QUESTION: Why don't I have a boyfriend?
THE VOICE: I don't know.
As suggested in the Procedure, for a week or so I experimented, warming up by writing down quick, spontaneous questions addressing the crises of the moment -- "What's wrong?" or "How am I going to get through tonight?" or "Should I call him back?" When I asked, for instance, how I was going to get through the night, I wrote down the Voice's response as: "Only do whatever you feel like doing. And check back with me every hour." The directive was gladly taken, and it was fun. I ended up having a late-night snack of oysters at a place down the street with a friend. I was limbering up for the dialogue and the education that was about to begin.
One day I dove in and asked one of the questions at the heart of this whole enterprise: "Why don't I have a boyfriend?" No sense wasting time, I told myself neurotically. Now, some people beginning this process already have boyfriends, and their first significant question might be different, such as, quoting the old song, "Is that all there is?" But for me, and for many others I'm sure, this boyfriend question needs to be answered and cleared up before moving on. This chapter is concerned with just that necessary clearing, a kind of romantic spring cleaning. So imagine my disappointment when I sat down in earnest to begin to reach the Boyfriend Within, only to receive the reply noted above. Needless to say, "I don't know" didn't do much for me at first, except to disappoint and really annoy.
"Humph," I thought. "Some Oracle of Delphi! Everyone else channels all these amazing, lyrical, poetic, wise voices from the beyond. They get guardians full of depth and dignity. I'm stuck with a slacker. Next thing I know he'll be calling me 'Dude' and shoving off on his skateboard. Just my luck." But it was my Voice, and I was stuck with it. What do you do when your Ouija board supplies only incoherent, garbled messages? Return it?
As I delved deeper, though, I felt nudged in a direction by the vagueness of the answer. Perhaps the Voice wasn't being so cool after all. Perhaps the Voice was even getting warm. There may be no final explanation for those of us without boyfriends, just guesses. We're bachelors or widowers or loners, whether temporarily or always, whether we've been left, or perhaps have set our standards a little too high, or haven't been on a date in a year, or live in a remote locale. The only exceptions are those who absolutely say, "I don't want a boyfriend." And they might not be open and flexible enough to tap into the Boyfriend Within anyway.
The other day, while cruising the Internet, I stopped at a cute guy's gif (graphic image) to which he'd attached the posted caveat: "Not looking for someone who wants to move in with me. Or who wants to be my boyfriend. Just someone who won't be able to keep his hands off me." That was simple. He doesn't have a boyfriend because he doesn't want one. (If you believe his mixed message, that is.)
A prime cause for not having a boyfriend comes from tying oneself in psychological knots. One way I know to untie these knots is with a therapist. I've been in therapy for twenty years, on and off; with an Episcopalian nun-priest-therapist, no less. I love seeing her. Where else can I talk about myself for forty-five minutes? Dwell on my every twist and turn? And not have to be polite by trading off and listening to a friend? Or be afraid that the friend I'm talking to has ulterior motives and might secretly be saying what I want to hear, or might secretly want to pull me in or push me away? It's worth the money to have a neutral spot at which to debrief every week.
A friend told me recently of the "pattern" he'd "discovered" in therapy -- though it had been perfectly evident to all of us around him since day one. He was guilty of dancing the notorious "cha-cha." It goes like this: He would become involved with someone. They'd quickly become boyfriends. After a few months, he'd start to feel restless, weird, angry, trapped. He'd move a few steps one way, then twist and go in another direction. He'd cause problems. Eventually the boyfriend would split. As soon as he'd split, my friend would want him back. He'd send roses, call, show up with passes for press seats at a Calvin Klein fashion show. This stunt was pretty transparent.
Now, through therapy, he knows why he doesn't have a boyfriend, or at least why he might not. And luckily he knows what he can do about the situation. With work, he can become attuned to the alarms that warn of another crisis. When they go off next time, he can find the reflex within himself to remedy the situation. That way he'll have a boyfriend in bed with him, asleep, spooning, if he wants. Not necessarily, of course. But it's possible.
Like my friend with his classic "cha-cha" routine that gets in the way of meeting, falling in love, or staying together, everyone has insecurities that may lead to patterns of conflict and avoidance. Some people feel they're basically unlovable. Or that other people are unlovable. Some are control freaks. Some are afraid of being suffocated. Some confuse sex with love. Some confuse unavailability with attractiveness. Some prefer fireworks. Some are searching for Daddy. Some are running away from Daddy. And on and on it goes. As Annie Lennox put it: "Some people like to abuse you. Some people like to be abused."
Along the way to finding the Boyfriend Within, I've found it useful, besides contacting the Voice as outlined in the Procedure, to also do a series of "Awareness Exercises." These are close to the sorts of exercises you might do in therapy, or in self-discovery seminars. Some are designed to make us aware of patterns of thinking, feeling, or behaving that have contributed to unhappy habits in our lives. In sixties lingo, their purpose is "consciousness raising." Others are designed to help us develop new ways to contact and stay attuned to the BFW. These exercises can be quite practical: In one case, we'll be trying to dream up as many dates as possible with our Boyfriend Within. Or they can be more theoretical: In another case, we'll be listing repercussions of looking at the world as something other than a mail-order catalog from which to pick boyfriends. If relating to the Voice and the Boyfriend Within is the heart and soul of this book, the Awareness Exercises are its muscles and skeleton. Both are necessary.
You'll need only one pen to scratch down your responses in the Awareness Exercises, and you might want to keep a record of what you write -- to look back on, to add to. These responses won't be as charged or unpredictable as the guiding or oblique pronouncements from a sometimes cryptic Voice. Unlike the Q&A format for contacting the Voice, they mostly involve list making. Doing these exercises, however, helps greatly in moving the process of finding the Boyfriend Within into fast-forward. There will be fifteen Awareness Exercises spread out throughout the book -- taken together, they can point you in the right direction.
Awareness Exercise One
Write down a list of your own neurotic patterns. Once written out, these bumps in the night lose some of their power to control and alarm. They become demystified. The door is off their closet, so to speak. Exorcising, as we've learned from the movies, is always about naming the demon. So you can begin to exorcise these neurotic routines by putting them into words. Once you begin, you'll find other patterns occurring to you while you're walking down the street or driving in a car. Go back and add them to the list. Every time you identify one of these neurotic patterns, your emotional IQ will shoot up about five points. Here's my own list, and a few explanatory comments:
* I seem to be attracted to villains, to the sort of guy who plays pirates in movies.
Everyone else takes one look at him and thinks, "I don't trust that guy." I look at him and think, "Hmmmmm...." A related type is the "gimbo" (a gay bimbo), whose muscles and physical desirability make him an attractive arm to want to hang on, regardless of any lack of depth. Whoever these gimbos really may be, I'm drawn to their potential as cartoon characters in the self-created comic strip of my love life.
* I'm sometimes drawn to people who seem at first capable of making my life easier.
They mother me. Or, more important, they father me by having the big bucks, buying dinner and theater tickets, and always paying for the cab. They have famous and influential friends to introduce me to. The problem is that eventually there's a price to be paid. And just as with a new credit card, the bill usually doesn't come for a couple of months. That's when the demands, and the uglier parts of their character I've chosen to overlook, become more glaring. And I find myself feeling like just a glorified gigolo. (This scenario, of course, worked better circa age twenty-two.)
* After a few weeks with anyone, my eye begins to wander.
I feel I'm missing something. I want to go out, party, develop new tastes. I love romance and the excitement of getting to know someone. But after a while I begin to feel as if I'm back home living with my parents, listening to them argue, staying in at night doing homework under duress. I don't like anything that reminds me too much of the childhood blahs. As a result, I quickly reconfigure my new beau as a prison guard or truant officer or busybody.
Almost everyone can tally inner and outer explanations for their predicament in life. I've developed quite a list of my neurotic patterns by making Awareness Exercise One a part of my regular mental routine. A few days after making my original list, I suddenly noticed that I always give my phone number but never ask for the other guy's number in return. I'm then left feeling either rejected, all-alone-by-the-telephone style, or pursued. It's a self-imposed version of the chador worn by Islamic women. I veil my desires. My last boyfriend was perfect for my neuroses: He could only be reached by voice mail -- which meant he was consistently distant, unavailable, and in control.
Of course, not everyone who doesn't have a boyfriend has such obvious neurotic patterns to blame, or to change -- though to some extent we all have a few. In Awareness Exercise Two we'll be dealing with "environmental factors," which do affect everyone and which can have an impact on whether you're single or involved: age, location, death, sickness, career. (There is a real world out there, after all.) We can look at this situation in another context: Many people who wish to have a million dollars, don't. Is this just because they don't really want a million dollars? No, they typically have little if any control over the matter. Some live in North Korea. Some don't want to do the dirty deeds that might be required to make a million dollars, given their age and station and educational level. Some just don't have the tools. Some aren't in the right place at the right time. These are all examples of factors that are part of an environment and not entirely self-created.
I don't mean to belittle the homespun truth that anyone who really wants a mate can usually find one. Or that anyone who doesn't, whether consciously or un-, often doesn't really want one. Or to suggest that dark forces of the id aren't sometimes at work that need to be exposed and named and put to rest. But I also know that in the real world on which we stub our toe, shit happens. People grow older. There are differences in maturity: You just might not have the patience for an otherwise buff guy who continuously comes up with the-dog-ate-my-homework excuses, such as "My answering machine must have lost your message." As a friend reasonably complained, "It seems the saner I get, the fewer people there are to relate to."
Awareness Exercise Two
Write down the environmental factors involved in your not having a boyfriend. Not having met the right person is certainly an acceptable explanation. But there are others. Most people find this second list more surprising than the first. In this psychological era we've perhaps become more used to contemplating the navel of our feelings than smelling the coffee. Both aspects of experience need to be taken into account. Here are a few examples of my own environmental factors:
Certainly, among gays, this disease has been an entirely unexpected meteor crashing into everyone's best-laid plans. I've experienced the special difficulties when two people of different HIV-status become romantically involved but feel medically uncomfortable with each other. Disease and death are real, though. We didn't invent them.
I hate to admit that each one of my last three books has been written mostly during a bachelor phase. I'd rather say that they flourished like flowers in the nurturing sun of love. But it's not true. Selfish spans of uncompromising hours were incalculably helpful. Remember the quite honest line in Philadelphia, when Tom Hanks, playing a gay lawyer, admitted, "I love the law." People can love their jobs, love success. Perhaps for them it's not the moment for romance. Give them a few years. To everything there is a season.
* Not having met the right person
Sure, there's someone for everyone. But who wants just someone? Unless you want a boyfriend the way you want a Jag or a Range Rover, for image and kicks, you might want to hold out. For me, the prospect of a boyfriend has to compete with a quality of life that's already set, and at least pretty satisfactory. As in one of the worn clichés of on-line profiles on AOL: "I'm looking for Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now."
And then there are those who simply aren't being honest with themselves. These types love to join in the complaining circle at dinner, moaning about being boyfriendless, but truth is, they just don't want a boyfriend. On an unwritten, probably unconscious ledger sheet they've already added up the pluses of a boyfriend versus the minuses. The minus column has secretly won out as the more compelling to them.
Awareness Exercise Three
List the pluses and minuses in having a boyfriend. To find out what you're really thinking, draw a line down the middle of a blank sheet of paper, listing on one side the pluses of having a boyfriend, and on the other, the minuses. See how the columns add up. One side might prove stronger than the other because of a longer list of entries, or because of the undeniable draw of a few concerns of most importance to you. Both quality and quantity need to be weighed in this decision. Maybe you'll discover the Boyfriend. Within is the terminus on your particular route, the truly preferred destination. Why waste the effort pretending to look for a boyfriend if you're really ambivalent?
On the plus side, I'm attracted by the advantages of:
* Division of labor
* Sleeping together
* Buying real estate together
On the minus side of my ledger sheet, I find that I'm certainly put off by:
* Having to report in
* Enduring a doubled number of obligatory parties and dinners
In my own case, the plus side wins out because of both the quality and quantity of the positive items listed.
Whether being single has been subconsciously chosen, or is a matter of circumstance, or has been selected with eyes clear and unblinking, I find there's often, maybe even relentlessly, a stigma in our postliberated era to not having a boyfriend. This stigma can manifest-itself as a pointed finger accusing one of crimes such as an "intimacy problem!" Notice, next time, that everyone who uses such clunky terms hasn't necessarily paid the tuition, or put in the study time, to get the advanced degrees in counseling and psychology to license them to use such jargon. They're talking the talk without having walked the walk. The unfortunate, and frequent, assumption behind these comments is that people who aren't coupled are lemons, defectives, emotional squirts.
When Howard and I were having our truly screwy, though wonderful, time together, friends, especially distant ones, would look at us with dewy eyes as though we were somehow to be emulated. "If only I were you, I'd be happy," their goo-goo faces seemed to say. "If only you knew," I always thought (humorously) in return. I loved Howard. I was happy with him most days. But somehow our brand of love and happiness wasn't the item these friends' eyes told me they were in the market for. Now that I'm boyfriendless, I get lots of looks and comments that tell me just the opposite of what they said before. "I'm sorry you're a Tin Man, missing a heart," they seem to be saying. Like Judy Collins, I've looked at life from both sides now. Or, more accurately perhaps, life's looked at me from both sides now.
Pondering these matters, I gradually learned to make room for the Voice's answer: "I don't know." There is a place, too, far my therapist's answers. And maybe there's even a place for the Hollywood agent's skepticism. But deep in the heart of the Voice's slacker reply is a nonjudgmental, haunting tone that is not only celestine and hip and trendy, but may be more respectful of the way things are, the way people are.
Recently, when I was getting a haircut, my barber said, quoting his therapist: "The reason you're on earth is to experience life. That's it. Everything else, including whether you get love or money, is just icing." I don't know if the Voice was exactly saying that. But he (why not she? why not it? I'll have to get back to that question)...he was saying something similar.
It's worthwhile hedging your bets, through, by continuing to work at the question of why you do what you do. Take time every day to revisit selected Awareness Exercises from this chapter and those to come. Really get in there and dig out the blackened weeds deeply rooted in your own soil. But I'd caution you that one session of self-examination a day is plenty, and remember it's for yourself and should be done alone. It's certainly not something real boyfriends need to do together -- perform surgery on each other's psyches. They just, need to love each other. And that's not territory you need to overdo with your Boyfriend Within, either -- as you gradually begin to know him and court him and love him.
I can't believe how many times I've had this maddening "Why don't I have a boyfriend?" conversation recently. The next time you find yourself having this conversation with someone -- and if you're caught reading this book, chances are you will -- try taking on some of the attitude of the Voice. It's okay to say, "I don't know," because you must admit finally that you don't know everything about anyone, not even yourself. So maybe say: "I don't know why I don't have a boyfriend, and I don't know why you don't have a boyfriend. We may never know. You may someday. Or you may never. But I think you're boyfriend material." Or just throw civility to the winds and kiss him on the lips, or hold his hand, or touch him, or stroke his back; or at least smile...something. You'll probably like yourself better as a sympathetic know-nothing anywhere than as a correct know-it-all. I found "I don't know" to be a useful mantra in many situations. And more often than not, truthful: "I don't know."
Incidentally, as someone who's been in boyfriend heaven, I can tell you that there comes a time when even boyfriends would do well to discover the Boyfriend Within. I watched my relationship with Howard go from loneliness to fudgy togetherness to a kind of aloneness again: that is, the two of us sitting peacefully in the same room -- reading, say -- but thrown back on our own resources. That's a phase of coming down to earth that other coupled friends of mine have corroborated as being their experience as well. It could be that between lovers the prescription for the Boyfriend Within might become a fandango, a recipe for a threeway, or even a fourway. Anyway, many boyfriends within and without! I'm losing count.
I think, too, about gay teenagers. I never had a huge mess of a problem with coming out. I went to Columbia College in the 1970s. Even through I hadn't had sex with a boy since my friend Bobby, when I was thirteen, I just marched down to the Gay Lounge, met the president of the gay student group, who took me to meet the dean of housing, who was also gay, and I ended up with a great room in Furnald Hall. Talk about positive reinforcement! But if I'd known about the Boyfriend Within when I was pining after the blond basketball player I had a crush on in junior high, I might have had a less miserable, if no less frustrated, adolescence. Not to mention having some-where to go with my big secret of being gay -- I did manage to keep this secret, or through I did, all through high school. I know that many gay teenagers today still are troubled (and too many become hopeless and commit suicide). If they find their Boyfriend Within, they'll at least have someone or something to tide them over until they get out of Iowa or the Panhandle, and perhaps they'll have invaluable practice early on in the ways of adult love. They might even feel better about life and themselves.
And what about women? I hear my women friends discussing this topic even more than my gay friends -- if that's possible. Certainly, with divorces on the rise, many people of all sexual persuasions are finding a new need to become acquainted with the Boyfriend/Girlfriend Within. My straight trainer hasn't had much luck looking for a Girlfriend Without after his last, who put up with him for about three years. Between dumbbell sets, I tried out a variation of the concept on him. "Maybe you should get in touch with the Girlfriend Within." I suggested. "Would that make me a lesbian?" he asked. I didn't have an answer. Through I guess the Girlfriend Within brings together straight men and lesbians in way I hadn't considered before. They might both be looking for the Girlfriend Within. But that's just too confusing. I'm losing count again.
I think that finding the Boyfriend Within -- or the Girlfriend Within -- as in finding the Boyfriend Without: that real, 3-D boyfriend, can be a path toward greater realization, or what is called dharma in Buddhism. The idea of dharma, as I understand it from some popular American version of Buddhism that's been filtered down from college courses and poppsych books and Allen Ginsberg and Hermann Hesse and Keanu Reeves in Little Buddha, is that you can follow a path of mental or even physical discipline, and eventually arrive wiser and happier, and at the same spot as those on other paths. The point is to choose a path and stick with it, stick with anything that's not hurtful. Your consistent focus may release a force that will unpack lessons. I don't know why a path of romantic love couldn't do the same. It seems so much more up the alley of everyone I know. I've been on it -- with occasional detours down its sexual side-path -- for some time. And now here I am at an intersection. I can at least corroborate that there is change and growth and help and some happiness to be had on such a path. Englightenment, through, I don't know. There it is again: I don't know.
Copyright © 1999 by Brad Gooch