Ryan Lee: Mourning the mythical ‘golden era of gay courtship’

When one of my best friends recently told me that she has ventured into online dating, I was curious to know which websites respectable ladies joined to search for guys.

“Well, there’s Plenty of Fish,” she began.

“Ugh, Lo, that’s foul,” I said. “Could the name of that website be any more undignified?”

“What, I thought it sounded Christian,” she said.

“It sounds more like Used Pussy Depot was already taken on GoDaddy.com.”

I’m familiar with Plenty of Fish from my straight male co-workers swapping stories of conquests and blue balls, and my female co-worker describing how her engagement ended when she was rummaging through her fiance’s cellphone and saw the website flooding his browser history.

It’s an audacious venue for Lo to make her debut on the dating scene. Despite my revulsion at the Plenty of Fish name and concern that its brand is a little too seedy for my best friend, I was encouraging about her romantic pursuits. Childhood struggles with weight instilled insecurities in Lo that lasted long after she outgrew her perceived undesirability, and so she’s logging on as a 35-year-old virgin.

“The guys on Plenty of Fish are gonna loooove how tight you are,” I teased. “How’s it been so far?”

“It’s all about managing my expectations,” she said. “Like don’t be suicidal if a guy doesn’t respond to my message, or try to stop planning my wedding every time I read a cool profile. I’d like to chat and get to know somebody, but all of the guys are ready to bone after the third message.”

“Well, that’s kind of how this thing works,” I said. “Welcome to humanity.”

It took a 35-year-old virgin a few chats to figure out what an increasing number of gay men seem committed to ignoring: sex alternates with food as the third most essential priority for many men, behind air and water.

Every other profile on gay dating sites whines about how no one is looking for anything but sex. What’s troubling is how many gay men suggest that this is an exclusively homosexual shortcoming, as if they were unaware of the carnal mischief taking place via Plenty of Fish, Christian Mingle and Facebook.

The most hilarious question that constantly appears on gay profiles is, “Whatever happened to the days when guys went on dates?”

I’m always curious about which golden era of gay courtship these guys are mourning, when high school sweethearts shared root beer floats and celibate guys awaited family approval of their suitors before consummating the relationship. We are maybe a generation removed from when almost every gay man’s best friend was someone whom he had fucked, and where the very concept of “dating” was fraught with the risk of being outed or physically attacked.

Many gay men have never walked down a street holding another man’s hand, yet they are pining to walk down the aisle with their storybook groom. We have a fraction of the practice and protocols that many heterosexuals have with dating, yet we are unforgivingly critical of ourselves and our potential partners when our relationships fall short of the heterosexual ideal—an ideal, it is worth noting, that many heterosexual couples miss, often due to male promiscuity.

I do not doubt the capacity of gay men to love deeply and sincerely, nor do I ignore how many gay relationships thrived during eras of ostracism, incarceration and plague. However, as a culture, we are in the infant days of exploring open, holistic partnerships, and already same-sex marriage is transforming from an option to an expectation.

I believe bliss and fulfillment and true love are attainable for gay men, but it’s important for us to calibrate our expectations to take into account the unique dynamics of our relationships and our history, lest many of our hearts go swimming with the fishes.