OUT in Manhattan: Straight Up or With a Twist?

One of the draws of living in New York City is its plethora of dating options for LGBT people. I am an openly gay, 21 year-old, raised in Pittsburgh from a West Virginian family. When I go back home to visit my family in West Virginia I can’t tell if there are actually no other gay men on Tinder around me or the app is just broken.

I just graduated from Emerson College in Boston. Emerson is so liberal and LGBT-friendly that it has a half-joking, unofficial slogan of, “Gay by May or your money back.” With that being said, there was a wide variety of gay men to choose from. I just wrote that as if I actually took advantage and dated within the Emerson community while there. I didn’t.

New York is supposed to provide an even larger pool of gay men, scurrying between Westside bars on any given Friday or Saturday night. A new episode of Scream Queens is reason enough for us all to congregate and scream YAASS! in unison on a Tuesday night. These are social events in safety zones where we can be who we want to be. Actually, a man could wear a dress through the middle of Harlem and no one would raise an eyebrow nowadays.

For some, these streets and bars are far safer spaces than their own homes– especially if they’re still living with their parents. One would think I could sidestep this by pulling up a barstool and finding fellow cocktail enthusiasts for dates. But no, I have to go on the internet so I can find project men who just want to gulp a good ole IPA.

Once upon a time a guy named Lance and I matched with the magic of mutual right swipes on Tinder. The utter romanticism of it all started with flat messages to each other while I stood in line for three hours on Bowery to acquire access to the Drake pop-up shop and a sunburn. He would punctuate messages with the zest of, “Thanks, man.” Talk dirty to me.

I screenshotted his Tinder profile and sent it to a girlfriend: 27 years old, St. John’s grad, 6’0, and a cosmopolitan balance of Venetian vacay shots and shirtless bathroom selfies. Find you a man who can do both.

Not much gets past my sleuthing gal pal as she pointed out, “26 miles away?!”

Yup, Lance lived on Long Island.

Now, Manhattanites catch a lot of flack for not being open to dating off of our little island of perfection, the very axis on which the entire universe revolves. We may have to pay double for it, but we don’t even need to leave for Olive Garden! Of course, exceptions can be made for some Brooklyn exploring: a night of industrial pub-hopping with hipsters in Williamsburg here or a concert at Barclays Center there. Otherwise, no dates from Long Island, Jersey, Westchester, or… shiver… Connecticut.

Once I rode over the George Washington Bridge from my Harlem abode for dinner, a movie, and dessert with a guy, who paid for everything. That was worth it. But it isn’t always worth it. Part of why we don’t date outside of Manhattan is because we don’t want to go all that way to be disappointed and we would feel bad if they traveled for us.

So, Lance decided he would visit me in Manhattan: score. But other than strolling around Central Park, he seemed like he was at a loss for other things do in the city… Said the guy from a Long Island suburb. Museums! Bars! Restaurants! Shows! Tourist traps! All in Manhattan! But meeting in Central Park it was.

I sat on a park bench near the southwest entrance on a sunny August afternoon. I was numb off of mimosas since this was post-brunch on a Sunday. Lance kept giving me updates as to just how horrendously late he was going to be. An hour and a half later, we met.

He was hot in person, just under my height and his nose wasn’t as big as his unflattering selfie angles suggested. His normcore, monochromatic grey t-shirt and shorts pairing was a sexy kind of lazy. I liked him!

Conversation was a little stiff as we talked about his stable office job and I tried to explain to him what it’s like feeling like the floor is about to fall through a freelance writer and television production assistant. He had a lot of questions regarding moving to a place in the city, seeing as he was trying to escape living at home with his parents.

“How do you move all your stuff?”

“Umm… Packing light and multiple Uber and subway trips.”

We were getting really personal, guys. So much so that he wanted to have dinner over at AG Kitchen on Upper West Side. Actually, he was just hungry and I needed a cocktail to get me through this. After all, I was physically attracted to him. He was just nervous and dull.

He ordered a burger. I ordered chips and guac with a Manhattan. He even tensed up over my drink order upon finding out the whiskey and vermouth contents of it.

Then, as the server was collecting our menus, it hit me. It was an impulsive question and one that just shot right out of my mouth, impaling him to the back of the booth, unable to escape.

“Are you out to your parents?”

Blind-sided, but not missing a beat, he replied with a blunt no. He asked me the same and I repressed an eye roll to compliment my “Of course.”

“They’ve known since I was a child,” I easily explained.

“How? I don’t get how people can say that,” he exclaimed, frustrated.

“I liked Little Mermaid and they took me to my first Lady Gaga concert when I was 16,” I shrugged.

I deflected the tension by making him try a sip of my Manhattan. He couldn’t handle its strength.

In an effort to charge his phone, we next sat at a Dunkin’ Donuts and sipped coffee. At my suggestion of him charging it at my place he froze. Finally, I asked him just why he had swiped right. He said I have nice eyes. I then asked him his type. He said “athletic and masculine.” Ah, of course, and so goes the ideologies of a closeted gay man. #masc #DL

I expressed my wanting to go on a movie date with a guy, objectively. He said he’d be willing to do that as a second date, even suggesting Suicide Squad, a piece of cinematic excellence loathed by many, appreciated by me. I kissed him on the cheek and he returned to Long Island, never to speak to me in person again.

I wasn’t too bothered by it. After all, being closeted is a deal breaker for me. I’ve worked all my life, and have been out since 17, to live comfortably with my sexuality. I expect the same in a partner. Plus, Long Island. Ugh.

But Lance would still Snapchat or text me on occasion on Fridays, with always the same message, “Happy Friday.”

Whenever I would press him about when the movie date was going to happen, he would just respond with, “haha.”

I finally made the mature, millennial decision to delete him on Snapchat. I don’t keep guys from apps on there seeing as my uses of the dog filter and face swap features are my social media at its most intimate. Tell him, “Boy, bye.”

Then, a few weeks after no communication, he texted me, “Hey, Cooper.” I tensed up, but shot the breeze with him. Then, the next morning, I decided to beat him to the punch and apologize for deleting him on Snapchat.

He hadn’t even noticed. Did he not wonder where all of my flawless, first-attempt selfies had gone?! Anyways, I explained I had assumed he didn’t want to see me again and then proceeded to re-add him.

We still haven’t seen each other again. We don’t really talk. But then, out of the blue, about a week ago, on a chilly, fall Saturday night, he texted me from out of the blue that his dog had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and given weeks to live.

Over the next couple days, I got Snapchats of the adorable Bichon. He told me the pup said hi. I told him to let me know if he needed anything. His response?

“Thanks, man.”


Edited by Brianna Arrighi

Cooper Irons


Cooper considers himself a pop culture journalist with a love for personal storytelling, too. He is currently writing and freelancing with being a production assistant in NYC. He has written his own movie review blog, The Morning After... The Movies, since July 2010. "What I love most about living in NYC is in the event of having no plans, one can simply walk out onto the sidewalk and feel the city's energy and become inspired and excited by all of its possibilities."

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