Sometimes I worry about whether I will abandon my values and settle for a mediocre man. I process this worry through journaling, talking with friends, and writing on this blog so the concern does not affect my life much. A few weeks ago though, I had an incident with a man that hurt my feelings for about an hour, which then triggered this fear-provoking question: will I get so tired of disappointing men that I will eventually settle for some random man who doesn’t excite me much but is nice, pays for meals occasionally, and can hold a conversation about a mildly interesting topic for one (1) hour every other week?
This fear of settling for a man gets inflamed in part because of observing many people I know settle for men. An ex-friend of mine once compared her relationship with her boyfriend to her parents’ relationship, in which her father would often verbally abuse her mother. She said that at a baseline, her relationship with her boyfriend was at least healthy, unlike her parents’ relationship, which made me think – why is the bar for men so low that men automatically get points for not being abusive? An older gay Asian man once told me about how he got so tired of how fellow queer men would engage in meaningless hookups, not care for deeper emotional connection, or generally dissatisfy him that he slept with man after man until he too stopped caring. This same Gaysian, now in a monogamous relationship with a white man, told me that it is not a matter of whether I will settle, it is a matter of who I will settle for.
Gay male relationships in the media perpetuate this problem too. I see so many popular romances between queer men and cringe because of their unhealthiness. For example, Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman, a super popular queer romance, features a relationship full of avoidant communication, unaddressed power differentials, and a younger male character who develops an obsession with an older man at the cost of his own character development. Queer as Folk, a show I used to love, features a super toxic relationship between its leads Brian and Justin, though the show portrays Brian’s controlling and gaslighting behavior as sexy and romantic. Even more recent queer male stories like Real Life by Brandon Taylor highlight the prominence of abuse and poor communication in romantic relationships between men, and in my opinion, do not do enough to label them as such. While I can think of a few examples of healthy queer male relationships, in books like Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert and Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett, these novels feel few and far between.
When I take a step back and practice compassion, I try to remember that a lot of these unhealthy behaviors stem from social forces like patriarchy and toxic masculinity, as well as heteronormativity and unhealthy norms surrounding monogamy. A lot of women, femmes and nonbinary folk are taught to prioritize romantic monogamous love above all else, even if that includes settling for a mediocre man, at least in the case of those who are attracted to men. From my experiences, queer men often internalize a similar pressure to engage in romance even if it feels dissatisfying or mediocre, given the prominence of heteronormative romantic tropes. I have also noticed that abusive, manipulative, and/or gaslighting behaviors are often not labeled as such in queer relationships, both between men and between women, in part because I think people may assume that just because a relationship is queer means that it is healthy, or because queer people are often so desperate for representation that we tolerate problematic representation (e.g., me and Queer as Folk in high school, which also featured an awfully white cast).
Sometimes I feel concerned that because of these social forces, I will succumb to dating a mediocre man and think to myself at least he’s not abusive or at least he knows basic active listening or something along those lines. However, I remind myself: I love myself, I feel complete with myself and my closest friends, and I derive so much joy from my hobbies and contributions to society that I would never settle out of loneliness or boredom or disappointment. I have met and gone on dates with plenty of nice men who did not excite me, and I gently turned them down every time. When I found myself entangled in crushes on emotionally unavailable and/or problematic men, I always managed to extract myself and move forward.
While I recognize that representation will not spur the revolution all on its own, I sometimes still want it, in the form of an older gay Asian man who knows himself, loves himself, and has vanquished internalized patriarchy and heteronormativity. Though I cannot think of anyone I know in my life who holds those social identities and matches those characteristics, I do know people who love themselves and their lives without mediocre men, like my two closest friends, as well as one of my favorite writers, Caroline Knapp. I cherish these influences for how they have helped me create myself. I have written this same message on my blog before and I will write it again now – I am the representation I search for. No mediocre gay romance necessary.
How do you maintain your standards, either in dating, platonic relationships, or other areas of life? What media representations do you think of in terms of how you do not or do want to live your life? In preparing this post I recognized that I write a lot about this similar topic related to not settling for romance or men; I appreciate y’all giving me the space to do so, so that I can maintain my power and self-love. Until next post!