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Op-ed: Helping Gays Find Love Isn't Easy, Especially In the South

Op-ed: Helping Gays Find Love Isn't Easy, Especially In the South

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The owners of an Atlanta-based gay matchmaking service share dating tips that any man can relate to.

Marriage equality hasn't yet reached the state of Georgia, but our company, Better Way to Meet, is doing its best to help gay men find and maintain long-term relationships, which hopefully evolve into marriages.

We've met hundreds of clients through our work with Better Way to Meet, and while everyone's situation is different, there are some common challenges about how to build a meaningful and long-lasting relationship -- never an easy task.

Meeting the Right Guy
Every gay man wants an enduring romantic love story. And maybe that includes an intimate Italian wedding like Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka -- two successful, handsome, and intriguing men perfectly matched with each other. Or maybe it's the epic social media-trending wedding, dubbed the Gay Kappa Wedding, of Robert Brown and Nathanael Gay. These two beautiful men raised the dream wedding bar by creating an iconic, tear-jerking wedding for all to see and admire. But here in Atlanta -- named one of America's gayest cities last year by The Advocate -- you're more likely to find a restaurant that doesn't serve sweet tea than find the right guy. Like many American cities, Atlanta has plenty of successful gentlemen but all the wrong venues to meet them. In a city with a thriving gay nightlife, LGBT networking events, LGBT-affirming places of worship, LGBT sporting leagues, Piedmont Park, and a booming gay district, it still seems extremely hard to connect with other gay men. Sure, you can "connect" with plenty of men -- gay and straight -- via mobile hook-up apps, online hook-up sites, online dating sites adapted for gay men, private gay spas, local parks, the gym of your choice, or a bar. But those meeting places don't usually foster long-term relationships.

Being Open-Minded
After finding where the quality men are, some of our clients then struggle to get past their hang-ups. When we first met Michael, a Caucasian client in his mid-30s who had recently moved to Atlanta from New York City, he expressed his frustration with what he called "demographic dating" in the South. He recalled an incident that took place at a local bar. After the handsome African-American man he had just met and been speaking with left, a not-so-attractive Caucasian man soon came to sit on his stool and attempted to spark a conversation. After it became apparent that Michael wasn't interested, the man suggested that Michael "must only be looking for black meat." He then proceeded to suggest that Michael try another well-known bar in the neighborhood the next week, because "it always turns black on Friday nights." Welcome to the South, where even the gays choose to segregate by race.

We take into account all of our clients' preferences, including race and ethnicity, when determining compatibility. When someone expresses a desire not to be matched with a certain race, we ask a series of questions to understand the reasoning. We also hear the statement "no fats and no fems" from a few clients. Often, these comments and desires are based on a lack of physical attraction, which is understandable. However, if the desire is based on perceived behaviors and cultural differences, we encourage our clients to be more open-minded.

Our clients who are open-minded find the most successful matches because we are able to introduce them to men outside of their immediate network who have shared experiences, similar socio-economic status, and look for similar attributes in their mates. Atlanta has an eclectic mix of natives and transplants. It's a shame when we see potential clients limit themselves based on preconceived stereotypes.

Social Stigmas
Though Atlanta is relatively progressive compared to most other cities in the South, gay people still experience social and religious stigma here. For gay and bisexual men whose families and careers do not allow them to be open about their sexuality, the usual networking mediums for the gay community can be difficult to use. For many of the men we meet, location-based smartphone apps, online dating sites, and bars aren't worth the risk of being outed.

Thomas, one of our first clients, who was in his late 20s, installed a location-based networking app during Pride weekend after his friends convinced him to try something different for the special celebration. I would describe Thomas as a young, career-focused professional who had a fairly conservative upbringing. He also has an uncanny ability to recite from memory every horror story of Craigslist violence and hookup gone awry he has ever heard. Despite his fears, he completed his app profile, uploaded a few G-rated images, and began conversing with his newfound network. When he returned to work the next week, he received messages from a "faceless torso in his 50s who liked twinks and worked at [his] company." The thought of his boss or colleague hitting on him and the prospect of a profile screen capture floating around the office made Thomas delete the app immediately.

Joe-and-x400_0At right: Joe Hogans and Lamont Scales

We work with clients who are both in and out of the closet. Our service respects the privacy of our clients and does not involve online profiles or smartphone apps. We arrange dates for our clients at locations that are fun, safe, and interactive. However, at some point, when two people are in a long-term, committed relationship, it is unhealthy to be left feeling like you're a secret in your partner's life. For these situations and many others, we offer couples counseling services in addition to matchmaking. The sessions build positive relationship habits and address areas of concerns for both partners.

Vironika Tugaleva, author of The Love Mindset, said, "The greatest potential we have for opening our hearts lies in the opening of our minds." Most of us are hoping to find love, if we have not already, but may have a narrow, prescriptive approach. We encourage men of the South to try something new and experience the happiness that so many have already found.

LAMONT SCALES has worked with most of the LGBT organizations in Atlanta and has been providing professional counseling services for gay men since 2004. JOE HOGANS is a technology enthusiast with a passion for international cuisine and the Atlanta food scene.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Lamont Scales and Joe Hogans