Relationship Tips for Gay Men
By: Gregory E. Koch, Psy.D. | July 1, 2022
…and anyone smart enough to read this article
In 2014, I attempted my first 5-day backpacking trip. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first mountaineer to summit Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen, once said, “It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.” I remember feeling something very similar after my much less significant achievement. I learned that climbing a mountain was much more than a physical feat. The real challenge was cultivating a positive mindset and facing the mental challenge. I felt as if I was conquering myself with every step forward. I knew that if I allowed the self-doubt and inner critic to take over, the next step might head me down the mountain instead of up it. The reward of such work was the camaraderie with my fellow trekkers and the knowledge that challenging tasks are possible with perseverance.
Reflecting on this experience reminds me of what it’s like to tackle the adventure of dating. The prospect of nurturing a romantic relationship can seem quite daunting, but the reward of perseverance and hard work is the deep connection and intimacy we enjoy with our partners.
You can reap the benefits of being in a healthy and stable romantic relationship. To help you get there, I share tips that I learned in my work with couples and those seeking to improve intimacy. While these tips pertain primarily for gay men, they have broad relevance to other communities, as well.
Tips for romantic relationships:
The first thing is to get started. Put yourself out there. Take the risk. You can’t get what you don’t ask for, so ask that hotty out on a date.
2. Attraction is purely subjective.
If someone is not into you, it’s not personal. We can’t control who is attracted to us. The mechanisms that determine if the person is attracted to you were present long before you met them. If there isn’t a mutual attraction, move on…there’s someone better out there for you.
3. Take your time.
I can’t tell you how often I hear the story of people getting hot and bothered about someone immediately after meeting them. They can hear wedding bells ringing after the first date! Slow…down. Try referring to the early times together as simply “hanging out” rather than “dating” to reduce the emotional intensity. If you find yourself outpacing the other person, be aware of your emotions, take a step back and let the other person catch up. By slowing down, you will take the pressure off the relationship, which is a real turn-on.
4. The purpose of dating is to find out if someone is a good match.
If the relationship doesn’t evolve after the first few meetings, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. Just because someone wasn’t a good match for you doesn’t mean that your attempt was a failure. Having the courage to put yourself out there is in and of itself an accomplishment. By doing so you have learned something valuable about yourself, and you are now free to put energy into the next person. Be patient with yourself: finding the right match often takes longer than you think it should.
5. Date and have relationships with people who are available.
A lot of the “games” people play in the dating scene are because they fear getting close to others. Choose relationships with people who aren’t afraid to tell you how they feel and ask for what they need. Practice sharing your feelings with potential partners, as well, even though it may be scary at first.
6. Abandon hopeless relationships.
I can’t stress this enough. You deserve a fulfilling and enriching relationship. If your emotional needs aren’t being met in a relationship, talk to your partner. Tell them how you feel and try to work together to find a solution. If, after time you still aren’t getting what you need, it’s time to say goodbye.
7. Ask for what you want.
You can’t always get what you ask for, but you certainly can’t get what you don’t ask for. Take the risk, it often pays off. If you don’t get what you want, you will still feel satisfied knowing that you did your best, and that you learned something in the process.
8. Allow others to have their feelings.
You and the person(s) you are in a relationship with are individuals. You are all entitled to your feelings and should have the right to express them. Navigating the complexity of differing emotions is what it takes to be in a healthy relationship.
9. Claim space for yourself.
Human romantic partners didn’t evolve to be together all the time. It’s important to spend time apart. Take a vacation by yourself each year (your partner can do the same). If one of your partner’s best friends is intolerable to you, that’s alright! Give that time to your partner. Learn how to take space for yourself and give space to your partner. Coming back together will be even sweeter.
10. Normalize a range of body types.
There is a lot of pressure in the gay community to meet “ideal” body standards. Beauty exists outside of these narrow parameters. Many of us internalize a rigid definition of beauty beginning at an early age, leading to feelings of shame and criticism in our communities. If you and your partner(s) want healthy self-esteem and body image, step away from the harmful messaging of diet culture and embrace your natural body type, even if it differs from what society tells you is “ideal.”
11. Normalize gender differences.
Embrace and learn to love the differences in gender expression in our communities. When we do this as gay men, we find more love for ourselves and start to let go of the internalized homophobia that we carry with us.
12. “Celebrate your gay.”
Celebrate your queerness. Be yourself in as many spaces as possible. Learn to accept yourself and your partner and let go of the burden of guilt related to being gay. When others can’t celebrate with you, it’s okay to set boundaries that protect you from the shame others try to place on you. In some cases, you may need to revisit tip #6. It’s not fair to you, or your partners when you have to apologize for being who you are. You certainly don’t see non-queer people apologizing for being cisgender and straight! Level the playing field by celebrating who you are.
Being in a healthy romantic relationship requires a lot of hard work. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, lost, and confused in the process. Past traumas, internalized homophobia and external stressors can all interfere with your ability to positively relate to your partner. If you are having trouble expressing your emotions, or asking for what you need in your relationship, consider Couples Therapy. Working with a professional San Diego Psychologist will help you and your partner learn tools and strategies to help you work together to accomplish your goals. You deserve to enjoy an intimate, healthy, and uplifting relationship. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with a member of the Therapy Changes team who will help get you there.