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The Dating Spectrum


The dating spectrum encompasses the full range of possibilities, from the beginner who’s taking tentative steps out of the closet to the more experienced man who may already have one or more long-term relationships under his belt.

By Jim Sullivan

art of a man’s self-assessment is to know his place along the dating spectrum. The dating law of physics states: Absolutely no one is in the same place at the same time in the dating
Closeted men lead compartmentalized lives based on secrecy and shame.
scene—some men may know precisely where they’re at; some may be in a fog, or in denial, or are ashamed to know their place. But knowing where you’re at will help you determine the steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal of finding new love in your life.

In the Closet
Shelby, an African American from Baltimore, decided to come out at 42, a major step for a man from a very close-knit family whose belief system denied black men could be gay. Shelby couldn’t take the closet any longer. Having sex with escorts and going home with strangers from bars at two in the morning no longer had any appeal. Attending a political symposium sponsored by gay activists at the local university, he was astounded by the caliber of men he found there and made a conscious decision to come out to his family and friends, even though it was going to be excruciatingly difficult. Shelby found a gay therapist and began the process.

Closeted men lead compartmentalized lives based on secrecy and shame, and it’s challenging to be in a healthy, mature relationship with them. Most of us have been in the closet (some longer than others) and we know how stifling and claustrophobic a world it can be. In the closet we are never at our best, and we’re never really at ease. Formerly closeted men have told me how much they lied to family and friends about who they were seeing. (“We’re really only good friends.” “We’re going off camping with some friends.”) One man told me he couldn’t spend Thanksgiving with his newfound boyfriend because it wouldn’t look right.

If someone wants to remain in the closet, that’s his business, but I have to be frank with the men I work with and tell them that men who choose to stay in the closet are not emotionally available. For older men who are in the closet and afraid to come out, I suggest reading Golden Men: The Power of Gay Midlife, by Harold Kooden and Charles Flowers. I also suggest contacting one of the local gay/lesbian centers and asking agencies within the center for available support groups for men coming out late in life.

When a man lives in fear of being gay, the worst thing is to remain isolated. He needs to be around other men to talk about his fears and concerns about coming out. A supportive community is crucial to a healthy coming out.

Out, but Never Dates
Lorenzo is out, but never dates. He’s 38 and hasn’t had a date in five years; lots of casual encounters, but never a date. He felt totally embarrassed about this, so I told him that there are other gay men who have never been on a date in their lives, but are too ashamed to admit it.

As a dater, come clean. Wherever you’re at is totally cool.

Sexually Addicted
Men who are acting out sexually may be going through their gay “rite of passage,” or they may have an addiction to sex. The difference between making out
The “wrong” guys are always going to be out there.
for fun and pleasure and sex addiction is that the addictive mind has no built-in controls to stop having sex.

Mike came out when he was 25 after going to graduate school on the West Coast. He moved back to Chicago, started going to clubs, and would take guys home to have sex on an average of thee times a week. Then he began going to cruising other areas for sex as well and watching gay porn. Mike could never get enough, any time of the day. He began arriving at work late and calling in sick more than usual. His friends didn’t know where he was most of the time; they’d call and leave messages, and he’d call back when he knew they wouldn’t be in, telling them he was working on a special project. Sex for Mike was not different than alcohol was for the alcoholic. Dating, for Mike, was an abstraction. He couldn’t conceive of meeting a good-looking guy and not having sex.

Don’t expect to date a man who is sexually compulsive. Sex addicts need help; they are not emotionally ready to date. However, through gradual, painstaking sexual recovery, many gay men have blossomed into fully-functioning, available singles.

Dates, but Meets the Wrong Guys
Are you one of the singles who date the wrong guys? Do you keep asking yourself, “Why do certain men seem to come to me, and why do I seem to be attracted to them for only the first two dates?”

I believe that there are men who have the ability to make a very good impression on a first date, and who may even exude sexual energy, but who — after the second date — seem to morph into a variation on the “date from hell.” One totally exasperated man told me, “I’ve spent so many years in therapy, and I still meet guys from Planet Mars.”

The “wrong” guys are always going to be out there. As you become a more aware dater, you’ll be able to spot them sooner than later. Ask yourself: Does he listen to you on a date, or is he too self-involved? Are there conversational exchanges, or only his rambling monologues? Do you feel something in your gut that makes you uneasy about the guy? Does he obsess about sex, or ask you so many questions you feel you’re being cross-examined?

When Mr. Wrong is staring you in the face, you need to tell him gracefully that you don’t feel any chemistry, and move on to meeting other guys. Don’t start describing his character defects to him or, worse, play therapist. It’s not your job to fix him.


Jim Sullivan coaches gay singles on dating and relationship issues and is the author of Boyfriend 101: A Gay Guy's Guide to Dating, Romance, and Finding True Love. He has 25 years counseling experience and holds masters degrees in counseling from New York University and in religious studies from Manhattan College.
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