I like to think that if two gay men are willing and able, they can overlook their differences and find common ground. There are some instances, however, when such open-mindedness comes with mixed results.
So when Hayrik* approached me over a dating app asking to meet me for a hike and I saw he harbored political views diametrically opposed to mine, I decided nevertheless to try and bridge the divide.
But when Hayrik showed up 30 minutes late for our date, with neither apology or explanation and looking at least 40 pounds heavier than he did in his photos, I knew something was off.
I considered confronting him about this but told myself that to do so would be rude. But as we set off on our hike, Hayrik’s dog in tow, doubt began to gnaw at me.
Some minutes later, the dog stopped to relieve himself. To my dismay, his owner made no attempt to pick up after him.
When pressed, Hayrik complained that he’d forgotten to bring a bag. Offering a shrug and a lopsided smile, he said: “I’m just a bad dog owner”.
I considered whether or not to cut the date short. If I turned on my heel and left, I had no way of knowing how Hayrik might react. Fear of conflict forced me to bite my tongue.
Hayrik made some small talk, slowly steering the conversation towards politics. When I made our differences of opinion known, he responded with a gleeful aside, attacking my beliefs.
By this point, we were at the hike’s halfway mark, so excusing myself now seemed almost pointless. What was I going to do? Overtake Hayrik and storm back to my car?
I tried to change the subject, only for Hayrik to drop an incendiary comment, the kind you might expect from a troll sowing chaos in an online comments thread.
I fell silent, and sensing I’d quit the game, my date quickly ran out of steam. An awkward silence prevailed.
What to look for when dating other gay men
In choosing not to end the date prematurely, in choosing to save face, I’d been forced to tolerate Hayrik’s behavior, thereby inadvertently endorsing it.
Had I identified some guideposts for what I expected when dating gay men – and also what constituted a violation of these expectations – in advance, the situation might’ve turned out quite differently.
But what are reasonable guideposts, and when is it appropriate to quit a date?
I didn’t believe that the disparity between Hayrik’s physical appearance and his photos was cause enough to end our interaction then and there. Yet the disparity was one he was surely aware of.
Dating profiles are the personal equivalent of marketing materials. It’s in our interest to put our best foot forward, so we all “curate” our personal presentation to some lesser or greater degree. There is however a clear difference between selective presentation and active deception.
Gay men who for example list themselves as being one age on their profile, when in reality they are at least 10 years older, are another example of this.
No matter how youthful someone might look, such behavior points to a fundamental lack of trustworthiness. And without trust, there is no basis for a relationship.
2. Causes for concern
Unmanaged Mental Health Issues: As someone who has battled anxiety and depression, do I advocate intolerance of such people? Definitely not. The keyword here is “unmanaged”.
If this person is not actively seeking or receiving help for their problems, trying to establish a romantic relationship with this person may put you in an untenable position.
You may find for example that in trying to help, you become a codependent “fixer” who prevents your partner from taking charge of their situation. Or you may find yourself forced to keep the other person at arm’s length as a matter of self-preservation. This is not fair for either party.
Addiction: Unless gay men are seeking help for an addiction, whether it is substance- or process-related, the concerns are very similar to those outlined above. For most addicts, their habit will almost always come first, and often at a significant cost to their personal relationships.
Even if you feel you are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tolerance required to deal with an addiction problem, you still run the risk of becoming an enabler or being dragged into their habit.
Personality Disorders: When left untreated, personality disorders can wreak devastation not only on the lives of gay men but on those in their immediate vicinity.
A full list of diagnostic criteria is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some telltale signs you could be dealing with someone with a personality disorder:
- Ongoing emotional instability
- Chronic temper problems
- Excessive self-involvement
- Excessive neediness
- Callous disregard for your feelings or wellbeing
- Deceptive, manipulative, exploitative or destructive behavior
Again, I am not attempting to dissuade you from dating someone with a personality disorder, but rather flagging the possibility that, should you decide to go down that path, there may be some rough terrain ahead.
3. Irreconcilable differences
There are differing tastes in music, and then there are incompatible value systems.
Had there been some value overlap between Hayrik’s political views and my own, things might have gone okay. As it stood, there was not. Our value systems were incompatible.
Even the most casual behaviors can be telling in this regard. Watch, for example, how your date addresses the restaurant server. Is he polite? Patronizing, or cutting without cause?
How does he behave when he encounters an aggressive driver? Does he laugh it off? Or does he fly into a rage, vowing retribution?
If you’re a person who values treating others with kindness and courtesy no matter the circumstances, a person who acts this way does not share your values
These are myriad and often subjective. You may not be justified in ending dates when these arise, however they should give you pause. Here are some telling examples.
Aggression: Everyone has their triggers, but gay men with a hair-trigger are people you should definitely steer clear of.
Meanspiritedness: If someone intentionally attacks or puts you down on the first date, don’t stick it out. That said, this person could be having a bad day. If it happens once, be on alert. If it happens twice, be on your way. Leaving sends a clear message that you have personal boundaries and are willing to protect them.
Disrespect: This can take many forms. Personally, I consider a lack of punctuality on a first date a form of disrespect. Of course, your date could have gotten stuck in a traffic jam, an accident, or can’t find parking and forgot or was unable to communicate. You can offer some leeway here.
But if it happens more than once, there is a good chance this person is lacking basic consideration for others.
When Hayrik, for example, failed to clean up after his dog, he wasn’t just shirking personal responsibility. He was signaling a lack of basic respect for other people.
Complainers and bad-mouthers: Complaining, blame-mongering, and backbiting should set off internal alarms. Why? Because it often speaks to serious self-esteem problems. Ask yourself if this is a trait you’re willing to stomach in the long term. Chances are it isn’t.
Immaturity/Game playing: Personal interactions shouldn’t be treated like a game. Hayrik’s attempt to lure me into an unwinnable political debate spoke to an immature desire to prove his intellectual superiority – and not a desire to connect as equals. Without such equality, any kind of healthy relationship will be impossible.
Your mileage may vary
This article is not meant to be treated as a definitive list, but rather as a jumping-off point for identifying your personal limits. The message is: know your deal-breakers, and know that you have the right to walk once one has been identified.
If revelations are made mid-date that bring to light fundamental incompatibilities, you have grounds to end the interaction. There are perfectly polite ways of doing this.
One I swear by is setting a timer on my phone and only feeding my parking meter for that period of time. This gives me a legitimate reason to get up and leave, no charade required.
How long should you set your timer? For a first date, one hour is more than adequate. When the alarm goes off, explain you have another commitment you need to get to. Thank the person for their time, pay for your bill, and leave.
This tactic can also be useful for those instances when you haven’t identified any dealbreakers but the interaction leaves something wanting.
Sometimes the repartee is listless, the other person is nervous to the point of paralysis, or they may say something that rubs you the wrong way. If the interest – and effort – is mutual, these challenges can be overcome.
- Keep an eye out for discrepancies, causes for concern and irreconcilable differences.
- Know your dealbreakers and what you’re willing to tolerate.
- Have an exit strategy in place, should the date go south.
* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.
© 2021 Ehsan "Essy" Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the EssyKnopf.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.