Tricky proposition: are gay men getting better at the love thing?

I don't mean the falling-in-love thing - as a rule it still takes gay men longer to get ready than it takes them to "fall in love" (priorities, priorities). I'm talking about the staying in love thing. The working at it, the compromises, the not heading for the door at the first hint of discord and hopping on the next man out of town who'll tell you lies, sweet little lies: you're hot, hunky, humpy, the answer to his every need, The One and Only. Until your time's up, usually around a month, which is about how long a flavour lasts.

Not that an entire, total, complete month isn't an emotional millstone ... sorry, milestone. In gay years that's practically a golden wedding anniversary - or a life sentence without remission for bad behaviour - rather than the standard time-period allotted a free trial offer. He's had his fill, his fix of the reassurance, adoration and warmth that the cold world has always withheld and he suddenly remembers that, as one Hi-Energy classic brutally puts it, there are so many men and so little time.

Certainly not enough time to sort out how to see-saw the balance of power between two guys, both conditioned, as their heterosexual brothers are, to (nominally) be the one in charge. Two guys wearing the same pair of pants ought to be a dream, not a nightmare, for gay men. But deciding who has first tibs on, say, the remote control can truly, madly, deeply ruin some relationships: you say football, I say Absolutely Fabulous, let's call the whole thing off.

These days, gay men seem to be making time - making time specifically for the middle. Great at beginnings, ruthless at endings (perfect opportunities for a grand entrance and that snappy exit line), the second act is where we traditionally falter. The middle means giving up Me for We, and having spent painstaking years creating and refining You, the price always seems steep, not to say one-sided (as the sainted Whitney says - and she's the proof - "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all").

And it's not as if we're bombarded with examples of happy, sharing same- sex couples to take cues from - Holmes and Watson, Kirk and Spock and Morecambe and Wise excepted.

Yet men in their thirties, who once would have fled the scene on starting a serious relationship (too many easy temptations for both parties), are sticking around, beaming at the beloved on the dance floor - and leaving him afterwards, dear, sweet old-fashioned things. Now, it could be that, like most men of a certain age, they're simply ready to settle down after too many late nights out of their heads and too many mornings waking up beside bow-wows.

Or it could be that the second wave of the gay lib generation is now confident enough not to need the quick fix/instant solution of the compulsive one-night stand. They're certainly confident enough of their feelings to test them in the - rigged - marketplace of desire (Buy Me. Try Me. Next ...) and they say that's easier to do too because the marketplace isn't so in your face as it used to be.

As if sensing a subtle shift - capitalism moves quickly, its wonders to perform - many of the new bars and clubs are less obviously cruisy and more obviously friendly. You can talk and then walk if you want to, or maybe actually get to know someone, maybe even - oh hush my mouth - date before proceeding to mate.

Which may sound like slowing down, but even those starting up say much the same. The latest crop of teen and twentysomething queens can come on like young fogies: a job, a nice standard of living and my boyfriend, just the one thank you, please, keep the rest.

It's the new conservatism (small "c"), of course, and if it lacks something - namely the manic romanticism that brought exquisite pain and rough rapture to their less (or more) fortunate elders - it is, nevertheless, a sign of security; of plans, rather than people, laid. The type of security that comes from realising fairly early on that you're not the only homosexual in the known universe, and therefore not so sensitive/so damaged/so special that your needs should be paramount above all other living things.

Actually, for a decade and more gay men have known that other people finally matter. Aids didn't arrive to teach us that - Aids simply arrived - and neither did Ecstasy, but the combination of the two has done ... something. Altered the mindset, created conditions ... I'm not sure how to put this. Having someone taken from you isn't the same as casting them aside, thinking their mysteries exhausted (funny how we fondly imagine our own mysteries without end). You learn to know that you don't always know, and you also learn to value, appreciate and cherish, fast. Not just the dearly departing, but those left behind.

And every Saturday night, those left behind are doing E with the man they met a day or year or more ago and Loved-Up to the max, chemically renewing the moment when their eyes first met.

It's amazing how that Saturday night sensation, that sense of vows taken and reconfirmed, spills into the rest of the week. Two weeks. Three weeks. Why, yes, sometimes even longer than a month.

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