(This is a 3-part series about relationships among gay men in Singapore.)
I was talking to a 23-year old guy today. He had just broken off from his relationship of 3 weeks, and he said that at one point, he was thinking about committing suicide.
When I was young, I had similar experiences – not the suicide though. So I thought that I could write about this, if it helps.
I started ‘dating’ guys from when I was 18. By ‘date’, I mean I would go out with them and hopefully get to know each other further to develop a relationship. But at that time, that would mean meeting them for the first time and becoming boyfriends instantly. Sounds familiar?
We might decide to become boyfriends with someone because maybe he looks good, he might have a nice personality or we felt we could ‘click’. It has become a bit more complex now, as compared to my time. Then, when you see a ‘good looking’ guy (note: “good looking” is used loosely in this article. There is no fixed and objective definition, nor is it meant to be a favourable or judgmental term), for most people, we might think that it’s ‘cool’ to be attached to a good looking guy – eye candy everyday, so why not, we think. But it’s more complex now. Some guys want to date good looking guys and be part of a good looking clique. There could be a variety of reasons – for example, you may find people of the same characteristics with you so that you can identify with one another. So, for some people, it’s because they play DOTA. For some, it’s because they have the same interests – perhaps fishing. For some, it’s because they share characteristics of being considered good looking, and they might feel there’s something more common to talk about.
For some people, if you feel that you are not able to be accepted as a gay person, you might want to hang out with people who have a ‘higher status’ among the gay community, so this association might make you feel less discriminated, by compensating with discrimination with perceived status. And so, some people might want to hang out with the so-called good looking guys, so that you might feel more acceptable within a community which you feel you might not yet find acceptable. So, for some, they want to belong to the good looking clique because of the status it confers, for example. I will explain this further below. But there are many reasons, of course.
Some guys are unhappy when a clique had ‘formed’, and they might feel that this clique is keeping themselves exclusive as THE group of good looking guys. Some guys might feel left out, and they might start judging these group of guys, or get upset with them.
For some of you reading this, this makes the gay community sound superficial. First, it sounds like we only like to date people who are good looking. Second, it sounds like we only want to hang out with people who are good looking. But of course, I’m only bringing discussing the issue of being ‘good looking’, as an illustration here. The reality is a lot more complex. There are many variations to gay relationships and friendships. I have brought this up, because of the relevance to the topic on finding love and because of the prevalence of how often I’ve been hearing about ‘looks’ recently.
The truth is guys are visual, so visual cues are necessarily used more frequently as key identifiers, and unfortunately, separators to define other groups of people. But visual cues are used among other identifiers, such as feeling comfortable with one another, a sense of humour, among others.
But identifiers are used by any person – straight, gay, Chinese, Malay, man, woman etc – to make sense of one another, and this is not unique to gay people. What perhaps makes it unique among the gay community is perhaps, how homogenous these cues have become. The main reasons why such cues become adopted at such a high frequency is because of the high intensity of interactions that gay people have with one another, especially in a cosmopolitan setting, like Singapore. Also, there are only a few specific venues where we see a higher concentration of gay men come together. Plus with the high level of usage of the Internet and mobile applications, the speed at which these social cues and behaviors get seen and adopted by other gay people become very quick.
So, in short, because of the high population density of our city, gay people meet each other at such an intense pace and speed that they learn to think and behave from one another very quickly. This also explains why it looks like many gay people dress up in the same way, or seemingly believe in the same ideas in the same way.
Back to good looking guys who seemingly hang out together, if we are able to take a step back, we understand that visual cues are only one of many reasons that are used when people identify one another to be friends with. There are gay people who come together because they can talk about the same things, who like to do the same things, such as going clubbing or going to watch a movie, for example.
But why do we get upset when we see people whom we think are good looking hang out together? There are several reasons. I would explore a few here. To come back to the topic of visual cues, even as there are other identifiers, visual cues is one of the most ‘influential’, because it’s the most easily identifiable cue. You can just see a ‘good looking’ guy – just like that, with your eyes. Thus being good looking has somehow been alleviated to become of a ‘higher’ status in that sense, due to the overt influence and identification. So, when we see a group of people who are good looking hang out together, we become jealous because first, we feel that since we are not part of the group where there is a ‘conferred’ status, we might think that we are not good looking enough. Second, we thus compare ourselves to them and it makes us feel lesser – lesser because of our comparison to the perceived ‘status’, and not to their looks. There are, of course, other reasons.
I’ve tried to launch into a lengthy explanation above about guys who are considered good looking and I hope that you are now better able to understand the complexity of how we perceive people. Being good looking is one identifier, out of many others, and because men are visual and visual identifiers necessarily get used more often because of their overtness, being good looking thus becomes alleviated to being a key identifier to define another person, because of the ease of identification. And because we’ve allowed ‘overt’ cues to be more influential, it has become seen as ‘superior’ to be considered good looking. And because of the intensity of how often we see each other, the idea of being good looking as an identifier which is seen as superior is spread very quickly, such that we adopt the idea that one needs to be good looking to be of worth.
If we can understand this, then when we see a group of people who are considered good looking hang out, we should know that they might do so because it’s a function of the social processes that were described above. We would know that we needn’t compare ourselves to them and feel lesser of ourselves. We need to be aware that we are comparing ourselves to the perceived conferred status, and not because of their looks. We do not need to think that if we aren’t part of that group, we aren’t good enough. Because there are many identifiers for group formation, and we’ve used one or the other ourselves, we shouldn’t thus judge another group for doing the same – it’s how all of us make sense of things – by understanding people through identifiers, or characteristics.
What this also mean is that we need to learn to have self belief and believe in our self worth, such that we have the confidence to believe in ourselves, and know that we don’t have to compare ourselves, just to make us feel better, or worse. Think about this a bit.
But I digress. The purpose of this article is to discuss about relationships. Why did I go into a lengthy discussion on looks? Because for this particular story in finding love, when we are young and we see someone for the first time, if he is good looking, we want to be with him. And because of the above reasons, we might want to be with him because it might confer a status symbol, for example. Also, we get to be attached to a good looking guy! It doesn’t matter whether we have something to talk about or if we can actually communicate! It doesn’t – because he is good looking and since we are visual, staring at him takes the cake – at least for when we are younger. So, that’s one reason.
But there’s also a deeper reason. Why do we want to ‘fall in love’ once we see a person for the first time and want to become boyfriends? The funny thing is, we get together immediately and thereafter, we might think that we don’t actually have that much to talk to him. You can’t really talk to him, like you can talk to your good friends. In fact, sometimes, you even have to come out with things to talk to him, and rack your brains in doing so. Then we tell our friends, “But I don’t really think I can communicate with him. We don’t really have much to talk about and I can’t talk to him like I do with you. But I love him and I want to be with him, but I don’t really know if we can work out.”
The reason could be this – when we see someone for the first time, we want to get into a relationship with this person immediately because, actually, we could be lonely. We could be looking for the feeling of intimacy. We might want to feel loved, and not so much to love itself. And since this guy comes along, he’s hot and lean and fit and all that, and we think he looks really good so we think, we can be with him! Then, we conjure up ideas in our mind about how I really love him because there is this connection – because he is the guy I want to be for the rest of my life, because I feel that he understands me etc.
But does he? Is he really who he is, or are you imagining it? Are you creating your idea of who he is, because you want him to fit into your idea of a Prince Charming, or is because that’s who he really is? After some time, we get to know him better and then we start to think, “You know, he’s no longer the guy I used to know. He has changed.” But of course he has. Wait, actually he hasn’t. Your understanding of him has changed. You had created all those ideas of who he is, because these ideas are what you want in a guy – the romantic notions you’ve learnt to dream about, and you had supplanted them onto him. As you get to know him further and the initial ‘honeymoon’ (as they would call it) fade away, you finally actually start to get to know him, and you start to really understand him and see him for who he is. And if you had never really known him then, you might or might not like what you are starting to see.
So, what’s the issue here? First, we have to understand how we look for love. Second, we have to understand how we go about developing a ‘relationship’. As said, we might go into a relationship because we are lonely. We might feel that we don’t love ourselves, or we don’t feel loved, and so we hope to find someone whom we hope can love us, who can replace that emptiness or loneliness inside us. And so, when someone comes along, we hope he can do that. And so, we start imagining beautiful things about him (which if we had just gotten to know him, are most probably not true about him) – what are we doing here?
We have a notion of what a relationship that we hope for is, so we cancel the process of getting to know someone, by implanting what we want from that imaginary perfect person onto him, to replace the process of knowing him. Then we fasten the process again by deciding to ‘love’ him, based on this ideals that we’ve implanted onto him. Effectively, we’ve tried to develop a fairy tale romance that we’ve always dreamed of and pasted them onto this person we just got to know. In fact, it can be anyone! And that is why we go in and out and in and out of a relationship, one after another, because we keep going through this process of supplanting our ideals onto each person we meet. And we ask, why don’t any of our relationships work? Why do we keep getting attached and breaking off? Is it because we are not good enough? Why do I keep meeting the wrong guy? Am I not many to have a relationship? Do I not know how to love?
No. All these ideas are have become part of a story that you’ve inadvertently created – developing ideals and replacing the person you know with them, without giving the person a chance for you to really know him. And as explained, it could be because you are wanting to find someone to replace an inner emotional need inside you, more than looking to find someone and learning more about them.
If you stop yourself for a bit and think, the truth is, for some of us at least, we want to feel love and so we try to turn any person whom we meet, whom we think satisfy our basic wants of a guy, and focus our attention of turning them into our ‘love-giver’. So, we have to be be aware of this – do we feel an inner need inside us? A loneliness, a wanting to be loved? And many of us do. Truth is, we grow up being unclear about what it means to be gay, or what it means to like guys. We are unsure – when we have a relationship with another guy, what should we do? Is it like a straight relationship? So as we learn to understand what other gay people and relationships are like, we make sense from by learning from the people we meet.
Then, when we get to know more gay people, and start to date some of them, we realise that if they are meeting us for the first time, and when they decide to be together with us, then we think – oh, so this is what a gay relationship is like! You meet a guy for the first time and then you immediately become attached! So, you learn from them! And then, things keep on not working out, and like many other gay guys, you start feeling ‘jaded’. You start thinking that gay relationships cannot last. You start thinking that, maybe I should just have sex, maybe I don’t want a relationship – I don’t want to go through the hurt of breaking off with someone again and again. And so, we stop looking for relationships. We start just having sex, since, hey again, everyone is just having sex too! And then we look down on the gay community – we think that it’s all about sex, we think that gay people are promiscuous and we think that gay people are hopeless. We become part of the community we criticize and we live with it. And we became disappointed with the community and with ourselves and we start to lose hope.
But wait! Why haven’t we even stop to think why this is the case? Why don’t we even stop to understand what we are doing? We go with the flow because since everyone else is doing it, it must be right – gay relationships cannot exist, it’s all about sex and I will be lonely for the rest of my life.
If you’ve read carefully throughout this article, you would know where I’m trying to get at by now. We have learnt from the people we meet and follow what they do, without reflecting on what it really means for us, and why we do certain things. We need to look into our lives, understand how it had been developing and how our beliefs and mindsets have developed from them – and whether we can, with this renewed understanding, do something about them.
In the next part, we will look into this further and discuss how we can better manage relationships which don’t work out.
Part 2 can be found here.
Part 3 can be found here.