Domesticity isn't pretty."

So much gay dating is unfulfilling precisely to the extent that it is conditional. We reject everyone who doesn't measure up to some standard of perfection, then wonder why we've either spent the night alone, or had another emotionally-empty one-night stand. Even if the sex itself was good. I never want to have sex where one person ends up crying afterwards.

There are many people in the personal ads whose criteria and conditional expectations I can't live up to. What they don't seem to understand is: Nobody wants to try to. If you make the barriers too strong, too precise, you will be alone. If you put up walls that are too thick, or have no windows, you might be safe in your castle, safe from the world's chaos and unpredictable dangers, but you will most certainly be alone. I've known young men who were abused, even raped. They have problems with trust, and with letting people in—understandable problems—yet paradoxically some have no clear boundaries about what they will or won't do in bed. Some of these have the courage to cry afterwards. Mostly they don't reveal anything really important about themselves, ever. Once burned, thrice shy.

The reason I state preferences instead of conditions is precisely to leave the windows and doors open to the unexpected, pleasant surprise. I've had encounters with loving men that matched none of my preferences, and we had a wonderful time together. You have to remain open to the possibility that something unpredictably wonderful will come into your life, when you least expect it. That's why putting too many conditions and criteria in the way ultimately does more harm than good: as well as blocking out the people you know you don't want to meet, it also blocks out the wonderful men you might have met if your criteria weren't so judgmental. It's okay to make people work a little to get through to you. But you do yourself no favors by making that work so hard that no one wants to take it on. There are plenty of men who I would like to get to know, as friends if nothing else, but they put so many barriers in the way, it's too much work to try to get through to them; only to get rejected because you don't match the fine points on their lists.

Prickliness doesn't serve us well. Neither do fantasies of the perfect soulmate or lover. Romantic delusions keep us from seeing what's really there, right in front of us, that could be wonderful, and genuine, and loving, and true. The flower doesn't close itself in the sunlight, it opens. The flowers take what it is given, as it is given, even as it seeks more by rising ever higher into the light and air. The flower doesn't demand sunglasses to filter out the UV rays; it adapts.

Now, to be clear: It's no bad thing to know up-front what someone's boundaries and limits are: knowing one's desires, borders, edges, dislikes. It's no bad thing to be honest and clear from the outset.

It takes a level of self-knowledge and self-awareness to know your own boundaries, and likes and dislikes. What I'm talking about here is when men go looking for a body first and foremost—for appearance rather than essence—when they do that, they miss many good men of good wit and character.

While it can save time by "weeding out" the replies to your personal ad that don't interest you, having a list of criteria can also be used as a bludgeon to put people down, to reject them for essentially shallow reasons—and it can be used as defense mechanism: as walls, as barbed wire, as fortress battlements. A list of criteria can be used to try to force the world to live up to your expectations, or to pretend not to see what you don't like seeing. It can be used as a tool for denial.

I've been rejected based on someone's criteria as often as anyone else has. My response is: Too bad; you don't know what you're missing, and now you'll never experience what I have to offer. Something good might have come from it, and now neither of us will get the chance to find out.

If you are clear about your criteria, chances are eventually you will someone who matches your criteria. If your criteria are all appearance-based, ageist, sissyphobic, or similarly internally-homophobic—and don't think your readers can't tell—you eliminate any possibility of meeting and being with someone who could blow your mind. You closed that door before it could ever open.

That's a missed opportunity most men aren't even aware of, but they still can't fill that empty void in themselves. Their deepest desire may well be a fantasy about a body type.

Here, I'll give an example of why they will remain forever unfulfilled, if that's all that attracts them:

I was once at a Radical Faerie Gathering at Short Mountain, TN. There was this guy, nice enough, who was after me; he kept coming up to me, pursuing me. He was a definitely a chubby chaser; in several years of seeing him interact with men at Gatherings, he was always with a heavier, older man. (Gathering boyfriends or fuckbuddies are fairly common. Two men make a couple all during Gathering, but may never see each other elsewhere, or ever again, because Gatherings draw people from all over.) This year, he was pursuing me. I could have had a boyfriend for the whole Gathering, and as much sex as I wanted. But when I looked into his eyes, and watched his body language, I saw an emptiness in him, a deep void, that he was trying to fill. I turned him down. Later on, I saw he'd found another man to be with during Gathering, and we said hello courteously enough, but that was it. I chose not to spend my entire time trying to fill his emptiness; I had better things to do.

I'll tell you who your perfect lover, the one we all look for online and in the bars and everywhere else, who your soulmate is: Your soulmate is the person who drives you crazy, who makes you grow, and grow up. Who doesn't buy into your games, but loves you for who you are.

A person of character. The problem with having too many appearance-based criteria is that you're never likely to meet that person. It's probably impossible, because he can be camped out on your threshold for years but you'll never let him in the front door.

And that's too bad.

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