I was nervous, and this was unfamiliar territory. I’d gone years without a relationship, and then I’d found myself in one. Nothing had been planned. The first date had been perfect: coffee and then a long walk across the city, stopping off at shops along the way, looking at DVDs, music, books – casually discovering what we each liked. It felt right, natural, relaxed – and, dare I say it – romantic? This, it seemed, was what I had been waiting for, for longer than I cared to admit. But after two more similarly idyllic dates came another issue of waiting: how long should we leave it before we got into one another’s pants? My brain began to work overtime, and I soon became mired in anxiety: what if we weren’t sexually compatible? What if I didn’t fancy him enough? How would we let each other down if the sex simply didn’t live up to whatever private expectations we had?
Billions of men and women, the world over, have, of course, tormented themselves with these sort of questions since the dawn of time. But for gay men – as with so much in the dating/sex game – there are added dilemmas. In the traditional heterosexual “courtship” (does anyone still use that word?), the man will wait until the woman is ready for sex – and should the woman jump into bed with her partner too quickly, she will be deemed “easy” – instantly admonished for her unconventional, slutty ways. Conversely, the man, we are told, is the “stud,” the “animal” who will hump a tree given half a chance. These unwritten – and restrictive rules – are, of course, turned on their head when two men get together, and with sex being so readily available to gay men, it’s little surprise that it enters the equation far quicker than in a straight relationship.
The much-married Elizabeth Taylor (infamously and hilariously condemned as “an erotic vagrant” by the Pope himself), is on record as saying that she only married so many times because she would not go to bed with a man unless she had a ring on her finger. Romance, she said, was what mattered to her – a claim also made by the eight times a wife Lana Turner (although her relationship with notoriously well-endowed gangster, Johnny Stompanato, rather hints at an insatiable appetite for rough trade). The jury is out on both of these ladies, but their arguably idealistic “love is all” outlook raises some interesting points which – as a diehard romantic – I’ve certainly grappled with over the course of my own often tumultuous love life. If we want a relationship to have more meaning, will we wait until we get to know one another better before hurtling into the sack? This, I’ve frequently told myself, is the best way to build intimacy – and something longer lasting than a drunken fumble in the bushes. My rule is that if I consider a man to be particularly special, then I will strive to wait until we chuck our DNA at one another. After all, they say that expectation increases fulfillment.
But what if – as I feared in my dating scenario a few years back – the waiting isn't worth it? What if – at the risk of being shallow here – things simply don’t measure up to your desires? Do you part ways after an awkward silence, or at best a conversation in which you try to spare one another’s feelings; or – having briefly dated and got to know one another – do you both work on trying to improve the sex? The one sure way of circumventing this difficult situation is to adopt a “try before you buy” attitude, whereby you have sex as soon as you meet. While the romantic in me may say that this immediately destroys any sense of mystery, the pragmatist screams that it’s a way of avoiding a monumental waste of time and disappointment; moreover, jumping each other’s bones at first sight does not necessarily preclude any future relationship from growing. I know many gay men who have met long-term-ish partners during wild orgies, in darkened sex clubs or windswept cruising grounds. Establishing that there’s chemistry is perhaps as good a basis as any for settling down, buying saucepans and sharing cat feeding duties.
In this app-based age of instant sexual gratification, however, perhaps the real question we should be asking is how long you would wait before dating someone that you’re already having sex with? Obtaining sex has never been easier. Log on to your Smartphone, and you have any number of potential notches on your bed post within stumbling distance. We all have a choice about the outcome of these assignations: just sex, or possibly something more? We can draw a line and separate the two or blur that line as much as each very different opportunity may allow. After my fair share of embarrassing mixed messages, honesty is, I believe, the key here – and this applies as much to more traditional dating websites like Gays.com (where, let’s face it you’re more likely to find guys who are more serious about partnerships), as it does to the quick spray apps. Be bold enough to say what you’re looking for from the outset: trust me, it avoids those excruciating misunderstandings and painful rejections. My only question is if the great Elizabeth Taylor did the same, turning to Richard Burton while they were frolicking for the world to see on that yacht off the Italian coast, and saying: “Hold it there, darling…you can’t go down any further until I get at least 33 carats on my pretty little finger…”
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