In my youth I never dated. I never experienced that first blush of embarrassment upon asking a girl (or a boy) out for a movie. I never had to work up the nerve to ask someone out to the junior prom. I never suffered from telephone paralysis trying to summon up courage to utter the words, “I was wondering if you'd maybe like to go out with me sometime. . . ?”
The whole dating thing, from my perspective then, was just a long and unnecessary preamble to getting laid. I could get laid. I got laid. To get laid as a teen all I had to do was bike down to the local park, skulk around the public men’s rooms in the woods, and collect as many loads as I wanted to take. A couple of hours later, I could be back home, satiated, to read a book or play with my Atari 2600 or practice my piano. To get laid, I could get a ride with my parents to the university at which they taught, telling them I had to do ‘research’ in the library for school. Most of my research I'd do in a kneeling position in the tiles of the library or campus center cruise men’s room, but the results verified every scientific theory I every had that men really, really, really liked to blow their loads in the mouth of a twinky blond cocksucker.
In college if I wanted to get laid, all I needed to do was walk to one of the campus’ many cruise areas—the student center restroom, the tiny park next to the tourist bus stop, the dark and isolated men’s rooms in the college library. I had a boyfriend of sorts in college, but we didn't date. We didn't even really eat together at the campus cafeteria. We pretended we didn’t know each other by day, and then fucked and declared undying love for each other in the dark shadows of night where no one else might see us and suspect our deep homosexual passions.
My cynical view of dating was deeply colored, however, by the fact I intended to live single, forever. At the time I considered myself not only unlikely in my lifetime to form any lasting emotional attachments, but unworthy of any such thing. All I have to do is look back in my journals of the time to see my convictions; I repeatedly attempted to convince myself that it would be best to live to an old age without ever declaring my passions to anyone.
I thought it would be kindest, both to my parents and to my friends and extended family, never to let them know I preferred sex with men to the more traditional arrangements they might have expected of me. I’d had sex on the sly for years; I reckoned to myself that I could continue that way for a few decades. Then one day, when I was exceptionally ancient—forty-five, say—I'd give up sex altogether and live the celibate life of a confirmed bachelor. A flat, a cat, and a lonely adulthood until I died with a saint-like smile on my face derived from the satisfaction of knowing I'd never discommoded anyone with my inconvenient lifestyle.
This was, of course, back in the nineteen-seventies and eighties—which might as well have been centuries ago, in terms of how far we've advanced with the rights of the LGBT population since. But I lived in the American South, in a very small, very conservative city. I didn't know a single out adult. I'd only been exposed to gay life as a subculture of secrecy and sneaking and fleeting moments of pleasure with as little emotional connection as possible.
I thought I’d made my peace with all that. I’d settle. I’d make do.
So perhaps it’s not wildly impossible to comprehend why I didn't actually go on an official date with someone until my first year of graduate school. I would have been about twenty-one at the time. I’d moved back in with my parents for a couple of years after college, but I was studying full time and teaching multiple sections of undergraduate entry-level classes. I lived in an apartment in the basement of their house, and had my own entrance. I’d won a scholarship. My grades were A’s, straight across the board. It sounds like I had my shit together. But in fact, I was a nervous and bumbling boob when it came to normal human interaction with anyone, especially men.
I don't remember the guy’s name. I barely remember what he looked like—I have an impression of him being slight of build, balding, bearded, handsome. Older than me by at least twenty-five years. Very attractive. We met—of course—in some kind of cruising place. Probably the second or third floor of the Business Building on campus, which had notoriously seedy men’s rooms that even in 1986 were packed to occupancy from mid-afternoon until the building was closed. After I'd taken care of this particular guy—through one of the glory holes, under the stall, I don't remember—he chased me out of the men’s room and spoke to me at length outside. He'd enjoyed being with me. He wanted to see me again. How about Friday night?
I'd had men chase me out of the tearooms before. They'd enjoyed my holes so much that of course they wanted more. That part didn't scare me. I was used to going home with men and fucking. What surprised me with this guy, though, was that when I met him in a campus parking lot for our date that Saturday night, was that he didn't immediately take me to his place. No, he wanted to get something to eat.
Almost immediately this strange turn of events three me into a tailspin. Eat? Eat dinner the hour of seven-thirty at night? My family usually bolted down its meals at five-thirty. The college cafeteria had closed at seven. I was vaguely aware that restaurants might have been open after the sun set, but certainly no God-fearing red-blooded Amurrican I knew would ever consider eating at that late hour. Not unless they were trying to prove how much more superior they were, like some kind of European or something.
I was also uncomfortable with the venue to which he took me. Eating out to me then meant chain restaurants. My dad loves his chain restaurants. Eating out, to me, involved a big colorful menu with pictures of the food items at somewhere like the Big Boy, where the family sat in an isolated booth and ate food that tasted like food from every other Big Boy anywhere else there might have been a Big Boy.
This guy, though, took me to a cute and tiny place where the menu was printed on a thick, unlaminated stock of paper that contained absolutely no pictures of the entrees whatsoever. There were no booths in the narrow little space. There were only tables lined up in what I naively thought was New York City-style restaurant seating—tight and cramped and intended to accommodate as many folks as possible. (Of course, having lived in New York for a few years now and having eaten quite a lot at its exceedingly cozy establishments, I’m aware that little restaurant in Richmond was airy and spacious in comparison. A New Yorker would look over the shoulder of the three strangers wedged in next to him, seen the actual elbow room between diners, and laughed in derision.)
What was worse was that this guy wanted to talk. During dinner. While I sat there staring at the solitary glass of water that was my meal (I’d already eaten at five-thirty, like a normal person), my date animatedly ate the food he’d ordered in enormous quantities while he peppered me with questions like, “So how long have you known you’d rather be with guys?” Or, “Have you come out to your parents yet?”
In public. Where people might overhear.
In my adolescent imagination, everyone was already gawking at the two of us and carrying on scandalized conversations behind cupped hands. Do you see those two over there? Confirmed homosexuals! You don’t say? Well I never! I think one of them is the son of that college professor! Oh no! What will his parents think? Wasn’t he a good student? Such a shame! Do you think his former Boy Scout leader knows? That kind of thing. They weren’t, of course, but I wasn’t accustomed to being out in public with any of my tricks. If he wanted to ask me questions like that, my reasoning ran, he should have done it in bed, behind closed doors. And maybe in a whisper.
At least a hushed voice, which is not what he used in the restaurant. I hunched over my water, glowered, and wished myself somewhere else. Anywhere else, in fact.
The dinner seemed to last forever. In my imagination, it had about fourteen courses, all of them exquisitely slow. Finally he paid his check, folded the napkin in his lap, and escorted me outside.
“Now,” he announced. “Let me take you to a movie.”
I had to endure dinner with a handsome guy? And then a movie? Oh god. I could’ve died.
We ended up at the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil at the Regency Mall. The theater itself was packed. I kept worrying that someone I knew would see me. And worse, the movie itself didn’t start until well after nine, and I didn’t know how long it was supposed to last. An hour and a half? Two? I spent the entire duration of the film miserable and trying to make mental calculations about what time the film would get out, and how long it would take to drive back across town to the campus where my car was parked, and what time I’d finally get home.
None of my calculations, even the most generous, seemed to indicate I’d make it back before midnight. Because of that, I was miserable. I felt like a sixth-grader staying out well past his curfew. I felt like a criminal.
It was an over-reaction, sure. And a silly one at that. Even though I was legally an adult and didn’t have to ask my parents permission to go out at night or stay out, I’d never actually been out that late before. Ever. If I had night classes I was still home by nine-thirty; I didn’t have that many friends in the area to do things with. My parents had never once known me to go out with anyone. My staying out past midnight was unprecedented. Inconceivable, really. I sat there in the dark theater, flinching whenever my friend would attempt to put his hand on my leg in an inconspicuous way, with a brain fevered by fear. Would my parents yell at me? Could they yell at me, at my age? Would they demand to know why I’d been out much later than I’d told them? Would they ask me with whom? Already I was trying to fabricate excuses and fibs about how I’d spent my evening. I couldn’t pay attention to the movie, in all its excess. I was too fucking miserable.
As I predicted, we didn’t get out until close to midnight. To say I was tense during that trip back to the campus where I was parked would be a massive understatement. I was rigid. In the passenger seat of his car, I had my right foot pressed hard against the floor where the accelerator would’ve been had I been driving, hoping I might somehow psychically influence him to take it a little faster. When finally he pulled up next to my car and turned off the ignition, I was so anxious to get going that I basically shouted, “WELL BYE!”
“I was hoping you might want to go home and spend the night with me,” he protested, rather mildly.
“I can’t,” I said. I was angry, at that point. If he’d wanted me to go home with him, he could’ve done it hours before.
“You don’t want to go home with me?” he asked.
“I can’t,” was all I could say.
He seemed deflated. “But why not?”
For the first time all evening, it hit home what a real ass I was being. “I just can’t,” I told him. Then I got out of his car, got into mine, and raced home like my life depended upon it. It was about twelve-thirty when I slunk into my basement apartment and directly into my bed, where I let the sheets cool my face and my embarrassment.
I felt badly about how I’d treated the guy for days—years—afterward. I mean, I’d been an ungrateful little shit. I’d been sullen, and childish, and had let my own provincialism trump my manners and good sense. I’d let fear cheat me out of an enjoyable evening, and a man who was interested in me as something more than a pair of holes. I felt embarrassed that as adult as I was by the legal definition, I wasn’t adult enough to manage a little civility. I wasn’t adult enough to be able to change the topic, to ask him questions of my own, or even simply to relax and be what I was without worrying about what others might think of me. I’d handled the whole thing badly from beginning to end, and hurt a man’s feelings.
I got an unflattering glimpse of myself in a mirror, and I decided I didn’t like what I saw. I never treated a date like that again. I grew from that night.
The irony of the whole thing, of course, is that the next day when I met my parents with glib lies about how I’d met some of my graduate school friends for dinner and how we’d all spontaneously decided to go see a movie together, it turned out they didn’t really give a crap how late I’d stayed out. They were thrilled that I’d been out socializing. In fact, they’d always thought it a little worrisome about how introverted I’d been since I moved back home. Didn’t I want to go out more often?
I never saw my first date after our abortive evening together. I don’t blame him for avoiding me, frankly. One good thing came out of that evening, though: after such a terrible first experience with dating, the only place to go was up.
A special holiday note to my readers: don't forget you can send me a thank-you gift for Christmas! Or even some holiday email would be awesome.