I’m a single man in my mid-30s. I was something of a monogamist throughout my 20s with only three relationships by 30. I’ve now been single for six years. I’ve had one relationship that I felt very happy in, but it didn’t work out. My problem is, having experienced what I’d consider to be a “good” relationship, I’m now finding it very difficult to find another. Finding someone I fancy and like (in the friendship sense) and who likes and fancies me is like searching for a needle in a haystack. I’ve met guys I fancy and guys I like, and sometimes even guys I like and fancy, but never one where it’s been reciprocated. Maybe I’m being a bit idealistic, but it seems to take gay men longer to settle down than their straight brothers and sisters. Should I be more flexible? I suppose I’m looking for reassurance that aspiring to have this type of connection is a reasonable thing to be pitching for.
This letter appeared first in the Observer
I like this letter. It seems simple at first, but somehow descends into chaos. You start off describing your relationship history (in numbers only) and then you go into this like/fancy, fancy/like stuff and you wonder if you’re asking too much in your search for both, if your difficulty is somehow to be found in gay culture and whether what you’re looking for really exists.
You ask if you “should” be more flexible, as though there are rules for finding the perfect mate and you just haven’t quite pinned them down yet.
What, I wonder, would being flexible mean? Having sex with someone you like but don’t fancy, or having sex with someone you fancy but don’t like?
You ask if you’re being idealistic in wanting to have a good relationship and seek reassurance that you’re not. You actually say what you want from your letter – you want the newspaper columnist to say that what you’re looking for is out there, just be patient and keep trying. Did she say that, I wonder? If so, win win.
But what are you really saying? I think you sound very confused by this separation of traits, as though liking and fancying someone are completely different things, not to be discussed together. There’s nothing to suggest in your letter that you might start with one thing and develop into the other, it’s as though they are distinct from each other in your mind. If you can’t put them together in your thinking then it seems unlikely that someone else will be able to bring them together for you (especially by embodying them both!).
You don’t give any history so I’m entirely out on a limb, but all your like/fancy confusion sounds as though you find it very difficult to reconcile sexual desire (perhaps experienced in your mind as negative or base in some way) with liking someone in a friendly way (possibly experienced in your mind as pure and positive). My suspicion (and it can only be a suspicion, obviously) is that you have a bit of virgin/whore thing going on. Just because your like/fancy stuff is so confused and fragmented and “good” was awarded inverted commas in your text.
I suspect you denigrate people you’re strongly physically attracted to because you feel there is something negative attached to that desire (and you perhaps feel denigrated by people who fancy you). And I suspect you elevate people you’re not physically attracted to as somehow being “above” sex so that sexual attraction can’t develop out of friendship.
Obviously, everyone finds the search for an ideal partner like looking for a needle a haystack, but perhaps in your case it’s a particularly good analogy you’ve chosen. The needle is the sex and the haystack is the purity and it’s pretty useless looking for one in the other. You want to be reassured that someone’s going to come along if you keep looking, but I’m not sure if you’ll recognise them until you get your internal splitting sorted out.
I’d suggest you look at your own thinking – about why you may feel you don’t deserve the full package of an intimate sexual friendship and about why you separate the two things in your mind in the first place. You wonder whether simply being gay might be the cause of your difficulty and it might be – but not, I think, in the way you suggest. It may be that you haven’t quite sorted out what being a settled couple would mean for you and how sex fits together with intimacy.
I’d like to know about your mum and dad, about early feeding experience (because your letter has a Kleinian good breast/bad breast feel), about your first sexual experiences, who is benign in your mind and who not, but you don’t say any of that, so I’ll have to leave it here!
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