Over the course of my gay dating life, which began in 1985 when I came out at the age of 28, I’ve pined for many unavailable men. My late 20s, 30s, and 40s were full of unrequited lust and missed connections. I had a visual aesthetic, a deeply ingrained physical type, which grew more specific over the years as I was socialized into the dominant gay culture. Muscles, broad shoulders, smooth pecs and narrow waist, the classic swimmer’s v-shaped build, combined with blue or green eyes and a sweet smile have always gotten my pulse racing.
Over time, it became clear that my desire for gay jocks –- or men who looked like jocks –- was my way of compensating for what I lacked, or missed while I was growing up. As a boy, and then, as a young closeted man in college and beyond, I was drawn to athletic men who possessed the athletic prowess and other “manly” traits I never had. Growing up, I wanted to play team sports –- especially baseball –- but lacked the confidence and skill to enjoy the game, and avoid the taunts, (“You throw like a girl”) that quickly led me to give up playing the sport and become a spectator instead.
When I came out, I knew I didn’t quite fit my own aesthetic. An avid runner, I was in good shape. But building muscle had always been difficult for me; I carried my family’s lean genes and while I worked out, I didn’t take up residence at the gym. As I passed the age of 30, my smooth chest and shoulders were invaded by corky brown hair, another piece of my father’s legacy. Despite my wishful thinking, the ‘worked-out’ men I tended to notice in the bars or at group activities seemed to look through rather than at me, as if I were a hologram, as if I wasn’t there.
During the 1980s and ‘90s, I struggled with depression, another factor that made dates few and far between. Finally, in the early ‘00s, I began to feel better about myself, and ready for a more serious relationship. But by then, I looked around at my 40-something contemporaries and realized that I needed to loosen my standards, and to try to come up with more realistic criteria for desirable/datable men.
Still, old habits die hard, and even with a good measure of self-awareness, I tended to be drawn to men who were not available. For several years, I had an on-again/off-again relationship with a man who was a good friend but was clearly not interested in a one-on-one relationship or any type of commitment. I had several other flings with men who were willing to share their fine physiques without sharing much else, including any sense of intimacy or real connection.
But over the past few years I’ve been making a concerted effort to try something new. My biological clock has been ticking in my ears, reminding me that I’m in my 50s and that, if I want to experience a real relationship with requited love and connection, I’d better get moving –- and widen my definition of male beauty, and include some of the personal qualities I find attractive: kindness, a sense of humor, and a passion for life.
Last summer I met a man, about my age, who embodies some of the physical characteristics I find attractive. He is lean, relatively fit, and handsome. But he is not muscular, does not have a tight chest, and is not the embodiment of my youthful dreams. Still, he was available in a way my other brief connections have not, and actively pursued me. (The flip side: He isn’t “geographically desirable” as we live 600+ miles apart, and we weren’t able to spend the holidays together).
As I begin the New Year, I find myself getting closer to what I want –- or what I think I want –- the experience of loving and being loved, of having a relationship with a man who may not be my fantasy come to life, but who will be there for me on a daily basis, in a way my fantasy men have not.