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Suddenly single

Suddenly single


Looking for long-term love is hard enough when you're young and queer in the big city. But reentering the dating scene after the end of a long relationship -- that's a struggle.

Sitting with five of her girlfriends sipping cosmos and eating from a heaping plate of nachos at the Abbey in West Hollywood, Calif., on a recent Friday night, Gina Davidson is the picture of a confident young L Word lesbian.

But mention romance and Davidson's composure wavers. This petite 21-year-old nursing assistant is just three months out of her first and only relationship. It began when she was a teenager; she and her girlfriend had essentially grown up together. Over the past few years, Davidson says, their life together had deteriorated into "just constant arguments." Still, breaking up was hard to do. "You still think about it half the time. You're consumed thinking about that person," Davidson admits. "You think you see her everywhere. The other half of the time, I just try and have fun to get her out of my mind."

Davidson has already been pursued, but she's sticking close to her friends as she dips her toe into the dating world, a place she has never really known. "I'm very hesitant, very scared," she admits. "I'm keeping my options open, living life."

Davidson has plenty of company among gays and lesbians who find themselves suddenly single. Standing several yards away at the Abbey is newly single Steven Mongeau, a boyish-looking 34-year-old real estate developer who's back on the singles scene with a vengeance after the recent end of a three-year relationship.

He has been going out with friends to hot spots in "boystown"--as West Hollywood is popularly known--but, he says, "I think the whole thing is more shallow than a year ago. They're more interested in the physical and income--mostly income. I'm interested in the whole package. A lifetime package."

Therapist Tina Tessina, author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again, says reentering the dating scene after time away isn't easy for anyone.

"When they get into a relationship everyone feels relief that they don't have to do the dating thing anymore. Dating is difficult--a lot of unknowns all at once, and you're putting yourself out on the line," she says. "When you've broken up suddenly, you are wounded, even if you did the breaking up. All your doubts go with you out in the dating scene."

John Rochat, 43, had been in a committed relationship for more than 12 years when he found himself suddenly single after a painful breakup last year with the man he married at San Francisco City Hall in 2004.

It's the first time Rochat, an oncologist who lives in Mendocino County, Calif., has been on his own since his late 20s, and he says he felt a sense of shock as he dove back into the dating pool. "The last time I did this I was in my 20s--I missed my 30s completely," he says. "[Being single this time] felt a lot different. Friends were asking if I was going to clubs, and that just didn't appeal to me. I didn't want that scene. I went through the stage where I was going to be a monk. Then I wondered if I was going to be a cynical, bitter aging queen. Ultimately I realized I'd like to have a relationship again."

Rochat has been going on dates, and he feels optimistic about one guy in particular. But he also feels pressure that didn't exist during his first tour of singlehood. "You really think [your relationship] is going to last forever--so now, if I'm going to have forever with someone else, it doesn't feel like as much time. It's like I want to hurry up and get forever going. When I got out of a three-year relationship in my 20s I had none of these feelings. I was just lackadaisical, thinking it would all work out."

Chicago resident Blythe Landry, 32, thought she had found the woman of her dreams after spending four years married to a man during her 20s. But after less than two years she is single again. "It's difficult, when you were so involved with someone, to go back out there and start dating again, because you compare them to your ex," muses Landry, a social worker. "I might have gone back out there prematurely."

Because she prefers feminine women, Landry says she's had trouble finding someone to connect with. "It's more difficult to meet people the older you get. I'm not in grad school anymore," she says. "I go to yoga and I go to the gym and try to find ways to network because I don't generally go to clubs."

Landry has also tried her hand at online dating--along with thousands, maybe millions of other new singles. For many it's a bumpy ride.'s Kristin Kelly calls people like Landry and Rochat the "second-time-around group." Singles in their mid 30s to early 50s, she says, are in for some culture shock when they try to resume dating. "Whether you're gay or straight," says Kelly, "if you're new to the dating scene after a number of years of being in a relationship, the dating world has changed drastically. Everything about the way we as a society communicate and connect is different, with e-mail, cell phones, BlackBerrys, and instant messaging."

Kelly says that globally about 60,000 people register for the world's largest dating service each day and estimates the number of LGBT registrants at approximately 6%. "What people love about online dating," she says, "is that you get to share a lot of information about who you are, and you have a chance to very quickly go through a pool of people without ever leaving your home. It's private. When you're just coming back to the dating scene it allows you to put yourself out there again in a way that's probably more comfortable."

But Tessina, who also authored Gay Relationships, recommends live dating and suggests getting involved in things that interest you--politics, a church, cooking classes. "You need to get around people who are doing what is interesting to you," she says. "Online you can find sex, but what you aren't going to get from sex is commitment. It's very, very rare. I have friends who have gotten together online, but you have to sift through thousands of the wrong people to find the right person."

What's more, Tessina points out, gay men and lesbians face an "almost completely opposite" set of dating issues when they return to singledom. "The setup in our culture is that men like the hunt and women don't; they want to settle right down," she says. "With heterosexuals, those two opposing things balance things out a bit."

Like Gina Davidson, many lesbians can be hesitant to initiate pursuit, whereas gay men--like straight men--"tend to like the chase," Tessina says. "But they have a really hard time developing long-term intimacy. They get a lot more competitive with each other."

If the gay dating world is tough, it's fortunate that gay friendship is strong. Roberto Ezzevalli, 36, and Jim Key, 41, have weathered the single life together in Los Angeles for the past two years. Although both are handsome, successful professionals, each has found it difficult to find someone new to share his life with. "I was with the person I thought I was going to be with for the rest of my life," Key says of Dan, the video-game programmer he met while dancing at a club in San Diego six years ago. "It was the first time I'd lived with someone. As soon as I saw him, I was head over heels infatuated, then in love."

Dan broke Key's heart when he wanted out, and even though later he wanted to reconcile, Key says, "I had some trust issues."

Single again, Key left San Diego and took a job as chief public affairs officer for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, a position that allows him to come across plenty of potential dates in the course of his day. But he also signed up for a gay social-networking Web site. "As I'm getting older, I don't have the patience for bars, and meeting people online is so much more efficient. I've had multiple dates with a few people, but it's tough to make a relationship. Being in a relationship is more satisfying than being single--but not if the relationship isn't satisfying."

Ezzevalli, an illustrator in the advertising industry, had been in a three-year relationship with a man with whom he had just bought a house. It was during stressful renovations that the relationship fell apart.

Now that he's closer to 40 than 30, Ezzevalli says dating is much harder than it is for a 20-something. "When you're younger you're not 100% aware of life--you have the world at your feet, with thousands of possibilities," he says. "Now I'm older, and my principles have become more grounded. There are tons of frogs out there, I have to say that. But if a date goes bad, you think, This will be a great story to tell my friends. Otherwise you'd never survive."

In fact, on Valentine's Day 2006, Ezzevalli and Key were among some friends who gathered at a West Hollywood restaurant to have an anti-Valentine's dinner. They all shared dating horror stories. Key shared a doozy about a guy he had met online. "We agreed to get together again, and he suggested renting a DVD and making his 'world-famous turkey tacos.' Then, before the dinner, he e-mails me asking me to take a personality test before the date. Then he arrived, groceries in hand, and said, 'I'm a diabetic; I just need to cook this up. I need to eat now.' In the bag is ground turkey, ketchup, shredded cheese in a bag, store-bought shells, and a bag of taco seasoning mix. Every other word out of his mouth was 'baby.' Within five minutes he was driving me insane. I couldn't wait to get him out of my house. The next day he e-mailed me and said, 'Why didn't you like my turkey tacos? I sensed some real chemistry with us.'

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