I think dating is easier for straight couples. For one thing, if your straight everyone wants to fix you up with someone they know. But gay guys are really at a disadvantage when it comes to language about dating. And language often affects how we see and interpret reality.
Think about it. There is no gay equivalent of words like “fiancé” or “engaged” that imply a relationship has progressed to a certain level of seriousness (though still short of lifetime commitment). If you go back 20 years or so, gay men didn’t talk about “dating” at all. Partners were divided into one of two discrete camps: tricks or lovers.
Perhaps as a result of this language shortage, it’s sometimes hard for dating couples to understand exactly where they are in the journey of exploration and commitment. That makes many of us too quick to presume there is more of a commitment than is warranted. Dating can be divided into three stages: prospecting, mutual discovery and exploring commitment. Each stage has it’s own tasks, joys and challenges.
This is the initial stage where you find out the basics about your new guy and see if there is enough interest for him to be worth your time. You have a first date and decide if you’re interested in another one. If the chemistry is right, you may really click and feel like you’ve known him longer than you really have. But remember – you may like the guy, but you don’t yet really know him. And if there isn’t much attraction, calling it quits here hurts the least.
OK, you’ve had a few dates and decide that you like this guy. In fact, you like him quite a bit. That’s good. But there is much to be learned about your new man, and this stuff can’t be completed in a few dates. What motivates him? Are his interests, values and lifestyle compatible with your own? If they aren’t, it doesn’t matter how great a guy he is – he’s someone else’s future partner, not yours. Ending a relationship at this stage is more painful, but if you haven’t rushed into commitment prematurely the bruises will heal quickly.
Your basic questions have been answered and you’re getting a sense that this has real potential. The idea of dating other men has little appeal, and you’re pretty sure he feels the same. You’re not ready to put both your names on the checking account – you may never be – but where you are has gone beyond simply “going out” with the guy. Your friends are starting to think of you as a couple. If you were a hetero couple you might be thinking about announcing your engagement. This stage feels pretty intimate: you know your guy, and he knows you. And it feels good.
Now the question becomes, “Is it safe to trust you with my heart?” It’s more than just attraction now. You need to know more about his integrity and personality. Is he able to make the sort of commitment you want? If he’s not, the time to end it is now – not after years of unhappiness.
While people can get in trouble when they move too slowly to deepen commitment, more people probably suffer from moving too quickly to commit. After a few weeks or even a few months, you’re still getting to know one another. Taking a relationship seriously means not taking it too quickly.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and frequent contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.