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This column appeared in February, 1992, in The Washington Blade.|
By Lawrence Biemiller
"Certainly date -- anybody, everybody!" writes a concerned reader. "Take your dates to the places you and Mark went to. You may not be ready for another relationship for a couple more months, but it will pass the time until Mark isn't your first thought as you wake up in the morning."
As it happens, this concerned reader is also named Mark. It's a world silly with Marks. The simplest of conversations trips over them again and again -- Mark-my-ex, my friend Mark in Rhode Island, Tom's friend Mark, Mark-my-travel-agent, "the other Mark" where Mark-my-ex works.
"Trust me," this latest Mark writes in his exhortation to date. "I know how hard it is, but life in the future with the guy who can fulfill all your needs will be better than the life you had before."
What this new Mark doesn't tell me is how I'm supposed to meet all these men for all these dates. "You are probably beautiful to hundreds of guys," he says, but I have not noticed lines outside my door.
My friend Tom, on the other hand, does tell me how to meet men: I should answer five personals ads each week, he says, with the goal of reaping at least one date per weekend. This is a suggestion Tom got from one of the men who answered the ad he took out. Better yet, says Tom, I should place an ad myself. "When you fall off a horse you have to get right back on," he says. "C'mon -- what have you got to lose?"
I'm not sure, exactly. But I'm not encouraged by Tom's experiences as an advertiser: One of the men who answered his ad turned out to have placed an ad of his own a few months earlier. He and Tom ended up comparing notes and figuring out which guys had answered both ads. This is just the kind of thing that's always worried me about personals ads. Is my letter going to be passed around at a cocktail party? Read out loud? Enacted during a game of charades?
On the other hand, I admire Tom's perseverance. He set a goal for himself and has pursued it diligently. Lately a number of other people have also told me about the date-finding strategies they're trying, however reluctantly. One friend, badgered into acquiescence by her mother, ended up on a blind date the mother had arranged by long distance across two time zones. The date was not a success. But, says my friend, "you've got to start somewhere."
G. Hiroshima retains a more reliable dating service -- his friend Rick, who is a real-estate agent at the beach and who seems to know everyone. Rick's astonishing talent for arranging dates has allowed G. Hiroshima to maintain what he considers a perfect record: He has never actually had to ask anyone out. G. Hiroshima spots someone at the volleyball net, Rick does a little work behind the scenes, and then G. Hiroshima gets an invitation to dinner.
It's a pretty good system: No asking for phone numbers, no haunting gyms or bars at which someone appealing was once spotted, no wondering what was meant by a particular comment, no fear that a lovely telephone voice from the personals might belong to a body that is the wrong size, or shape, or condition. Unfortunately, Rick is not taking additional matchmaking clients.
j.-with-a-small-"j" and Mark-my-ex go to a Gay roller-skating night once a week, reportedly with mixed results. Mark has also joined two volunteer organizations through which he not only does socially productive things but also meets lots of people without having to make a spectacle of himself on skates. Making a spectacle of myself has always been one of my greatest fears, as Mark will attest.
But I guess what I worry about most is appearing to be trying at all. My upbringing in oh-so-proper Baltimore neighborhoods in the 60's and 70's did what it was supposed to do: It made me think that actually looking for love was just a tiny bit shameful. Gay or straight, love was supposed to happen without anyone's working at it, the way it did in the old Fred Astaire movies that my friend Rachel and I cut class to watch at her house while we were in high school. As Rachel told Charles Cohen when he asked permission to kiss her in eleventh grade, "If you have to ask, the answer is No."
True fact: I can strike up a conversation with almost anyone about almost anything, but I can't start talking to someone I'd like to go out with. I always imagine that as soon as he realizes I'm interested, he's going to call up all his friends to say he can't believe this toad tried to ask him out. "Toad" was what Miguel's acerbic friend Mark, whom I only met that one time, called me to my face the night of the Pictionary Game From Hell. That was years ago, of course, but it's amazing hw an insult can stick with you.
We like to think of Gay men and women as either attractive 27-year-olds picking each other up at bars and demonstrations or as well-matched couples entertaining at the beach or in the mountains. But in real life many of my friends, Gay and straight, will spend tonight alone, eating macaroni-and-cheese or a microwaved entree, wondering how to go about finding lovers before the next Valentine's Day rolls around.
At Christmas my step-sister announced that she wanted to set me up with someone she knew from catering. Remembering that you have to start somewhere, I said she could give him my number. We arranged to meet for coffee one Sunday afternoon at a mall that had appeared in cornfield north of Baltimore while I wasn't looking. He was a nice guy and we had a pleasant conversation, but I think we both knew even before we got there that nothing was going to come of our meeting.
I drove home knowing that I wanted to call Mark -- Mark-my-ex -- and describe the awkwardness of having a blind date in the teen-spirit-smelling food court of a suburban mall. He would have understood perfectly, and we would have ended up laughing about it. But I knew I shouldn't call, and I didn't. Life is very complicated, romance even more so. Happy Valentine's Day.
Copyright © 1992 by Lawrence Biemiller. Published February, 1992, in The Washington Blade.