An Ideal Partner: The Search Is On
Image by Jan Vašek 

[Editor's Note: While this article is written for gay men, its principles and insights can apply to any of us.]

Much of the romantic inner feelings of gay men revolve around an "ideal partner". He is the sexualized version of the "ideal friend" who will give you everything, be everything you can't be (butch, rich, powerful, adult), and satisfy all your narcissistic needs to find someone whose value either reflects or increases yours.

Although this is not at all limited to us (the aging executive's need for a trophy wife who is tall, gorgeous, and twenty years younger than the first wife is hetero narcissism), gay men often have a fear of going outside their narcissism: what they feel as "marrying" beneath them. Their own internalized homophobia makes it difficult to see someone else for what he is, and so they end up with a "type", a template of desire that turns them on like a light switch: every time. And it is from this template that they expect to find -- every time --  the "love of their lives."

I find this "love of your life" idea fascinating in that it expresses perfectly the gay need to find that mirror image, that narcissistic fulfillment, that keeps many gay men on a constant romantic merry-go-round. As with the heroines in old 1940s MGM two-hankie "women's" movies, we think of the love of our lives as the tall, dark, handsome stranger who finds us sitting out on a park bench, lonely, forlorn, with just a half pack of peanuts left. He gives us everything: the mink, the house, the car, the dick. He has it all. He excites and satisfies us -- and asks from us (just as he would from any real movie heroine) the most complete, draining and one-sided love any testicled animal will ever get.

To put it another way: we are prepared to love the living doody out of him.

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Millions of gay men will be looking for the "love of their lives" until they die. They will be sitting on that park bench, or cruising until four A.M., or complaining at brunch, and then gyming and shopping and dieting, and then cruising again. They will look and look and look, and never realize that real love might already have found them.

Why is that?

How could it happen right under their noses? Is it possible that this "great love" could originate from someone else? And in an amazingly open, touching, down-to-earth way? Is it possible that it could be there, and still escape them?

Uh huh: it's possible.

And it would escape them, because the truth is: they never, really find themselves lovable.

Loving someone else, being hurt by someone else, running after the next love material and the next (and the next) -- all of this is preferable to being loved. Why?

Because being loved means owning up to the responsibility of being loved, which is -- in the long run -- more difficult than asking for (or looking for) love. Although many of us love to be adored, being loved is different. Being loved on an adult level requires that you feel worthy of love, and also that someone else's feelings be responsibly respected. It also means looking into your own need for love and realizing how vulnerable that makes you, since we are sure that our own unlovable selves will be denied any love that is being offered to us, at any moment.

Feeling Worthy or Unworthy of Love?

I refer to this chronic insecurity as "looking into the mouth of the volcano". Looking directly into that cavernous, frightening need we have to be loved; a need that goes back to childhood; a need that most people will spend their entire lives attempting to avoid. However, if we marshal the courage to look directly into the "the volcano" where so much inner turmoil lies -- remember that volcanoes are actually weak spots in the earth's ancient crust -- we will find the love that is ours: ours to give as well as to receive.

The love may come by uniting us with absent fathers, difficult mothers, rejecting brothers -- by uniting us with all the painful, threatening fires within ourselves -- but it is there. It is deep within the mouth of that volcano, that fearful place where our need for love is hidden. And there, if we can finally look into it, we can learn to accept love and, indeed, authentically (without histrionic "sacrifices") offer it. Loving will then be a natural part of our imaginative soul and personality. We will be able, in short, to realize the intention to love and be loved.

We will be able to say: "I am worthy of being loved, and of loving."

(The opposite, flip side, of this is the man who never feels that his love is worth having. "Why would he want me? What do I have to give?" Because he has felt genuinely unloved, he feels that his love is unworthy.

Love is Precious

This cycle is again broken when we realize how precious love is. By questioning a feeling that is presented, often unbidden, to us, we are demeaning ourselves. It is important to see love, then, as an ultimate gift. Or, as the poet W. H. Auden said, "If equal affection cannot be/ Let the more loving one be me.")

So one of the most direct ways of avoiding looking into this need (the "mouth of the volcano") is to spend your life "looking for love": for someone to invest your own narcissistic needs in, rather than accepting someone who, at that point in his own emotional development, can love you.

What I'm asking for, then, is to be able to see and accept emotional richness in another person, rather than the other things that we have programmed ourselves to look for in a "Personals" ad way: that "template-of-desire" appearance (what is referred to, basically, as "my type"), manner, sexual technique, or position. We keep looking for these things more and more specifically ("smokes cigars; has a mustache; does not smoke; no facial hair. . ."), while rejecting men faster and faster.

Again, this harks back to the cruising games most of us have played for years. What makes cruising such a waste of time is our fear of rejection. After all, in cruising, everybody is out for the same thing, correct? But the sting of rejection becomes, for most men, much more painful than the pleasures of acceptance. This is especially true now in our culture of rejection, where we find ever more reasons to find men unacceptable.

So when you think of all the time you've wasted cruising because of your own fear of rejection, you may realize that some of that time went into your own fear that your cruised "object" just might not be "worthy" enough for you.

True Love

"True love" then, could be around the corner. It could very well be in someone else's true feelings about you. And although many of us have had relationships that "did not work out" -- that is, another man did not give us everything we felt we deserved -- we cannot deny that someone else might have loved us with an intensity that was palpable and indeed beautiful: with a veracity of love that was as deep as his soul was capable.

But this was not the "true love" we wanted as a narcissistic ideal. This was not the place where we saw ourselves at the mirror, with Prince Charming staring back at us waiting to ask us in.

For many of us, this date with a Prince might be terrifying. After all, the first question is what does he see in us? 

This is something that many gay men have a difficult time with, especially younger ones, who often internalize the idea that there is nothing interesting about them except their youth and bodies. For them, the idea that you're interested -- or even capable of being interested -- in any person beside yourself, comes with a little slip attached that says: "Beware, this guy has got to be as self-obsessed as I am. So how can he be genuinely interested in me?"

The flip side, once more, is the man who feels that since he is going to lose anyway, why bother?

The Feeling of Rejection Will Not Kill You

Rejection, certainly, is one of the worst feelings in the world. It brings to mind all the rejection we had as children, and those reactions of helplessness and pain it caused. But once you have let that feeling out, and seen it working among others, you realize that you can prevail over it.

Rejection itself as a feeling will not kill you, but the pain of rejecting yourself can: the pain that comes from not owning up to what you are, as a valuable person, who has weathered so much, including rejection, including pain, grief, and hurt. This will not ever protect you from actual rejection. But it will strengthen you so that you will be able to go through the kind of normal risks that make life exciting and allow relationships to happen.

In gay relationships, without the preset husband/wife patterning, risk was a regular part of our lives. An awareness of risk produced an openness to change that kept many relationships going. Although the down side was that with such a high level of risk (no laws to protect, or restrict, either party), breaking up was easy to do; the up side was that it became easier to go from one relationship to another without feeling marked as a "loser", which many divorced heterosexuals feel.

The "hating ourselves but loving you" model

I felt, while coming out in the mid-60s, that I had one gay quest and it was the hardest thing for me to do: to find a man who did not hate himself so much that my own fragile sense of self-worth was not destroyed with his. I had been through so much damage growing up in a bigoted, homophobic South with a disturbed mother, that I was not about to connect with a man who showed me that even though he hated himself, he could still love me.

This "hating ourselves but loving you" model was prevalent then. (It also seems ready for a comeback, as internalized gay homophobia has come roaring back out of the closet.) You could not go out to a bar or a gay party and not feel it.

It was to a great degree what the generation older than I was set on, and it set them apart from us, a generation that proposed to change the world through, of all things, love. Often I felt that men from the older, self-hating 50s generation had nothing to say to me, and this is a feeling that younger gay men now have: that we, men in our forties and fifties, are cut off from them, as they have cut themselves off from us.

Yet I know that we are all looking for the same thing: some clue, model -- or even a pattern -- for how to survive our own gay lives.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Belhue Press, 2501 Palisade Ave., #A1,
Bronx, NY 10463. Copyright by Perry Brass.

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How To Survive Your Own Gay Life: An Adult Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships by Perry Brass.How To Survive Your Own Gay Life: An Adult Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships
by Perry Brass.

A book about surviving your gay life in today's culture and, more importantly, how to create rewarding relationships and a strengthening inner life.

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About The Author

Perry BrassPerry Brass edited Come Out!, the first gay liberation newspaper in the world, published by New York's Gay Liberation Front, and with two friends founded the first health clinic for gay men on the East Coast.  His 1985 play, Night Chills, won the Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Contest. He has written two poetry books: Sex-charge and The Lover of My Soul, a gay science fiction thriller, Mirage, followed by two sequels, Circles and Albert or The Book of Man. He has also authored a novel, The Harvest, a gay "science/politico" thriller. He is an accomplished public reader and exponent of gender and gay-related topics, and is available for public appearances. For more info, visit 

Video/Interview with Perry Brass: The Stonewall Oral History Project
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