This piece was written pre-blog, in February 2005. It may even have been published somewhere. Self-deprecating as it is, it still made me seem a lot more worldly and experienced than I was (or am). I did a better job explaining gay bar culture in a 2007 piece for the Boston Globe, but this piece better captures the dorkiness of my thirties.
There was a time when gay bars meant the possibility of gay sex. In Boston, men went to Luxor and the Eagle to cruise other guys and, if they weren’t in any hurry to get home, to peruse the offerings at the “sidewalk sale” after the clubs closed at 2 a.m. But assuming you had any standards at all, sex wasn’t inevitable. Too many variables could louse things up.
Today everyone knows that the odds of finding a trick are much higher on the Internet. Get a somewhat flattering photo and describe yourself with the right 30 words, and you can’t fail. And that may be a problem: There’s no safety catch on the gun.
When I lived in the South End, there were always at least 50 reasons why a Saturday night wouldn’t end with sex, and none of them had anything to do with morality. Fear of AIDS was a factor, certainly, but it never stopped me from hoping that every Saturday night would end with sex. The complications were far more innocuous.
There were nights when I didn’t go out because I couldn’t figure out what to wear. Was it too cold to wear anything other than my dorky parka? (And would there be a coat check anyway?) Did that new black shirt look good with a white T — or did I look like a desperate priest?
Maybe I didn’t want to go out because I was afraid of running into a certain ex-boyfriend or that high-maintenance friend I’d been avoiding for months. Or I didn’t want to miss something on TV, or I felt a cold coming on, or I wanted to stay home and finish a work assignment (wanted to, but didn’t).
All those excuses kept me from the bars only about half the time. But when I did go out, there were plenty of other obstacles to hooking up. Sometimes I would run into a friend I hadn’t seen in months (had he been avoiding me?) and spend the whole evening talking to him. Occasionally, I would make the mistake of dancing, which would prompt half the men in the club to cross me off their lists. And a couple of times a year, I would take off my shirt while dancing, causing the other half to cross me off.
If I had one too many drinks, I’d go home alone to sleep it off. If I didn’t drink at all, I’d be too nervous to talk with anyone.
If I got bad vibes from a guy, I wouldn’t let him buy me a drink. If the bad vibes came later, I wouldn’t accept a second drink. If the bad vibes didn’t come until we had walked to his car, I’d tell him good night and hail a taxi.
Maybe I’d be hitting it off with someone, but I’d see him flirting with someone else as I made my way back from the bathroom. Sayonara! Or maybe he’d be in the bathroom, and someone would pull me aside to tell me that my possible pick-up was a thief, a carrier of VD, or, worst of all, a vicious gossip. Ciao!
Once in a while, I’d have a great time talking with a great guy and have no hesitation about leaving the bar with him. And then it might suddenly occur to both of us that what we’re really in the mood for is some fried squid in Chinatown. We’d go home separately — fat and satisfied.
So, despite my best intentions, few of my Saturday nights ended with sex. (I won’t get into numbers, because whatever I say will be shockingly high to some of you and hysterically low to others.) I’m sure that I missed out on some good times, but there were undoubtedly some nightmare scenarios that I’m lucky to have escaped.
Now you don’t need cruise bars to find your way to a new bedroom. I’ve even seen online personal ads from guys who promise to make things easier by leaving their doors unlocked and putting up signs to the bedroom. Soon they’ll be touting their proximity to subway stops and highway exits. Great sex and an easy commute!
But once you cross the threshold into someone’s house, the thought “I’m not sure this is a good idea” is replaced by “I’m here, so I might as well go through with it.” Your computer can zap you from “What should I wear?” to “What the hell, why not?” without any of the 50 pitfalls that used to leave me frustrated and alone. That’s progress, I suppose, but I’m not sure I can trust myself with it.