Let's all stop a moment and agree that dating, on the whole, sucks. The dating stage of life is like a pickle slice in your cheeseburger: a necessary evil you've got to tolerate before you can get to the better stuff below.
I hear a lot of gay Christians lament that dating is especially difficult for them. And I've wondered, is it true? Is there something uniquely difficult—uniquely pickle-y—about dating for gay Christians? Let's pull out this gay pickle and take a better look.
First, there's the dating pool. No matter how many iterations of OkCupid and Tinder the tech world spits out, the fact remains that the overlap between "Christian" and "gay" is about as small as the overlapping fan base between Franklin Graham and RuPaul. Statistically speaking, it's slim pickings. For the gay Christian committed to finding someone with a faith tantamount to theirs, this minority within a minority offers only a sliver of potential mates.
Before we were dating—when Constantino was in New York and I was in Los Angeles—we were both on OkCupid for a hot second. We both discovered its futility when searches for Christian gay men yielded about a dozen results each in our cities of millions. To add insult to injury, we already knew most of them. It's a small world, indeed.
Then there's the coming out. Even within eligible prospects, there's a wide variety of stages of self-acceptance gay men and women find themselves in. Some are completely closeted, some are open only to their closest friends, and others are open books. Many are open in their daily lives but closed to their families or their church communities. To straight people, it may not sound like a big issue, but if two people aren't at the same level of self-disclosure, it can doom a relationship.
Constantino was a full step ahead of me when we first started dating, and it became a source of stress in our relationship. I felt pressure (mostly self-imposed) to come out faster than I was comfortable with. Constantino wasn’t sure he wanted to take a chance on a guy who might freak out and run at any moment. It was an emotional tug-of-war that we managed to work out with a lot of grace and communication.
Finally, there's the baggage. Emotional baggage isn't unique to gay Christians, not by a long shot. I've come to see that virtually all people experience sexual brokenness in some way or another; it merely shows up in different forms. But the baggage of gay Christians is unique and often severe; the vast majority of us come to dating with severely broken sexual identities. For some, that has manifested itself in sexual addiction or using sex as a kind of rebellion toward God. For others, it has resulted in a deep-seated shame that has caused us to separate ourselves from our sexuality to the point where it is something foreign or despicable. These issues only intensify under the spotlight of relationship.
The shame I developed from years of reparative therapy causes me to form walls and push Constantino away. The unworthiness Constantino feels from treatment by his parents causes him to develop narratives about our relationship that aren't true. We carry these wounds into relationship, and it serves no good for us to pretend they're not there.
So how are gay Christians to not only date, but date well? First of all, recognize that we may not need a huge dating pool. Do you really need a million dating options? Maybe a thousand or even five hundred is perfectly good. Maybe your dating pool doesn't need to reflect that of straight people. There was a great story in Vanity Fair last fall about Tinder and its impact on dating culture. It was an anecdotal but nonetheless bleak commentary on the destructive nature of excessive choice in dating. The unspoken conclusion? More choice is not always better, and too much can cause a destructive kind of choice paralysis. The person of your dreams may not live in your same state or country; you need to be thinking about what you're willing to sacrifice for the sake of relationship (and what you're not). And if you still feel limited by your options, some of our friends have found wonderful partners who aren't Christian but who support and encourage their faith nonetheless.
As for coming out, I don't think you both have to be at exactly the same stage, but the more disparate you are, the more stressful your relationship will be. I'm going to claim that theorem right now for myself: The Khalaf Self-Disclosure Discrepancy Theorem. If you are at different stages of self-disclosure, it's important to talk about it up front, and also have ongoing discussions about expectations for the future ("When we will go to church together as a couple?" and "When will you tell your parents about us, if at all?"). You may find yourself unwilling to date someone more or less out than you. And if you happen to be fully or mostly closeted, you may be better served working on integrating your sexual identity into your life before you choose to enter into any relationship.
Finally, we must recognize that we're all bringing some sort of baggage onto the dating train. If you think you're not, you're either deluded or you're Jesus. There may be issues you need to work through in counseling before starting a relationship. At the very least, you've got to be aware of your sensitive spots and be able to communicate when they're triggered. Likewise, you'll need to extend oodles (yeah, I said "oodles") of grace to your partner when he or she responds out of brokenness. Both of you are going to be unreasonable and completely cray-cray at some point.
It's impossible for me to talk about dating without acknowledging that I am, in fact, exiting the dating pool. Can I get an AMEN? In Constantino I hit the jackpot—someone who checks off all of my non-negotiable values and then, miraculously, also fills out my wish list. I'm still amazed by him. So if I can give any scrap of hope to the gay Christians struggling through this pickle of a dating scene, it's this: The wait is worth it.