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    You just haven’t earned it yet, baby

    A few months ago, a soft-spoken Japanese guy in his early 20s came up to me and struck up a very tentative conversation. Later, he called and asked whether I was free for dinner on the weekend. I carefully selected a this-is-not-a-date-little-buddy outfit and met him in Shibuya. (Well, okay–a few friends I met later were all snarky and “That‘s your this-is-not-a-date outfit?” which I thought was kind of uncalled-for. It turned out that there was a bigger issue, though.)

    After dinner, I took Teru to one of my hangouts, run by half of a couple Atsushi and I know. (The other half runs the bar where we were introduced, right down the street. They’re in their early 50s, together for two decades; it’s fun to to go to one bar after the other and listen to them bitch, serially, about each other’s managerial and customer service skills.) It was a Sunday night, not very late, so when we arrived there were only two other guys there.

    Then, just after we’d gotten our drinks, a dozen men came in. The other bar had had a bowling party or something, so they were all regulars. After they swept in, I was busy being greeted and teased and teasing and greeting back. I introduced Teru to those who were within bowing distance. Two old buddies I hadn’t seen for ages asked about a third friend who’d dropped off their radar. Another long-time acquaintance related (with humor rather than rancor) how he’d tried to pick me up once after Atsushi and I got together. At some point I turned to Teru, chuckling, to explain the meaning of some in-jokey thing.

    And pulled up short. He looked mildly alarmed, like an anthropologist starting his first fieldwork and realizing that it was very, very different from reading journals in the library. Since then, it’s become increasingly clear that Teru kind of wants help making friends. I’m happy to do the big brother things, but…how do I put this?…no one should feel forced to affect an outgoingness that really doesn’t gel with his personality, but it still isn’t fair to sit around expecting fabulous friendships and piquant potential love interests to start swirling around you spontaneously. If you never display more than a polite interest in people, they’ll assume you’re not interested in being more than polite to them. Arrogance tends to repel people, but a demeanor that suggests you’re confident you have something to offer doesn’t.

    Yes, I’ve pointed this out, in a fashion that’s as little like a sermon as possible. But Teru seems to think that once you’ve found friends, you’ll be able to act engaged and lively, rather than the other way around. To a degree, I sympathize. After you go through all the upheaval of figuring out that you’re gay and reorienting yourself toward your relatives and friends and coworkers, you just want some relationship…any relationship…to be effortless. In real life, though, coming out is the beginning of the job, not the end. Now you know you’re gay. Great. Next question: what kind of gay guy are you? Quiet is fine, if you don’t mind that your relationships will start slowly and develop pokily; but then you can’t get all mopey over having trouble getting to know people.

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