Thursday, June 23, 2016

THE NEAREST EXIT

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I took the cowardly route. But then again, so did he.

It began with that extended weekend when he couldn't get enough of me. Really, that should have been a sign.

And, in fact, there was a sign. On the Monday evening as we walked to dinner, Alfonso bemoaned the Vancouver labor market for someone like him in the higher echelon of the service industry. I listened as he went on what sounded like a rant. I’d mentioned a company a friend of mine works for and Alfonso felt compelled to be dismissive of that business organization. “They have the view that the customer is their greatest asset. How utterly plebeian.”

Alfonso felt that the employees were a company’s greatest asset. Fair enough. But it was the tone and the use of the word plebeian that seemed over the top. A company has a right to establish its own business philosophy. Get hired before you try to change it. That’s what I would have said. But he only looked to me for affirmation. He was right, wasn’t he? That’s what he wanted me to say. When he asked, “What do you think?” I said, “I don’t think you really want to know.” The intention was to avoid a first conflict but the avoidance itself created tension. I’d been in relationships with guys who expected me to affirm everything. That’s how some people feel supported. My problem is I have a tendency to consider another point of view. It benefits me in the employment sector but is a serious handicap on the dating front.

We continued our walk in silence. My mind raced to find a new subject, my eyes searched for a distraction. Alas, there’s never a Kermode bear on a pogo stick when you need one. I could have at least whistled, but that’s a skill I never perfected. Comes out more like a dying budgie.

Dying. Yes, that seemed to be the status of Alfonso and me. But then people do panic over a first fight. This didn’t amount to a fight though. Not a spat, not even a tiff. The word plebeian stuck in my mind. Who says that? I recalled other conversations over the weekend and I got the clear sense that Alfonso would never be wrong. He’d repeated a few affirmations about the universe looking out for him and his talents always finding an audience in due time. I hadn’t known how to respond to them. A slight nod? “Amen”? I pushed aside images of Stuart Smalley and his SNL bits. Affirmations are foreign to a guy like me who specializes in self-deprecation.

What I finally heard in Alfonso was conceit and false state of superiority. Three days into our courtship, I flashed forward to three months and even three years. This guy would be a difficult partner. There would be no compromising, not when he would always be right. I wondered what adjectives he’d have to belittle my perspective. Derivative? Nescient? Picayune? My gut said, Get out.

We passed over the pizza joint I’d suggested. “I can’t tolerate lines,” he said. Instead, we opted for a tapas restaurant across the street. “Do you mind if I have the view seat?” Oh, of course not. Was there an air of hostility or was I just noticing an unappealing egocentricity? Either way, not good.

The following weekend, we met on Friday and Sunday. I tried to put concerns behind me. This guy still liked me. I could ill afford to be picky. To borrow a Barry Manilow song title, I was Trying to Get the Feeling Again.

Not a good mindset after only one weekend. Sizzle turned to fizzle. It didn’t help that Alfonso immediately went into a ten-minute play-by-play on Friday of how he reamed out an employer after he quit an hour into the second day of his new job. The account smacked of a superiority complex and mean-spiritedness.

But I let another week go by. I was busy with work week. No time for contact. I texted near dinnertime the following Friday. I needed to see him to end things. He said he’d already made plans. I felt relieved. And Saturday ticked by. Can’t this whole thing just fade away? He phoned at 6 p.m. when I was running an errand. He took that as me being unavailable and I did nothing to change that perception.

Five minutes later, I received a text. I don’t see “us” happening. Your world is too rigid and I don’t think I am your prince.

I fist-pumped, something I’ve never done in my life, not even on the tennis court. It was a tacky gesture for no one to use, but it was a spontaneous release of angst. I’d avoided what I was certain would have been a prickly conversation. I guess he did, too. And Alfonso could tell others that he made the decision. He’d want that. A perfect ending.

I realized I am not as desperate to be dating as I sometimes think. Things shouldn’t feel uncomfortable on a third day together. The prospect of growing old alone isn’t nearly as scary as being in a wrong relationship again. I’ve been too dismissive of gut instincts in the past. I will still succumb to pity parties in the future, but for now I can embrace my passive stance toward self-preservation. Spineless? Sure. I’m okay with that.



Thursday, June 16, 2016

SAFETY UNDERMINED


So young. It’s reprehensible and sickening that forty-nine people at a gay bar succumbed to a savage, violent killing spree. Every single one of them younger than me. So much life ahead, so much potential, so many experiences and connections. Stolen. Shot down.

Only the day before I’d noticed a photo on Twitter of two men kissing, one gesturing a defiant middle finger. I found the action was unnecessary. We’ve come so far. We are safe now. At least in North America.

Wishful thinking.

Yet again, I had become complacent. Or maybe I’d grown tired of living life with an undercurrent of worry.

The first gay club I went to on my own was in Dallas. I feared I’d lose my teaching job if I were seen. I walked a little faster to my car when I left, partly taken aback by a man who unexpectedly moved in to kiss me—I think his lips caught my nose—and more out of concern that someone was lurking behind a car, ready to pulverize me just for kicks. It was 1989 and I still had an article from Texas Monthly in my mind about vigilantes who made it a practice to beat up fags.

I moved to California that year, choosing to go to law school at Pepperdine instead of Southern Methodist because I didn’t feel I could come out in Texas…and, hey, I’d be living in Malibu. It took a month before I dared venture to West Hollywood after dark. My hands shook as I maneuvered the steering wheel. It took more attempts than usual to parallel park on Robertson several blocks from the clubs. I race-walked to Rage. The return walk was even more frantic. Keep your wits about you. In all the times I went clubbing, I never stopped looking over my shoulder and surveying my surroundings. A bashing always seemed like a possibility.

The fear was always out in the open, on the streets. In Rage or Micky’s or Studio One, I was safe. The dance floor was a refuge. It represented freedom and a chance for me to stop monitoring my mannerisms. I could Vogue with abandon.

No basher would come in. He wouldn’t dare. He’d be outnumbered. In my mind, bashers would get ambushed. Someone would lend his handcuffs for the cause.

Sunday’s shooter shook our sense of safety. I imagine that club goers will make a new habit out of surveying the exits when entering a bar. If we aren’t safe in a gay bar in a gay-friendly city, can we ever let down our guard?

Recently, I’d been thinking how fortunate young gay men are. The struggles were supposed to be in the past, little history we older gays try to impart on a younger generation. Stonewall. Harvey’s Milk’s assassination. The AIDS crisis. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Matthew Shepard. Marriage bans.

And now there’s Pulse or Orlando or whatever this disgusting takedown of forty-nine lives gets referred to as in the long-term. I’ve heard LGBT leaders repeatedly state this week that we will be strong. We will support one another. We will not go back in the closet. Of course. But that sense of freedom and abandon that can be found in a gay club as the bass pounds and Rihanna belts a vocal in a wicked remix while a shirtless wonder flaunts a six-pack that should only be achieved through PhotoShop has been compromised. It’s back to look over one’s shoulder. Inside our safe haven. It’s more than an inconvenience. Hate remains. And so does a tinge of fear.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

RIDING THE BRAKES


I’ve got an excess of pet peeves about how people drive, but one driver behavior that I find especially maddening is when someone relies too much on the brake. A plastic bag blows along the side of the road. Brake. (Side note: I can’t eye a plastic bag without having “Firework” play in my head. Thanks for that, Katy Perry.) A bug splats on the windshield. Brake. A car pulls out six blocks ahead. Brake. Why not just take the foot off the accelerator to reduce speed? Glance at the “Walk” pedestrian sign at the oncoming traffic light intersection to realize the green isn’t close to turning yellow. Get comfy with how it feels to take a curve at 30 mph. Scream “Whee!” if you must. Please, oh please, take your foot off the brake.

But that’s what I’m doing. Going forward while riding the brake.

I met Alfonso for coffee at 5 p.m. Saturday. In his profile, he’d professed to being a discerning coffee aficionado so I felt my café choice was a pivotal prelude to a first impression. The decision was complicated by the fact the trendiest (and tastiest) coffee spots in downtown Vancouver close at 5; by default, I suggested a café a few blocks from my place. The last time I met a guy there he cut the meet-and-greet short and literally ran out the door. But cafés aren’t men. They can have second chances.

I arrived right on time and spotted Alfonso at the first table. Dark and handsome with a broad grin and a sparkle in his eyes, he was too much to take in at once. I quickly asked what he wanted to drink and turned away to place our order at the counter. I needed a moment to compose myself. Easy now. You are worthy. If he tries to flee, put your foot out. Make it memorable.

The conversation went smoothly. After an hour, Alfonso asked if I wanted to go for a walk. Sure, sure. Don’t make too much of it. I’d gone on these coffee date extensions many times before. Guys like my company, but it doesn’t mean they like me. I’ve been on a “no spark” streak lately. Stay skeptical.

We walked along Vancouver’s seawall, eyeing the marine activity while chatting freely, drifting from one subject to another. It was all part of that typical getting-to-know-you conversation, but Alfonso seemed genuinely interested. Invested even. He suggested dinner. No. Absolutely not. Leave with him wanting more. But, yes, we dined. Then we walked along Coal Harbour. He held my hand. Soon we kissed. As the sun set, we slipped into another venue for a glass of wine. Saturday’s coffee lasted six hours.

As I readied for the walk home, Alfonso asked, “What are you doing tomorrow?” He’s kidding, right? I had laundry to do. Plus, I love to lounge and chew on the Sunday New York Times.

We met for breakfast before heading out on a hike in West Vancouver followed by lunch in the West End. The whole time, a persistent thought swirled about in my mind:  Aren’t you sick of me?  I needed to pull away. And so after sharing green onion pancakes and thick noodles in a creamy peanut sauce, I asked Alfonso to drop me off so I could fit in a solo bike ride. It felt exhilarating pedaling past the beach volleyball players at Kits Beach and the barbecuers at Jericho Beach as I approached the incline heading to the University of British Columbia. My pace. No talk. But maybe a bit more zip due to a head rush from the past twenty-four hours.

When I got home, Alfonso texted. Ice cream? My weakness. Hadn’t I burned plenty of calories? Once I visualize a double scoop of Earnest’s salted caramel, I can’t say no. After dessert, we strolled once again and wound up slipping into my favorite pizza joint for dinner. Another weakness.

But there really can be too much of a good think. Ice cream. Pizza. Alfonso. I needed to pull out the no card. Drag this out more. Good things are meant to be savored, not wolfed down.

So when Alfonso asked me to dinner Monday night I said…“Sure!”

Jeez.

I actually looked forward to diving into the hectic pace of the work week. Distractions. Excuses. Legitimate reasons for saying no.

It’s been a promising start, but I’m not looking for a man to fill my schedule and to be my everything. What about balance? Isn’t anticipation a good thing? And, yes, sometimes it’s prudent to apply an occasional gentle tap on the brakes. Maybe I’ll even be more forgiving of cautious drivers. They’re moving forward while monitoring their comfort level. And so am I.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

RESERVATIONS FOR TWO


Recently I responded to an online profile of a guy who wanted someone who, among other things, loved to laugh. That amused me. Reminded me of old cliché personal ads that invariably sought a person who liked long walks by the beach. Shouldn’t a profile narrow things down a bit? You know,…be personal. Who doesn’t love to laugh? (The guy never replied to my message. I’ll have to laugh it off.)

I’ve heard it stated many times that everybody thinks he’s funny when few are. But, if it’s not all-out, bust-your-gut-and-snort guffaws, can’t we all reach some sort of light-heartedness at-will?

I ask this because it’s rare that I feel funny on any of my innumerable first coffee dates. And the other guy isn’t humorous either. These meet-and-greets have become too serious. Not gloomy like a funeral, but smile-free. I’m not sure if the last three guys I met even had teeth. (It’s coffee, remember? I just assumed that skipping scones was about watching one’s weight.)

We sit and talk politely. He’s nice, I’m nice. Everything is perfectly pleasant. I think back to the city planner I went out with a few times in December. We dug into some heady issues and found ourselves agreeing on most but the conversation was an exercise in academia. We’d both had far too many years of schooling. We’d excelled in that realm. He’d even been a professor. I recall his talking points feeling like they’d been extracted from a lecture. I was supposed to admire them as sage nuggets from a smartypants. I should not have been surprised when, after the third date, he said he felt no spark. I didn’t either. The difference was that I hadn’t ruled it out. I didn’t think we’d let down our guard yet.

And last month I got another “no spark” assessment. We’d been so chatty. But, again, the conversation had all been in a safe zone. So much talk about topics related to work and workouts. Comfortable. Pleasant. Nothing more.

In both situations, I am certain that neither of us laughed even once. After forty (and, yes, even more so after fifty), people who’ve found themselves single once more have experienced a fair share of rejections. (Maybe even an excess of it!) We’re seasoned enough to no longer have first date jitters. For example, I no longer worry about a layer of sweat oozing its way down my forehead and spreading from my armpits. I don’t even think of slipping a towel in my backpack.

But these dates have become routine. Not rehearsed, but the topics rarely stray from the familiar. How do sparks arise when we play it safe? We’re reserved. Too guarded. No wild swings and misses, but no home runs either. So we come off as swell. That’s not what anyone is looking for.

Ooh, I met this guy and he’s swell! He could be The One.

No wonder someone would put “likes to laugh” in a dating profile. We may all like it, but humor is risky. I’m not talking about unpacking an offensive joke. Witticisms, sarcasm and bemusements can miss the mark when we’re unfamiliar with the teller’s tone and nature. The humor can fall flat. So we don’t go there.

I’m not sure how to break what has become a bad habit. Yes, being pleasant is a bad habit when dating. I should save that for the lady at the bakery who has the power to give me the corner cinnamon bun, the one that is stickier and slightly bigger than all the others. That’s when pleasantness pays! I’ve got to figure out how to infuse some light-heartedness, maybe even some playfulness on that next first coffee. It could fail. It could repel. But there is no gaining ground staying in The Safe Zone. If I fail, I can laugh at myself the whole way home. Laughter for one is better than reservations from two.

Monday, May 9, 2016

SAME OL' FISHING HOLE


Go ahead, my inner voice says. Try again.

Hard to know if that's an entreaty or a taunt. But it's been a full week since the last dud of a date. Time to make the rounds.

I log in on Plenty of Fish first. No messages. Two views. No. And no. So I'll have to dig up something myself. I could try my saved search criteria: between 41 and 55, within 50 miles of Vancouver. I know what that will turn up. Same thumbnails, some of whom I messaged in yesteryear, some I even gambled on and met for coffee with typical slot machine results: cherry, cherry, lemon. Makes a tasty summer beverage but lousy date. Most of the profiles I've passed over countless times. There's a point when you know it's pointless.

I dare to glance at the New Users link. Has it always been there? I suppose I've unconsciously trained myself to look past it, like the pop-up ads. I learned years ago to avoid the newbies. These guys are testing the waters. Just looking. Maybe still bruised from a fresh breakup, maybe not even officially broken up. Even the new guys who are fully ready to dive into the Fish pool are off-limits. They have too many options. They are fresh bait. All of the seasoned Fish want a taste. The newbies are primed to get the most messages they'll ever get. They are inclined to keep looking ahead at the next message and the next. No chance of getting reeled in. Maybe it doesn't reflect a high opinion of myself, but I need a guy who is starting to smell fishy in that rotting sort of way. Dejected. Disillusioned. Expectations drastically lowered. My kind of guy.

Go ahead, my inner voice goads. And so I click New Users. Show me some fresh Fish.
Halfway through the second page, I am staring at overly familiar faces. “New” is such a relative term. The gay Vancouver dating pool is stagnant, a thick layer of scum at the surface.

I scroll up again. One new face warrants a second look, even a click to read the full profile. He’s 43. Photos look good—none of those distant shots where you can barely see the face. He’s got a long list of the kinds of things he’s looking for in a guy.


Okay, I’m not a golfer, unless there are tiny windmills on the course. But a score of 14 out of 15 ain’t bad. Above par. Or is it below par? Again, not a golfer. I type a message—carefree, with a bit of wit. And right after pressing Send, Plenty of Fish flashes what feels like a No Confidence vote: “Message Sent! We strongly recommend that you look at the following users as well.” These sites aren’t interested in matching people up successfully. It’s all about clicking and maximizing page views. A business, not a service. I shall not be lured. I log off.

I log in at OkCupid next. I’ve committed to doing the rounds so I need to at least check in. Four visitors since yesterday. New York City, Oslo, Memphis…apparently a layer of scum forming on gay pools is an international phenomenon. There is one visitor from Vancouver. I recognize the user name if not the photo. The thumbnail photo depicts his face sticking out from the center of what looks like a giant rhubarb leaf. Maybe a great pic for a Facebook post but the most flattering shot on a dating site. (Or what if it is?!) This guy has messaged me before on Plenty of Fish and on OkCupid. I’m still not interested, but I make a mental note to pick up some rhubarb at Whole Foods. It’s in season and tasty when cooked with a generous amount of sugar.

I’m not up for another search. One message sent and now I’m spent. (Besides, I’ve got that rhubarb craving.) Let a few days pass. Give it another go on the weekend if The Golfer isn’t looking for a caddy. No “A for effort” today. C- maybe. It’s a bump above failing. Maybe next week I’ll think about moving to Memphis. Or Norway.

Friday, May 6, 2016

TWELFTH NIGHT


Somehow I’d managed to forget the first eleven dates. I suspect they were duly forgettable. How else could I explain Brad’s twelfth date appearance on what was actually a first date? More accurately, it seemed like the kind of get-up you wear twelve years into a relationship, but I couldn’t possibly forget such a chunk of time. Not even with a guy like Brad.

His entire outfit looked like it was ready for the thrift store…or maybe that’s where he got it. The shoes were the worst. Overworn dad shoes, a cross between a hiking boots and slippers. Hideous. Practical for walking the dog—in the dark, on a deserted street—but not first impression material. My commitment to fashion consciousness may be waning but even I know you have to pick out something other than the 70% Off bargain you scored at a Polo factory outlet store…fifteen years ago.

Harsh, I know, but the first coffee is not the time to flash your I-don’t-care attitude. Save it for your coworkers, the ones who got you a Safeway cake with too much blue icing for your last birthday, one of whom keeps eating your peanut butter and banana sandwich in the staff fridge. Let them have to stare at the discount shirt eight hours a day at least once a week—twice if you really want to send them a middle finger. (They’re eating your lunch, after all!)

But Brad doesn’t work at an office. As he told me, “I’m a realtor. When I have clients. Otherwise, I guess I’m unemployed.” Too honest. This I-don’t-care vibe can be so off-putting.

In retrospect, I suppose I pissed him off at “Hello.” He’d shown up with his new puppy and I crouched down to pat Rowley before shaking hands with Brad. It’s a puppy! A golden retriever! It was only once I got eye level with Brad that I realized my own first faux pas. Rowley wore one of those Guide Dog in Training vests. I was supposed to ask for permission. Wait until the pooch was sitting and totally connected with its master. Oh, but a puppy! So cute! I apologized. Profusely. Brad shrugged it off. Clearly he’d already encountered plenty of stupid people like me. Vancouver is such a dog city.

Come on, smokers. You can do better.
We walked half a block. That’s as far as Rowley wanted to go. (Smart dog. He knew this date wasn’t going anywhere.) We sat on a low concrete wall as Brad tried to keep Rowley from putting cigarette butts in his mouth. (Rowley’s mouth, not Brad’s. To be clear, the dog was only beginning training.) The conversation crawled achingly along. Rowley insisted on being the primary focus. When he wasn’t trying to satisfy nicotine cravings, he barked repeatedly and tried to jump up on Brad. I didn’t mind. What can you expect from a twelve-week-old pup? And, of course, I’d established a primary orientation toward Rowley from the outset. Golden retriever! Puppy! Twelve weeks old! Even Ryan Reynolds would play second fiddle.

“Have you had dinner yet?” Brad asked.

“No,” I said. Nothing more. Even if I wanted to extend our twelfth date, it wasn’t practical. Rowley was barking plenty. Just because a guide dog can go in a restaurant doesn’t mean it should. As much as I love dogs, even I know that. Even in a dog city.

Then it was Brad’s turn to bark. “Stop it, Rowley! You’re getting on my nerves.”
And just like that, I was done. You bring your dog at your own peril. A dog can misbehave, but the owner can’t. 

“I think Rowley needs to go home,” I said. “He just needs some attention. So adorable!”
I told the dog to sit. I waited for eye contact. “Good dog, “ I said. “Such a good dog.” I needed Rowley to hear that. The three of us walked the half block back to Starbucks. Brad and I exchanged obligatory “Nice to meet yous” and then we parted ways.

As I walked home, an initial sense of indifference evolved into gratitude. Mr. Date #12 was out of sight, gone for good. I surveyed myself as I waited for a signal to turn green. Yes, I hadn’t gotten my dates crossed. I’d thought about what to wear. Classic casual punctuated with a sense of fun from my light blue Chuck Taylors. Every stitch of clothing was bought in the last six months (and nothing from an outlet mall). I’d even ironed! I’d shown up in first-date mode and departed with the satisfaction that I’d been spared eleven more. In no time, even the first will be forgotten.