Helping Gay Men Find Love
Helping Gay Men Find Love: Tips for Guys on dating and beginning a relationship
By Israel Martinez, LCSW
Book Review by Kathy Labriola, Counselor/Nurse
This is a fantastic book! It is a "must read" for the legions of baffled and hurting gay men who have struggled through relationships without a playbook, and have been blindsided by painful break-ups. Until Israel Martinez wrote this book, gay men have been on their own struggling to learn the skills needed to develop happy and healthy relationships.
If it were up to me, I would give a copy of this book to every gay male in America when they reach their 18th birthday, because it would save them so much heartache, self-doubts, and confusion.
I certainly do not mean to imply that the straight people have a clue what they are doing in their relationships, or that their relationships are any happier or more successful than LGBT folks. But heterosexuals already have literally thousands of books, seminars, week-long trainings and retreats, and videos on love and relationships. And they have several million straight therapists to help them figure it out, while very few resources exist for gay men. This book goes a long way towards filling that gap, providing an urgently-needed roadmap to help gay men of any age, class, or race, on their path to finding (and sustaining) true love.
Martinez is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in private practice in Montclair, New Jersey. He could see that so many of his gay male clients simply did not have the appropriate skills to pick compatible partners and create happy long-term relationships. He very clearly identifies and articulates the key obstacles to relationship success. Gay men grow up in a militantly heterosexual society, usually suffering in silence, being bullied and ostracized by peers, feeling guilty and ashamed of their sexual orientation, and unable to disclose to peers and families. Their survival requires never being vulnerable to anyone, especially to other males, because rejection, discrimination, and gay-bashing remain constant threats. How, then, can they possibly be expected to magically open up to and build an emotionally intimate relationship with the man of their dreams in adulthood?
Straight people have ample resources for relationship skill-building, but they also have the support of their straight families and a straight society to reinforce their efforts and prop up their relationships, healthy or otherwise. As Martinez explains, gay men often are rejected by their families, who often do not want to include their partners in the family, sometimes refusing to attend their son’s wedding or even to meet their partner. Many gay male partnerships exist in isolation. Without the kind of support that straight couples take for granted, gay male relationships often break up when the going gets rough. As Martinez says, gay men joke that in gay relationship longevity, “one year is like seven for straights.”
Each chapter of the book covers a different aspect of dating and relationships, including a quiz at the end of each chapter, as well as a handy skills checklist, to assess the reader’s readiness to go on to the next step. Each of these quizzes and checklists, as well as the skill-building exercises, could also be extremely useful for straight people and others who could benefit from this very practical, step-by-step approach. However, there is a lot of additional information that is uniquely tailored to the needs of gay men looking for lasting love.
Starting with the first chapter, “Accepting Being Single,” he suggests that gay men spend some time building self-esteem and confidence. This is a necessary step to figuring out what they want in a relationship and what they have to offer a potential mate. Martinez explains that a lifetime of facing homophobia is particularly devastating to gay men’s self-esteem. As a result, they often settle for an unsatisfying relationship, a relationship with an incompatible partner, or even worse, a relationship where they are mistreated or abused. He encourages them NOT to be influenced by the gay community’s focus on youth and beauty, reminding them, “Six-pack abs do not spell relationship success.”
His chapters on gay bars and hook-up apps are especially important. Paradoxically, while these are by far the easiest and quickest way to meet lots of other gay men, but probably not if you’re looking for a committed relationship. Gay bars are great for meeting lots of available gay men for one-night stands or short-term flings, but says, “Alcohol lowers your standards. In a bar, especially with ‘martini goggles,’ finding Mr. Right is not likely.”
In the next chapter “Hook-up apps are for Hooking Up,” the title says it all. He does recommend Internet dating, but suggests dating sites that are geared to long-term relationships. He provides excellent tips on how to write an effective profile, both to emphasize your best qualities and to state clearly what you are looking for in a partner. He also suggests enlisting all your friends to introduce you to guys who may be “your type” or who might have some common interests.
Martinez devotes several chapters to essentially holding your hand through every step of starting a conversation with a potential date (either on a dating site or at a party or activity) to asking for a first date, to planning the date, to how behave on a first date, and even how to ask for a second date (or to gently decline, or to handle the rejection if you don’t get a second date).
The final section of the book is about “Thriving Beyond the First Date,” especially the importance of having realistic expectations of an ongoing relationship. Issues addressed include developing a healthy sexual relationship, meeting your partner’s friends and parents, as well as deciding when (or if) to move in together. He encourages couples to explicitly discuss “To Be or Not To Be…Monogamous,” and he dvises making clear agreements around this, since so many gay couples opt for some form of open relationship.
My only complaint about this book is that it is too short. Most books are too long, and brevity can be a virtue! However, each chapter in this book addresses one key aspect of gay male relationships, and each could be expanded and provide an even richer primer of advice and support for gay men. I would love to see the world benefit from even more of Martinez’s years of experience and expertise with gay men and their relationships, by delving more deeply into each of these many important topics.