Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Keeping Up Appearances

"Solutions for Divided Bisexual Married Men" is still under construction. Thanks for your patience.

***

2010 was an incredibly chaotic year for my 20 year marriage.

Most of the drama was captured in posts on this blog. Long-term readers might recall that my wife Gabbie was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend Charlie; that Charlie was a hard-core alcoholic who, when drunk and angry, was a seriously lethal threat (years ago he killed a man during a bar fight); that Gabbie was seldom home and thereby abdicated her role as mother and wife; that she was regularly drunk; and that she and Charlie constantly fought, which more than once prompted police intervention.

Although Gabbie first began seeing Charlie in 2006, last year's events were extreme. Clearly, the situation was out of control, and other than kicking her out of the house and further into his arms, there was nothing I was willing to do to take control of the mess. Besides, he was such a disaster, I KNEW it was only a matter of time before she'd be finished with him.

My willingness to be patient was criticized by many readers: "why do you tolerate their behavior? And what about the kids?!" Looking back, I think I made the right decision. Had I kicked her out, that might have made for a clean break between us, but it also would have had dire consequences for her and for her relationship with the kids. They were largely unaware of the drama; all they complained about was that she was gone too often. Kicking her out would have made for a better outcome for me but I think it would have been permanently harmful to everyone else. For that reason I don't regret being patient.

I can't remember when the last crazy, drunken episode happened. It might have been in November of 2010. There has been only one incident this year, in March, and that was pretty minor - a fight between the two of them where he was very drunk and she was somewhat buzzed. Overall, 2011 has been completely different than 2010, especially the latter three-quarters of the year.

Although Charlie is and always will be an alcoholic, his drinking has been much more moderate this year. It's been many months since I've seen him drunk. Gabbie has morphed from being a 24/7 bar hag to a home-body who likes to bake. She and Charlie still go out, but far less often and for much shorter times. Last Friday, for example, she was home by 9pm.

Charlie's relatively good behavior has been a major frustration for me. Whereas in the Spring I had big hopes of getting him deported (with Gabbie's blessing) now she wants him to stay. Also, a recovering alcoholic/countrymate/friend of Charlie's has kept him employed for most of this year. Charlie gets to keep the job as long as he's sober at work. Having a steady job is a major accomplishment for Charlie and the fear of losing it has done a lot to curb his drinking. While it is inevitable that he will screw up and get himself fired, the path he's on is literally paying off for him. Therefore I don't expect any surprises soon. This means that whether I like him or not, Charlie is here to stay.

Recently Gabbie's mother convinced Gabbie to accept a truckload of garage sale items from a friend of hers. I didn't even know about this arrangement until Charlie started unloading a bunch of crap into our family room. My reaction was, "What the hell? We don't need any of this!" But even more surprising than the junk was my 12 year-old daughter's reaction to it - she wanted to know if Charlie was moving in.

Given that she saw Charlie moving several pieces of unfamiliar furniture into the house, her question was entirely logical. And once I explained the truth, she didn't give it another thought. Still, I believe her question indicates that she is increasingly suspicious of her mother's "friendship" with Charlie. And while she is not yet mature enough to put the pieces together, she is far more aware than either of her brothers who are two and six years older; they are clueless.

My daughter's question made me realize something important, something that I've taken for granted and shouldn't have: although we told the kids nearly a year ago that we were separated, and although I sleep in my own bed in my own room, and although I stopped wearing my wedding ring in October, we still haven't told the kids that mommy has a boyfriend. Why not??!!!!

Given our awkward situation, my homosexuality and her long affair, I've left it to Gabbie to spread the word to friends and family that we are separated. It's been important to her to contain the embarrassment of our lives; she doesn't want to be "a joke." I get that. What I don't understand is her end-game. Her "keep-the-secrets-hidden" approach is certain to fail eventually. Then what? It's like she wants us to be characters in a '50s housewife novel where everything is normal and dignified on the surface but in reality that's all a phony charade.

I haven't objected to Gabbie's whitewash philosophy because it serves an important short-term purpose: it keeps the kids' lives normal. It also keeps the two of us on the same page, which means as much as I despise Charlie, we don't fight about him. Also, Gabbie's approach is every closeted man's dream. It's an open marriage where we each can (supposedly) have our own boyfriend, yet we retain social acceptability, all without affecting the kids. The problem is, it's all lies - a huge stinking pile of manure.

As good as some of the short-term benefits might be, continuing to tell lies for the indefinite future is not an acceptable solution for me. Lies are what got us into this mess. It's only by putting an end to the them that we'll have any chance to find true happiness.

Speaking of finding happiness, I've had a few hang-ups when it comes to dating men and I've been trying to work through them. My biggest problem has been figuring out how to date with integrity yet stay within the boundaries of the 1950s whitewash Gabbie wants the world to see. My gut says the two are incompatible.

For nearly a year I've been wrestling with this question and only now have I realized how simple the answer is: stop the lies! If Charlie is such a great catch and our marriage is over then Gabbie has no legitimate reason to continue to hide him.

The more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that exposing their relationship is essential. It will prove to the kids, and to anyone else who cares, that our marriage is permanently broken. Further, by acknowledging that we are broken, we will both be free to establish genuine and independent lives.

Just thinking about ending this charade makes me feel so much more optimistic about dating.

I have allowed Gabbie to make poor decision after poor decision. I've had enough. Tomorrow I will be giving her the chance to decide when, where and how she'll come clean. If she wants to drag her feet, which is what I expect, then I will have to tell the kids myself. I don't want to make that sound like an ultimatum but, well, it is.

I don't want to start a fight nor do I want to hurt or embarrass her. She can tell the kids they've only been dating for a week, I really don't care. But I am putting an end to the fantasy of our bond. I have found living this way for the past year to be much worse than simply hiding in the closet.

Keeping up appearances is absolutely no way to live happily ever after.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Temptation

I hadn't plan to write this post. On the whole I think issues related to the marriages of bisexual men are much more interesting than my spectacularly pathetic dating life. But because I have a reputation for being negative about my future I thought I'd better post something positive before my usual cynicism returns.

Last Thursday I added a face picture to an otherwise empty profile on Grindr. The response I've received since then has given me a much needed boost.

In my typical over-thinking way (I'll take too much thought over too little any day), I have logged the number of hours that I've spent on Grindr and how many different guys have initiated chats with me in that time.

In the face picture I chose I'm expressionless. It's intended to give me a baseline indication of how attractive other men think I am. In roughly 26 hours of idle Grindr time, I was messaged by 7 different guys. I have no idea if that is good, bad or average for a 45 year old, but, hell, it's way better than zero, and that is good enough for me.

A few days ago I changed the picture (but kept the empty profile) to a face and torso shot. I'm wearing sunglasses so the picture mostly emphasizes my body. In 23 hours of idle Grindr time thus far, I have been messaged by 17 different guys.

If I compare the response rate for each photo I can safely conclude that if I put a bag over my face and show just my body, I'm 2.5-3x as likely to be approached compared to having only a face picture. Do I care that a body shot makes me much more popular? NO. At this point, I'm just glad that anyone finds me attractivel.

Having never interacted on Grindr before, I didn't know what to expect. I had (and have) no intention of hooking-up with anyone so I honestly expected to be immediately blocked as soon as I said as much. And that did happen, once. Rather shockingly everyone else has at least been polite and a number of guys have been chatty. Only one guy of the 24 total said he's more interested in finding a relationship than a hook-up, but hey, it's Grindr.

In addition to receiving a number of unsolicited compliments, my ego was further buoyed by the fact that 70% of the guys who messaged me were younger. This is a case of the tail wagging the dog, to some extent, because roughly 70% of the guys on Grindr are younger, BUT, I am not complaining. In fact (and maybe I'm delusional here) I think, if I had been willing to hook-up, I could have gotten naked with a (supposed) 18yo, a (hot) 24yo, a 27yo, a 31yo and a 32yo. Not that I'm keeping track, of course.

The most interesting conversation I had was with a married guy who looked to be very near my age. He had no picture in his profile but he sent me one. He was good looking and just my type. Best of all (at least to him) he was less than a mile away. He made it clear that he wanted to get down to business right away. Oh wow, was I tempted. But I didn't tell him so. Instead I politely said I couldn't meet. Then I asked if he lived in the area. No, he was passing through. He then told me the location of the three houses where he does live. All of them were in very expensive locations. I'm not sure why he told me that, probably because it's fun to brag, and yes he could totally be lying, but I don't think so. Anyway, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I found myself thinking, "Goodlooking, my type, my age, AND a member of the 0.5%? Yes, I WILL be your fuck buddy."

I'm not sure if I'm glad to know that I can be tempted by sex and money, but apparently it's a fact.

On the other hand, I haven't been pouting about that missed opportunity so that says something. Still thinking about it makes me smile.

Anyway, as I said in my last post, all I've needed was SOME kind of validation that someone finds me attractive. Well that's happened and it's given me the confidence I needed. Now I know, in a worst case scenario, that no matter how many times I get ignored or rejected on a "real" dating site, I can always hop on Grindr. And once there for an hour or so, I can find a local guy who wants to make me his cheap whore. Thank God for Grindr.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dating, Masculinity and Pigs with Tattoos

I began "dating" again seven weeks ago. Here's an update:

After taking a break from on-line dating, I decided to give it another try. I'm skeptical about its effectiveness (if it works so well, why are the same hot guys still looking month after month and year after year?), so my plan has been to spend no more than 60 days on any one site. The idea is to jump around and always be new somewhere.

I decided to start with Compatible Partners, E-Harmony's gay website. I chose them because about 18 months ago I answered their 12,000 matching questions (slight exaggeration) and posted an empty profile. The matches they sent at the time looked promising. My experience this time has been entirely different. Whereas Compatible Partners was relatively new and flush with customers a year and a half ago, now hardly anyone uses it.

Over the past seven weeks CP has sent me a total of 33 matches. That's nothing compared to the 1000+ local users who are on Match, Adam4Adam, Manhunt or OKCupid. At first I thought I wasn't getting many matches because my criteria were too tight. Well, I have continuously broadened them and I'm still not getting many matches. I'm at the point where I can't be any more open than I already am. All I'm getting are occasional "flex matches" for any guy, 18-100, who can fog a mirror.

The volume of matches wouldn't be a problem if just a few of them were promising. Well, they've been horrible. I mean really horrible. I seriously wonder if some of them are homeless. They look like they might be.

It took me about two weeks to figure out that Compatible Partners is a waste of time and money. Around that same time, a new guy showed up on Match who really caught my interest. Honestly, it was the first time I had ever read a profile and felt like the guy was talking about ME. I was pretty excited about him. Even better was the fact that he lived and worked in a rural area about 45 minutes outside of the City - no homo competition. And best of all, at least in terms of securing a first date, he was slightly older than me (everyone wants to date someone younger than they are) and he was pretty plain looking. Not unattractive, just average.

Because he was new on Match, I knew he was going to get some hits the first week. So I waited two weeks. Then, after debating whether I should commit to Match for 6 months or go for a one week trial, I took the trial. I loaded my pictures, completed a short profile and sent the guy a short, friendly email. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. The fucker ignored me.

Apparently I'm not even worth a polite rejection from a plain, bald, older "nice guy" who lives in Backwater, USA? Damn that hurts. Of all the outcomes I anticipated, that was not one of them.

After that disappointment, I scraped what was left of my ego from the floor and winked at (how gay, I know) two other guys. Ignored x 2. You might think I was trying to lure some Taylor Lautner lookalikes into my bed, but trust me, that was not the case. I don't bother reaching. In fact, I'm now so insecure about my desirability that I'd much prefer to be the better looking guy.

My Match profile was never marked as "new" so that sucked but in the week that it was up I got four winks and two emails. The best of the lot (and I'm not talking about looks, I'm talking about the overall quality of the match) was a 52yo who lived an hour away. He seemed like a nice enough guy, and I thought about responding positively to his wink, but I didn't. I just wasn't that attracted to him and he lived too far away. Instead I replied to him, and the five others who contacted me, and said that I was pulling my profile because I wasn't ready to date.

Off the 'net Chet has been trying to help me. He really wanted me to meet this fitness coach, a friend-of-a-friend, who "might" be bi. The guy is 47 and has a girlfriend but he's "curious about exploring" with men for the first time. "Plus he's a super nice guy!" I told Chet that I wasn't up for being someone's training wheels, no matter how hot he might be.

Chet also told me about a suburban dad he had met at an LGBT business mixer a few months back. He's divorced, nice looking, two teenage girls, lives less than two miles from me. I assume the guy has a boyfriend, fuck buddy or whatever, but I thought he would be someone good to meet. Who knows who he might know? So I sent him an email, with two pictures, and I told him the basics of my situation. I also told him that I was looking to network for gay friends. Guess what happened with him? The fucker ignored me.

Is anyone else detecting a pattern here?

A good friend has advised me not take my serial rejections personally. He says he gets ignored all the time (yet, let me tell you, he is getting SOME!!!) and that on-line dating is a numbers game. Instead of focusing on one or two guys, he says I need to hit on 10-15 guys a week and not care whether I hear back from any of them. I think his advice is sound, and I might eventually be able to do that, but right now, I can't risk mass rejection. I need to gain some confidence first.

If I count the month or so I tried to date in the Spring and add that to my current seven week total, I've been "dating" for 11 weeks and in all that time I've been on ONE date, nine months ago. And that wasn't even a real date. He was a teacher and all we talked about was education reform and how much he hates Michelle Rhee (former DC School Superintendent). Seriously, it was like I was at a school conference for one of my kids. It was about as undatelike as anything I could have imagined.

A few weeks ago, on this blog, I posted a picture of myself wearing a pair of mid-thigh swim trunks. I asked for your opinions about how they looked because my 17yo called them "kind of gay." Not one person who commented agreed with what my kid said. Somewhat reassured, I used that same picture on CP and Match. It was also one of the two pictures I sent the divorced guy with kids. Given that I've been 100% ignored, I'm wondering if using that picture was a mistake. I think my kid was right, the trunks are gay.

The importance of appearing as masculine as possible in every profile picture never really occurred to me. But now that I am paying attention, I've realized how essential it is.

I will be moving to a new dating site soon, but because the first week that you're "new" on any site is crucial, I'm going to wait until January to do so. In the meantime, I've been thinking about fooling around with Grindr. I'm absolutely, positively not looking for hook-ups so choosing Grindr might seem pointless, but I'm thinking of using it to experiment with marketing myself. Mostly I'd like to know, based solely on different pictures, what kind of men I attract. If any.

It's true that blaming my poor results on one picture could be a case of wishful thinking, and maybe using different pictures would be no better than putting different tattoos on a pig's bicep (he's still a pig) but, at this point, I'd prefer to be delusional and positive than realistic and negative.

On that happy note, wish me luck. I need it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Divided Bisexual Man

"Men are for sex and women are for love."

You don't usually wake up one morning and have an epiphany that love and sex work best when split by gender. Instead it's an evolutionary process. That process can vary from man to man, but it often follows a common path:

1. An otherwise hetero guy, who may already be married, realizes that he has a sexual attraction to men.

2. The man tries to squash, deny, hide, run away from, and generally do whatever he can to make those evil man-sex thoughts go away. If the man is not already married, he often gets married, with the honest hope that marriage will banish his man-sex fantasies.

3. Depending on other aspects of life, thoughts about sex with men may wax and wane, but they do not go away. Years spent fighting the thoughts makes many men frustrated, anxious and unhappy. Ultimately, most give in to temptation. They might begin by chatting about sex with other men on-line. Then they might arrange a date to receive a blow job - which they will flake out on, at least once. Eventually they keep a date and have their first experience. From there, the exact progression differs but the result is the same: within months, years or decades, they become eager to hook-up with other men.

4. After the first few hook-ups there's a serious questioning stage. Am I straight? Am I bi? Am I gay? There are no statistics but my guess is that the proportion of married men who fool around with other men and then eventually come out as gay is relatively low, maybe 20%? I say this based on personal experience and because very few married guys on hook-up sites label themselves as gay. Most men seem to conclude this stage by accepting themselves as bisexual.

In my last post, I said that bisexual men can be divided into two groups. One group I called "Casanovas" because of their natural and effortless ability to make a woman feel wanted. Upon further reflection, I've decided that "Casanova" is a bad descriptor. It evokes the image of a skilled lady's man, someone with magical eyes and a seductive touch. In truth there's nothing especially romantic or alluring about bisexual men in the first group. They're completely average. They're only noteworthy because they have an unrestrained enthusiasm to 'get it on' with their wives, whereas bisexual men in the second group tend to need a kick-start when it comes to initiating marital sex.

"Unrestrained enthusiasm" and "tending to need a kick-start" are subjective ways of segregating the two types of married bisexual men. A better, more objective way to make the distinction is based how frequently they have sex with their wives. Men in the first group tend to have regular and frequent sex, while men in the second group tend to have sex on a hit-or-miss basis.

What's interesting is that most "Get it On" bisexuals can't relate to the whole "men are for sex and women are for love" thing. To them it seems like an unnecessary distinction. For one thing, women are just as sex-worthy as men, if not more so. And falling in love with a man? There's two schools of thought about that. Either it's completely off the man's radar - as in, that possibility has never once crossed his mind, or, he feels that love has nothing to do with gender. Love is love, man or woman.

Whichever way they feel about love, there is no vague middle ground, and that's what's distinctive about "Get it On" bisexual men - they aren't conflicted. Love and sex are simple; there's no need to make any rules.

"Kick-start" bisexuals are different. They don't have it so easy. Their relatively low level of sexual attraction to their wives compared to their increasing attraction to men causes a lot of internal conflict, frustration and anxiety. As internal pressures mount, they compartmentalize their thoughts and feelings. Over time, as compartmentalization takes hold, they morph from being a relatively happy, whole and complete man to a secretive, stressed and divided man. A man who becomes a two-sided coin: a devoted straight family man on one side and a horny, cum-loving, cock-sucking slut on the other.

"Men are for sex and women are for love" is compartmentalization. Compartmentalization masks conflict: the conflict between the man he used to be, and still is, mostly, and the man he has become. Bringing the two sides of himself together feels like an impossible task, and as such, the struggle between the two sides never ends. That makes for a life that can be lived, but not for a life that can be loved.

In the story that prompted this post, a bisexual man told his wife that he had no romantic interest in men. To prove that to her, he suggested inviting a man into their bed. She laughed at that idea. Undeterred, he offered another suggestion, that she accompany him to a gay bar. He was determined to prove his "men are for sex, not for love" point. Well, the gay bar turned out to be a disaster for him. Watching his eyes at the gay bar was all the proof his wife needed to become convinced that he would eventually fall in love with a man.

Just like the wives of divided bisexual married men everywhere, the woman in the story already knew there were big problems in her marriage. And lacking a clear reason for the problems, she blamed herself. Then her husband outed himself as bisexual. That opened her eyes. Not to the fact that he was a lying, cheating scum bag, but to the fact that there wasn't something inherently wrong or undesirable about her. Watching her husband ogle men at the gay bar was the final straw. In all their years together he had never once looked at her with the same depth of desire. She realized then what he did not - that he is a conflicted man who had built a wall between the two sides of himself. She also realized he would never find lasting happiness until that wall was torn down and he was no longer a divided man.

Encapsulated in this couple's story there are three monumentally important lessons for married and divided bisexual men everywhere:

First - Any conflicted man who thinks that he has successfully hidden his woes from his wife is mistaken. No, she doesn't know that you're bi and that you hook up with men, but she does know that there's something fundamentally wrong with your marriage. That fundamental problem is not your cheating. Rather, it's the reason that you cheat: you are a divided man. You cannot be happy with one person and that means you can never be happy with her. Deep down, she knows this.

Second - Because wives of conflicted men know on a deep and unspoken level that they are not enough to make their husband happy, they blame themselves. As they witness their husband's gradual withdrawal from them they become increasingly depressed, self-loathing and unmotivated. It deeply hurts them to feel so unwanted. Different wives respond differently to that hurt. Some withdraw. Some turn their attention to the children. Some take comfort in overeating or other bad habits. Others get bitchy and critical. Whatever the behavior, the cause is the same - they know they are not enough - and it hurts.

Third - Compartmentalization, having your cake and eating it too, and/or making the best of a compromised life are all ways to cope with being a conflicted man, but none of them will ever make you genuinely happy. In truth, they merely camouflage the landmines that lurk below the surface. Yes, a man can carefully and persistently dodge one mine after another, but time is not on his side. Major blow-ups are inevitable. Porn on computers, secret email accounts uncovered, phone calls and text messages at odd hours, unnecessary errands, an HIV positive diagnosis - these are but a few of the multitude of ways for the truth to be discovered. Any man who genuinely believes he can be a perfect liar for the rest of his life is only fooling himself. To err is human. Divided bisexual men are all too human.

What's the solution?

Overwhelmingly, conflicted bisexual men feel that because they married with good intentions and their attraction to men surfaced later in life they are destined to live as divided, marginally satisfied men. Coming out as bisexual (or worse, gay) does not solve the problem and cutting men out completely just isn't realistic. "Keep on keeping on" - that's the best they can do.

Well, maybe. For some, a lukewarm life of compromise might be the best answer. But far too many divided men are stuck in the narrow confines of their own thoughts. In a soon-to-come post I will offer some new perspectives that may help some men regain their dignity - and perhaps find genuine happiness again.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Open Marriage / MMF Threesome

In a recent post I shared the story of a man who was seeking his wife's permission to enjoy casual, recreational sex with other men. He wanted an open marriage - the dream situation for just about every married bisexual man.

To allay his wife's fears about where an open marriage might lead, the man explained to his wife that his interest in men was purely physical. He said that he had no interest in pursuing a relationship with a man, and, to prove that his intentions were honorable, he suggested that the couple invite another man into their bed as the guest star. That way the wife could see first-hand what he meant.

The wife laughed at that idea.

Undeterred, the man was able to convince his wife to accompany him to a gay bar. That way she could see for herself that his interest in men was purely physical.

The couple did go to a gay bar together but the man failed to prove his point. Instead of agreeing to an open marriage, his wife decided to end it. Having an open marriage, to her, was "classic man wants his cake and eat it, too."

More importantly, she decided that his attraction to men was a very real threat to their future together. She said, "One day he WILL meet someone that he will be attracted to and will want to be with. So, after more years of being faithful to this man, he will leave me anyway. That is what will happen."

As a man who is attracted to other men, I completely understand the husband's point of view. I also know, based on the experiences of other men, that being open to other sexual relationships has the potential to strengthen a marriage; increased honesty and reduced sexual frustration usually make for a closer marital bond. As such, when conducted safely and respectfully, an open marriage can be a win-win situation for both partners.

Although I am familiar with open marriages from the man's point of view, I know little from a willing woman's perspective. The story I quoted was therefore a fascinating read. Yes, she seemed skeptical about the idea, but not so skeptical that she immediately rejected it. Further, her willingness to go to a gay bar with her husband is evidence that she tried to be open-minded. Not many wives would have agreed to go.

I posted the story because I wondered if readers (married men especially) would see the wife's reaction as valid or ridiculous. I particularly wanted readers to focus on the question of emotion. Because of the visit to the gay bar, the wife is now convinced that her husband WILL leave her for a man. Yet the husband says he's not interested in men that way. Who is right?

Consider each spouse's point of view:

The Bisexual Husband

I believe that bisexual married men can divided into two groups. The first group is composed of men who instinctively and naturally know how to make a woman feel desired. It's an effortless endeavor for them, like walking across a room; they're natural-born Casanovas. The men in the second group don't have it so easy. They have to concentrate in order to stay focused when they're with a woman.

What do I mean by 'focused?' It's a vague thing, not easily put into words. I'll use an analogy instead: it's like sex with a condom and sex without one. When you're fucking without a condom you're definitely not thinking about what a condom feels like. When you are fucking with a condom on, you're enjoying the sex, but you never really forget that your dick is covered with latex. It's distracting. It's a very thin barrier that keeps you from truly connecting with your partner. Bisexual men in the second group, in essence, are wearing a mental condom that subtly distracts them when they're having straight sex. It slows them down, both during the act itself and in wanting to have sex at all.

From a performance perspective, during sex, there's not much difference between men in the two groups. Getting hard, staying hard, and having an orgasm are usually not issues, barring any physical problems. What is different, very different, is how frequently the men in the two groups have straight sex. Because men in the second group have to make an effort to stay focused, straight sex requires some work. It's as if, instead of walking across a room, they have to progressively jump across, with both feet tied together. Having to expend the effort means they initiate sex less often, which means the couple has sex less often.

The man from the story belongs in the second group. The reason I know this is because his wife reports that they haven't been intimate "in forever." She also says she has repeatedly tried to entice him by going to bed naked and by wearing very sexy lingerie. The natural-born Casanovas don't need that much prompting. If a woman signals that she wants sex, they don't hesitate to jump right on.

Because the man hasn't been responding to his naked wife you might wonder if he is gay. He insists that he is not, for several reasons. First, his attraction to men is purely physical. Second, his taste in men is very specific; he only likes straight men. Third, he has no interest in kissing a man, much less falling in love with one. Fourth, he feels just the opposite about women as he does men - he likes to kiss women; he has only loved women in the past and he can only imagine being in love with women in the future. For him "men are for sex and women are for love." By most definitions, he is bisexual.

The Straight Wife

I have spent the last year absorbing the thoughts, opinions, emotions and experiences of straight wives who are married to gay or bisexual men. In the course of internalizing this information I have learned that straight wives care about many things, including fidelity, lying, diseases, financial security, love and public embarrassment. But what matters most, to the most women, is that they feel genuinely desired. Over and over different women have told me that "love is not enough" or "I don't want to be married to a roommate" or "I already have enough friends, I want a lover."

The need for women to feel genuinely desired is far more powerful than many men realize. For many women it is the basis of their feminine identity and their sense of self-worth. When a woman does not feel genuinely desired she feels like a failure as a woman. It's a knife that cuts her to the core, equivalent to a grown man being calling "a sissy" by his father; the hurt is deep and primal.

The woman in the story feels just as most other straight wives do. She wants to be wanted.

The Couple as Archetypes

An archetype, in this case, is "a universally understood symbol upon which others are patterned."

In my opinion, the bisexual man and his straight wife are typical of many other couples in the same situation. While the man is not typical of all bisexual men, I believe he represents a large subset of them. The wife is extremely typical of the vast majority of straight wives; she wants to preserve her marriage, provided that her needs as a woman can be met.

If you can believe that this couple is an archetype, then understanding them is a window into the dynamics of many marriages between bisexual men and their straight wives. Understanding this couple can explain why some straight wives are happy to stay with a bisexual man - even to the point of opening up their marriage - while others give up on their marriage, even when their husband promises to be faithful.

When a bisexual man asks his straight wife to open their marriage, the logical assumption is that it's her decision as to whether his request is granted. That assumption is true; lots of women will not accept a marriage with anything less than absolute monogamy. However, I have learned that a surprising number of straight wives are willing to consider the open marriage option, provided that it 'works' for them.

What makes a marriage 'work', regardless of whether it is open or closed, is if the husband makes the wife feel sexually alive. If he does not, then the marriage gradually dies.

This means that, most of the time, the bisexual man, and not his wife, is primarily responsible for the level of sexual in his marriage.

Desire

The man in the story vehemently insists that his interest in men is strictly sexual. He cannot imagine falling in love with a man; he does not WANT to fall in love with one. He's asked his wife to open the marriage by trying a MMF threesome, or by giving him permission to have recreational sex with men. To prove how harmless his interest in men is, the man convinced his wife to go with him to a gay bar. How did that go?

According to the wife, "[it was] one of the worst experiences of my life."

"[I] was looking across the bar and [saw] him looking at a man and flirting with him in a way that he has never looked at me. You know, the flirtatous eyes kind of look. I felt like I couldnt breathe...after all I have been to him, and giving him the very best of me all those years, I have never seen him look at me that way."

You might think she's misreading her husband's interest, or that she's paranoid, or that she's seeking to sabotage the open marriage option.

Any of those things could be true, however if they are, then the cost of being wrong is catastrophic for her. She WANTS her marriage to work. But she doesn't believe it can:

"It hurts my heart so much that most days I cannot breathe...Can he be my best friend and make me laugh till the cows come home? Yup. Can we cook together and drink wine and have a great time together and complete each others sentences? Yup. Is this enough for me for the rest of my life? Nope."

Clearly she loves him. Clearly she wishes their marriage could work. And yet she's convinced that it will ultimately fail. She's so convinced that failure is imminent that she's stopped even trying to make it work. Instead, she's decided to turn her entire life upside down by seeking a divorce. Being best friends isn't enough for her. She, like most other women, needs to feel that she is desired.

Women are so NOT like men. For the most part, women have a much higher emotional intelligence than men. Their 'women's intuition' is an everyday manifestation of how tuned-in they are to the people around them. When a man doesn't genuinely desire them, they know it. In the case of the woman in the story, once she saw how her husband desired the man in the bar, she knew she had never once been wanted with the same intensity.

Months of explanations by the husband after the visit have failed to convince the wife that she was wrong about what she saw. She knows what she knows, she knows how she feels.

The lesson of this couple is desire rules all. The proof for that is the decision the woman made. She gave up her comfortable life and the man she loves only because she HOPES that one day she might find a man who makes her feel desired.

Conclusions

People are different, marriages are different. What happened with this couple wouldn't necessarily happen with similar couples. But the dynamic that played out here DOES play out with many other couples:

First you have a large group of bisexual men who are unquestionably attracted to women, but 'making love' to their wife requires some effort.

Second you have virtually all straight wives who WANT to preserve their marriages, and are willing to make big compromises to do so, BUT ONLY IF their womanly self-image and feminine identity are regularly cherished by a husband who genuinely desires them.

A man can do or say anything he likes to prove his masculinity. He can aggressively make love to his wife as proof that he desires her. But most wives cannot be fooled. Desire is raw and animalistic. Desire means having a satisfying sex life - that means 'good sex' on a frequent basis. Once a month is not frequent.

The bottom line is that a large group of married bisexual men have an impossible road to travel. They are who they are, and they are authentic, but they don't have the essential and sincere ability to make a woman feel WANTED, yet being wanted is what their wife needs most.

In the story, the man's weakness became obvious when the couple visited a gay bar together. Most couples don't go to gay bars together so most wives can't compare the desire they feel to the desire they witness. But you can be certain that the marriages of some bisexual men inevitably crash when their wife has a similar "Aha!" moment; that moment where she realizes her man can never satisfy her.

In my next post I plan to write more about marriages between bisexual men and straight women. I'd like to particularly focus on why some are very strong and others are very weak, even when both spouses agree they love each other. I also hope to address the wife's conviction that her husband is destined to fall in love with a man, which is something he promises will never happen.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Let the dating begin

In my last post I said I would attempt to untangle the complex mix of desire, emotion and sexual orientation as it pertains to married bisexual men and their straight wives. Well, the untangling has turned out to be a lot more time-consuming than I expected. That post is still under construction.

In the meantime, here are some updates on my (oh so) exciting life:

Chet
Chet is my new homo friend. (That would be friend, not "friend.") I like Chet. Among other things, he has a lot of interesting stories to tell. AND he takes me places - gay places. Last weekend he took me to Badlands in San Francisco. He describes the 'Badlands Scene' as being mostly 30s, with some younger and older guys. He likes the place because it's Asian friendly. He's Korean.

I was a little leery of it because I've heard of it referred to as "Sadlands" - not exactly a sexy nickname. Whatever its reputation, I kind of liked the place. What I appreciated was that it wasn't jammed so tightly you couldn't breathe, that the music was recognizable, that the dance floor was big and full but not ridiculously crowded, and that you could actually (sort of) have an intelligible conversation over the music. But more than anything else I liked the diversity of ages. Yes, guys in their 30s did dominate, but there were guys from 21 - 60+ there too. This meant that I didn't feel out of place. Of course I liked it.

Chet and I had fun dancing, drinking a little, and guy watching. No one talked to us and we didn't talk to anyone, which was fine by me. I'm happy to be an observer right now. We've already got plans to go out the next two weekends. We won't be doing anything crazy. I'm enjoying getting my feet wet for now.

Charlie
Charlie is my former wife's (that's what I've decided to call her for now; I can't think of a better term) non-sexual boyfriend. I've probably mentioned that I hate his guts a few dozen times here. I continue to hate him, although fortunately, I seldom have to see him. Charlie has thrown a temporary wrench into my plan to get him deported. He's starting a new construction job next week and both Gabbie I assumed that he'd buy a cheap work truck so that he could actually show up for work every day. Instead (get this) the idiot gave up his apartment with the HOPE that he can live IN the house being renovated. Who knows if the owner will let him - Charlie sure doesn't. So, it's anyone's guess as to what he's going to do.

I really don't care if he sleeps under the freeway or not, I'm just seriously bummed that he has no plans to get a vehicle anytime soon. Now I have think of another way to get him arrested...

My Bossy Mother-in-Law

My widowed mother-in-law has been my "other" wife ever since my father-in-law died 13 years ago. She knows the best solution to every problem Gabbie, the kids or I might ever have. Even imaginary ones!

She has a lot of good qualities (I mean that sincerely), including an endless willingness to offer unsolicited help. What irks me is that her "help" is often nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to control our lives. Her intentions are good but her controlling nature is really hard to take, especially over the long haul.

I'm not exactly sure when it happened but sometime within the past four or five years, my mother-in-law started souring on me. She knows I'm gay, or she should at least since Gabbie told her years ago, but I don't think that's her problem with me. I think it's because I stopped doing exactly what she wanted. I could detail that whole history, but it's not important to this story. What is important is that, as Gabbie has made it clear to her mother that we are no longer a couple, her mother has gotten more and more critical of me. I think she blames Gabbie's wayward ways on me, among other things. Whatever. In recent months dear M-I-L has taken to frequently bitching about me to Gabbie and complaining about me to the kids. Sometimes what she says really irritates me, but mostly it's noise. Well. Two weeks ago the whole family was out together with M-I-L and M-I-L made a pointed comment about me in front of us all. It wasn't anything particularly nasty, it was just unnecessary, somewhat rude, and definitely snotty. She must have hit a very raw nerve with me because, in an instant, I went from content and relaxed to furious beyond control. I got right in her face and told her I was sick of her behavior. I don't get pissed very often but when I do, I go full throttle.

The short summary is that I'm the bad guy. And it's true, I did overreact. I wish I had kept my cool. But it's also true that she's a controlling pain-in-the-ass and I shouldn't be expected to bow to her every command in my own house.

Anyway, what's done is done and I will never be forgiven, nor do I want to be. Our relationship will never recover. It saddens me to see our 24 year relationship crash and burn but the truth is, it just wasn't working for me. I was willing to compromise a lot of the time but she never would.

Our rift is certain to have consequences in the long-term and because of that I regret that the whole episode happened, but it is what it is.

Home Life
I've continued to steadily work on my transition from 'doormat' to 'homo with a social life.' It's going well. Step one was to accept that my 25 year relationship with my former wife has permanently changed. Step two was to stop wearing my wedding band. I have recently completed steps three and four: I now sleep in my own bedroom, and, I just acquired my first cell phone in about 15 years.

I was a little surprised that the kids basically shrugged when I moved into my new room. The boys still haven't said anything about it. My daughter, who is twelve, repeatedly grilled me about it for two days. The funny thing was, she seemed almost cheery about it. She even cleaned the room and set-up my bed for me, all on her own initiative. Now she's taken to advising me about different things I should do, "in case you and mom get divorced." I've taken the kids' reactions as positives, although I'd feel better if the boys actually reacted one way or another.

I haven't really needed a cell phone all these years and I've enjoyed being a "principled" cynic as I've watched the world's cellphone/texting/smartphone addiction accelerate with ever greater fervor. But now I've relented for two reasons. First, I was told I had to have one in order to date. And second, now I can be out late and be reachable if one of the kids accidentally burns the house down. I've had quite a few people in the past comment on how "liberating" it must be to NOT be tied to a cellphone. What's funny is that I actually feel very liberated now that I have one - only because it (theoretically) will give me access to a much more active social life.

For now at least, I can report that my relationship with Gabbie is transitioning well. She seems willing to give me more independence, both from her and the kids, and (so far) she doesn't seem worried about how my new social life might affect her. Part of the reason for that could be that she is distracted. Her job is a daily nightmare and pretty much all she thinks about is how to survive the next fifteen minutes.

Dating
If all the parts of my plan had worked perfectly, Charlie would be in jail and Gabbie would have a new job by now. The idea was that if I could get those two huge sources of stress out of her life, then I could hand her back some of the significant responsibilities I've had as Mr. Mom. That would give me more latitude to actually date.

It remains to be seen whether Gabbie will ever opt to stay home with the kids so that I can go out, or whether she'll take them on their errands, or whether she'll feed them dinner more than once a week. I just hope that if she's more relaxed she'll be willing to take on more responsibility.

Anyway, now that all of my ducks are (sort of) in a neat little row, the time has come. Today, tomorrow, this weekend...sometime very soon I will be posting a serious on-line profile on a serious on-line dating site.

Right now I am so NOT into gay hook-up culture that I think it would be fair to label me as a prude. Because of that I think I need to focus on other long-term oriented guys. My logic is that this will be a win-win for me. Either I'll meet someone and our values and priorities will be similar, or, I'll get so sick of pain-in-the-ass picky-types that I'll realize it's better to expect less and be more relaxed. I'm too high strung right now to use a site like Adam4Adam. Perhaps I'll get to that later, when I'm in the appropriate state of mind.

My approach to 'serious' dating, I hope, is a healthy one. I'm disclosing all my baggage upfront and I'm going to try to not take any of the resulting rejection personally. I've also resolved not to be a passive wallflower; I won't be posting a profile and simply hoping for the best. Instead I'll make an effort to be confident, engaging and proactive. I still have all my insecurities - about my living situation, especially - but I feel like I've made the right choice by agreeing to co-parent in the same household. The flip side of that decision is that I will have to accept any negative consequences that come my way, even if I don't think I deserve them.

Being Too Gay
Give me too much to drink and make me feel very relaxed about my gay identity and, well, I won't act like the most macho of men. That said, the last time I remember someone calling me a faggot to my face was a girl in 7th grade. Maybe I'm deceiving myself but I think I'm pretty forgettable on the masculine-feminine scale. "Cameron who?"

This is relevant because now that I've put all my life's frustrations into improving my body, I have become noticeably more vain. Shopping for clothes was never my thing but I'm much more interested now. And when I shop, I'm much more focused on how I look rather then whether I actually like what I'm wearing.

Case in point: the swim trunks in this picture. My oldest kid, Mr. Gay Rights himself, said to me the first time he saw me wearing these, "Um, dad. Don't you think those are kind of gay?"

Well, probably they are. But you know what? You can't find traditional men's swimsuits that don't hang below your knees, especially if you're vertically impaired. I wanted something mid-thigh and this was pretty much the only thing I could find. Compared to a lot of the skimpy on-line choices I had, I thought these were relatively tasteful. So now I'm looking for some honest opinions: are these swim trunks too gay?

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for your comments.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Men are for sex, women are for love

I've had more than one person tell me that I sabotaged my marriage when I came out to my wife as gay.

"How was she supposed to react to that?" they've asked. "You basically said you have no sexual interest in her. Why would she want to stay married to you?"

Those are good questions. When phrased in that manner, I can understand how some might see 'coming out' as sabotage.

In my particular case, it wasn't. Within weeks of meeting Charlie, and experiencing a never-before-felt sexual charge whenever she was near him, my wife realized that our connection was fundamentally different. I could call myself anything I wanted, but she knew that there was no sexual heat between us. There never really was, and there never would be, regardless of how much we might love one another.

My wife's attitude is hardly a surprise, is it? Women want love and desire to be linked. Men are different. We're ok with, and often prefer, keeping the two separate. Just think about how common it is for a man to enjoy sex with other men, yet have no romantic interest in them. These same men feel very differently about women. It's as if their personal mantra is "men are for sex, but women are for love."

I wonder: how do these guys label themselves? As straight?

Some must. The thing is, it's hard to make a convincing argument that you're straight when you're regularly having sex with men.

On the other hand, they're clearly not gay, right? You can't be gay and NOT have an emotional attraction to men.

So the answer must be that these men label themselves as bisexual. It's the only answer that makes sense.

Here's the weird thing. The labels "straight", "bi" and "gay" are supposed to define sexual orientation. But these men who desire 'just sex' with men, they're not gay because they apply an emotional criteria to define their orientation.

Consider the sex vs. emotion question as you read this story from a straight wife:
My husband has told me that although he thinks that I am beautiful, he is not attracted to me sexually. He wants to have sex with a man. But he wants to keep our life intact, and stay in this relationship. He says that he doesnt want to have a relationship with a man, just sex, and he loves me. The ball is in my court according to him. He has even suggested the idea of a threesome, so that I can feel better about things if I am there. LOL.

Well, this is what I have come up with after much thought, prayer, and reading...........this is classic man wants his cake and eat it, too. He would like to satisfy his desires and keep his life with me and the kids. Thus not having to feel guilty about anything because I would know about it, and not have to experience any accountability.

The big problem with this to me is that one day he WILL meet someone that he will be attracted to and will want to be with. So, after more years of myself being faithful to this man, going through the insecurity and loss of any self esteem, and being robbed of being with a man who desires me sexually, he will leave me anyway. That is what will happen.

Let me share something else.........I agreed to go to a gay bar with him to help him explore this and see how I would feel about it.........one of the single worst moments of my life was looking across the bar and seeing him looking at a man and flirting with him in a way that he has never looked at me. You know, the flirtatous eyes kind of look. I felt like I couldnt breathe and I was consumed with both jealousy and anger that after all I have been to him and giving him the very best of me all these years, that I have never seen him look at me that way.

Sorry to say, but that is my sad reality. It hurts my heart so much that most days I cannot breathe. We straight wives love men deeply; we are in love with men deeply that cannot love us back sexually the way that we as women need to be loved. They will never smell our hair and skin and get dizzy off the scent of us, or be so desperate to make love to us that they cant see straight. Can he be my best friend and make me laugh till the cows come home? Yup. Can we cook together and drink wine and have a great time together and complete each others sentences? Yup. Is this enough for me for the rest of my life? Nope.

I want it to be enough. I really do. But I know in my heart that its not. I know this man loves me as much as he can love a woman. But at the end of the day, its just not enough. I want more.

Notice that the husband's sexuality is not labeled. Given what he wants - to have an open straight marriage - how do you think he labels himself?

I think it's pretty clear that he believes he is bisexual. He might even think he's straight. The reason I say this is because the reason he brought his wife to the gay bar was to prove to her that his interest in men is purely sexual, not emotional. He can't be gay if he has no emotional interest in men.

The thing is, the visit to the gay bar went horribly wrong. She agreed to give him a chance to prove his loyalty, but he utterly failed in that attempt - at least so far as she is concerned. It ranked as one of the single worst moments of her life. So, based on what she said, I think she believes he's gay - emotional attraction or not.

Who's right?

The question of whether he is bisexual or gay is essential. It truly matters whether he's gay or not because this woman, like most others, does not want to be married to a gay man.

I'd like to hear your thoughts. Please weigh in on whether you think the wife is wrong - he's bi not gay - or whether the man is gay and in denial. And please cite the reasons for your opinion.

Using your comments, I will do a follow-up post that will attempt to untangle the complex mix of desire, emotion and sexual orientation.

One initial observation: isn't it interesting that both my wife and the quoted straight wife seem to agree that heated sexual desire is MORE important in a relationship than emotion, yet this man and I believe the opposite? Is this a common gender difference? If so, isn't it ironic that women ultimately care more about sex and men care more about emotion??

I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Going out

A very brief recap: my wife and I separated in early January of this year. I waited a month to give myself time to adjust to our changed relationship, then I started "dating" men.

It turned out the dating was a joke. I met one guy and we didn't really connect.

As the days ticked by, I realized that I had a very bad attitude about dating which left me feeling completely unmotivated. If someone else wanted to do the work of hitting on me and piquing my interest, I was willing to show up and meet him. But that's as enthusiastic as I got.

It turned out that moving past a 24 year relationship was much more difficult than I expected.

Now things are different. I have successfully rearranged the deck chairs in my head and in my heart. I've reached the point where I am no longer holding on to my former wife or to our past. In that respect, I am motivated to date.

But, as I said at the time, I was afraid that I had another big issue holding me back. I was very worried that I didn't have the drive or fortitude to deal with the headaches of dating gay men.

I'm not certain yet, but I fear that I still have that problem.

My new friendship with Chet is going well. Somehow, miraculously, he's hit a sweet spot with me where he's gay and interesting and attentive, yet there's no sexual tension between us. It's still a new situation, but I'm very grateful to have a low-key, friendly, outgoing, established gay man who was the time and desire to show me the ropes.

Last Saturday we had planned to hang out for a few hours. I was on edge about even meeting because I was afraid to leave the kids home alone for too long or until too late. I told Chet I could meet up but I had to be home no later than 11:30. Always accommodating, he said, "No problem. We can just meet for a drink and talk." So we did.

After about an hour, we both were feeling bored. Not with each other, but with our surroundings. We live so close to San Francisco that there's never much going on nearby. Gay or straight, everyone knows the City is the place to go. So, on the spur of the moment, we decided to drive in to the Castro.

Because of my schedule, we had almost exactly two hours to spend, from 9pm - 11pm. Not exactly prime time on a Saturday night. Still, Chet was a trooper. He amazed me by instantly finding a prime parking spot on Castro Street, right in the center of the action.

First he took me to Cafe Flore, a coffee house and casual restaurant that's a popular pre-clubbing gathering spot. It was surprisingly quiet. Chet attributed that to the fact that the Folsom Street Fair was happening, thereby pulling people to the south of Market bars.

Next he took me to Qbar. He picked it because I told him that I was more attracted to twinks than any other 'type.' According to Chet, Qbar is the place to go if you're under 21 and you just happen to have an out-of-state paper ID with an older date of birth on it.

OMG, yes, the crowd was young. Not teens, thankfully, but predominately mid-20s. I'm really sensitive about my age as it is so standing around a bar with a bunch of kids made me feel extremely self-conscious.

As expected, no one talked to us, but we had fun talking about the bar and some of the guys in it. There were lots of girls there too. I haven't been in a gay bar in many years but I certainly don't remember seeing so many girls.

We each had a drink then we moved on to one of Chet's favorite "hang-outs", the Pilsner Inn. The Pilsner is a neighborhood bar that flies a rainbow flag outside. It's two blocks from the center of the Castro district, which is where Qbar is. Unlike Qbar, it is spacious, well-lit, and populated by men and women, not boys and girls. A number of Yelp write-ups compare it to Cheers. The bartenders and the regulars all know each other by name. And like Cheers, a tourist can stop by and, without much effort, find any number of friendly locals who are happy to chat.

We didn't have time for a drink at the Pilsner, and even if we did, I'm not sure whether we would have interacted with anyone. There was a group of slightly geekish 40-somethings there, and when I saw them, for the very first time that night, I didn't feel like a stranger in a strange land.

After the Pilsner, we walked back to the car, which was parked in the heart of the Castro. There were tons of men and boys around, including one beefy naked guy with a pierced foreskin attached to a chain. He was about 20 years past his prime, although still quite muscular. All I could think about was the pain of the piercing, so I could barely look at him. After I passed I silently prayed that hanging out on the street like that - older, naked, chained and impaled - would never seem like fun to me.

I'm not young. I've spent a lot of time in San Francisco. I've been to quite a few gay bars over the years. I have access to the Internet. "All that is gay" is not new to me.

But you know what? Walking around in the Castro and standing in the QBar made me really uncomfortable. Cafe Flore was a non-event, so that was fine, and I liked the Pilsner, but as I settled in to sleep that night, all I could think about was how THAT life is not for me.

For those of you have never been to the Castro, you might think it's an extreme place. While it's true that they don't let naked guys stand on the streets of Omaha, my perception is that the cutting-edge days of the Castro have long passed. It's not that the neighborhood feels old or tired, it's that the rest of the country has become more Castro-like. So, maybe I'm wrong, but it's my perception that if the Castro doesn't "feel like home" to me then there's no gay neighborhood in the world that would.

I'm trying to keep an open mind, and Chet is eager to push me ahead, but I am as concerned as ever that my lack of enthusiasm for mainstream gay means I'll have a very difficult time finding a gay guy who likes me for who I am - a traditional suburban dad who just happens to be gay.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Coming Out - Seeking Friends

This past weekend my wife Gabbie went to a long-distance wedding with her bar friends. She was gone most of the weekend. I had a few things to do to keep me busy, like accompanying my daughter to a 5 year old's birthday party, but I also had a lot of spare time.

In the past when Gabbie hasn't been around and the kids have been into doing their own things, I've fantasized about driving into San Francisco and sitting in a "mixed" bar (Blackbird) or a mostly-gay cafe (Cafe Flore) for a few hours. I've never been to either but the descriptions on Yelp give me the feeling that both are places where a single guy could go to, maybe, strike up a conversation with a few 'normal' gays. If I ever was to go, I would go in the late afternoon to Cafe Flore and the early evening to Blackbird; off-peak times.

There are three reasons why I haven't gone. One is that I'm a big chicken. A bar? Alone? The second is that I represent stability for the kids. I'm very leery about being seen as similar to their mother. You know - the woman who goes stir crazy if she spends too much time at home. The third reason is related to the second reason. For many years I have successfully postponed being tied to a cell phone. (No, I don't have one.) This means that whenever my meddling mother-in-law calls to "check-in" and discovers that the kids are home alone (hello - they're 17, almost 14 and almost 12) she calls every police department and hospital within a 30 mile radius to see if I'm dead somewhere. Then, when I'm not dead, she calls Gabbie and bitches her out. What ultimately happens, if I'm out for two or three hours, is that I come home to face a 5 person firing squad - all wanting to know where I've been, what I've been doing and why I haven't called. You can see why I'd rather stay home and feel sorry for myself. It's the less painful option.

Yes, I need to give in and get a cell phone (so that I can be hunted down at any moment) and I will be doing that, soon. But for this past weekend I was in the "should I or shouldn't I?" debate about going out and the same three concerns hung over me. Then, pretty much out of nowhere, this stupid idea of posting for platonic gay friends on Craigslist popped into my head. Lame, I know.

As I was making fun of my own idea, I remembered that I made the same suggestion to a blogger friend on a number of occasions. He's another guy who will opt to slug around the house with the kids rather than go out alone. I realized that I couldn't mock the advice I had given him until I actually made the attempt myself. So I did.

The title for my ad was just as above: "Coming out - Seeking Friends" and it was posted in the strictly platonic m4m section. I included pictures, even a face picture (pretty brave of me, I'd say) and therefore expected replies - from freaks.

The first guy was a 20yo Hispanic. He seemed harmless enough...but 20? Um, no thanks. The second reply was a woman. She said, in effect, "My daughter and I support your decision. Anytime you'd like to drive 40 minutes north we can all hang out. We're very 420 friendly!" Now THAT'S the kind of reply I expected - proof that my idea was moronic.

The third reply was a 39yo Asian guy who lived a few miles away. He seemed potentially normal, so I replied. The fourth guy was a Vietnamese 40yo who lived in San Francisco. His reply was very Craigslist - short and generic. Generic Vietnamese in San Francisco? Way too cliche' for me. The fifth guy was also Asian. He was interesting, but no picture. I replied.

Well...long story short, I actually met the 39yo, Chet, and he was quite fascinating. Even better - he loves to talk. I'm happy to listen to other people's drama but when it comes to my own, I'd prefer to say as little as possible. My story needs a happy ending and until there is one, no one (except you suckers) wants to hear it.

Chet had a number of genuinely interesting stories to share. And for as much as he talked, I found him to be surprisingly grounded and modest. I was rather ambivalent about meeting him at first but now I'm glad I did. At a minimum I heard a few good stories.

After we met, we exchanged polite but genuine emails and we arranged to meet a second time for a hike. That was today. This time, I did a little more talking, but Chet still did more, and again, I found him and his stories to be very engaging.

Ya'll think you know where this going, don't you? Actually, there is no sexual tension. I genuinely like him and he seems to like me, but he has a boyfriend and as amazing as it seems, we're both happy to be just friends.

Of course it remains to be seen how a friendship with Chet will play out. His relationship with his boyfriend is, literally, life-and-death complicated but it's not an emotionally satisfying relationship for him. As near as I can tell, he has too much time on his hands and lacks the desire to ALWAYS have to drive an hour each way into San Francisco to see friends. For him I think I am a potential confidant and an activity buddy.

For me, Chet represents a completely non-threatening entry into the mind of the established gay world. Through his stories, experiences and friendships I get to see, first-hand, how the gay world works. This is something that I really want to understand. There are aspects of gay life that scare the piss out of me. Now I have a way to prepare myself for what might lie ahead.

The other thing is, Chet is sympathetic to my position. He understands that I have no local gay friends and that I'm at the point where I'd like to make more. We haven't talked about Internet dating yet but I'd be so happy if I could skip it and meet someone naturally. Knowing Chet is a way for me to do that - without having to hang out in a bar by myself.

Craigslist is full of flakes and Chet could turn out to be one. But for now he's someone I'm glad I've met and I look forward to getting to know better.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Next Steps

If recent anonymous comments are any indication, a number of you don't believe that I'm transitioning to dating men. You think I'm dragging my feet.

Well, I'm not. My wife has made her feelings clear. I understand. There's no reason to hide from the inevitable. I get it.

What's slowing me down is that my wife is very unhappy right now. Bitterly unhappy. Yes, I'm one of her problems, but I'm pretty far down the list. Her job, Charlie, our living situation, her mother, the kids - each and every one of these things is "a disaster."

Yes, my wife can be dramatic. But this time I agree with her. She really could be laid off soon; Charlie really could kill her in a fit of jealous rage; the house really could be sold at auction within three weeks; her mother really is an erratic, smothering pain in the ass whose unsolicited "help" is a thinly veiled effort to control every waking moment of our lives; and the kids really are selfish, cruel and hyper-critical.

Is it wrong for me to show some consideration and wait for a few of these things to sort themselves out before I start dating men? I don't think so. I was gay on the day we met, I'll be gay next week and I'll still be gay when my wife's life is more normal. For now, the right thing to do is be supportive and patient.

The good news is that I expect the biggest issues to be resolved soon. We're in the final stages of high anxiety on several fronts. All that's left to do is to wait for them to play out.

Meanwhile, there are a few modest things I need to do to finish the current chapter of my life before I can begin another.

First on my list is to stop wearing my wedding ring.

Whether it should or not, the ring means a lot to me. And it's not just because it's my wedding band. It's because of what Gabbie had engraved inside before we married. Our initials are bound together by the words "until the end of time."

For the last 21 years, whenever I've touched the ring I've thought about those words. I didn't take them seriously enough when I took my vows but I have taken them quite seriously in recent years. Because of the way the words link us I've felt like wearing the ring keeps our commitment alive. It's not just a ring, it's a living embodiment of our relationship. For this reason (and whether I'd like to admit it or not) the ring has been my security blanket. Until the end of time. Just thinking about those words makes me pine for the 23 year old girl who desperately wanted to be married forever.

Oops. I'd better be careful. I don't want to sound like I'm dragging my feet.

Four days ago I took off the ring. As near as I can tell, no one has noticed. At least no one has said anything. The only weird thing was, just minutes after I took it off, my daughter held my hand and caressed it in a way she's never done before. My heart was pounding as I waited for her to say something. But she didn't. I'm not even sure if she noticed.

I can't deny that the absence of the ring wears on me. I feel it missing, always.

But the situation is what it is. I can't be delusional.

The kids have known for more than eight months that my wife and I are 'separated' and Gabbie has reminded them of that fact several times over the last few months, but I have done almost nothing to acknowledge our split. Because they already know, I wonder if removing the ring will be 'old' news to them? But I also wonder if my capitulation will suddenly make our separation feel real? I'm afraid of hurting them.

I don't really know what to expect but I do know that the ring had to come off - and it had to be done in a no-fuss, matter-of-fact way.

Once the kids notice the ring is gone, I'll wait a week or so before I proceed to the next necessary change, which is to move to my own bedroom.

While it's possible that not wearing the ring will be greeted with a collective shrug, I'd be very surprised if moving to my own bedroom gets the same reaction. I worry about hurting and disappointing the kids but what else can I do? My wife and I can't share the same bed forever.

Given my wife's precarious mental state, the last thing I need to do is add to the mountain of worries she already has. So it's a little ironic that making these changes, which are stressful for me, will be seen as big positives by her. She's been wanting us to be more independent for a while now.

My fingers are crossed in hopes that the kids will have adjusted to a "new normal" around the same time that Gabbie's dark clouds disburse. That will make for a relatively peaceful home life - creating the perfect opportunity for me to start thinking more about the next chapter of my life.

Oh - one other pre-dating thing I did was to get tested for HIV. Big surprise, I'm negative.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Who wants to be second choice?

Recently a straight wife and I had an interesting conversation about something her gay husband confessed to her: "I love you as much as I can love a woman."

The couple has been married more than 30 years. Both spouses are in their early 60s. He wants to remain married. She isn't certain yet but she's leaning toward divorce. If she was younger she would leave. One of the big reasons she's considering staying is because her odds of finding a new mate are very low. "Less than one in ten for a woman of her age," she told me.

I'm not at all surprised that a gay man would tell his straight wife that his ability to love her is limited. That's not a crazy statement. But it's a stupid one - especially if he wants to stay married.

Perhaps he said it because he's trying to sabotage their relationship. Maybe he's too afraid to leave her so instead he's passive aggressively trying to get her to do the dirty work. I really don't know what he wants. The wife did not offer me any other information about him nor did she tell me anything else he has said.

Regardless of his intentions, those few words were a knife in her back. They cut her to the core and have done more to destroy their relationship than anything else since he came out.

The conversation between the wife and me began when I said her husband's statement was vague. She thought I was nuts. She said, "I don't find the comment at all vague. It means exactly what it says--that he cannot fully love a woman."

My reply, in essence, was to not let the fate of her marriage hang on those words. I encouraged her to have an in-depth conversation with her husband so that she could understand EXACTLY what he thinks. What are his limitations? How will they affect their relationship? At the end of the day, I asked her, shouldn't she be 'real' and not theoretical or assumptive when it comes to making major life decisions?

This woman's dilemma may be very common. She said as much herself: "I don't think I'm unusual in wanting to be loved fully with NO limitations. I want to be the one who wins the crown; not first runner up." Well, sure, who WANTS to be first runner up?

The thing is, she isn't first runner up to another person, she's first runner up to a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. One that her husband clearly does not take seriously. If he really thought he could have an enduring relationship with a man, he'd leave. But he WANTS to stay. He knows that she is the best companion he's likely to ever find.

Does that mean he's settling for her? If so, should she be so offended that they divorce?

Maybe it's just me but I'd like to knock some common sense into both of them.

First, to the man, and to all those bi and gay men out there who WANT to remain married to their wives - can you please show some sensitivity to the woman you're spending your life with?

Where was this man's compassion? Hadn't he already caused enough pain? Was it really necessary to insult his wife and degrade their relationship? No, it wasn't.

I can understand if you're over 60 and your prospects are few that you might be bitter. I get it. I really do. But what is the point of denigrating your current life? Is feeling sorry for yourself going to change anything for the better? Is Prince Charming suddenly going to show up at your door because he heard you're looking for him? No.

There is a time and place to wallow in the muck of your own misery. It's called your therapist's office. You pay him or her big bucks. Let them handle all your negativity and all your crap. While you're there, get it all out, full throttle. Then go home and kiss your wife and tell her that you appreciate her. Is that so much to ask?

To the wife, and all the other dreamers out there like her, I'd like to say - I understand how you feel. I want to be wanted. We all want to be wanted. We want to be loved and cherished and to KNOW that we come first and that we always will.

To be wanted is a universal desire. But it's not the only one. In fact there are many. We want to be healthy. We don't want bad things to happen to us or to the people we love. We want to be happy. We want to never worry about money.

Wouldn't life be perfect if we could all have those things? Well, we can't. It's just not the way life works. Wonderful things happen but so do terrible things. We can fight for what we want, but we can't expect perfection. There are circumstances where runner-up is still pretty good. Especially if first place is a fantasy that will never come true - like winning the lottery, or, meeting Mr. Perfect.

I say - if you're given the choice between living an imperfect but pretty good life, or, spending years waiting and hoping that your patience and determination will pay off with perfection - take your imperfect good life.

Now, having voiced my complaints about this couple, I have to admit that my whole attitude would be different if either of them didn't prefer to stay married, or, if he wanted to fool around and she didn't want that. Those are irreconcilable differences. But in this scenario, these two people WANT to stay together. Yet he sabotages that by having a pity party and she's upset that she's second to someone who doesn't exist. Get real you two! Life isn't perfect. Appreciate the good stuff while you have it.

The bottom line is that mixed orientation marriages are not perfect. They require accommodation, also known as, settling. I say either commit to the idea of committing - and do that with all your heart, or, pull the plug and move on with your lives.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Two Lives

On August 30th 1986 I woke up at around 7:30am. I was tired and anxious. It was the very first time I had slept over in a man's house.

The man, a very distinguished Englishman in his early 50s, was extremely gracious. Although I had repeatedly refused his advances the night before, he let me lounge, undisturbed, in his bathtub for the better part of an hour. Then he served me a delicious, traditional English breakfast.

We had met the previous night at a small club in London. He took quite an interest in me after I told him it was my final night "out" before reporting to school the next day in Oxford. He wanted me to have a grand time and to experience what being out and gay in London was like. Much of the night was a blur, even then, because of too many drinks, too my clubs, and too many wild taxi rides.

Today is the 25th anniversary of that day. It's a day I remember quite vividly - like the day I got married and the days when my children were born.

What was most remarkable about the ten hours that I spent with that man was what he said as I stood up to leave after breakfast. He said, "Please don't go. Stay with me. Don't go back to college. Stay with me and I will take care of you. We can spend the rest of our lives together, you and I, and you'll never have to worry about a thing."

He was quite serious about his offer and that made it all the more stunning.

I couldn't believe how serious he was; the idea was preposterous! An Englishman more than twice my age? Whose name I couldn't remember? Ridiculous! Besides, tuition had been paid and a commitment had been made. Could he seriously believe that a 20 year old American kid would instantly change his life in order to become a kept boy in a foreign country?

I politely refused his offer, several times, and eventually made my escape from his flat. As I left, he pushed a small piece of paper into my hand and asked that I please call him when I got to Oxford.

A half-block later, I was still tightly gripping the note in my hand. I wanted to read it but I also didn't want the man to see me do so.

I walked a little further, then turned back to see if I was being watched. I wasn't. I scanned the neighborhood, and for the first time, noticed how strikingly handsome all the houses were. Without a doubt, the man was very wealthy. I opened the note and stared at the phone number for a few seconds. What would happen if I stayed? I wondered.

Then, realizing how dangerous the temptation was, I crushed the paper into a tiny ball and flung it as far away from me as I could.

That was at around 9:30am. Less than three hours later I was in my new dormitory room in Oxford.

I was one of the first students to arrive; the hall was empty. With no one around to talk with, I spent the next two hours unpacking my things and setting up my room. I was pretty much settled when I heard the doorbell ring at the hall's entrance. The Headmaster had let me in and I expected he would do the same for other students as they arrived. But the bell rang a second time, then a third. I decided I'd better answer the door myself.

When I opened the door, a very cheerful girl excitedly greeted me. She was struggling with two large bags and a very large wooden chest, so I grabbed the chest and one of the bags and hauled them up the stairs to the main floor. We talked for a minute and were both amazed to discover that we came from the same part of California but there we were meeting in the center of Oxford.

Because the Headmaster wasn't around, we decided to leave her things near the entrance and search the hall for her room. We found it another floor up; her name "Gabbie" was on the door.

I gave her a tour of the building, then we went back down to the entrance just in time to be greeted by the Headmaster's wife. Gabbie was welcomed and received her keys. I brought the large wooden chest and her two bags up to her room.

Gabbie later told me that she liked me from the moment we met. I don't know why.

More than a few times I have wondered what would have happened if the Headmaster's wife had opened the door for Gabbie instead of me. We still would have met but I would have been one of 50 other students in the program. Instead, I was 'special' from minute one, simply because I was there to welcome her and carry her luggage up a few flights of stairs.

The ironic juxtaposition of meeting my future wife on exactly the same day that I was offered a lifetime of financial security by a man continues to amaze me. It makes me think of a game show with Door #1 and Door #2. Except that I had no clue at the time of the momentousness of my decision.

Meeting Gabbie that day completely changed the direction of my life. Had we merely been friends or even just classmates, I would have stayed closeted for the remaining two years of college, but not much longer after that. My best friend from college, who was a year behind me, came out during his senior year. Chances are that we would have hooked up as lovers, probably for a short time, but his support would have undoubtedly given me the courage to come out as well - in 1989.

I sometimes think about that timeline - that alternate universe - that other life. I'd have no kids. I'd have an entirely different career. I'd live in an entirely different place. And hopefully, I'd have a partner with whom I'd be sharing the rest of my life.

That thought always freaks me out. Somewhere out there, right now, there's a man who would have been the center of my life. But I've never met him. Nor will I ever.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day everything changed, the day my one life split into two.

Commemorating this day has become a big deal for me. Gabbie always liked to make a big deal about our wedding anniversary but this year we both tried our best to pretend it was just another day. I told her then that we should choose August 30th as a new date to celebrate, as it marked the day our friendship began. Now that the day has arrived, I can tell that she has completely forgotten.

I'll be surprising her at work with roses, chocolates and a small, personal gift. Her days at work are very gloomy right now and I know I'll be able to cheer her up. At least for a few minutes.

"Are you freaking nuts?" You might ask. "Why do you continue to carry a torch for a woman who clearly wants to be done with you?"

I'm not carrying a torch, I'm drawing a circle. Or at least trying to. I hope that by marking this day, I can draw a neat circle around 25 years of our lives. We had our separate lives before we met; we've had our time together; now we're starting a new phase. I hope that by doing this, it will give both of us, and especially me, an appropriate sense of closure.

So although I am giving my wife chocolates and roses today, and I won't be dating men tomorrow, I will be dating them very soon. And that makes me wonder - what will happen in the next 25 years?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Internet Dating Undead

Although millions of people use on-line dating sites like Match.com, I'm skeptical about their effectiveness.

For one thing, if they work so well, why is it that the SAME guys are looking for love month after month and year after year? Many of them are not hideously ugly. They say they want a long-term relationship. Their profiles are reasonably interesting. So why are they still single after four and five years???

I have this theory...

I suspect that the ease and convenience of on-line dating lulls users into believing that finding someone for the long-term is far easier than it actually is.

I also suspect that successfully using on-line dating sites requires strategic thinking. The 'luck', 'fate' and 'hope' that many users rely on just don't get results.

Convenience is THE reason to look for love on-line. In the 'old' days you'd have to get dressed up and hit the bars on Friday and Saturday nights to meet someone. Now you can look like a total slob and go on-line anytime and peruse thousands of ads. Simple and easy, right?

What's also convenient is how much information you get to know about a guy. In a bar you know what he looks like, but unless you actually speak to him you don't know anything about him. In a bar, you have to resort to cheesy pick-up lines like "What's your sign?" In the Internet era you're 'empowered' with information. If a guy says he likes to hike in his profile, boom, you have a customized pick-up line for him - "Where are the best hiking spots around here?" See? It's easy.

Deceptively easy, I say. The truth is that too much ease, and especially, too much information, make on-line dating sites far less successful than they appear to be.

A recently published study showed that too many dating choices is a bad thing. They found that too many choices causes information overload and a tendency to get distracted by irrelevant information. Ultimately people react by NOT reacting, like deer mesmerized by headlights. I know that I have felt overwhelmed by too many choices.

The thing is, yes, there is an initial information overload that happens when you first log-in and see 30 or 50 or even 1000 hits from a search request. But you adapt - and so does everyone else.

We adapt by becoming selective. We only look at the "top" matches. Or, we look at pictures. Or, we set height, weight, income and age requirements. Thankfully dating sites provide a multitude of ways to search and sort. That way we can find EXACTLY the guy we're looking for. And shouldn't the ease of being selective make finding the right guy happen that much faster?? Maybe it should, but it doesn't.

Information overload has forced us to become too selective and not just about who we message. Selectivity extends to who we'll meet, who we'll have sex with, who we'll ever see a second time. On-line dating sites prove that it's a great big ocean out there, so finding exactly the RIGHT FISH is not unreasonable. And until Mr. Right Fish comes along, you can pass the time, and have some fun with, the few decent guys you do meet.

Another way we cope with information overload is by becoming selective observers. For example, once I've spent a few weeks on a site I've memorized the pictures of "everyone" who might be a match. From that pool I've carefully narrowed the choices down to "the best matches". Once I'm focused on those few, I pretty much ignore everyone else. I might notice a new picture but not a new headline or new text. And I don't think I'm different from everyone else. Within two months time I think most users only pay attention to who's new. After that, "it's always the same old guys."

Breaking out from the crowd and getting noticed pretty much REQUIRES strategic thinking. There are exceptions, especially if you're young and hot. Other than that, you have to think outside the box and most people don't. And that's why they spend years and years looking. They're too selective, they ignore 98% of the population and they've never realized that fate and luck have nothing to do with success. I call these guys the Internet Dating Undead - guys who stumble along in a mindless, endless quest for romantic salvation.

I haven't been playing the Internet Dating Game yet. I'm an observer. So my lack of practical experience could easily mean that my ideas are pure nonsense. But until I gain experience and test my theories, I feel like I don't any choice but to set some rules for myself that will, hopefully, keep me from becoming a member of the Internet Dating Undead. Here they are:

1. Never keep an active profile up on a site for more than two months.

This may turn out to be folly, but I'm determined to give it a try. The reason is that after two months you're stale. You're ignored. You're undead. You haven't found someone yet? You're not worth messaging. Changing your picture or your profile might extend your shelf-life a little, but those aren't likely to work for long. The only solution is to bow out gracefully.

After you delete your profile, then what? There are two options: either you switch to a different dating site or you think again about ways to meet men off-line. Either way, switching keeps YOU fresh. It's a burst of oxygen that keeps you from turning into a corpse.

2. Provide a very modest amount of information about yourself in your profile

When you post a profile, you're advertising yourself. As such, an effective profile shares the same qualities as an effective ad: it's attractive, interesting, maybe a little funny, definitely memorable, and, it's not overwhelming. Less is more.

When people read profiles they must contend with information overload. They do this to some degree by selectively reading, aka skimming. But even if they carefully read every word, they're still being selective, mostly negatively selective. "Negatively selective" means they're reading to find your flaws so that they can cross you off their list and forever-after ignore you. I think many guys post detailed profiles because they want "a good match" or at least, to screen out the bad matches. My belief is that long profiles DO screen out the bad matches - and many potentially good matches too.

Even simple lists of likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies can get you rejected. "You like to snowboard? I like to ski. That's relationship could never work!" It's stupid for people to think like that, but they do. You do it too, you just don't realize it. You are so trained to be negatively selective that you don't even realize you're doing it. And it's all because too many profiles make you WANT to eliminate prospects.

As with too much information, too many pictures are more likely to work against you than for you. If someone thinks you 'look too X' in just one picture, boom, you're out, even if you look good in the other five.

Although most of the Internet Dating Undead are zombies, there's also a contingent of vampires out there. I think of these guys as the 'experienced' or 'professional' on-line daters. These are the guys who have "been there, done that" and have decided that they need to eliminate the dating riff-raff by posting extremely detailed, explicit and often very opinionated profiles. I think of them as vampires because they want to sample a lot of blood, but they're never satisfied. They just want to stick their teeth in you and then move on. Their profiles are often highly amusing because they are inevitably amazed by their lack of romantic success. All they want to do is "find Mr. Right! Why is that so difficult???" Because they're too damn picky! Most likely because they don't have the looks, personality and/or intelligence to get the kind of guy they think they should have. Vampires - they can't see themselves in the mirror.

3. Be assertive

As this blog has proven, I can be a real doormat. Being too passive is definitely part of who I am. How fortunate for me because when it comes to on-line dating, I'll fit right in. My theory is that most people who prefer reading profiles vs. meeting people in person already have a tendency to be introverted and passive. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that the majority of dating site users are far more passive than they should be - assuming that they want to be successful.

Too many choices and too much information lead to inertia. It's the nature of the on-line beast. To combat this tendency, you have to be proactive.

OMG this will be difficult for me!

My plan is to use my two months time on a site wisely. I am committing to myself to proactively contact a certain number of guys each week. I'm not sure what the right number should be. Three? Four? Something like that. When I contact them I'll be mindful that less is more. So I'll try "lines" that are simple and somewhat flirty. "You're a teacher? I had a few crushes on teachers when I was growing up. I still have a real weakness for them! Your profile caught my eye. Let me know if you'd like to meet for coffee sometime." Yes, it's a bit cheesy but the point is that if the guy is even remotely interested, he'll answer.

4. No Internet Courtships

I have a number of Internet friendships. I value them just as much as real-life friendships, even though we've never met. Relationships are not the same. Meeting is required!!! So, when playing the Internet Dating Game, the goal is to meet as soon as is reasonable. Flirty messages can be fun, but only to a point. Overall I plan to be assertive about meeting quickly. If I get resistance, there must be a reason. Either the guy is hiding something, will only meet Mr. Perfect, or just isn't into me. Fine. Then there's no reason to engage in protracted electronic mating rituals.

So there you have it. My rules for avoiding both Vampires and the Undead - based on zero years of real life Internet dating experience. It will be interesting to see how my opinions evolve over the coming months...

Do you have any Internet dating advice you would like to share? Or comments about the above ideas? Don't be shy, use the form below.