It’s been so long since I’ve considered being married that I’m nearly at a loss for how I might go about it. I’m only sort-of seeing someone and outside of a little kiss here and there, there is nothing quite yet visionary about us.
There hasn’t been anything visionary in terms of couple-hood with me for nearly a decade so it’s unlikely that I’ll be rushing head first into marriage. It’s currently not legal in Illinois but it may be soon. Even when marriage becomes legal I’m not sure where I’ll begin because I’ve spent all of my life accepting the idea that it could never happen.
The first step would be to date someone but the older I become, the more difficult dating has become because there seems to be only two groups of forty-something men to choose from. Those that are completely set in their ways as if they’ve been married for decades already (though just to themselves) and men who are still enamored with bar hopping, getting laid, and roller coasters.
I’m not saying that I need to find a doctor or lawyer – though the latter is quite prevalent in a city like Chicago, but it would be nice to have someone around the house who could install a new kitchen faucet or at the very least, help me get the down comforter into the duvet cover. Every time I attempt to do this I end up inside the duvet cover myself and cursing like a sailor over the fact that I can’t get the corners into place properly.
At first I try folding the comforter in half, attempting to gently slide it into the duvet cover. It never works. Next I try standing on the bed so as to allow the weight of the comforter and gravity to get it in correctly. This never works either. Inevitably, I end up laying on the bed, inside of the duvet cover and pulling the comforter in after me. This always works.
It would also be nice to have someone around to shave my back – something that my barber says I can have done in any number of places in the city. I suppose I could go to a men’s grooming salon but that’s just not me. My would-be-husband would do this for me just a few times a year, like before our vacation to Europe and before shirtless bicycling season begins. He’d probably try to talk me out of it, saying something like “I think your back hair is sexy” and I’d refute his claim by pointing out the old Jewish men I see along the lakefront each summer who, even though they are with their wives, still do not have enough sense to clean themselves up a little before taking off their shirts.
And speaking of Europe, this would be our preferred vacation destination. We’d get there in Business Class seats that we’d saved for with miles earned by trudging around for years in Coach Class. Appreciating Business Class only comes from knowing what the alternative is like. It’s the little things.
Things have changed, especially when it comes to dating. Back when gay men were expected to be seen and not heard, if even that, dating meant having a steamy and seductive relationship with someone you’d pick up in a bar. Even the bars were different back then, typically old buildings with bricked over windows that sat on the edge of town. There was no signage and just a steel door off which opened onto the side street or alley. I actually lost track of how many cities I visited that had gay bars named Back Street.
It’s not like these bars were inhabited by men destined to be husband material. We were socially conditioned to believe that we would never be husbands to one another, so instead, we went to bars to catch a buzz and forget our loneliness. After a few beers we’d end up on the dance floor and if we were lucky our mating rituals would pay off and we’d find someone with whom we could go home and stave off the loneliness a bit longer in hopes that it might lead to something more, like maybe a message on the answering machine later in the week.
We used to write our telephone numbers on matchbook covers and hope that the guy didn’t smoke so much that he’d go through an entire book of matches and discard the one we’d written on. Or we’d write our number down on paper napkins, fold them in two, and place them in a guy’s pocket.
If this were to have happened during the seasonal transitions, I may not find that telephone number until next season when I’d pull out that jacket or sweater. But more often than not I would find the remains of that phone number shredded across my black socks when I pulled them out of the washer or attached, in tiny pieces, to the lint trap of the dryer.
Back then we had only one phone number each and text messages weren’t something anyone would have ever imagined. If our first impression was made on a dance floor, then our second impression was surely the message on our answering machines. Knowing this, I would time the sound of my voice in foreground during the riff of a Madonna song in the background. Over and over until it sounded just right.
If I’d met someone over the weekend I’d rush home after work each day hoping to see the blinking red light. If there was a message from some newly met man, I’d hope he’d not forgotten to leave his number because there was no caller ID then either. If there was no red blinking light, I’d often sit at home waiting for the actual call. This behavior is the makings of neurosis.
Now I wait for the vibration of my phone in hope that it’s a text message. It’s the same concept but with a different delivery method, kind of like how the patch or gum has replaced cigarettes in the delivery of nicotine. I suppose I could write my telephone number on a guy’s nicotine patch.
Anyway, if you were lucky a guy might call you and invite you over for dinner next Friday night. When this happened to me I’d run right over to Weinstock’s during my lunch hour and pick out a new outfit, making sure that whatever I chose fit the demographic of the man who’d invited me. That wasn’t easy then either because gay men of every ilk frequented the same places. For all I knew, the man who invited me to dinner was serial killer – at which point whatever I would be wearing to dinner could just as easily end up on the front page of the next day’s newspaper.
A dinner date back then meant one thing for sure – having sex. It was a good idea to bring a bottle of wine to dinner, if not for appearing to be the perfect guest, then at least to ensure that there’d be enough alcohol to wash away inhibitions as we sat on the sofa after dinner listening to Enya. Madonna was fine for the bars and answering machines, but once invited into another’s home, it was important to display the depths of our cultural attainment. It was also best to bring along a toothbrush because even the best host could forget a detail like this and waking to morning breath after a night of red wine, cock sucking, and analingius is never a good idea. Intimacy has its limits on the first date and bad breath is one of them.
Throughout my twenties and even into my thirties I was pretty good at these sorts of things even though I had only simple stoneware and mismatched silverware. I did however, always have a spare toothbrush on hand. Actually, I still do, though it typically ends up in my shoe shine kit where it’s used to remove dirt from the crevasses on my wingtips.
Finding a husband was never on the docket because that vocabulary didn’t exist in the social lexicon. Lover was the term used then and finding lovers was relatively easy comparatively speaking. I didn’t have to expect much from a lover and I didn’t have to expect much of myself as one. Finding a lover was a lot like finding a good mustard at the neighborhood grocery store. Always surprised that it was there in the first place and devastated when they stopped stocking it, only to find another suitable brand when the current jar was empty.
Dating in my forties feels like an entirely different situation. For one thing, I can’t stay out all night and expect to be useful in the morning. For another thing, I’m not really keen on sitting in a noisy bar. It’s much easier to sit at home with a bottle of wine and read on-line profiles of eligible men while listening to Philip Glass. At the end of the night though, both make me feel as if I’m suffering from vertigo.
Some on-line dating sites create matches by zip code or by calculating responses to questions and then determining potential likability. The first pick of one of these sites gave myself and the other guy a very high percentage chance that we’d get along so I wrote a quick note and sent it through the site’s messaging service. After a few emails we decided to meet. So good was this site’s algorithms that it turned out he worked for the company that I had left eight years earlier and had dated the guy that had recently dumped me. Boy, did we have a lot to talk about.
Thankfully he was not one of these guys who had pictures of himself with his teddy bears. What is it about some gay men in their forties who think that their teddy bear collection or their Disney figurines in the curio cabinet make for a good background in photos? Am I supposed to think that he’s just a kid at heart or, like I’m sure to conclude, that he’s stuck in some kind of childhood experience where imaginary friends take the place of actual adult conversation?
Then there are the guys who take pictures of themselves with their pick-up trucks. Even when I had one I never ventured to thrust my vehicular preference onto another man. How much an axel can carry or how much torque a drive train can produce only speaks to how much a man is willing to go into debt for the sake of masculine imagery. If you happen to live on a farm it’s one thing….
Now, if that pick-up truck happens to be parked in a deeded parking spot then I may be more likely to strike up a conversation. Deeded parking spots represent stability and for men in their forties, stability means something. None of the new condo buildings have deeded parking.
Sometimes I’m at a loss for what fills the gaps between the narcissists, bar-hoppers, teddy-bear collectors and the bro’s who love their Ford F-150’s. Where are the normal guys? Like the guys who buy their sheets at Sears, or the guys who use their old t-shirts for rags rather hiring a cleaning service. And then I realize that we were never expected to be normal. Because we had no place in mainstream society, we didn’t have to develop the standard social skills.
I mean, let’s face it, if we knew enough not to tell our neighbors that we gave blow jobs to bartenders during their fifteen minute breaks, then we sure as hell knew not to tell them about our collection of hand painted porcelain Gone with the Wind miniatures. Since we knew that the nature of our true selves could never be shared with the public at large, what difference does it make if we dress up like construction workers and drive around in our trucks?
We learned to make-believe and we learned to live in a world where nothing mattered because we didn’t matter. We became socially stunted in a fraternal state that didn’t really evolve into anything more than that.
Now that I’m in my late forties I’m beginning to understand how to relate to other gay men but it’s still not easy. I recently went to dinner with a friend that I hadn’t seen all winter and when I asked him about his new boyfriend the only thing he had to say was, “He’s a top. With bad teeth.” While it’s somewhat comedic, it’s also kind of sad. After all, this is a fifty-four year old man using a preferred sexual position to describe another man’s primary character trait. Ironically, I knew exactly what he meant.
All of this wishy-washiness makes me want to be the guy who is honest, truthful, and forthcoming. There’s that old saying that you have to be the kind of person that you want to attract and the one that says “we’re the change we’ve been waiting for.”
I’d been chatting with a guy on line who asked me about my fiction writing, though when I told him about the idea I was working on now, about what you’ve been reading about here, he ended the conversation.
When I talk about financial responsibilities with those who ask, they suddenly stop asking questions when I tell them about my retirement goals and how I’m achieving them. Then they think I’m stand-offish when I say no to going out to expensive dinners and nights on the town that I simply cannot afford – and neither can they, which is why they have no savings.
I’ve noticed that when I tell a man that I like how I truly feel about him, he typically disappears. So, if we can’t be honest about who we are and what we’re hoping to accomplish, how are we going to address lives that include something so strong and meaningful as marriage? How do we affirm our beliefs in one another when we have not yet learned how to communicate our own positions in life?
I take a lot of crap for comparing myself to my straight friends, but it’s my straight friends who actually seem to give a crap, not only about themselves, but about me. After a friend of mine had broken up with his girlfriend he’d told me that he had a date with a new girl not long after. I asked him if he was looking for something long term or if he was just looking for regular sex. He told me that he just liked having someone around to talk to at the end of the day. I felt as if my question to him was representative of my own naiveté.
When I mentioned to this same friend that I had no plans for the upcoming weekend he suggested I get on line and find a date. He sat down with me while we looked at the on-line dating site that I belong to and after a while he said, “this reminds me of looking at a yearbook.”
Here I am. Thinking about something as bold as marriage and not even knowing where to find a steady boyfriend. My straight friends that are my age have grown kids and have gone through all the same things that I’m going through now, but they did it twenty-some years ago. Some of them may have gone through it once or twice, and some of them may be finding themselves single again.
The difference is that they’ve had social situations in place all of their lives that support and encourage meaningful relationships. They’ve seen their ideals represented in advertisements for new cars, retirement planning, real-estate, and toothpaste. They’ve been the best man at their friends’ weddings, and vacationed together with other couples – in separate beds even.
Within my grasp is now something that will have social meaning and something that can define not only myself, but those around me and at times it feels almost too large to comprehend.
I asked a friend of mine about these things. Not really a friend, I guess, but a guy that I chat with on-line every now and then. We typically have good conversations. He’s fifty years old and as handsome as you could ever imagine. Salt and pepper beard. Well built. Tasteful tattoos. Articulate. Well-read. He looks like the kind of guy you’d see working on the docks at a shipyard. I asked him about his take on dating. He told me that he just broke things off with someone a couple of months ago. I asked him if he’d be willing to tell me about it.
“I can’t talk about it,” he said. “I will just start sobbing uncontrollably.”
Dating is complicated. Marriage, even more so. And while I’m always saddened by the sight of a grown man crying, I’m glad my buddy told me this, even if it’s not the complete story. I’d rather he shed tears over a break up than over the untimely death of Maria Callas. What I want him to have, though, are tears of joy.
Not every man may want to marry but very soon it will be a choice for some who have never had the option. This new option will, none the less, require us look at ourselves through a different set of lenses – possibly even bifocals, which is what I expect to be wearing after my next eye exam.