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By R.J. Beaumia
When my editor asked me if I’d consider writing a column on dating and relationships for this issue I was hesitant, believing that such exercises by single gay men are always in peril of deteriorating into saccharine declarations of self-loathing and internalized homophobia.
While considering my decision, lost in thought about the consequences of detailing my amorous pursuits in print, I pictured myself on the Oprah Winfrey Show along with Dr. Phil, Cathy Guisewite, and the cast of “The Broken Hearts Club,” spilling my guts to millions worldwide: “I met him at the bar and there was an instant connection. But after I blew him in the parking lot he didn’t even offer to give me his number. I sat on the couch all next day and ate a whole can of Betty Crocker Double Dutch chocolate frosting. I was devastated…”
Turning on my computer soon after I would come across a gay blog called the Smoking Penis, featuring an investigative expose about the hyperbolic embellishment in my story: the frosting in question had not been double Dutch, but alas, single Dutch.
While James Frey and I differ as writers in that he has fame, millions of dollars, and a big, fat publishing contract, we are similar in our compulsion to humiliate ourselves in public. Voila – my take on gay courtship.
Whether or not Frey was ever addicted to anything other than frottage with his own ego is yet to be known, but as for me, I used to crave the thrill of pursuing love through online personal ads.
I’ve never been much of a flirt. For one thing, I’m simply lousy at being one; I’m very self-conscious and don’t handle rejection well. Also, I find flirting a form of subterfuge and bullshitting. When I flirt I do so unwittingly, realizing I’ve done it only later. Chagrin would be the word du jour.
So, for years I was more comfortable meeting guys through personal ads. In fact, I was a pioneer of the genre, meeting men through gay personals when they were only in newspapers and magazines. However, they were costly; the economics of brevity meant you couldn’t really describe yourself adequately. Having to deal with the subsequent “ick” reflex, his or mine, during the span of a dinner or coffee date was a likely hazard.
The advent of the personal computer and online dating changed all that. Online ads were precise and detailed. A shared love of pina coladas and getting caught in the rain no longer cut it. With the online personal I was able to gorge myself on a veritable Chinese menu of men with accompanying characteristics suiting my mood.
Some days I wanted a trim swarthy guy, hairy as a satyr from the waist down, but with a smooth chest. Sometimes I wanted a big-bellied, furry bear, sometimes an accent, and sometimes both. When I couldn’t handle drama, a forty-ish teacher with a prominent nose would do just fine.
While I never got exactly what I wanted, I came pretty close. I had lots of fun and dated some wonderful, smart, sexy guys. I even met my best friend online.
Of course, there were exceptions. I went out with a handsome, brainy, hilariously funny guy who became sullen and cold when I ordered extra mozzarella on a pizza. He kept saying, “I can’t believe you did that,” as if I’d peed in his Chicago deep dish. Another guy didn’t call back when I couldn’t guess which “Sex and the City” character he was, saying, “What do you mean I’m a Miranda?!”
There was the time I got what I deserved when I dated a sweet, cute college guy who showed up for our dinner date hung over and coming down off of Ecstasy. And then there was the guy who, I swear, wanted to move in with me after the first date.
I fell in love hard, I got hurt bad. I made other guy’s lives heaven and hell.
Despite all that, I never had any horrible experiences with Internet dating, but I also never had any real luck. Eventually, I learned that the pool of eligible, interested men in the demimonde of online personals is finite and incestuous.
I began to see men out in public who I recognized from viewing the photos in their ads countless times. The experience was odd and titillating, like encountering a marginal celebrity in public; like running into the local television weatherman at a bathhouse.
Sometimes photos in personal ads show more than a guy’s face. I would be out to lunch in a restaurant with a friend and find one of the online celebs sitting across the room. “See him over there?” I’d say. “I’ve never met him but I know what his rectum looks like up close!”
Finally, I decided that I’d given way too many, shall we say, “gay good night kisses” in the quest for finding true love. In an epiphany of the morbidly obtuse I realized that, with some exceptions, what I and many of the guys I’d met online were doing was simply hooking up. We had good intentions but we really just wanted to get off.
While I still love online personal ads, it’s with a heavy heart and an aching jaw that I’ve concluded that the online personal is the interface of the back room.