Missed Connections

Flirting is Lust’s immature cousin, and like any embarrassing family relative at whom you just can’t help but laugh and point, he’s impetuous and uncontainable—he does whatever he wants whenever he wants, sometimes under the influence and often with a case of verbal diarrhea. Flirting quickly sneaks up on its unsuspecting host and, especially when aided and abetted by his trusty partner in crime Alcohol, steals the reins of the body’s every thought and behavior, convincing it to do stupid things that only seem stupid in retrospect.

The flirting game isn’t the easiest game to play; its many rules assign consequences for almost any wrong move—and that’s true even if you’re straight. The flirting game may offer heterosexual singles significant challenges, but in comparison to their non-hetero counterparts, they seem to have a better hand with which to begin: they don’t have to worry about being bashed for unwanted plays, and, if they’re playing the travel version of the game, they may find companionship much easier than someone who has to hunt down a bar or community center tailored to a specific audience. Drop a horny or lonely gay man in a random nightclub setting and chances are—by virtue of numerical and norm-based supremacy—that the club aims for a straight audience. To flirt successfully in a heterosexual setting demands that the gay man play with strategies more covert—maybe even shadier—than the average straight player would need to use.

Case in point: My attempts to make a connection at a concert Friday night. Sure, it wasn’t Gwen Stefani or Madonna, and, granted, I really should have known that a bluegrass show at a Texas bar wouldn’t have been the best of places to try meeting gay guys. The desire to flirt, however, cares not for time nor place (and neither should my right to flirt).

I spotted him from the back. He was taller than me, probably hovering around the six-foot mark, and, when he turned around, he was cute. He was laughing and giggling with a girl, yet not in the traditionally reserved, macho way that other guys might be acting around their girlfriend; no, his goofiness rendered a picture of good friends of different sexes—or, I crossed my fingers, a girl with her gay best friend. More clues to tip off the ‘dar: He never wrapped his arms around her as a protective boyfriend might; instead, he kept distance, as if to make body contact between them awkward. As if to send other people signals that he was not with this girl. As if to say I am available. I am single. I wouldn’t mind an eye-fuck. Or a fuck. Or sex. With the same sex. Or…

I digress. While the other men in the bar were dressed in cowboy button-downs or t-shirt and jeans, he sported a cleanly-ironed pale pink button-down that Ryan Seacrest have made a trend. If he were straight, he’d be classified metrosexual, but when he opened his mouth to speak, he leaned more towards my team: there was an lilt in his voice that rubbed off as slightly Valley Girl. Like he was used to rattling comments quickly to his girl friends at a mall while they window-shopped (or people watched—or, I had hoped, guy-watched).

Had he been a girl (and had I been a heterosexual male), flirting standards would have demanded that I make the first move, that I approach him and make small talk, try to charm him, and somehow pass my number along. But he was not a girl, and I am not a heterosexual male. Interestingly, one of the challenges in the flirting game is that the rules and norms themselves not only strangle open acts of homosexual flirtation, but also provide less defined structure. A guy-girl flirtation: sure, the guy should start. A guy-guy flirtation: uh… who makes the first move? The one who is more masculine? But how would you know? What if both of you were self-proclaimed queens? What if you both of you were big, bad muscle daddies? Who goes first?

Because I was standing behind him, I thought I’d go first. But by “going first,” I meant getting closer to him. I did—I scooted up immediately behind him. I couldn’t speak to him—no. What if he was straight? What if I pulled out an obvious come-on, or worse—a bad one? So, uh, you like this band? BORING. No—I would protect myself from rejection and play it safe, as homosexual flirting in a largely heterosexual space might demand: I’d just do all I could to make him make the first verbal move.

So I made eye contact whenever I could. I talked on the phone behind him so he could hear my voice, slightly infused with a Valley Girl lilt. When someone in the audience did something funny, I laughed to match his laugh. He sang out loud; I sang out loud. He joked with his friends; I joked with mine. Eventually, I got to the point where I was standing side-by-side with him, singing lyrics, dancing goofily together (but not together), and cheering the band along with all four of our arms pumping fists into the air simultaneously. Unforced, I might add—I was still being me. I did everything I could—while staying authentic to my own mannerisms and style—to signal to him: Look at me. We’ve got stuff in common. Maybe we should talk to each other and see if there’s anything else…

About three and a half hours of enjoying the concert in close proximity to him, the show ended. My friends drifted towards the exit. I followed, without any exchange of words with a guy I’ll never see again. The hopeful side of myself wondered if this is where Craigslist’s Missed Connections would come in handy. No, manontheside, no. How ridiculous.

Outside, underneath a corner lamppost, I waited for a few more friends to exit the venue. Instead of seeing one of my straggling friends, I spotted him. He stumbled down the sidewalk, towards me, with his best girl friend (I had hoped). He stopped. We recognized each other from inside the venue, a quick acknowledgement of eye contact and small, mutual smiles. Then he turned the corner, with his girl still at a distance from him, and continued walking to their car. Flirting, the immature cousin, strikes again.

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