Social Skills for Gay Men – Making Friends

Having old friends, people we know well and who know us well, and with whom we share many past experiences, is one of the rich experiences of life.

A very wise person, some time ago, pointed out that the sooner we make new friends, the sooner we’ll have old friends. So true.

To clear up one issue right away, if you’re looking for casual sexual encounter, and then another and another … this page isn’t for you.

SO – how do we make a new friend?

A good place to start is amongst those with whom we share our various interests, whether those be sporting, recreational, cultural, or whatever.

That’s all very well, I suspect you’re thinking, but how do I know if one of the other guys in the club, or what ever it is, is gay oriented like me?

There are at least two strands to answering this – one relates your possible future friend, and the other to you, the reader of this article, who’s thinking about making at least one new friend, if not more.

Thinking of you first, the more comfortable you are in being who you are (or the more comfortable you are in your own skin, as some people put it), the easier you’ll find it to get to know another, casual acquaintance, better.


Another bit of personal development I found valuable was participating in an assertiveness training course, and a few months later in another one, and then after that I coordinated another assertiveness course for a group of gay guys only.

If you’re not sure what “assertiveness” is, ask around a bit, Google it, and find out. It is essentially an attitude to life and living, and you may decide that sort of training has nothing to offer you – that you’re already very clear about what is meant by aggressiveness and aggressive behaviour, assertiveness and assertive behaviour, and passiveness and passive behaviour. On the other hand, if you do get involved in that form of personal development, I’m fairly sure you’ll find at least some aspects which are helpful to you – and, of course, such courses are very good opportunities to meet more people!

Your Values

It is also very valuable to know what your values are. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let me offer my idea of what worthwhile occasions are: I define them as “experiences of awareness and spontaneity, without drama or hypocrisy, and with reticence and decorum.” That definition gives me a very specific measure against which to check any actions I may be thinking about and gives me time to think through any plans I may be hatching. Incidentally, I didn’t devise the above definition – it was something I read and decided to memorise and adopt.

And just to clear up another point before moving on – one of the sorts of groups gay guys often become involved in are gay clubs and saunas. Meeting others in those environments is just as valid as meeting guys in other contexts, There may well be times in your life, for whatever reasons, when joining in the activities of specifically gay social groups is a priority for you – and I’m well aware that long lasting partnerships have begun in a sauna just as much as elsewhere. Be aware, though, that with the increasing acceptance of the gay community in the general straight community, that there are fewer and fewer specifically gay cubs and establishments around. Further to that, it’s my personal belief that the wider the options a person has, the more likely it is that he’ll have a fulfilling life. So I think that being part of a gay social group, as well as other sorts of group activities, is likely to be more rewarding than focusing on one (gay) group activity only.

(And having said all that, I’m reminded of a cartoon where a wife has said to her husband “I’ve just done one of those self assessment questionnaires. Do you realize about the only thing we have in common is sex?” And the husband, looking up from a book, answering “That’s enough, isn’t it?”)

And now thinking of you again.

If you meet someone at a club or other organization, and there’s someone there you’d like to get to know better, there are two possibilities which come to mind immediately.

The first is that, because you both belong to the same organization, you have at least one area of common interest which, in turn, means that you’ll have several possible ways in which you’ll be able to strike up a conversation – which is probably the most usual way two people start to get to know each other.

To take that conversational possibility a step further, the Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is a good beginning. Start thinking now about the sorts of ways you could start a conversation or join in with one which is already going – think of talking about future plans, of recent past experiences you’ve both been involved in, of commenting on general headlines which have been in the news during the past few days – in fact, anything which might “break the ice” with some one you haven’t spent much time with in the past. And, as far as possible, encourage him to talk – use “who”,” why”, “what”, “when” and “which” questions and think about possible “follow-up” questions you could use to help to keep a conversation going. And make a point of thinking along these lines on a fairly regular basis.

There is also the possibility of giving a compliment “Hey, you’re looking really fit/ tanned/smart/smooth/athletic – or whatever. Do bear in mind, though, that some guys have no idea of how to respond to a compliment, and you might get some odd responses.

In addition to that, it’s also a good idea to use a tape recorder to talk into for a while and then play it back and hear your own voice. It can often be a bit of a surprise till you get used to it. You also may be able to pick up on one or two vocal mannerisms, a bit of a monotonous tone, a high pitch or what sounds like a nervous delivery, or whatever, which could put off another guy listening to you. All of those are things you can do something about and if you really wish to make the most of your voice there are plenty of `voice trainers’ around who can help you.

All that may seem a bit much, but don’t forget that making conversation is a skill, and like any other skill, the more it’s practised, the better you become at it. And that reminds me of another possibility – you can always practise the art of conversation with guys you already know pretty well, and beyond that there are various training possibilities in public speaking and debating in which you could get involved.


And then there’s always the big question “IS HE OR ISN’T HE GAY?”

Don’t overlook the obvious – these days of legal sanctions against discrimination, a direct question “Are you gay?” is certainly possible and doesn’t have any of the past legal risks which used to exist. However, it’s not the sort of question to ask someone while there’s a group of others standing or sitting around.

If you unexpectedly meet someone you already know, in a gay club, the two standard openings to a conversation which I’ve come across have been “I hadn’t realized you were gay” and “What are you doing here?”, either of which can lead to, and, indeed, have resulted in, an interesting (in more than one sense) conversation.

To wind up this part of this page, I should mention the despair one can feel after starting to get to know a guy, and being full of hope that he may turn out to be the soul mate you’ve been longing for, then to find he’s accompanied to an evening out by a good looking young woman. Don’t forget that there’s always the possibility that she’s his sister or that he’s bi – or several other possibilities….

Now for a few more specifics.

Your face can tell others a lot about you just as another guy’s face can tell you a lot about him. The difficulty can be that people don’t always interpret a facial expression accurately, so even if you’re sure you know what some-one’s expression indicates in terms of their emotional state, my experience is that it still pays to check, particularly if you’re with someone who’s important to you, even if only in a small way. I well remember, some years ago during an exercise at one of the “assertiveness” courses I participated in, during the de-briefing I commented that I’d been a bit put off by the angry look my partner in the exercise had given me. She looked puzzled and said “I wasn’t angry – what was my expression?” I explained that she’d had a very creased brow. “Oh,” she replied, “I wasn’t angry – that’s how I look when I’m thinking.” So be careful not to jump to too many conclusions – however, a scowl with a raised fist is unlikely to be anything other than a signal that it’s probably time for you to back off. Other than that, it’s not a good idea to go out to socialize if you’re feeling seriously upset or angry.

Touch is an important factor in personal relationship. While I’ve been typing this page I’ve been watching Gordon Brown’s G20 meeting in London. There have been many examples of various national leaders putting an arm round another one’s shoulders as they walk together, touching or holding each others’ upper arms or elbows, even in one case one of them patting another’s chest with the palm of his hand while they were facing each in a conversation. The surprising thing is that probably, in most cases, neither of them involved in one of these incidents will remember that he touched, or was touched by, the other. I guess it’s probably fair to expect that all these national leaders can be expected to be strongly self-assured to the point that they can act naturally, in a companionable way, without being conscious of what they’re doing. I know in my own case, I had to make a deliberate effort to relax enough emotionally to start touching others in a naturally friendly way and I was surprised how many of the people I touched seemed to be quite unconscious of the fact that I was touching, or had touched, them. All this leads me to believe that if you’re comfortable with yourself and acting in a naturally friendly way, touching is ordinarily perfectly acceptable. The key is, I guess, that this sort of touching, even to the extent of two close friends hugging each other when they meet, doesn’t have any sexual overtones.

Sexual touching is something I’m not going to get into here – it’s something for you to have the pleasure of exploring for yourself with a special friend.

The final part of this page is about how you carry yourself, whether or not you’re moving. Some guys are essentially ungainly – they look awkward or as though they have tense muscles even when they’re sitting or standing. When they’re moving they tend to look out of balance or with jerky movements. You’ve probably seen this on a dance floor – there’ll be a small few who are moving smoothly and synchronously and fluidly with the music while the majority are moving with jerks and twitches – and my experience is that watching the former is much more enjoyable than watching the latter. My major recreations have been tramping, climbing, skiing, canoeing and motorcycling, and while I don’t pretend to be a top performer at any of them, I have found that I enjoy each of them more when I’m moving smoothly. With my build I can hardly pretend to be graceful, but I do know that when I’ve practiced the various activities and built up the ability to automatically move fluidly, while alert and relaxed at the same time, I enjoy the activity much more than if I’m all tensed up – and while I haven’t polled my companions to find which they find more attractive or pleasant to watch, I suspect that the smooth movements are much more impressive than the jerky, less coordinated behaviour. And I certainly know that at Aoraki/Mt Cook, watching an experienced guide cutting steps up a snow slope with an ice axe, with perfect balance, and smooth and rhythmic, unhurried and precise movements, was a sheer delight to watch.

Where did we start with this page? Ah, yes – it was to do with making new friends.

So, once you have a new friend, you then have to think a bit about how to keep him.

If you adopt the attitude of “If he really loves me he won’t care what I look / smell / sound like” you probably won’t keep him as a friend for long. On the other hand, if, as you get to know him better and better over time, and learn more thoroughly what about you it is he treasures most, and increasingly come to respect and value his friendship, and then make a continuing effort to strengthen those of your attributes which he most admires, then you’ll almost certainly end up with a very dear old friend – and may you live to have many of them.


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