“Everyone you meet has a part to play in your story. And while some may take a chapter, others a paragraph, and most will be no more than a scribbled note in the margins, someday, you’ll meet someone who will become so integral to your life, you’ll put their name in the title.” – Beau Taplin/Life Stories
Finding the title character as part of the LGBT community isn’t the easiest. The traditional maxim is that love is a battlefield. In reality, the politics involved can mean dating is sometimes more akin to House of Cards. Reading the article, ‘Dating at Business School: The Myths and Realities’ (published by The Harbus in December 2015), I felt that while some barriers to finding romance on campus universally applied, the perspective of the LGBT community needed to be voiced. What follows is a reflection of the realities as experienced by several members of the male gay community. It is not all encompassing, but it is a start – I would encourage more members of the community to speak up. Campus is supposed to be a safe space, and yet the below collage of dating experiences is being published on the condition of anonymity and with some aspects of the stories modified to protect identity.
Reality #1: For some, dating at HBS is like repeating the process of coming out.
Danny tried to distract himself from Jeff’s inquisitive smile, nonchalantly stirring his coffee. Sensing that perhaps Danny was stalling, Jeff continued.
“I don’t think I can go out with someone who’s still in the closet.”
“And here I thought we were just having dinner?” Danny replied, smiling more to himself than to the attractive stranger sitting in front of him. They had only met 20 minutes ago…
Up till that moment, the ‘date’ had actually been going quite well. Needless to say, moments after they had said goodbye, Danny knew the prospect of a second ‘date’ was slim to none.
Danny’s story isn’t an unfamiliar one. As an international RC from the opposite side of the world, the concept of ‘coming out’ seemed almost trivial in my mind. None of my straight friends had to ‘come out’ to claim their sexual identity and why should I be any different, even if indeed I am different? Having shied away from labels all my life, I’ve dated both men and women in the past. Although most of the people here at HBS are generally more open and tolerant, I felt like I still had to explicitly choose a side when it came to dating.
Some gay men perceive you as being ashamed of yourself if you’re still not openly out at HBS. Sure, complications can arise if you’re dating someone at a different stage of ‘coming out’. It’s hard to hold hands or kiss in public. It might feel like you’re babysitting or worst, that you’re a mistress.
But your ‘out’ status does not need to hang over your head like some bright neon sign, either. Different cultures have different understandings and meanings of coming out. After all the strides the LGBT communities have made here in the USA, it is almost ironic that there is still a sense of discrimination towards people who refuse to let their sexuality be their sole identity in the dating scene.
Reality #2: Nothing is sexier than dating yourself.
Just a couple of weeks into the first semester, Alex met another grad student through an online dating app. He was new in Boston, looking to meet like-minded people to explore the city together. After five years slaving away as a consultant, he thought he was ready for a little romance. If there was any place to meet young, highly motivated people, there should be no other fertile land like a graduate school. Dave was ex-military and coincidentally worked in the same industry as Alex did prior to business school. Dave was active, loved the outdoors and had a great smile. Perfect.
After a few texts back and forth, Dave suggested that they meet over coffee at Peet’s.
The ‘date’ lasted 15 minutes – 10 seconds of M.O.O.ing and 14 minutes and 50 seconds of awkward silence. One glance and Alex knew there was no physical attraction. Despite a personality click, both of them were simply looking for different physical traits in potential partners. And herein lies the big issue.
Emphasis on physical attractiveness is not unique to the gay dating scene, but the degree at which gay men focus on physical attractiveness is something to be written about.
The extreme pursuit of physical perfection in one’s partner as a reflection of one’s own attractiveness perpetuates the Freudian model of gay romance as a kind of narcissism. The “Boyfriend Twin” phenomenon is nothing new. There are a slew of Tumblr posts about it while photos of homogenous gay couples keep pouring in on Instagram every second. The issue becomes much worse in the realm of online dating where one’s initial and sometimes only chance, to make an impression is through a profile picture. Few people will read your detailed profile, but everyone will swipe right if you show your chiseled abs and sculpted pecs on a shirtless profile photo.
Sure, we have all heard about that one straight couple who looks like they are siblings. However, the sheer prevalence of the Boyfriend Twins phenomenon reaffirms that what many gay men are looking for in a partner is really a replica of their (physical) selves.
Various research has been done on this subject, both from the hetero and LGBT perspectives. While homogamy is nothing new in the dating world (for example, we have become more homogeneous in our education, income, and religious beliefs),emphasis on physical homogamy among gay men is reaching a toxic level as it can project unattainable physical standards.
“I’ve been rejected by many jocks because I would rather eat another slice of pizza than gurgle down another flask of protein shake.” – Anonymous RC
Reality #3: Dating forces you to confront your own insecurities and prejudices, but the reward can be transformative.
“Straight acting only. No fem.” – Insecure HBS ‘Jockbro’
“No rice & spice.” – ‘Not-racist-but-I-have-a-strong-preference’ RC
“On the other hand, I have yet to meet anyone who says “GMAT at least 730 or no chat”’ – Smart, but not conventionally fit RC
Masculinity is a fragile thing. Even more so among gay men. For a group who fought for equality for so long, the irony is that there exists a significant subculture of labels based on body types – twinks, bears, bulls, wolves, cubs, etc.
While we are trapped in our own superficial definition of ‘tribes,’ there’s also a mounting expectation for our future partner to behave a certain way. While business school is perhaps the safest environment for someone to be truly themselves, the political dating scene heightens the trepidation of living up to a certain stereotype. Matt, for example, knew he was guilty of this through his flat out refusal to be in the company of effeminate men, gay or straight. But since coming to HBS, he is glad that he has been constantly forced to re-evaluate his own insecurities.
“Never in a million years would I imagine dating someone from the opposite side of the world, mainly because I never had the time to meet anyone outside of my social circle, but at HBS that all changed.” – Mr. All-American Boy
We all have our own hang-ups, be it a limited understanding of masculinity, racial preferences, or physical attributes. True to its diversity pledge, business school is a melting pot of various queer personalities and we just need to learn to not let our own prejudices limit what others can bring to dating or a relationship.
Once you get over this hurdle, dating at HBS (or any place where there is an incredible amount of diversity), can be an opportunity for a very transformative experience. The key is that you must be open-minded to accept these different views. Many still mask their prejudices with “preference”. While it is undoubtedly hard to change in-built biases, at least HBS is a space where those who want to can break down these walls.
Reality #4: Relationships mean different things for different people.
“I’m ready to settle down, but the only guy who’s interested in me is someone who is in an open relationship.” – Mr. Unlucky-in-Love RC
“I can see myself being in love with one person, but I cannot control who I’m attracted to. Is monogamy the best thing for me?” – Mr. Casanova RC
On top of the significantly smaller pool of single gay men and the myriad of other issues, dating at business school is further complicated because men will be men, always. There’s a lot of Mr. Right Now on the way to finding Mr. Right.
While this is not a unique problem to the gay dating scene, it is further complicated by the prevalence of different relationship structures amongst gay men. Even before you get your feet wet in the dating pool, you have to decide if you want an open, monogamous or “monogamish” relationship. The concept of fidelity (and therefore a relationship) means different things to different people, usually influenced by their own sexual maturity.
It’s almost as if we are giving ourselves a free pass to cheat on our future partner by stating our preferred relationship structure. In the era of full disclosure, some welcome this transparency. But in doing so, aren’t we just re-affirming that our Freudian romantic model is nothing but conceited narcissism?
Reality #5: No one has time for dating, really.
After rescheduling the date more than 10 times over a period of two months, Chris, an RC, finally met the guy who he had been texting since October.
“So you’re a really busy man! Either you’re really popular or you were putting this date off!” Chris joked uncomfortably as he settled down next to his date with a cup of strong black coffee. “Maybe I should’ve gotten Irish coffee instead,” he thought to himself solemnly.
“Oh you’ll understand once you’re an EC. Time really flies here and before you know it, you’re almost done with your MBA!” Hugo looked uncomfortable chatting, making no clear eye contact. His body was tense and he was speaking fast. But his European accent was quite cute and Chris couldn’t help but find him incredibly attractive, especially staring at the set of emerald eyes behind Hugo’s hipster glasses.
But deep down, Chris knew that their relationship was doomed from the start. Hugo seemed more committed to his HBS experience than this relationship.
The tragic reality of dating at business school, whether you are straight or not, is that it is easier to hide behind your busy schedule than to actually put in the effort required to build a meaningful relationship.
It’s definitely easier to say, “I’m sorry I have to attend a section event,” than to turn down a date, especially knowing that you can bump into that person anytime on campus. And secretly, being constantly pursued by an admirer validates your self-worth.
Sure, we all juggle many different things here at HBS and time is the only thing we are constantly running out of. But dating will be infinitely less messy if we all ascribe the same level of respect to other’s time as we do to our own.
Chris’ experience trying to date an EC was akin to subjecting his life to a bizarre Cirque-du-Soleil contortionist exercise: consistently stretching his already busy schedule to find a few minutes to do something with Hugo. His life rapidly began to revolve around Hugo’s free time. Once optimistic, Chris now wonders if these sacrifices are worth the off chance that this relationship might go somewhere. And so the cycle, from optimist to cynic, from accommodation to being too busy to pursue romance, perpetuates.
Regardless of one’s sexual identity, everyone on campus can agree that dating at HBS is no walk in the park. Sure, on the surface, you’re more likely to find someone who ticks a lot of your check boxes. While some of the realities experienced by the LGBT community at HBS are not groundbreaking, the dimensions and depth of some of the issues are.
As a community whose identity is constantly changing, its members will have to continue redefining what they are looking for in terms of dating culture. Some of the issues are evergreen, while others are contemporary and will hopefully be nonexistent in fifty years’ time. There may be many other emerging issues ahead, but as long as we are willing to discuss them openly and without prejudice, we are getting one step closer to a new normal.