When do you have the serious questions with that new guy you’re dating?
You’ve been dating someone for a while now. He’s become a part of your life. On the scale of satisfaction that goes from “better than watching Law and Order reruns alone” to “can’t remember a time when I’ve been this happy,” he calls somewhere in the upbeat range.
You’ve moved past the first stage of dating (seeing if there’s enough interest to continue dating him). Maybe you are in stage two (you like him and are getting to know him better) or early stage three (exploring commitment). An itch starts to develop in one or both of you that has tinges of both sweetness and anxiety, a need to know: Are we boyfriends? Where is this dating thing going?
It’s not likely that the two of you will arrive at this place simultaneously, so tact and patience are as important as openness here. If you’ve got an urge to ask the question too early – say, before dessert on the first date – you’re being over-anxious. You need to know your new guy before you can know if you’re headed for more than casual dating; don’t let yourself get too serious too fast.
Getting to know someone takes time and energy. You start investing yourself and you want to be reasonably certain that he’s doing the same. If you’ve been dating a while and you’re really smitten with the guy, but he’s still dating several other people, it’s going to feel risky to keep putting all your eggs in his basket. This is one of those places where heterosexuals have more language for relationship stages than gay folks. Gay couples don’t have language like “going steady” or “fiancé.” So we need to talk it through.
The other reason to have the conversation is just the opposite: you’re concerned he’s more devoted than you’re comfortable with right now. Either way, it’s time to talk. In the stages of dating model mentioned above, you’re really having a conversation about where you are in stage two and whether you’re both ready for stage three.
There are lots of jokes about straight men that have trouble committing to their girlfriends, but something the opposite seems to be happening in our community. All the talk about equal marriage rights seems to be making some of us over-eager to walk down the aisle. Some of us have become quick to commit and we need to slow down. If we try to move through the getting-to-know-you stage too quickly, there will be hell to pay down the road.
For gay men, part of this conversation may involve talking about monogamy. Many of us aren’t comfortable being sexual with someone who is also sexual with other people; we need a contract of exclusivity somewhere in the dating process. Making a commitment to monogamy is no small thing, and it’s also not a foregone conclusion in gay male relationships.
Before bringing up the idea of commitment you’ll want to know what he thinks about sexual exclusivity in more general terms. If he’s had other relationships, were they open or closed? Does he have strong opinions one way or the other? Have you shared your own feelings and values? How well do they fit with his? He may be a great guy, but if his values are significantly different from yours a relationship is going to feel like rolling a boulder uphill.
“Where are we?” isn’t a conversation you have just once, so don’t worry the issue to death. Talking things through is part of the ongoing process of getting to know your guy and letting him get to know you.
John R. Ballew, M.S. author & contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org. or at (404) 874-8536.