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?