They spend hours in bed looking at pictures of other peoples’ boyfriends. They notice when other men they like have liked the same photos. They wonder how much time they spend in bed scrolling and imagining their life was more glamorous and better-lit and better-traveled. They zoom in with two fingers to focus on better body parts, and examine flaws and tattoos. They toggle back to a word game, but the photos draw them back eventually. Sometimes they get boners. They understand that there is a mild envy in this scrolling, but envy is a kind of currency now. And so is lust. It would be worse if they were still teenagers and couldn’t remember a time when people didn’t do this. It would be worse if they didn’t have a sense of humor. It would be worse if they didn’t know that the lives of these well-toned, well-traveled men are probably sadder and more difficult than they let on. At least some of their lives can’t be perfect.
One day in March, I end up at a party with a few hundred of these 30-something gay men. There’s a good DJ playing, and the opener isn’t bad, either. The drinks cost $11 and the crowd is cute.
“There’s no one I want to see here,” I hear someone say. “Let’s go to The Stud.”
They are lawyers and real estate agents and PR professionals. A lot of them are in marketing. Some of them have a flair for design. None of them have children. All of them have money to burn.
And even though many of them — let’s say more than half — believe they want boyfriends, especially the kind who would look good next to them on Instagram and thereby bump up their currency, the honest truth is that boyfriends are too much work and they won’t usually admit this. What they actually want are fuck buddies who will also be arm-candy Tuesday through Thursday. Sexy friends who won’t be too clingy and won’t get too drunk, and who will tell funny stories in front of their friends. What they want is a summer fling who’ll dance around the L-word once or twice, and who knows where it might go after that? When they get too vulnerable and the texts get too demanding, time’s up.
Some of them have been to group birthday parties tonight at mid-range restaurants. Some of them have just broken up with boyfriends because the holidays are over and it was time to reassess what they really wanted. Do they really want to spend another year with that person? Probably not. There are so many other choices, and the sex has gone stale, hasn’t it? Some of them are just here for a good time, because they were bored, because there were no other parties to go to tonight. A lot of them got high before they got here.
Everyone knows someone who has moved away because San Francisco has gotten too expensive, or because they needed to stop doing drugs, or because they broke up with someone and lost a rent-controlled apartment. We all live in a pretty place where others want to live, and where every day there is a magic hour for picture-taking, and rows of storybook buildings with birthday-cake turrets and verdant backdrops and never a bad angle.
Gay men in their 20s, no matter where they are in the country, don’t think in the long-term. First loves tend not to be only loves, even though you can’t convince them of that when they’re in the thick of it. And Millennial gay men in San Francisco tend to be more realistic on this front — especially coming out of colleges where they’ve learned that “hooking up” just means a story to share at brunch, and your 20s aren’t the time for feeling stuck with someone.
Most of these men aren’t going to feel nervous about staying single until their mid-30s, and those who aren’t coupled up by then still aren’t likely to make many compromises to stay with someone until a decade or so later, when the real fear of losing their looks and dying alone sets in. Is his dick too small? Does he refuse to let you have sex with other people? Does he snore or fart too much in his sleep? Might as well keep shopping around. It’s a cosmopolitan city where fresh meat shows up every season, and they have such great friends and barely enough time for them as it is.
Some of them understand that this state of being isn’t unique to them, as gay men. We live in a culture of abundance, a land of endless choices that teaches us the value of keeping our options open. Did the Bachelorette’s first pick turn out to be a douchebag after all? They’ll just bring her back in a couple of seasons and give her another go.
Might as well spend this summer footloose and unattached again. It’ll be way more fun that way. Way less drama. What’s that Joni Mitchell lyric? We love our lovin’, but not like we love our freedom.