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So here it is Valentine’s Day once more and you’re still in the dating trenches, fighting the battles of online dating, being fixed-up by friends, and scouring the city for sane, eligible opportunities.
Dave Singleton feels your pain. Like so many gay men, he’s been there, done that. Now he has some advice that may make your dating life easier — and give you some laughs along the way.
The Mandates: 25 Real Rules for Successful Gay Dating is his blueprint to help single gay men navigate the oh-so-choppy dating waters. Your first step? Figure out what it is you’re looking for in your dating life. Are you looking for the occasional dinner date or a long-term relationship?
“The biggest issue is don’t try to turn a trick into a boyfriend, or vice versa,” Singleton laughs.
Preach it, brother.
Born in D.C. and bred in Virginia, Singleton graduated college and left behind his hometown for the publishing world of New York, where he marketed titles for houses ranging from Time Warner to Scholastic. At the turn of the century, he returned to D.C., where he’s now the marketing director for the Bureau of National Affairs.
Quick to laugh at his own experiences, Singleton has a simple goal for his book: to help you understand and realize your own dating goals, and turn them into a reality.
And don’t forget to have a laugh. Or two.
METRO WEEKLY: So, how did you go from marketing children’s and educational books to writing a book about gay dating?
DAVE SINGLETON: The Mandates came to me when one of those Rules books came out — The Time-Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work. I was watching CNN and these women were on constantly. It was at the time when one of them had a marriage that was breaking up, and I thought, “Oh, come on.” They were making me crazy. I couldn’t stand the premise of that book, which was that the one goal is to drag a guy into marriage. Then I started thinking about it and I wondered, why aren’t there any rules for us? And it took off from there. It was more about being funny at first, but then I started thinking about it more and there were very serious parts, and it became both funny and serious.
But that wasn’t the whole reason for the book. The bigger picture was that I was feeling kind of liberated in my own life and writing, and trying to find my own voice. I would say the March on Washington and the Equality Rocks concert changed my life a lot, and I think they did for a lot of people. It was almost like I became a little more fearless. Even though I hadn’t written a lot about my personal life, suddenly it didn’t seem so daunting. I had ended a relationship in 1997, and I did a lot of the things that a lot of people started doing — internet dating, coffee dates. To this day I can go into Caribou Coffee and point out who’s on an on-line date. It’s so obvious, and so prevalent.
MW: Bad memories of those dates on your part?
SINGLETON: Good and bad. Initially they were very hard. I mean, I have been on one or two blind dates in my entire life. It’s kind of a lot of pain [sometimes]. My way of dealing with circumstances in life is always to reinterpret it through humor. My favorite definition of comedy is “tragedy plus time,” and the stories that I got for the book — the one hundred seventy five interviews plus my own story — are kind of cautionary tales of things gone wrong and what can we learn from them. But then there are a lot of guys who really seem to have it by the balls — they’re very comfortable with figuring out what level of dating they want.
MW: Are you in a relationship now?
SINGLETON: I am.
MW: How long?
SINGLETON: Two and a half years.
SINGLETON: [Laughs.] Thank you. Where’s my toaster? In dog years it’s like sixteen-and-a-half years.
MW: Do you live together?
SINGLETON: No, we don’t. We see each other during the week and on weekends. It really works well. One of my big things was integration into my life — one of the chapters in The Mandates is “Integrate, Integrate, Before It’s Too Late” — and that was what I never did before. I really did that differently this time. I just threw him into my life, within like a month.
MW: How did you know that you weren’t dating and you were in a relationship?
SINGLETON: A couple of things happened. Number one, what I think influenced us a little is that I met him right before September 11. After that there was a little bit of reckoning and deciding this [relationship] is really good — clear any doubts away because time is short, and be decisive. It just felt right, it felt exciting, and it felt easy at the same time. I think that’s just the ideal combination. I put him into my life and everything seemed to work. That’s how I knew.
MW: Before you wrote the book, were you the kind of person who gave friends advice?
SINGLETON: Oh, god yes. I think my friends would say I’ve given pretty good advice. Hopefully no overbearing advice, but I think good advice.
MW: Do they generally take the advice?
SINGLETON: Oh, god no. Does anybody take advice? [Laughs.]
MW: Do you take your own advice?
SINGLETON: I think so. Writing The Mandates was very cathartic. I’m sure you’ve written things where after you’ve finished them, you’ve changed your mindset a little bit. By the time I had interviewed all of these guys for the book, I had been on a lot of dates. I felt like their stories were resoundingly familiar. I realized that these are things that are not worth getting upset about, and I’m not going to go through these kinds of experiences again. I was really done with that part of dating, the difficult, dramatic part of dating.
I was ready to do things differently, and I have. The big lessons for me came in the chapter on friends. This isn’t meant to be bitter or cynical, but it was very eye-opening to realize that not all your friends want you to be in a relationship, because they can consider it threatening. The other one was the integration thing. I always cocooned more than a jar of caterpillars. I loved that part. But I think a lot of things don’t come up about a relationship until you get it out in the light of day and into your real lives. And that really helped in my current relationship. It’s been pretty even-keeled, which is nice.
MW: How has the reaction to the book been so far?
SINGLETON: What catches people’s eye is really curious to me. Gay people have really responded to it well, which is nice. The feedback I’ve gotten from them is “It’s funny, but there are also a few things that hit home and make sense.” But I’ve also had a lot of straight people interested. It kind of makes sense — we’ve gone from being sexual outlaws to having a national debate on gay marriage. And yet there really hasn’t been a lot of focus on gay men’s real lives. There’s a focus on gay people decorating, on gay people giving advice on food and fashion, but they’re not talking about their lives.
MW: Based on the interviews you did for the book and your own experience, what would you say would be the perfect Valentine’s Day?
SINGLETON: One of the biggest romantic buzz kills is to say “Oh, I’ll just do what do you want to do.” So I think something surprising, where you actually put in a little thought and plan something, whether it’s a special dinner or going away for the weekend. It depends too on where you are in your relationship — if you’ve been together ten years it may be very different.
My own attitude towards it has kind of changed. I’m much more interested in judging somebody’s actions during the course of regular life. I’ve had a lot of really romantic relationships and a lot of grand gestures. A grand gesture has to be backed up with something substantive, or it doesn’t really do a lot for me at this point.
MW: We all talk about awful dates we’ve had, how we’ve dated the wrong men, and how they’re just all bad guys for one reason or another. Do the bad guys ever read the book and realize that they’re the bad guys?
SINGLETON: I say in the book — and I truly believe this — if everybody is so heinous then where are the good guys? If we’re all sitting around in the dating world pointing the finger at everyone else, it can’t possibly be true. It’s like there’s a suspension of disbelief that we’re all in fact men here.
MW: What’s the most romantic experience you’ve ever had?
SINGLETON: [Laughs.] I’d better watch my answers.
MW: I’m not trying to set up your boyfriend to compete or anything.
SINGLETON: I’m not just giving you a line, but right now it really is him. It’s the day-to-day things, when he’s with me at events with me or he’s spending the holidays with my family — the moments where I look over and see that he’s absolutely in my life. I might not have appreciated that ten years ago.
MW: Do you think that as gay kids come out at younger ages, they’ll get better at the dating thing?
SINGLETON: I don’t know. When I started this book, I was asking if after thirty years of people being openly gay is dating any better or easier? And I talked to all these guys and I thought, no. I talked to sixteen-year-olds who had incredible parents and support, and they’re still having a hard time. I think part of it is that so many options don’t necessarily make things easier. It’s the challenge of the information age. It doesn’t make it easier. It’s all about editing, targeting who your choice is, weeding out people who don’t work for you, and being self-aware enough to know what it is you want.
The advertising issue is a huge issue for gay men. When I was thirty six or so, I went on [an online] date with a guy who told me he was thirty five. I met him in a restaurant and, I kid you not, he had managed to find the one table that was in deep, dark shadow. I can tell in the light that he’s forty nine if he’s a day, and I just thought, did he think I wouldn’t notice? But it’s also how you’re advertising what you’re looking for. In the book I refer to different types of guys out there. There’s Peter Pansexual, the guy who’s really flighty who says he wants a relationship, but he really just wants the freedom — he may have wanted a relationship that day, but tomorrow’s a whole new day. Then there’s the poetic bait-and-switch body Nazi. That describes several guys I’ve met — they’re really poetic if you read their personals or listen to what they say they want. Then you go out with them and find out what their lives are really like.
MW: Fantasy life versus real life.
SINGLETON: The goal of a dating book is that we can learn from each other, which is good. But when it comes to just one dating goal, not everybody wants to be Ozzie and Harriet. And you don’t have to be. Right now there’s a lot of confusion with the whole marriage thing — ten years ago you didn’t go on a date and think about marriage. Now guys are going on dates and they’re seeing gay marriage [as an option]. I think you have to be really clear about what you want. There’s the false advertising of saying you’re thirty-five-years-old, six-foot-two, and one hundred seventy pounds when you’re actually fifty-years-old and two hundred fifty pounds. But there’s also the false advertising of saying you want a certain level of dating or relationship, and you don’t really want it.
Dave Singleton’s The Mandates: 25 Real Rules for Successful Gay Dating (Three Rivers Press, $12) is available at Lambda Rising and area bookstores. For more information visit www.themandates.com.