DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a question which is a bit different from your usual fare, but I hope you can help me with.
I’m a gay man in my 20s and I like to go out with my friends. Many of these friends are single women, who are interested in finding – if not the man of their dreams, then at least the man of their immediate needs.
But – here I profess to have no clue how you heteros operate – when I’m out with my friends, especially if it’s just me and one woman, every guy will assume I am her boyfriend. This is good for weeding out creeps, like the ones who will apologise to me for talking to her (she gets to choose who she talks to, even if we were dating). But isn’t so good for my friends, or for more awkward guys who wouldn’t even try to join our conversation or when we’re having a dance. My friends like awkward guys.
I’m about as camp as you can get away with in a straight bar, but I know a lot of guys have no gaydar at all, so short of wearing my ‘Too gay to function’ t-shirt everywhere – how can I project that my friend and I aren’t a couple?
We already do things like not touching overly when we dance, sitting in a way that’s open to the room, don’t flirt at all, we take turns buying drinks. How can I make sure I’m only cock-blocking the guys I know my friends don’t want anything to do with?
Talk To Me, Goose
DEAR TALK TO ME, GOOSE: Welcome to the world of messed up gender dynamics, where seeing a man and a woman together socially means they have to be a couple.
The biggest issue you and your friends have isn’t you, it’s what’s going on in those awkward dudes’ heads. Making a cold approach to a woman who’s with her friends can be incredibly intimidating. The approach anxiety they’re feeling is bad enough, but now it feels like they have to run the gauntlet of judgement full of people who’re just itching for a chance to shoot him down and humiliate him. And if there’s a guy there? Now they’re worried that she’s got a boyfriend who’s going to beat the snot out of him for talking to “his” girl. The more confident or socially experienced guys know better, but they’re also better at reading signals. They’re more likely to take the initiative, to read the social cues and to simply ask how everybody knows everybody else if they’re unsure.
Sadly, that doesn’t help you or your friend. Unless you have the ability to magically shut up the cute awkward guy’s jerkbrain or edit out these anxieties, there’s really not much you can do to keep these people from jumping to conclusions about your presence. It can be hard to read behavioral cues you mention from across a crowded bar, especially if they don’t know to look for them. Unless they’ve studying you, it’s unlikely that those awkward guys have noticed that you’re alternating buying drinks (honestly, even I would be hard pressed to notice that). Playing up the camp side of your personality only travels so far; if they’re not close enough to hear you (and in a loud venue, that’s gonna be pretty damn close) then they may not pick up on it. Many of these awkward shy guys tend to assume “talking together” is the same as “flirting”. Remember: these are usually guys who’re looking for reasons that justify why they shouldn’t approach. Everything becomes fodder for the worst-case-scenario running in their heads.
And even if they do realize that you’re gay and thus no competition (ugh, I hate that mindset) , you’re still part of the audience that they feel will be judging them.
Honestly, I think the best thing you and your friend can do is to be exceedingly obvious about signaling interest to the guys they’re interested in. If your friend catches that cute awkward guy’s eye and gives the “come over here” gesture or head nod, they’re much more likely to suck it up and approach and you’re better able to give off the “gay best friend” (hooray for stereotypes!) vibe rather than “get away from my woman”.
The other possibility is to go up to likely prospects yourself and bring them over for your friend. If there’s a cute awkward guy your friend has her eye on, it may well be worth your going over to him and telling him “My friend over there thinks you’re really cute and she’s too shy to tell you that she wants you to come talk to her.” It removes the ambiguity of “is she really sending signals or am I imagining things” and helps establish that you’re not a “threat” to them.
You may have to have an excuse to pull your friend away if the guy turns out to be a creep – can’t really do the “emergency boyfriend” card when you’ve brought her a flirting partner – but this will help keep you from freezing out the guys she wants to meet by accident.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been married for 10 years. My husband is a good companion, but our sex life has been tricky. Basically, I feel like the default settings of marriage (monogamy, a focus on intercourse, vanilla or male dominant sex, an expectation to communicate sexual needs nonverbally) are designed to meet his needs and not mine. I thought we were working toward an acceptable compromise, but then a terrible thing happened.
I got his permission to have my ex send me sexy photos. I asked her to send me a sexy audio recording, which I assumed was in the same spirit. (This was utterly stupid of me, I realize. I should have asked specifically about each file format.) Both the ex and I had a much stronger emotional response to the audio recording than I expected, so we agreed to stop flirting online at least until I’d got it sorted with my husband, and possibly forever.
I told my husband that things had gotten a little intense with the ex, so we’d decided to cool it with the flirting, and he freaked out. He said he didn’t want to hear any more and demanded that I stop speaking to my ex block her on all social media. I did what he told me to do. The ex was understandably hurt and upset, and I feel terrible about the way I treated her. If I pretend that none of it happened, my husband acts like his usual nice self, but if I mention her (or start crying about her), he gets angry and accuses me of being selfish. I can’t apologize to her, because he has said that I can’t contact her, and I’m not going to go behind his back.
I know I destroyed the friendship with my ex permanently, and that’s really sad, but survivable. But there are also repercussions for my marriage. I am afraid of trying the poly thing again. It’s not ethical to make people vulnerable and then cut them off like that. My husband says he’s OK with exploring polyamory, but I don’t trust him not to freak out and issue an ultimatum. I’m fine being monogamous for now while we build trust and communication, but I am going to feel miserable and stifled if we have to be monogamous forever. Also, I feel really hurt about the fact that he forced me to choose between our marriage and my friendship in such a harsh way, and that he refuses to talk to me about it.
Is my marriage over? Are there things I can do to make it not over (that do not require a time machine)? Help!
-No Clever Name
DEAR NO CLEVER NAME: Your husband’s behavior has torpedoed any chance of an ethically non-monogamous relationship, NCN. He can talk about “being ok with exploring polyamory” all he wants, but his behavior says this is a bad idea. Jealousy and envy happen in every relationship, but the way he handled his feelings was immature as hell.
Opening up a relationship – even if it’s only to some sexy flirting with no real potential for follow-through – requires open, clear and honest communication from both parties. You both have to be able to say “Hey, I’m feeling X right now, can we talk about this?” and find ways of working through things together. That’s part of how you build the trust and security needed for being monogamish. Emotional explosions, ultimatums, tantrums and threats are the opposite of open communication.
Let’s look at the specifics in your case: you realized that your activities were starting to cross a line and made a mutual agreement to take a few steps back. This is unquestionably a good thing; it speaks volumes to the relationship you and your ex have and the respect you have for your relationship with your husband. Then you, in the spirit of openness and honesty, explained to your husband that things were getting to be too much and you decided to stop flirting with your ex for a while. Again: totally reasonable. You’re literally telling your husband that you recognized that things were going beyond what you’d agreed to and you were putting your relationship with him first.
Apparently your husband stopped listening before you got to the “…so we decided to stop, possibly for good,” and promptly freaked out. By refusing to hear any more and forbidding you from seeing them, he’s effectively shut down any possible communication between the two of you on this issue and any issue regarding open relationships – including if he’s actually OK with them. This makes it impossible to discuss anything; how can you be open about how you’re feeling if he’s just going to start hurling accusations and guilting you into obedience?
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying he was bad for getting envious, or that he’s bad because being monogamish may not be for him or for feeling insecure. Hearing your significant other tell you that they started having an intense emotional surge for an ex is understandably upsetting even in the most secure of relationships. The problem is how he handled it and is continuing to handle it.
It would be one thing if, after his freak-out, he was able to say “OK, I had a bad reaction and the things you said about your ex made me feel insecure. Let’s talk about this.” Instead, he continues to throw tantrums if you even hint at the fact that losing a good friend hurts. I certainly don’t expect people, especially people who may not have had any experience with open relationships, to be perfect communicators right off the bat, but if he can’t recognize that you’re saying to him “I chose you over my ex” or to express his feelings in ways other than “NOOOOOOO”, then that doesn’t speak well for their relationship skills in general.
So my question for you is: how much do you want this relationship to work? Do you feel that there’s enough good left in it that this can be repaired? If so, then I strongly suggest that you hie yourselves to a sex-positive relationship counselor – you can find one at The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists – and work on communicating and dealing with issues envy and insecurity. And I’m going to be blunt with you: It’s going to take a lot of work to repair what happened. And it still may not work out.
If you don’t feel that this is something that you can repair or that is worth repairing, or that your husband will work to repair… well, then you’ve got a decision to make.
But I want to re-emphasize: you did everything right here. This is on your husband, not you.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how things go.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)