Should I, as a gay male, settle when dating or in a relationship?
April 12, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Should I, as a gay male, settle when dating or in a relationship?

4 Months ago, I met someone in my department at Uni and we started dating. Prior to this I had been single for 3 years (was in a passionless relationship before being single) and it was nice to finally meet someone who I connected with. At first, I was a little uncertain of our chemistry and there was no initial *spark* but I was intrigued by his creativity and kindness. We dated for about a month and we grew to really like each other and built a great emotional connection within that short time. Nevertheless, something felt missing for me. Sexually, we were not that compatible as he is quite inexperienced and things felt anticlimactic. We tried different things but I kind of lost momentum for trying after a while. Intellectually, I think we were somewhat compatible but something seemed off in the conversation. I did not feel overly engaged by our conversations and I wondered if we would have that level of depth I had in the past with others. Then again, he is quite reserved and low-key where as I am very passionate… we have quite different dynamics. We talked about this a few times and it seemed the doubts were just coming from my end, as he was very attracted to me on every level.

Otherwise, we shared the same values, interests and had a ton of fun just hanging out and being comfortable and romantic together (which I don’t find often). It was nice to find someone who I could trust and be myself around. Long story short, the missing piece made me feel disconnected, and the more his feelings were growing for me…the more mine were feeling stagnate and a little dull. I think the dullness came from trying to manage the cognitive dissonance of my feelings…being excited to find someone unique but my heart putting up a wall and being unsure about my feelings. I broke off it with him twice…and we tried to resolve things over this 4 month period. I do understand that a relationship should not be this difficult from the start but did I overanalyze everything and sabotage it? The problem is I still think about him and like him a lot …and think about how special and unique he is. I feel like it would be hard to find that again because I rarely have in the 10 years I’ve dated. We are trying to move on, though if I told him I wanted to try again I believe he would want too…but I wouldn’t want to put him through that rollercoaster of my uncertainties all over again.

I feel like I found a lot of what I was looking for in a partner…and a part of me says that I should not put so much emphasis on this “missing piece” that I felt. It seems like there is a smaller dating pool in the gay world and I wonder if I will find someone similar. I also personally don’t seem to click with a lot of other gays. In the last few years, some of the people that I was moderately interested in were cool but were all into open-relationships, which I am not. I have found it difficult to find someone who I can really trust and who does not want to “open up” a relationship. Its scary going back into the gay dating world and having to deal with this all over again.

So my question is, if I found a lot of what I was looking for, should I have kept pursuing the relationship even though I felt something was missing (whether that was to with the chemistry and/or compatibility)? Does it make a difference that I am gay and my potential options are more limited?
posted by jpritcha to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You deserve to have someone who you love and are comfortable with and who also rocks your world. Your ex deserves to have someone who thinks he is the cat's meow on all levels. You both deserve 100% and neither one of you should settle.

However it might be worth looking into the fact that you describe your previous relationship as "passionless" and you seem to like but not feel passion for this guy as well. So there might be something going on that's more about you than about this guy in particular.

Its scary going back into the gay dating world and having to deal with this all over again.

I don't think it makes any difference that you are gay.
posted by headnsouth at 9:04 AM on April 12, 2012

I would always argue that you can have both, but I have an observation: The two longest surviving, and from my POV most successful relationships in my network of friends are (1 hetero couple, I gay male couple) pair-bondings where they seem to have accepted that they can't be all things to all partners.

I say seem because no-one ever really knows what goes on in the inticate chemistry that makes up long-term relationships except the people involved.

In both of these there is a quieter, more mature in age, character, and a more outgoing one. In both cases the more outgoing one has other relationships of both a romantic and sexual nature that are not affairs, but clearly worked out agreements between the couples which seems to offer the missing "X" that one part of the couple needs.

Both couples are married and the arrangements they have come to are not a secret to anyone within the close groups of friends. They are 27 years and 15 years together respectively.

I often wonder if expecting to find it all in one person brings with it a series of pressures that can sink an otherwise excellent relationship, but I understand the cultural norm is binary in this respect.
posted by Wilder at 9:06 AM on April 12, 2012 [12 favorites]

Its scary going back into the gay dating world and having to deal with this all over again.

This statement is coloring the way you feel about your last relationship. You felt it was disconnected, stagnant and a little dull - that's not a good relationship! Sure, relationships settle in to a place where it's not all fireworks, but you felt like major pieces were missing.

As many a mefite has said, relationships don't work until they do. And even though your pool is slightly smaller doesn't mean you should settle for Unhappy. Keep looking for all of the good stuff.

As an aside, therapy helped me realize when I was putting up barriers to relationships versus relationships not actually being healthy or happy. It doesn't sound like you're scuttling your relationships, but if you fear that you are, a therapist can help you sort that out.
posted by ldthomps at 9:08 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't be everything to your partner. It's a question of what's a big deal and what's not. If you are going for a monogmous relationship- I would think that a huge sexual connection would be a priority- so I wouldn't tell you to get back with your ex. I mean, can you see sleeping with him, exclusivly forever? And how would he feel to know that you're shared sex life seems sub-pare to you?

You might want to sit back and really think about what are real priorites, and what are good for the wish-list. You need a strong sexual connection, but do you need to have the same hobbies? Shared values are important, but how important is career/age/income level/ conventional attractiveness?
posted by Blisterlips at 9:18 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does it make a difference that I am gay and my potential options are more limited?

No. Don't settle, ever.

You can think about this from another perspective -- you have a limited dating pool because of a specific reason. There are lots of other people who have limited dating pools for other reasons. I have friends who will only date within their own (minority) religion, for example. Some have found partners, some haven't.

But generally, we all have our "lists," some are just more flexible than others. You deserve someone who fits with you -- just because he fit one major requirement and sort-of fit some others, he didn't fit enough to be the right guy for you. Just trust that there is someone who will match up with you pretty well, and wait for that relationship.

And coming from someone who went back into the dating world after a life-changing breakup and a year or so of singledom: It's scary for everyone.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:19 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Settling" is only tempting when you believe that being in an intimate relationship -- and being in one right now -- is necessary for your happiness and well being. It is a presumption worth examining.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:20 AM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

I recently had a relationship end in which I had a huge chunk of what I know I'm looking for - but some of my needs weren't being met and probably weren't going to be. And this was a good thing, ultimately, because it got me thinking about what those needs are and how aware of them I've been, historically.

Those needs are up to each individual to define, so I can't tell you what yours are. But what happened here was: You were kind of into him, but not a whole lot, and you weren't satisfied being in a relationship with him. So you miss him and you miss the good parts and when you view the whole thing through that lens, you're being more charitable than you probably should be.

In the case of this guy, you wouldn't be any more satisfied if you tried again. The only thing that would be different is you'd feel incredibly, crushingly guilty for getting his hopes up and seeing that it just wasn't there.

So did you overthink this? Yeah, in the sense that you kept trying to out-think your heart. It just wasn't there for you, and there's nothing wrong with that. Figuring out why won't change that. You deserve to be with someone who excites you as much as you excite them.

So the answer to your question is: No, don't settle. It means you may be a little lonesome sometimes, as it'll take longed to find the right person, but I tend to think it's preferable to the heartache of a string of relationships that weren't quite right.

The most you can do is to think a bit about exactly what your needs are in a relationship and learn to spot situations where they're not likely to be met.

It's a little harder but it's worth it. Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:34 AM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm fond of Dan Savage's advice that there is no settling down without settling for: no one finds a 100% match, they find a 85% match and make a decision to round up.

But it seems like you aren't very compatible with this guy - you might be 60% matches, not so easy to round up. Break up and give both of you a chance to find a better match.
posted by bunderful at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

No one should ever settle in a relationship, but everyone needs to compromise. There is no such thing as 100%. Settling is saying "I'll never get X, so I'll make do with Y." Compromising is "I can live without X because Y is worth it." It's a fine line and nobody can draw it for anyone else. If that missing piece kept you from enjoying and appreciating what was there, you made the right decision. Wait until you find someone with whom you don't mind the missing pieces so much.
posted by Dojie at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2012 [15 favorites]

While no two people are 100% match, I think given your desire for a closed, monogamous relationship, you must give a higher priority to the sexual chemistry. Despite what straight folks might say, it is different for gay men. There are less of us in any given location, and finding someone who shares your worldview is even harder than for straight couples. But, even with the struggles of the gay dating scene, I think it is worth waiting for the sexual connection.
posted by hworth at 10:36 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are too young to be this tired of dating.

Don't settle (or settle down) with this person. They deserve someone who finds them genuinely exciting and amazing. The time you'll be spending in a quasi-unsatisfying relationship is time that you'll be stealing from them, in which they could find that other person instead.

Of course, it's also time you'd be stealing from yourself, but for some reason this advice usually only resonates when you get someone to consider the other person.
posted by hermitosis at 10:45 AM on April 12, 2012

I often wonder if expecting to find it all in one person brings with it a series of pressures that can sink an otherwise excellent relationship, but I understand the cultural norm is binary in this respect.

Yes. And FWIW this is true even when it's not about sex.

In fact, it's extra-true when it's not about sex, in the sense that some people can get all their sexual needs met in a single monogamous relationship, but it's very hard for anyone to get all their emotional needs met by one person. It's especially hard if your needs include things like "engaging conversations," because it's very unlikely you'll find someone who engages with you in all the ways you want to engage, on all the topics you'll ever want to discuss. But luckily, we live in a world where few people consider Extramarital Conversation to be a sin.

The book to read here is Bowling Alone. It's written as history, but in a way it's a self-help book too, since it describes a vital sort of support and connection that is missing from many people's lives. Monogamy (among other things) used to be easier because we took it for granted that we'd have this rich interconnected communities holding us up. We've lost that for the most part, and it sucks, and the key to a healthy relationship in the long run is to fight back against that and find yourself a damn community.

I think the healthy kind of settling is the kind where you say "I love and trust my boyfriend and he loves and trusts me. He'll never be X or Y, but that's okay, because I have other friends who are plenty X and Y, and those friends are just as loyal and just as deserving of my loyalty as my partner is."

So for instance, me, my greatest joys in life are dancing and singing. I married someone who hates to dance and is terrified of singing if anyone is in earshot. Oh well. The world is full of awesome people to sing and dance with, and some of them are my best friends, and I'm still always glad to go home to my wife when the party's over. In one sense I'm "settling" for someone who can't share in a hugely important part of my life; but in the bigger picture I'm not missing out on anything I need.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:09 AM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

God, NO, what are you even talking about! Do you live in upper Saskatchewan? (IF SO LEAVE.)

Also did you think the Internet was going to get all up in here and be like "YES, DEFINITELY HAVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH PEOPLE THAT YOU'RE NOT REALL INTO"?

Because, no.

Keep dating him till you're done. Then move on. You're 26! Go have some fun.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:47 PM on April 12, 2012

Settling is something you do once you've fallen in love with someone and start finding their flaws and you realize that the love you have can easily (or sometimes not so easily) overcome those flaws. You settle that they have them because everybody will.

Settling is NOT something to do when you're just starting out with someone because there's no other options. Because there are always other options. Like being single until you don't have to settle.

If that option seems impossible to you, then I'd work on things until you figure out why and go from there. Trust me -- it is much easier to fall in love with someone when you don't feel like you must find someone. The cliche about 'love finding you when you aren't looking' is right -- but it's not some sort of magic. It's because a man who is sure enough in himself that he doesn't need a relationship to feel complete is more attractive, and along with this confidence, he is able to overlook the flaws in others and not overthink the relationship once he finds the right guy.

(I say this as someone who has been single for only about 10% of my out gay life, so take this wisdom with a grain of salt.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agree with MCMike. Don't settle, but don't pressure yourself constantly to find the perfect partner. Just experiment with people and have fun. Build a repertoire of experiences with different kinds of people. Don't pressure yourself to get serious/permanent with someone just for the sake of having a partner. And if having a partner is what's important to you, don't waste time with people who don't share that goal. I've had multiple relationships with guys with whom I shared a lot in common, similar values and worldview, but no special spark. Some of these relationships I stayed in far longer than I should have. It's tempting to think that somehow you can will yourself into being in love with someone, or that you owe it to them to keep trying to be in love, just because they are such kind, likeable people. In my experience, if that spark doesn't develop fairly quickly, within the first few months, it's unlikely to. You might "settle" on some of the little things, like "we don't like the same music", or "the way he brushes his teeth is annoying," but you can't settle on the big stuff. Being excited about being with the person you're with is hugely important. I didn't settle. And eventually I found an awesome person, who also thought I was awesome. After almost a decade, we are still "in love". This was in my late thirties, so I spent a lot of time wondering if I ever would meet such a person.

I'm a straight female, but I'm not sure that being a gay male makes things any different. The fact that you are young probably has more to do with the difficulty of finding appropriate partners than the gay part. Most people your age haven't yet figured out what's important to them, and what they really want or need in a partner.

Having said this, I think that for a lot of people, what is good for them at 25 is not what is good for them at 45. So it may not be healthy to think in terms of "lifelong commitment". There's lots of fish in the sea (really, there are), and you've got a big life ahead of you, with a chance to have many meaningful relationships. Don't settle for not being totally happy.
posted by amusebuche at 9:44 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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