I have found the concept of “gay years” useful to explain the perceived rapid aging and fall from grace that many of us perpetrate and fall victim to.
Gay years, the explanation goes, are like dog years – they whirl past at about three times the speed of regular heterosexual years, and by the time we reach 28, we are actually considered to be about 40 (they are pegged to regular years until 18, at which point gay ageing hits the accelerator, leaving the rest of the world to enjoy suburban school lift clubs and gentle adulthood).
The fear of premature gay ageing is cause for a lot of insecurity, unhappiness, increasing desperation at finding a mate before it’s too late, and may be partly responsible for the booming male cosmetics industry. (Perhaps the whole thing was orchestrated from the Lab Series HQ?)
But, at drinks the other night, while a friend of mine attempted to console me over my recent break-up he brought up an entirely new definition of a gay year: the amount of time a person has been gay.
Now I obviously don’t mean the actual amount of time a person has been gay, since I am firmly on Team Nature in the Great Nature-vs-Nurture Debate (I think sexual orientation is genetic, as integral to our coding as our eye colour or height or intelligence). But a gay year then, is the amount of time elapsed since a person accepted him- or herself as gay; with all the attendant life events and traumas such as coming out to your friends and family, venting in therapy, having sex, and being okay with the fact that you’re better at making salads than braai-ing.
And the problem, according to my friend, was that despite my ex and I being exactly the same age (to within a week), he is only one in gay years. A toddler. Not even out of nappies. And I am the grand old age of ten (or thirty, if we’re combining gay year definitions). And as ridiculous as it sounds, that really does help to explain what went wrong.
“It is really only the gay history that counts when it comes to gay relationships…”
“Don’t you remember all the stupid things you did when you were one?” my friend asked. “You fell for all the wrong people. You were attracted to traits you didn’t even like in people. It’s all so exciting and overwhelming and confusing and new that you cling to any sense of stability that you find in someone. I know that I just could not let go of my first boyfriend, even though he was a complete dick to me and gave me no reason to think there was any reason to hang around.”
At which point I vociferously agreed that I had been pretty much the same. I had even broken up with someone because a year after breaking up with my first ever boyfriend I had seen him again on a visit to London and realised I was still in love with him. There was no point to it; no chance of us getting back together. And in retrospect we are much better friends than we were ever boyfriends, but only hindsight is 20:20.
In those early days you’re likely to get it into your head that your first “real” boyfriend is the one who is perfect for you, in spite of all the evidence. I had always thought it was like that for everyone – gay or straight, boy or girl. But, having now dated someone who is one in gay years but 26 in real years, I’ve realised that relationships with girls don’t count. He hadn’t got any of that out of the way yet. It is really only the gay history that counts when it comes to gay relationships.
Ex girlfriends make great material for faux-jealous teasing, but they never co-inhabited that exclusive us-against-the-world that a first boyfriend does. When you’re new to being gay, the world seems hostile, and the first love is all you have to fight it. And so you share something that is so raw and so intense that anything after that seems like a bland photocopy.
Inevitably, the first love implodes under the gravity of its own angst, often leaving unfinished business that damages every relationship for years afterwards. But you can’t fast-forward that. And you can’t shake someone who is about to do it to himself (and you).
And that, in effect, is the curse of being the second boyfriend – like I recently was. The second boyfriend is on the back foot from the word go. He may be kind and loving. He may be the best thing your friends think has ever happened to you. But he’s not the first boyfriend. The adrenaline is not the same.
And so I guess the age on his driver’s licence is no way of gauging a date’s emotional experience. You need his age in gay years. Asking someone when they came out is a little intense for a first date, but I would suggest doing it as soon as possible. You can phrase it as innocuous interest; a follow-on from listing the siblings. Unless you’re a spring chicken yourself, if they turn out to be younger than three in gay years: RUN. The curse of the second boyfriend could be on you.