Call me old fashioned (or make me one), but …
By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
One of the gym’s unsung perks is eavesdropping. I’ve almost forgotten that I used to go for endorphins and stress-reduction; cold reality has set in and I realize my greatest fantasy would be hiring someone to work out for me, so I’ve unearthed tricky new ways to maintain my routine. (I’m convinced I’m one nacho party away from unfettered corpulence.) Thus, I’ve taken my fascination with people-watching, turned it into unapologetic eavesdropping, and I schlepp it to the gym with me every weekday morning.
For listening in on conversations that I have no business hearing, my neighborhood fitness center beats its closest competitors. (A close second is listening in on bridge and tunnel folk who fill up the Northwest avenues — ladies who read signs and banners aloud to friends like they’re breaking news.) People conducting conference calls on treadmills, elliptical to elliptical bitching, stair-master scolding — I can’t get enough. Half the time my headphones aren’t even piping sweet music into my ears.
During one of my recent visits, I was splayed out on of those stretching contraptions set up next to the spin room (24 Hour Pearl-goers, you know the ones). You don’t really stretch as much as you worry about spinners behind you catching unseemly glimpses of your backside and gym panties. Anyway, on that day, I was flanked by straight male counterparts who decided to talk dating. Head down, averting my gaze, I listened.
The gentlemen, who were probably around my age (read: not young), bragged about current, young, sexy flings. One talked about sitting through that “chick shit ‘Hunger Games’” (that classification was beyond me) in order to secure sexy times later. Truckloads of inane drivel followed as the two of them ostensibly whipped out and compared their manhood there in front of me. When it came to specifics, though — like names — they hesitated.
“Nah, bro, I don’t wanna …OK, Kate. It’s Kate. But you never know in this tiny fucking pool, you may have banged her.” (I wish I fabricated that beautiful monologue. Nope, verbatim.)
I didn’t find the objectification jarring, per se — lord knows we gays do it too, and to equally unsavory lengths. It was this: these guys, with a much larger group of “dates” to choose from, share the same concerns my friends and I do. And, in addition to small pool concerns, these men, who projected nothing but coolness and control, lamented the ambiguity of their circumstances. “It’s hard to know what to call it. We keep saying we’re ‘just hanging out.’”
My friend Ryan’s favorite soapbox lecture involves his annoyances with people who insist on labeling things. Relationships should just evolve naturally, he says; nothing should be explicitly declared. Nature and fate will run their combined, collective course. Over time, I’ve conceded a little on those points. I can see how the apparently sane, calm approach might eventually win people over. Then, the 30-something in me seizes control and I demand to know why the passive aggressive culture in this city always prevails. Why can’t we say: “Let’s go on a date?” Everything’s a euphemism. We call concerts “shows,” we call fucking “hanging out.” Please.
Two of my closest friends recently embarked on serious, live-in situations. (My best to them.) One sort of jumped right in (they lived together after a couple of months) — and he faced all the tougher questions head-on, unapologetically declaring his lover his mate and happily embracing wedded bliss. The other treaded much more carefully, for months dismissing the seriousness of his situation, until titles and living situations were thrust upon him and reality could no longer be denied.
Now, for him, it’s a barrage of questions about relationship/life balance: “How do I talk about going out alone?” After the shock of me again offering solicited relationship advice wore off, I explained there’s no hard and fast rule; each couple just sort of figures it out. But, rest assured, the more direct you are, the better. Ambiguity won’t do anyone any favors down the road.
I spent our lone sunny March weekday talking to someone fresh out of a long-term relationship, who explained in great detail his aversion to social networking (Grindr). We also discussed his necessary next steps before embarking on any long-term romantic adventures (promiscuity).
“Call me old-fashioned,” he said. “I want to meet a boy at a bar and take him home.”
In that conversation, we recapped our social circle’s most recent exploits. For each one who rushed things, there’s another who exercised excruciating amounts of caution. For every “hook-up,” there’s an actual friendship. Everyone’s about the same level of content. Perhaps the only rule is that there aren’t any. Successful relationships are blind, dumb luck, a mix of variables mostly beyond anyone’s control.
In the interim, I’ll just be over here, rooting for the death of ambiguity.
Formerly Lady about Town, Daniel now crafts TLC for your monthly reading (dis)pleasure. He can be reached at [email protected].