Monday, November 30, 2015

COUPLES THERAPY

I love my Sunday New York Times. I have to wait until my local grocery store opens at 9 a.m. to pick up a copy. Just so I don’t seem desperate for my fix, I usually saunter in around 9:06 with a can of soup and a bunch of under-ripened bananas added to the basket. Then I head home, forcing myself not to scan the front page as I navigate the foot traffic in my neighborhood: a few smokers spilling out of the local bar where a European football match seems to always be on the telly; a dishevelled man hauling his wares in a grocery cart; and a few drug-addled citizens who’ve awakened from their bed-bug laden cots in the area’s SROs. The hipsters don’t appear for brunch until an hour and a half later.

I enter my condo—no wait for the elevator. And that’s when I get my first peek. I get excited. I want to read every lead story. I go through my French press coffee before I’m even finished with the first section. Each story satisfies even as I curse The Times for having every article continue on another page. Back and forth, back and forth I go.

I’m an antsy reader so I don’t get to the lighter sections until the afternoon. In “SundayStyles”, I glance at Bill Cunningham’s “On the Street” fashion photos, I read the “Modern Love” essay and then I come to “Vows”. This is where the hoity-toity couples post their wedding announcements, usually with a photo of the smiling couple. (I don’t get why some don’t submit a picture. No doubt, it’s costly but you chose to be in The New York Times. Splurge for the pic and nix the chocolate fountain at the reception. Chocolate is overrated. Yeah, I said it.)

I’ve never been the guy to steal my sister’s bridal magazines. With the exception of wanting them to play The Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You” for my spouse at my wedding, I haven’t ever thought much about weddings. I grew up thinking that weddings were for Other People. My New York Times addiction started about two years ago and I remember being fascinated by the photos of smiling male couples in the “Vows” section. Bold. Empowering. While I’d had the right to marry in Canada for years, marriage equality was still in contention in the U.S., my adopted country where I lived sixteen years, many in fear in Texas before coming out in Los Angeles. I read the blurbs about the couples and, invariably, my excitement and admiration turned to jealousy. He works for a prominent law firm in Manhattan and graduated from Yale before getting his law degree at Stanford. The Other He works as a translator at the UN, after earning a degree at the University of Oslo and a master’s in public policy at Cambridge. Yes, guys like this existed. Now they were taken. And here I was considering a possible hookup with an unemployed guy from Calgary. Damn.

This week’s “Vows” section isn’t so crushing. One lesbian couple—they could be sisters—and one gay couple. The men live in Indianapolis. Normal universities. I’m okay. Wedding envy is in check. I can celebrate their marriage.

And the last line in their blurb even offers hope: “The couple met on a dating website in August 2012.”

Okay, I’m logging in to browse my matches again. Maybe there’s a reason for all these coffee dates after all…

Saturday, November 28, 2015

ALL TOO FAMILIAR

Sometimes you can tell from the first three seconds that this is not just a "No" date but a bad date. And sometimes a bad date can become even worse than anticipated.

I headed to Breka Cafe for the second time in as many weeks. Not a place of my choosing. The stakes in Vancouver's coffee wars are rising as upstart roasters introduce better, bolder, stronger beans. Starbucks, Blenz, Tim Hortons and, yes, this heretofore-unknown Breka are now Why Bother hubs. But Richard suggested it as a halfway point. Fine. Better than my last date there where Mr. Meet-Me-My-Way suggested it since it was across the street from his place. (These are the "normal" dates, springing from the very polite Plenty of Fish site, not hookup-minded men from my Manhunt "studies".)

As I arrived ten minutes early, I received a text from Richard, giving his location and saying he was on his way. I knew it was twenty minutes away. Simple math word problem. If Person A arrives 10 min early and Person B is 20 min away, that equals a late start. "Take your time," I texted.  My laptop was malfunctioning but I figured I could text-type some work on my phone's Notes app. There is never an excuse not to write.

The first red flag arose before Richard's entrance. He texted again to let me know he'd hopped on a bus. From two blocks away! I'd already given him a Late Pass. This smacked of desperation. "Silly man," I texted and left it at that.

When Richard arrived seconds later, he sat down and commented about how much he loved reading my profile. "You don't know it, but I learned extra things about you." O...Kay. Perhaps Richard possessed uncanny inferential skills. I tried not to be creeped out. But there was an intensity in his stare. I had to look away.

And in so doing, I spotted my previous date, Mr. Meet-Me-My-Way, entering the cafe. Yes, awkward became awkwarder. (I'm aware that's not a word; it just fits.) I tried to focus on a conversation I was ready to end. I needed Last Date to get his coffee and go. You see, I'd thought that date had been a decent one, with pleasant conversation, laughter and common interests. When we stood on the the sidewalk and I said, "Message me if you'd like to meet again", I saw that look of horror register for a nanosecond before a skilled recalibration. Oops. Not interested. Totally misread the situation. But then a full week later, Mr. Last Date messaged the equivalent to a grunt: "How was your week?"

I replied. He replied. I scratched my head and then dared to ask, "Do you want to meet again?"

And...silence. End of conversation. Never more.

But then this. And as I waited and waited to spot Last Date leaving, I saw him take a seat. Two tables away. With another guy. And, yes, it sure looked like another first date.

So I had no choice. I guzzled the latte I'd been gently sipping and announced to Richard--still staring ever so intently--that I needed to head out and get on with the errands of the day.  As Richard and I exited, I made sure not to catch Last Date's eye. And for the umpteenth time, I wondered why I even bother with any of this. My dating history is an endless series of mismatches.

At least I got my errands done early.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

KEEPING MY OPTIONS OPEN

Last I'd written about dating, well, I wasn't really dating at all. I was hooking up, only hooking up felt a lot like dating. Here, I try to settle in and figure out how to hook up properly.


When a relationship is undefined--does an encore hookup constitute any kind of relationship?--it is best to keep one's options open. And so after two dates/hookups with Clive, I continued to "cruise" the Manhunt website.

I must admit, I found the site fascinating. Look at all these men! Or, at least, all these select body parts of men. Patterns emerged. People didn't write about a love for walks on the beach. Really, they didn’t write much at all. They skipped all the extreme sports photos that predominated conventional dating sites. (Seriously, how can every single gay man be a bungee jumper?!) And, if someone chose a penis pic as their main profile photo, they had no facial image. (Did that sort of thing work? What if it's an imposter penis, lifted from some porn site? By the time the fraud was discovered, could you back out? I think I was overthinking, well, everything.)

I was clear with myself that I would not fall for a dick pic. But that didn't mean I couldn't swoon over a man's chest. Indeed, one such photo caught my eye. Pecs apparent but not too defined. And when I clicked to see the full profile, I ogled an image of a man reclining in a chair with a starched white shirt and black dress pants. Yowsah! I've always been a sucker for a simple business attire. Unfortunately, the photo lacked a head. (Selfies can be tricky.) I knew I should be suspicious. To be honest, the only photo that included a face didn't appeal to me, but I reminded myself that this wasn't about finding a match or playing Cupid. This was about some quick fun.

And so we exchanged some naughty messages and agreed to meet. That's when Mr. Starched Shirt got a little stuffy. The conversation veered from my-place-or-your-place to let’s meet for coffee. Fine. A café near my place. In a to-go cup, I figured.

I’ve had far too many coffee dates. I didn’t join a hookup site just to engage more awkward chitchat.  

How's it going? What do you do? Uh,…who photographed your chest?

Someone’s got to move things along.

I arrived early, as I always do. Prado Café. Ordered the pumpkin space latte, a recommendation from my physiotherapist. (You’ve got to talk about something as a guy tries to pull and twist your finger back into place.) Not the syrupy sugar-coma blast you get at Starbucks; made with actual pumpkin puree. The verdict? Yum.

And then Jerry walked in. Okay, not so yum. Nothing wrong, just not my type. Had the clean-cut look of an Oklahoma preacher. Unfortunately, I don’t have any creepy clergy fantasies. After hello, he got in line to order. It gave me (too much) time to sit and think. What now? This was supposed to be a hookup. Can you back out? And how?

I decided stop questioning things. Isn’t that why I’m a single man? Hadn’t I passed on perfectly decent men? And this wasn’t ever going to be a relationship, right? Wasn’t this about keeping busy before Clive deliberated and realized he wants a real relationship?

Ahem,…stop questioning!

And so Jerry sat down and we fell right into that comfortable discomfort of a regular coffee date. We searched for common ground. Found some. But there were too-soon pauses when we seemed to be in freefall (without even a bungee cord). This was work. I’d thought hookups were supposed to be anything but.
Twenty minutes in, Jerry abruptly called time. “Sorry, I don’t see this happening.” I knew he was right. I felt relief. But I also felt like I’d failed. I got the hook instead of the hookup. Jerry rambled something about being friends and I nodded even though I knew neither of us wanted that. And then, as I lifted our coffee mugs to load them in the dirty dishes cart, Jerry bolted. Exit, stage left. It was the first time I’d ever seen a “date” literally run away.

As I stepped onto the sidewalk, the man had vanished. I was simultaneously humored and humiliated. No-strings-attached became an emphatic no-thank-you. I tried to smile as I made an unexpected kind of Walk of Shame home. As I neared a traffic light, a woman walked alongside me. “How’s it going?” she asked.

“Fine,” I lied. I continued to walk but she kept pace.

She added, “You look good, by the way.” We shared a smile before going separate ways at the corner.

And there it was. Perfect timing. A prostitute, sure—I live in a sketchy neighborhood—but why consider the source? These were the words I needed to hear after being abruptly rejected on a hookup coffee date. He’d said no.

It's good to know she would have said yes.

For a price.

Details, details.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

CREEPING IN ON CHRISTMAS

So apparently it’s the Christmas season. Despite all the kerfuffle over its simple red cup, Starbucks has the holiday soundtrack streaming as I try to cram in some writing time. (Since everyone is supposed to weigh in on the red cup debate, I’ll say I’m fine with it. The coffee is as hot as ever and, truthfully, I can’t tell the difference between a Christmas blend and the Sulawesi. Maybe all that hot coffee burned my taste buds.) I want to scream “Humbug!” as Michael Buble sings, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”. But, dang it, I know the tune too well. I’m listening more than I want to. The lyrics dance about in my brain.

And I like it.

Again, dang it. I set aside the outline I’m working on for a new manuscript and surrender to Christmas. Or at least to Mr. Buble. But this distraction does not pass. Celine’s on deck, singing “The Christmas Song” and, despite the fact, that roasted chestnuts do nothing for me, I’m feeling calm, even warm, as if that open fire were right by my side.

My natural reflex is to resist All-Things-Christmas. It’s about self-protection. ‘Tis the season when I am in danger of feeling lonely. ‘Tis the time when I am hit over the head by the fact that I don’t have a boyfriend to hold and to fret over getting the perfect gift. ‘Tis the period when I have to prep myself with a simple soundbite over why I must answer “No” to “Are you going home to see your family?”

While others feel jolly, I struggle. Until a year and a half ago, I would berate myself with “What is wrong with me?” Now I know. I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. It’s chronic. Goes back to adolescence, possibly as far back as when I was five years old. I’ve always been overly sensitive and that led to anxiety which evolved into depression. Holidays are hard. And Christmas is the hardest.

The good news is that I seem to have a handle on my depression. I have a new psychiatrist who is earnest, if not terribly effective. (It beats the adversarial relationship with the last one.) And, after shutting down any talk of medication for a year, I’ve given a drug a chance. It took some tinkering, but the meds seem to be working. I haven’t experienced the lowest of lows in weeks, maybe even a couple of months. Christmas will be a big test.

It’s early in the season. Frankly, it shouldn’t even be the season. But Starbucks started it. And there are other signs. As my commuter bus headed over the Lions Gate Bridge in morning darkness, I spotted one house fully decked in Christmas lights in West Vancouver. Keeners. Maybe they’re the sort that never take down their lights. The Christmas spark has been lit.

And Buble is still in my head. What am I to do? I suppose I’ve spent too much energy resisting, year after year. I’m going to try something different this time around. I’m going to let it be. I may even enjoy a few traditions. Shortbread! The smell of pine indoors! I might even buy a carton of egg nog this weekend. (And, yes, I’ll add rum.) My favorite TV show of all time happens to be Christmas-themed. If some guys can go on and on about “Star Wars” and the December 14th release of “The Force Awakens”, then I can say a little “Woot!” in my head over the December 1st airing of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”. I’ve got a soft spot for all those misfits.

Ready or not, it’s coming. Starbucks says so; yes, even in simple red. The season of pumpkin lattes is over. If you can stomach it, sip an egg nog latte and rejoice in the fact that you don’t have to spend a weekend writing Christmas cards. You can probably just try on a hideous sweater with Santa and some snowmen, snap a selfie and pre-program a “Happy Holidays” post for Facebook. Send one card to grandma. She still likes that tradition. Then, use the extra time to try new shortbread recipes. Be merry or at least be lulled into a sugar coma.

Happy November 12th. Time for me to “fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” off.

 

  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

SEEKING TO DEFINE

To review: My first hookup (and possibly second date) with Clive started with him waiting for me at the Emergency room and taking me to dinner. Granted, this is new territory for me, but I don’t think this is how people typically do it. Call it a hunch.

The next day, Clive texted, “We need to plan a sleepover soon. I want to wake up with you.” Hmm. What did it mean? We agreed to meet four evenings later. And I told my brain to put the brakes on thinking this was anything but casual fun. As confused as I was, one thing seemed clear: Clive is not commitment material.

And so Friday night came. I texted, “So what’s the plan? Are we grabbing a quick bite or just hanging out at your place?” I needed to know whether I should microwave one of my in-a-rush meals—nachos or veggie dogs.

Clive replied: “I’m a terrible cook but I’m putting together a spinach salad and ravioli dinner. All vegetarian.”

Interesting. Don’t overthink this. Don’t ask what this is. Just live it. And so I packed some overnight clothes in my backpack, picked up a bottle of wine and headed over. This is not dating. Do NOT let your brain go there.

Clive greeted me with a kiss and another one of his long, warm hugs. In an instant, there was no place I’d rather be. Easy, boy. It felt so good.

Over dinner and the hours that followed, we talked and talked. Clive seemed to have this desire to know me—my family, my experiences, what makes me tick. He also shared lengthy stories about his past marriage, his ex-partner and his work. I did my best to stay in the moment. Still, I had to remind myself: Don’t ask. Don’t seek to define this. Stay carefree. Stick to the plan.

Eventually we began to make out and Clive escorted me to the bedroom. It had been a lovely night. We’d spent hours learning about one another and now, after the extended hello, we were getting to what this was all about. Just a hookup, I told myself as Clive kissed me.

But my brain is a pesky organ. It always wants knowledge. Don’t ask. Don’t you dare ask!

“What are we doing? I mean, we connected on Manhunt. But then…” Yep, I asked. Of course I asked.

And Clive smoothly answered, “Let’s just see where things go.”

Somehow I managed to put my brain in park for the rest of the night. Eventually, Clive slept and I stared at the reflection of the digital clock on the ceiling. I must have drifted off in a light sleep a few times. Clive pulled me closer whenever I turned toward the edge of the bed.

As I showered in the morning, Clive prepared my coffee with a fancy gizmo and served pastries he’d bought the night before. All my thoughts were punctuated with question marks.

Thoughtful?

Smooth?

Routine?

And again, what are we doing? This time I kept my questions to myself.

I headed off for an appointment as Clive readied for a busy weekend of work. We’d see each other again.

Or would we?