Friday, August 29, 2014

Cruising Incident / Dating Realization

I cruise a lot, but not for sex.

I use eye contact to try to communicate with other men who are attracted to men.  For example, when a good-looking guy walks past me, I try to catch his gaze for a fraction of a second.  If I do, and if he's attracted to men, I'll see that in his eyes.  If he's not attracted to men, or not attracted to me, or just generally clueless, his eyes won't communicate anything.

I got into the habit of doing this many years ago when I was in the closet.  It was a fun way to feel less isolated.  Whenever I made meaningful eye contact with another guy, even if we never spoke, I felt a kinship.  Although I have plenty of bi and gay friends now, I still enjoy the hide-and-seek dynamics of what I call The Gaydar Game.

99.6% of the time, when I ping someone, there's no connection.  On those rare occasions when a connection is made, the ping is almost always a weak one. A weak ping is essentially a gay hello. We acknowledge each other but there's no lust or intensity involved.  Instead, our eyes confirm that we're attracted to men and we move along without further interaction.

On extremely rare occasions, I get a strong ping.  That's when a guy's eyes enthusiastically say, "Yo, I like what I see!"

Strong pings are wild!  They make my heart beat violently, cause sweat to shoot out of every pore in my body and overload my brain as I frantically try to decide what to do next.

It's been a long time since I've had a strong, memorable ping.  I forget most of them because nothing ever happens.  The intense stare might be there but we can't communicate because one of us is with someone else, or, we're in cars going in opposite directions.

Recently, I got a strong ping and found myself totally befuddled. The guy was alone and available and so was I.  This meant, for the first time since I've been single, I had the opportunity to spontaneously meet someone new who seemed to have an interest in me...

Here's what happened:

I was in suburban shopping mall, in a city with a microscopic gay population.  It was a weekday morning and I was there killing time before a meeting.  After hitting up all the better stores, I still had time to fill so I went to Macy's.

I'd only been in the Men's section for a minute when I saw an attractive guy in his mid-30s walk out of the fitting room area.  I pinged him and he was oblivious.  Not gay.

A few seconds later, another guy, this one in his mid-40s, came out of the same set of fitting rooms.  As he walked past me, I saw him turn his head and stare at the first man.  I didn't have to ping him.  From the way he watched the first guy I knew he was gay.

This guy, the second guy, was decent looking.  Blond and somewhat tall.  He wasn't exactly my type but he was well within the range of guys I'd consider dating.  After he checked out the first guy, he walked to the cash register to pay for one article of clothing.  Because he had his back to me as he walked, he didn't see me until he turned toward the female cashier.  Once he did, we were facing each other, about 40 feet apart.  Just for the heck of it, I shot him a quick-but-telling glance.

He noticed me but didn't respond in a particularly strong way.  For that reason, I expected him to pay for his purchase, turn his back to me, and walk away.  Only he didn't do that. Instead, he took his purchase and walked in my general direction.  Then he started "browsing" through a nearby rack of clothes.  Who does that?  Who buys something and THEN immediately goes back to browsing?  Clearly he decided to cruise me.

As soon as I realized that, my heart jumped into my throat and a thin film of sweat covered my body. Basically, he called my bluff and now I had to decide what to do next.

What to do next??

PANIC.

The good news is that I didn't turn tail and run. Instead I stalled for time.  I needed to think.  What did I want to happen?  What should I say to him?   Was he looking for a hook-up or would he be willing to talk over coffee?

I couldn't make up my mind what to do; I wanted something to happen, at least for the sake of following through on a strong ping, but I wasn't exactly sure what.  A coffee date would be my normal goal, but in this situation, asking for that felt awkward.  "Hi!  Want to have coffee??"  Weird.

To keep encouraging the guy, I gave him a series of quick looks, then slightly turned away each time.  I was trying to use body language to say, "I'm a total chicken.  Please approach me and make the first move."

He did approach, but not as boldly as I would have liked.  Instead of walking straight up to me, he slowly browsed in my direction.  As he inched closer and closer, I got more and more nervous.  What should I say to him?  What did I want to happen?

The answers wouldn't come.  I was paralyzed with anxiety.  All I could do was flip through rack after rack of clothes, pretending to look at them.

My blond friend was surprisingly patient.  He followed me for at least five minutes, which is a very long time for this sort of cruising.  In the past, I've had guys follow me for a minute or two but then they give up when they realize I'm all eyes and no action.

Many thoughts raced through my mind in that five minutes, including some that were very surprising.  I actually became so engrossed in a new realization that I lost track of where the guy was standing.  When I looked up, I didn't see him.  Then, as I turned around, I nearly gasped aloud when I realized he was standing right behind me.  Unnerved, I put my head down and walked about twenty feet away.  When I looked up again, he was gone...never to be seen again.

Both angry at myself and relieved to be off the hook, I walked back to my car to contemplate what had just happened.

Mostly, I think my behavior was ridiculous and immature.  If I was in a gay bar and got the same strong ping from the same guy, I wouldn't have been nearly so flummoxed.  To be panicked because we were in a suburban department store was stupid.  Why didn't I make some kind of small talk with him?  What's so hard about that???

In truth, I never thought of making small talk, which would have been the logical thing to do.  Instead I obsessed about asking if he was free for coffee.

Overall, my lack of game while under pressure was very disappointing.

But what about the realization?

It began with the question of what I wanted to happen.  As I thought about that, I considered the best-case scenario:

I didn't want to hook-up, I wanted a first date.  If I got one, then what?

We'd start dating.

Then what?

We'd get serious.

Then what?

I'd have to tell my kids, parents, friends and family.

Then what?

I'd irrevocably change everything in my life, all for the sake of one new person.

And what would happen if, after all that, the relationship fell apart?

I might regret having ever met him.

What's the realization?  That maybe I shouldn't be meeting strangers in department stores, and more generally, that maybe I shouldn't be meeting anyone, ever, because it's extremely unlikely that everything will work out perfectly.  Either my hopes will crash and burn, OR, they'll be realized - and my life will irrevocably change in frightening ways. 

As you can see, it appears that the only kind of relationship I'm willing to risk is one that is certain to succeed.  If I can imagine any chance of failure, then the risk for pain and regret is too high.  I'd much rather be safe than sorry. 

No wonder I'm so unmotivated to date.

I understand that this attitude is unhealthy.  I just don't know how to get over my fear of relationship failure.  I did everything I could to make things work with both Gabbie and Dean, and in both cases they dumped me anyway.  Is it any wonder that I'm reluctant to put myself out there?

I don't want to be this way.  I need some positive dating and relationship experiences to get out of this funk.  I need to be willing to take more chances.  I just wish I wasn't so plagued by fear.