It was a Saturday night and, lacking anything better to do, my best friend Kole and I walked down to the gay bar a few blocks from my apartment, a divey little place with tables and chairs and a nice back patio. We showed our IDs at the door and walked the perimeter of the place, looking at the patrons as they nursed their drinks, everyone checking everyone else out.
“Let’s just get one drink,” Kole said. “My treat.”
I hesitated. “I drank last night. Not really sure I want anything.”
“Come on, two bachelors out on the town on a Saturday night. One drink.” Kole smiled and I rolled my eyes.
“All right, one drink.”
“What do you want?”
Kole walked over to the empty bar and smiled at the bartender. “We’ll take two drinks, something sweet. Surprise us.” Then for the next few minutes, the bar tender mixed different colored beverages in two mason jars, stuck straws in them, and handed them over. They were much larger drinks than we had planned, but when in Rome, and soon we were seated at a corner table taking sips as we talked about life.
Kole is a unique friend, and one of my favorite people. We can laugh, be obnoxious, and be adventurous, and we can kick back and be serious and there for each other during the tough times. We spent some time being snarky, laughing about inside jokes, then the buzz from the sicky-sweet started to kick in. Normally, I’m pretty happy when drinking, I get silly and want to dance. That night, though, the alcohol seemed to have the opposite impact, and I got sad and serious.
Kole, who had recently broken up with the last guy he was dating, lamented about the simple things it takes in relationships to help him be happy. He took another sip from his drink. “Have I ever told you about the date where I knew I fell in love Todd?” Todd was Kole’s ex-husband; they had split just a few years ago after Todd had cheated on Kole with a younger guy.
I shook my head. “You haven’t.”
Kole twisted his lips up, a bit sad, thinking. “I had to cancel a date with him pretty early on in the relationship cause of some family stuff. He checked in on me, didn’t get mad, and later he picked me up and took me for a picnic where he had all of my favorite foods prepared. None of it went together. Vanilla Coke, Stovetop stuffing, and Twix bars. He did all of those things just for me. I knew it then. We had a good marriage for a long time, and I could overlook the bad things cause he did sweet things for me. He always had a Coke and a candy bar waiting for me at home when I had a bad day. He was always there when I came back. But over time, things changed. He started lying to me, then cheating. I think I might hate him now. But I can’t seem to find anyone who will care about me in the same way.”
I thought for a moment, looking at Kole with narrowed eyes as I came to a realization. “You know why dating isn’t working for you, don’t you?”
Kole shook his head, surprised. “No. Why?”
“Because you are looking for him.”
I nodded, sitting my drink down after one more sip. “Yeah. You are looking for your ex-husband. Or at least the way things were when things were good with him. You’re looking for someone who does things the way he did things.”
Kole looked surprised, then tilted his head as he chewed on that information for a minute. “You’re right. I can see that. But is that so wrong?”
“It absolutely isn’t wrong to want to be someone’s priority. But you’re never gonna find that. I mean, sure, you can find someone to date and care about you and put you first, but they won’t ever do it in the way that he did. It will be in the way they do it. Instead of picnics, it will be notes on the mirror, or instead of Cokes, it’ll be bear hugs at the end of the day. I closed my eyes tight, feeling my head spin from the alcohol a bit, like little wires of stress loosening in my brain. It felt wonderful. “I mean, we all look for what is familiar, right? And we all seem to turn down whatever doesn’t match that.”
I leaned forward in the chair, having some sort of epiphany on dating in my alcohol haze, like suddenly it all made sense. “We’re in the age of instant gratification, right? Look at all the lame reasons we rule people out for dating. They didn’t text back fast enough. Too old, too young. They only bottom or only top or aren’t versatile enough. They don’t have the same kinks I do. They’re too tall, they’re still in college, they want kids or have kids or don’t want kids. They’re too sensitive or not sensitive enough. They smoke, they are a recovering addict, they live too far away.”
I sat back then, gesturing with raised hands and talking just a bit too loud. “Everybody’s ruling everybody else out because they aren’t a picture perfect expression of exactly what they are looking for. And we’re gay, which makes it worse. Men are all logical, more head than heart anyway, and growing up gay meant hiding yourself or feeling broken or whatever. The cards are totally stacked against us.”
I rested my elbows on the table and put my head in my hands, suddenly tired. I half-expected the Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby to come on. “Ah, look at all the lonely people.”
“It’s just how it all works. Adam wants Ben who wants Charlie but Charlie only wants what David and Edward have and Frank doesn’t think anyone wants him and George doesn’t want anyone.” I took my long last drink, slurping up the remains from the ice cubes at the bottom, impressed with my alphabetical naming skills.
“But you’re totally gonna find someone, man. You’re one of the good ones.” I looked up, my brilliant speech finally concluded. I reached over the table, grasped Kole’s hand with a tight squeeze. “One day at a time, brother.”
“You too, Chad.” Kole squeezed my hand back, and then suddenly I was laughing, my chin dropped to my chest and my eyes closed. “What? What’s so funny?”
I laughed harder. “It’s Saturday night and we are buzzed in a bar and having this conversation. Oh god, we are those drunks.”
Two days later, Kole and I got coffee together. As we chatted, we took out our phones and opened up Grindr, the gay-chatting app. We compared notes on the guys we were looking at, starting chats with some, ignoring others, being ignored by others still, ruling out this one for this reason and that one for that reason, just like every other gay in the city.
And on another Saturday night soon me and Kole and so many others would wonder why we hadn’t found the one yet.