How can I find a boyfriend?” This is by far the most frequently asked question I hear from gay men. Over and over men tell me that, while sex is typically plentiful and easy to get, the kind of intimate partnership with another man that they long for eludes them.
In one sense, the question is impossible to answer, because it’s about the lucky accident of meeting someone you’re interested in who is unattached, ready for a relationship, and interested in you. So much depends on timing and fate. But the idea that meeting such an important need is completely out of our control is unsatisfying, and people do try various strategies for increasing their chances. The big emphasis is usually on improving personal appearance. A lot of us spend hours every week at the gym in the hopes that becoming more attractive eye candy will attract the partner of our dreams. Some are convinced that penis enlargement is the key to success.
Others, following some New Age gurus, imagine that they can find love through magical thinking, believing that, by simply visualizing clearly what they want they can somehow order it up from the universe. Others go to the other extreme with the equally magical idea that “As soon as you stop looking for him you’ll find him.” They try, then, to pretend that they aren’t looking, as if that will con the universe into delivering the prize.
But the capacity for a loving partnership is one of the signs of emotional maturity, and if more us were as attentive to our inner development as we are to developing our bodies or nurturing comforting delusions, we might be more successful in love. I believe that there are specific personal values that, when deliberately cultivated, increase our capacity for intimacy, and our receptiveness to it when it’s offered. In this and in the next five columns, I’ll be talking about some of these values.
To begin, a commitment to three core values seems to characterize people who are most likely to have successful relationships. These are:
1. .Self awareness. This is a goal for a lifetime. We may think we know who we are, but most of us are full of illusions and self-deception. Our egos form early, in the survival-based need to please parents and caregivers, and we all, to some degree, have forgotten how to distinguish our masks from our authentic selves. We know the temptations to believe about ourselves what makes us feel better, and to take shelter in illusions built by egos frightened of reality. The problem is that our masks can protect us, but they can’t love. When we take the line of least resistance, when we live in self-deception, we also feel entitled to expect others to be what we need them to be. Living in illusions about ourselves entails living in illusions about others, and when we do that our relationships are based on infantile projections. Others become surrogate parents, or rescuers and victimizers, depending upon whether they meet or thwart our needs for comfort and security. We can have authentic relationships only to the degree that we’re capable of mature self-understanding.
2. Self-Acceptance. One of the paradoxes of modern America culture is that, while we’ve become an intensely self-preoccupied people, we’re also full of self-criticism and shame. We’re simultaneously self-centered and self-denigrating. Puncturing our illusions about ourselves requires relinquishing the common but unrealistic idea that we can only respect ourselves if we’re free of imperfections. The Zen master Suzuki Roshi used to tell his students, “You’re perfect just as you are, and you could all use a little improvement.” Learning to be truthful about our shortcomings and recognizing the areas in ourselves that need work without succumbing to shame sometimes feels like a difficult balancing act. But it’s a vitally important balance, because what we can’t accept in ourselves we can’t accept in others, either. Developing a loyal and compassionate relationship to ourselves – in all our human messiness and incompleteness – is an essential precondition for learning to be loyal and compassionate with a partner.
3. Integrity. Webster defines integrity as “the state or condition of being whole or undivided, completeness.” Self-awareness and self-acceptance are what make inner coherence and wholeness possible. Each of us has an inner world that is constantly fluid and changing, and integrity involves attentiveness and unyielding loyalty to what our own bodies, thoughts, feelings, and intuitions reveal to us. When he have integrity, we’re hard to manipulate, but easy to trust. That’s because those who are loyal to their own truth also tend to tell the truth. Sincerity, directness, and honesty are the outward signs of personal integrity. Loyalty to our own truth provides the foundation and the boundaries of our authentic selfhood. And only when we are firmly rooted in who we really are can we also find the courage for the self-transcendence that love for another requires of us.