A couple of weekends ago the Out, the Proud, and the Straight-Not-Narrow took to the streets of Toronto for a weekend-long celebration of all things queer and fabulous. As I wandered hand-in-hand with a beautiful woman through the throngs of the gay and the gawkers, I collected free condoms and advice. Especially in the gay world, Those Who Came Before have a lot to teach us about being ourselves in a sometimes hostile world. I asked men and women, twinks and femmes, bears and dykes, what they wish they had known about dating when they first started off.
Be Aggressive, Be Be Aggressive
“Women never make the first move,” one woman said bluntly. “You have to be aggressive. Women are still conditioned to let men make the first move. You have to get over that really quick.”
“Date older guys,” was a guy’s advice as he cuddled up to his (yes, older) boyfriend.
Another blunt yet practical piece of wisdom from a cluster of bears: “Have the big conversation up front – money,” said one, and another added immediately, “And monogamy.” Be clear with your prospective partner about what you both want and expect from a relationship.
For gay people moreso than straight, monogamy is not always a safe assumption to make from the outset. There are monogamous relationships and non-monogamous relationships, and both can be supportive, loving, lasting, and amazing. But everyone involved has to be clear on which it’s going to be, before hearts get hurt.
Some took a more philosophical approach to advice-giving. “Put good energy out there,” one man said thoughtfully. He talked about his recent experiences on dating websites and the amount of barely-veiled bitterness and anger he read in the profiles there. “If you put anger out there, that’s all you’re going to get back.”
But from everyone I talked to that weekend, two themes became immediately clear: be confident, and be patient.
Write This In Big Letters
A leader of the Bears of Toronto told me that he first arrived in Toronto as a much younger, much slimmer, much less hairy gay man. At that point, he really didn’t know what a bear was, and the flamboyant displays at Pride and other large events weren’t really him. It took a while before he began to feel comfortable being out and being part of the community in between events.
He joined groups and went to social events. When he began to feel comfortable in his own skin and confident in himself and his identity, the boys began lining up.
Speaking privately to me, one woman who left behind a string of failed relationships and is now happily married to the dyke of her dreams said softly, “Don’t try to make it work when you know it won’t. Don’t hang on to something just for the sake of hanging on.” But she went on to tell me that if she hadn’t stayed with the wrong man for as long as she had, she wouldn’t have recognized the right woman when she came along.
I heard this again and again. The one thing the people I talked to wished they could have told themselves way back at the beginning was that it was going to take time to find the right person.
“Don’t settle,” another bear said seriously, gripping my arm. “Write that in big letters. Don’t settle.”
So you heard them. Be aggressive, be positive, be upfront, be comfortable, be patient. And don’t forget to always, always, always be your fabulous selves.
If you had a time machine and could give your younger self dating advice, what would you tell them? Or, how have the dating mistakes you made improved you?