Over the last few years developing quality gay friendships has weighed heavily on my mind. Meeting people organically, like at school or work, is a thing of the past and much of the interaction that occurs with people of interest happens online or superficially in social settings.
We all know that friendship is a crucial aspect of human life, providing support, camaraderie, and shared experiences. While forming friendships is a universal endeavor, I’ve learned through personal experience that gay men often face unique challenges in establishing connections with others in the community. It’s not easy to find a genuine circle of friends with common interests and that invest the same amount of effort to help move the friendship forward.
The older I get, the more I realize that there are very few “shoot your shot” moments where you have to put yourself out into the world physically and emotionally to intentionally connect with another person in hopes of developing a quality friendship. I focus specifically on other gay men or queer folks here because there is a sense of understanding and lived experience that I desire to connect with in building new friendships. I have many life-long friends who are more like a chosen family that I never see exiting my life. However, in establishing new friends, I make a concerted effort to lean in with other gay men who I may want to meet for a drink, share a meal with, travel with, or just have stimulating conversation outside of the mundanity of my busy work life. Everyone can use a gay bestie!
Here is the honest truth: In spite of me being a very social person, I struggle with finding solid friendships. I am a sensitive person, empathic, and keenly perceptive. When I feel that someone is not giving 100% or equal amounts of attention to a newly formed bond, I recoil and pull back from trying until I see more effort from the other person. I am too in my head and I know my triggers.
It’s the age-old story of a little brown gay boy who was bullied well into high school and when he finally found a group of queer kids to connect with, still felt that he wasn’t good enough. “Is everyone hanging out without me?” or whatever Mindy Kaling wrote about. I have never felt worthy enough of good friendships and even today, I find myself trying too hard to make things stick. My therapist knows what I’m talking about.
It feels like dating–another thing I hated because of the constant fear of rejection. I meet people through other friends and try to develop connections, but it’s hard when it feels like you’re not in on an inside joke that everyone knows about. I admire people on social media and have had countless exchanges with other gays that peek interest and show potential for a friendship IRL. But when there is never a conscious effort to calendar a meeting time or activity, let’s be honest–it’s not going to happen. Sure, the DMs pop off, but beyond that, it never materializes. It’s all too much work!
I’m often envious of the groups of power gays that are sashaying around Palm Springs or travel together in Greece or meeting up at their usual brunch spot or bar. My own neurosis makes me wonder what I am doing wrong.
While I could spiral endlessly about all my flaws and expectations, I also acknowledge that friendships, whether platonic or with benefits, are a two-way street. I am not the only one at fault, or even at all, in many of the instances when my friendships fizzle out. We are all deserving of mutual respect and boundaries and to be given the agency to make our conclusions based on these in our pursuit of a chosen family. I know that despite the progress made in LGBTQ+ acceptance, building quality friendships within the gay community is a major obstacle many still cannot overcome.
While I’m no expert, I’ve stayed up many a night thinking about this social issue and wondering what the factors are in the inability for gay men to build quality friendships.
The many failed gay friendships and weakened human connections I’ve had over the last several years have given me some perspective into some potential reasons for why gay men encounter barriers in finding a strong network of friends.
Social Stigmas and Stereotypes
One of the primary challenges gay men face in forming friendships with each other is the prevalence of social stigmas and stereotypes within the LGBTQ+ community itself. These stereotypes can create unrealistic expectations and foster a sense of competition or judgment among gay men. The pressure to conform to certain ideals or stereotypes may hinder genuine connections, making it difficult for individuals to express their authentic selves.
Consider the gay societal pressures placed on physical appearance or the attainment of what it means to be the ‘ideal’ gay. There exists an undue pressure to conform to certain standards of attractiveness, which can foster an environment of superficiality within the gay community.
The pursuit of an idealized physique or lifestyle may lead to judgment and exclusion, creating barriers to genuine connections based on character and shared interests. This is why individuals may be hesitant to reveal their authentic selves, fearing they may fall short of the perceived ideal. This focus on external aesthetics can overshadow the potential for meaningful friendships, as people may prioritize appearances over the qualities that truly define a person.
Overcoming these barriers requires a collective shift towards fostering acceptance, diversity, and a deeper appreciation for the richness of human connection. This goes beyond the constraints of physical stereotypes or social pressures put onto a subgroup of people like gay men that have already historically been marginalized by mainstream society.
Competition and jealousy can also become barriers to building quality friendships among gay men, often stemming from societal pressures and internalized notions of attractiveness and success. Jealousy may arise when individuals feel threatened by the perceived success or desirability of their peers, leading to strained interactions and a reluctance to form authentic connections. The fear of comparison or the struggle for social validation may overshadow the potential for genuine friendships, as individuals become preoccupied with measuring up to certain standards. Fostering meaningful connections within the gay community requires a shift towards mutual support, understanding, and the celebration of diverse qualities and achievements, allowing for the cultivation of friendships that are based on shared values and experiences rather than competition or envy.
Dating & Sexual Attraction vs. Friendship Dynamics
The gay community often blurs the lines between dating and friendship, adding complexity to relationship dynamics. Some gay men may be wary of developing close friendships out of fear that their intentions will be misinterpreted. The overlap between romantic and platonic interests can create misunderstandings, making it challenging to establish clear boundaries in friendships.
In some cases, the gray area between platonic connections and romantic/sexual involvement can create challenges in maintaining clear limits and expectations. The existence of a friends-with-benefits dynamic may inadvertently overshadow the potential for cultivating deeper, non-romantic relationships.
It may be why there is sometimes a hesitancy to invest time and emotional energy into friendships, as individuals may fear that their interactions will be misconstrued or develop into something more complex.
Casual sexual encounters within the gay community, while a personal choice for some, can sometimes overshadow the pursuit of genuine, non-romantic connections. Building quality friendships requires open communication, mutual respect, and a shared understanding of intentions, allowing individuals to navigate the intricacies of emotional intimacy separate from sexual dynamics.
Despite societal progress in LGBTQ+ acceptance, many gay men still grapple with internalized homophobia. This self-directed negativity can lead to feelings of inadequacy or shame, hindering the ability to form authentic connections with others. Overcoming internalized homophobia is a crucial step toward building healthy friendships within the gay community.
The fear of encountering homophobia can also be the reason many gay men form close friendships with women. The bonds between gay men and women can be incredibly strong, fostered by shared experiences and an understanding of marginalization. Still, if these connections become the primary source of emotional support and companionship, it may inadvertently limit the time and effort invested in developing friendships within the gay male community.
Limited Social Spaces
While the LGBTQ+ community has made strides in creating inclusive spaces, the number of social venues specifically designed for community connections is comparatively limited. Gay bars and clubs often prioritize romantic or sexual encounters, leaving little room for individuals seeking genuine friendships. How many times have you gone to the club with your friend and they go home with a hookup instead of ending up at the taco shop with you at 2 a.m.?
Expanding the range of social spaces tailored for non-romantic interactions could help address this issue. We need to consider taking up more space in places like coffee shops, restaurants, public parks, the gym, libraries, museums, or anywhere else where the LGBTQ+ community has been previously told wasn’t for them. Activating these spaces with friends can help in building more concrete relationships. Don’t get me wrong, sipping a vodka soda with your bestie in front of a GoGo boy is always fun–but have you ever analyzed each others’ family trauma while sitting on a beach towel on the sand?
Digital Communication Challenges
In an era dominated by digital communication, forming meaningful connections can be challenging. Social media platforms and dating apps may inadvertently contribute to surface-level interactions, making it difficult for gay men to move beyond virtual connections. It’s too easy to block or mute people online that perhaps we have built muscle memory that we transfer into real life settings. Striking a balance between online and offline interactions is essential for building deep and lasting friendships.
Digital disconnect goes beyond the inability to decipher between online and IRL dynamics. When trying to solidify connections with people, we have become too dependent on phones as a buffer. We don’t put them away to truly engage with others and this creates a riff in the process of getting to know others.
Social Anxiety, Neurodivergence, Sensory Overload
Being neurodivergent can add a layer of complexity to the challenge of building quality friendships among gay men. The intersectionality of being both neurodivergent and gay can present unique obstacles related to social interactions and understanding. Neurodivergent individuals may grapple with issues such as social anxiety, communication difficulties, or sensory sensitivities, making it more challenging to navigate the often dynamic and nuanced landscape of gay social circles.
Stereotypes within both the neurodivergent and gay communities may contribute to misconceptions or lack of understanding, further hindering the establishment of genuine connections. As a result, neurodivergent gay men may find it difficult to fully engage in social situations or may struggle to find peers who can appreciate and accommodate their unique perspectives. Building quality friendships in this context requires increased awareness, empathy, and a commitment to creating inclusive spaces that celebrate diversity and prioritize understanding over preconceived notions.
These are my limited theories, regardless, we know building friendships is a universal human need and gay men often encounter unique challenges in forming connections within their own community. Perhaps it boils down to not having expectations when it comes to forming new friendships so we are not disappointed.
Of course there are exceptions to any and all of the above reasons. For these, clear communication is key in ensuring that you are on the same page with where you want your friendship to go.
Overcoming social stigmas, navigating dating dynamics, addressing internalized homophobia, expanding social spaces, combating social anxieties, and finding a balance between online and offline interactions are crucial steps in fostering genuine connections among gay men. By acknowledging these challenges and actively working towards creating inclusive and supportive environments, the first step can be taken to further strengthen the bonds of gay friendships.
So if you’re struggling to find that gay bestie or wondering what is wrong, consider that everyone has their own hang ups and give people grace. We all face hurdles that stem from some form of trauma or lived experience. More importantly, be self-aware and assess your own insecurities and virtues–and be patient and kind with yourself. You’re worthy.