Dating in the Age of Apps
By Luis Guzmán Valerio
I met my partner in an unconventional way. In my early forties, I was a single gay man in New York City and had just about given up on finding a life partner. After realizing that I had dated at least two guys who were HIV positive, I was on Truvada for Prep in order to play it safe should I be exposed to the virus. I was finishing my Ph.D. dissertation, had just started a new job, and was looking for a place to live closer to work. This meant that I, like many other single, gay men in New York City without a lucrative career had to live with roommates. I moved into an apartment on the Upper West Side with two other gay men in their thirties and forties. One of them became my boyfriend and then my domestic partner. As I write this, we are planning our wedding and he’s referred to me as his fiancé. The truth is that I was captivated by his eyes and bright smile on the day he and the third roommate interviewed me for the apartment.
That I even found him is a miracle. I wasn’t the stay-at-home type and preferred to go out to gay bars to get together with friends and meet other guys. I always preferred going out for a drink to the anxiety of being home alone.
My partner was the complete opposite. He was afraid of the judgment of the crowd. When we were still roommates, sometimes I didn’t even know he was in the apartment. Unless his friends had invited him to get together for a meal, the whole weekend would go by and he would hardly come out of his room. In our friendly talks about dating and gay life, he had revealed that he was on the apps, on at least three of them. If we hadn’t been roommates, we never would’ve met.
How did it happen? We both got sick and I had to take a day off from work. My partner, then roommate, was also sick, but had the day off because of the Jewish holidays celebrated in the Fall. Since we were both home all day, we ended up sitting in the living room and literally spent the time talking amid tissue boxes, toast, and reheated chicken soup he had made. Our other roommate remarked on how we were both sitting in the exact same places he had left us in when he came back several hours later that day. The chicken soup my soon-to-be boyfriend had made was offered to me with much love. I was one of those New Yorkers who ate out all the time and whose idea of cooking involved making coffee and reheating ready-made food. On that day, we kept a garbage can for our tissues by the couch. Between sniffles, coughs, sneezes, and nose-blowing, we had several conversations. It was the conversations that made me realize I could spend the rest of my life with this man. I didn’t get tired of him. I didn’t think he was boring. I didn’t feel like I was just wanted to go to my room, shut the door behind me, and crawl into bed under the covers, despite having a pretty severe cold. I didn’t think to myself, “I wish he would just shut up already.” The chicken soup that he offered was a nurturing gesture that only served to validate what I was already feeling about him.
What did we talk about all day? On the surface, we couldn’t be more different. Physically he’s a bear, a mix of a porn star and a cave man. I’m tall, slim, and hairless from my waist to my beard. He was born in a small town in central Illinois and came to New York for graduate school. I was born in the Dominican Republic and have lived in New York most of my life. In his first career, he was a public school teacher; and throughout my Ph.D., I did a lot of research in schools. So, there was some overlap in our interest in education. We also talked about our favorite books. I could have spent that day reading, but found it more interesting and engaging to continue the conversation. What really held my attention were his stories about happy hours with his teacher colleagues that went on from many a Friday afternoon well into the night.
Even before we started dating, I had asked him a few times whether he wanted to join me and my friends for drinks, but he declined my invitations saying that he had to stay on top of graduate school work. He played hard to get. The day after our sick day, I asked him if he wanted to join me for a movie. Once again, he had retreated into his room and said he wasn’t feeling up to it. I waited another day and couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to go, knock on his door, and confess my love to him. He was unwelcoming. I had to ask if I could sit down on a bench in his room. I told him I had developed feelings for him over the course of our conversations. He got up out of his recliner and asked if he could kiss me.
Still, I had to wait. It wasn’t until the following weekend that we had our first date. I took him to see the Tom of Finland biopic, followed by my favorite Maghrebi restaurant, and then drinks at New York’s oldest gay bar. On the way there, we rode the local subway line down to the Village. At one point, as the train rolled along, I told him to put his face against the glass of the door and cup his hands around his face to block out the light so that I could show him the abandoned train station with all its graffiti between 96th and 86thstreets.
Being roommates meant that we skipped a lot of steps in our relationship. We had actually already learned to live with one another. I was used to seeing him walk around the apartment barefoot in his pajamas. We didn’t argue about dirty dishes in the sink because the only thing I would cook were fried eggs for breakfast. Our courtship, however, soon involved sharing meals together on weeknights and weekends when my boyfriend/roommate wasn’t at one of his two part-time jobs. We bonded over food. Within a few weeks we went from having me pick up cold cuts and potato kugel after my workout at the gym, to making pasta, and finally cooperating on putting together full, home-cooked meals including desert. He makes almond stuffed dates with ginger and covered in chocolate that are a true aphrodisiac. One of our favorite things to eat, however, consisted of pigging out on chicken wings in three flavors, fries, and a drink from the nearest kosher restaurant. Our third roommate was a strict lacto-vegetarian and didn’t appreciate our carnivorous repast in the living room.
After we started being an item, the third roommate grew envious, then passive aggressive, and finally downright aggressive. The turning point came on New Year’s Day when we had made chocolate chip pancakes and were having a boozy brunch which all three of us shared. While I was in the bathroom, the third roommate informed my boyfriend that he no longer wanted us using his alcohol. When my boyfriend told me, the third roommate had retreated to his bedroom.
When it all started coming down, my boyfriend and I were clear that we were in it together. We communicated, and it made all the difference. We noticed the third roommate would tell me one thing and then tell my boyfriend another. The third roommate’s backstabbing e-mails assumed we didn’t have good communication skills. I would come home on Friday night to find the third roommate had invited a bunch of people over for dinner, without letting me or my boyfriend know. There were conversations the third roommate only wanted to have with my boyfriend. The third roommate saw me as getting in the way of their friendship. When my boyfriend and I decided to find our own place and gave him two months’ notice, he told us he wanted us out in a month. Then came the resentful and harassing e-mails because I missed a couple of wi-fi payments. I asked him for the amount due and offered to pay several times, but he just wanted to argue. When we were moving our belongings out of the apartment, he put the chain on the door and refused to let us in. This happened on two separate occasions. We reminded him that we had every right to enter the apartment and threatened to call the police. We ended up living in temporary student housing for six weeks. For my boyfriend and me, the roommate chapter of our lives precipitously came to a close.
Shortly after we moved out together and began living in our own series of New York rentals and sub-lets, we decided to sign a Domestic Partnership Agreement. We went from being boyfriends to being partners. We are lucky to live in a city that offers this option to couples that are starting out. Officially being partnered meant that I was able to add my partner to my health insurance at work. The Facebook announcement of our wedding plans came later, when we were ready and had started working out the details.
Luis Guzmán Valerio was born in the Dominican Republic and holds a Ph.D. in Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures.