Local counselor advises relying less on apps and more on actually meeting in person
That may be because most gay men didn’t get to date appropriately in high school and don’t begin to learn how until they’re older.
Since the AIDS crisis hit, Cognetta says, we’ve been taught that dating is a means to an end — find the right partner. But, he adds, “It doesn’t have to be. Dating can just be enjoying someone’s company.”
And while many gay men rely on the Internet and ever-changing technology to find a date, Cognetta says apps like Grindr are part of the problem. Gay men often live behind an online persona they’ve created.
Cognetta doesn’t discount Grindr as a tool to meet, but he suggests getting together for the first time at a place like Starbucks for a cup of coffee — dinner could take hours, but a cup of coffee shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes. And a short meeting that can evolve into a subsequent date if there’s a spark could be very helpful, he says.
Cognetta says gay men who meet online do a number of things wrong. One is chatting online too long.
Some people talk online for months before meeting, and that gives them time to build up a persona that no one can live up to.
Cognetta has two rules when he meets in person with someone he first met online. First is the 30-second rule: “Either can opt out,” he explains. “Give a polite ‘no thank you’ and walk away.”
“It’s not all about you,” Cognetta says. “Find out about them. Focus outside yourself. Expect nothing.”
That first meeting is about discovery, he says, so go into the date expecting to be treated with respect and, hopefully, to have a good time.
“You might come away with a new friendship, a business opportunity, a new joke,” he says. “Learn something.”
If things work out, leave it open for another meeting. Rather than asking the person on a date, he suggests saying something like, “Next week, I’m doing X and maybe you’d like to join.”
Cognetta urges men to always know where they stand at the end of the date. “At 40-plus, you’re too old or maybe too mature to be playing mystery date,” he notes. “Be in charge of your own destiny.”
But also be aware of warning signs. Notice if the other man is not forthcoming with information. Look for physical cues. Is he constantly checking his phone? Did he come up with thousands of things he’s doing next week, without suggesting an alternate time to meet again?
“Perhaps another time,” is a polite way to end things, Cognetta suggests, or “May I follow up with you in a week,” gets him to commit to receiving a call from you again — or not.
Many gay men over 40 handle things passive-aggressively, not responding when someone calls and hoping the other person will get the hint, Cognetta notes. But a direct approach is usually better: “Thank you so much, but I just don’t see the connection,” he suggests.
That’s an approach Cognetta says has gotten him good responses such as, “Thanks for being honest.”
Because people over 40 are more settled, they’re usually looking for someone who is their intellectual equal as well as emotionally and economically stable.
Since gender roles don’t apply, gay men over 40 have to create some of their own rules and boundaries — like who picks up the check?
Many people in their 20s, Cognetta says, date in swarms. More often than not, they have serial relationships. A man in his 40s, he suggests, needs to know who he is and who he wants to be with.
To meet people outside of dating apps Cognetta urges men to go where people are — church, political groups or other LGBT organizations, bars. Do things that interest you, he encourages, noting that “As we age, we isolate.”
While no one is going to change someone else, figure out what you’re willing to accept and embrace and know what you’re not. “What are your must haves,” Cognetta asks.
He suggests before thinking about dating someone seriously, get your own house in order — job, drugs, past relationships. For mature relationships to be successful, we need more than simple sexual attraction, he says, although that’s important too. •
Chris-James Cognetta is a licensed professional counselor intern in practice with Stonewall Behavioral Health, 3625 North Hall St. Suite 1250. Stonewall-inc.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 10, 2015.