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"If I'm at a bar and see more than two people whom my ex or I have slept with, I leave immediately," my friend Rich told me shortly after I split from my partner of five years.
I was looking to friends for counsel on reentering the dating world, and Rich was resolute in his sentiment that dangling my fishing line into a pool of familiar faces was not the way for me to move forward romantically. By Rich's logic, I'd have a hard time staying in any West Hollywood club for more than five minutes and would, as a result, remain alone eternally.
"So are you suggesting that I move to a new city?" I asked. He made no room for the idea that the man of my dreams could be sitting right beside the guys he was advising me to avoid.
"Are you kidding? Chances are that this 'fantasy man' you speak of has already been involved with the two men he's perched next to. Trust me." According to Rich, trying to date locally after a breakup was a lost cause, the gay version of a zombie apocalypse thriller in which one infected citizen spreads his disease from person to person until it reaches epidemic proportions.
For a few months, I adopted Rich's bleak outlook. He had resigned himself to being terminally single, trudging through town like he was on a feature-length episode of The Walking Dead, and I limped along next to him. After all, a few facts were on his side.
1. The percentage of people who are gay. While there is no universally agreed upon reporting of what portion of the world's population identifies as homosexual, it's widely believed that 10% is a reasonable, if likely inflated, number. That figure represents a relatively small dating circle. So if love is, in fact, largely a numbers game, the odds are against us. Rich certainly wasn't wrong about that.
2. The ghettoization of gay communities. Sure, LGBT people make their homes in a variety of cities across the world, but there are inarguably locations that are known for having a considerable number of gay residents. You are certain to find more gay folks in New York City, Fort Lauderdale, and San Francisco than in, say, Jackson Hole, Montgomery, and Milwaukee. Circling within these concentrated locations makes running into people with whom you (or your ex) have some type of shared history a likelihood.
3. Birds of a feather. Within these areas that are home to large numbers of gay men and women, people tend to congregate with those who are similar or whom they find most attractive. For example, you'll run into bears and the men who love them at specific hot spots. Likewise, if Twinkerbell is your kind of guy, you'll probably be hanging out at a dance club that draws youthful looking man-boys. This further compartmentalization of the "gay ghettos" will, without a doubt, put you face-to-face with the same group of men time and time again. It's a "Mary-go-round" to nowhere, as Rich would explain it.
While not one of those points in particular accounted for my friend's dismal point of view on dating following the dissolution of a relationship, they cumulatively made a compelling argument. The truth was, though, I wanted to love again. I wanted to be social within my community. I wanted to let go of the discomfort that was attached to running into men from my past.
What I didn't want to do was relocate. But how was I going to escape from the dystopian George Romero movie that Rich was projecting onto me? It was a rare few who survived until the end credits of those films.
"You're going to take a deep breath and really think about your sensibilities," my friend Georgeann scolded after I told her about Rich's dire "end of the world" warnings.
She was right; it was time to reframe my thinking. I needed to rejoin the land of the living. I had to cancel my subscription to Rich's issues and remind myself that it was OK to feel comfortable in familiar surroundings, regardless of my histories with the other people around me. Part of that meant not being so rigid about what kinds of men might make me happy.
To be clear, getting back on the dating scene wasn't as easy as putting one foot in front of the other. I had to build up the confidence to walk into the local haunts that my ex and I enjoyed together. I challenged myself once a week to pop into the restaurants and bars that had been part of my past -- and remain until I finished a meal or drink by myself. It was intimidating at first, and it took every ounce of my willpower to stay seated for an hour.
Practice paid off; I became more secure after only a couple of months. Yes, there were those awkward moments when I'd make eye contact with a man I'd dated previously or a guy who'd had a one-night stand with my ex years before, but they weren't fatal. Those brief but civil interactions didn't deliver the crushing blows that Rich told me were inevitable.
I also widened my scope of interest when it came to specific types of guys. I definitely still appreciated the All-American, collegiate-looking boy nex door, but I found that venturing into new establishments put some other appealing men in my pathway. Who'd have thought that I could be attracted to a bearded hipster in Silver Lake, never mind a husky biker whose leather jacket smelled like a good time? I wouldn't have even imagined it myself had I not listened to Georgeann and stepped out of my comfort zone.
And what about Rich? We have maintained a close friendship, and he delights in offering me his perspective on just about every life subject. Not surprisingly, though, he remains single while my weekend evenings have gotten pretty busy. I guess it's just a matter of whether we choose to let the facts work for us or against us.
JOSH SABARRA is the best-selling author of Porn Again: A Memoir, and his work appears regularly in Gay Times and The Huffington Post. He is a veteran marketing executive and television producer who has held positions at the Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Studios, Miramax Films, New Line Cinema, and Lifetime Networks. Josh resides in Los Angeles, where he is the president and CEO of his own public relations firm, Breaking News PR. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSabarra.