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Reinventing the Third Wheel

I approach couples at parties with excitement and caution: excited I might get tag-teamed by two hotties, but cautious of the guilt, jealousy and drama

I try not to waste too much time on boys at parties. I like to flit between friends and flirts, especially early in the night. And if someone really dazzles me, I’d rather take him back home than seal ourselves off from the rest of the room. I didn’t just come here to dance, but I didn’t come here to boo up before midnight either.

My approach has backfired plenty of times. The phrase Be right back spills out of me, and I feel inexplicably loyal to this promise. The problem is, I lose track of boys I like and foil new connections by bouncing back to my friends. And so, I wind up wandering the club alone more often than I’d like because I refuse to wait on a man all night. Better to have loved and lost, I suppose.

Recently, I met some boys on the dance floor of a party for the kind of gay boys who wear harnesses — boys eager to join in queer aesthetics to the extent they’re masculine, minimal and sexually practical. Boys who like techno, dark rooms and giggly bathroom stalls stuffed like clown cars. I don’t mind harness boys, and some nights I am one. Plus, it was in Brooklyn, which tends to endow any party with a slightly more alternative crowd than the clone-crammed parties we like to drag on Twitter.

Amid twirling to dance music that I wished had vocals, a friend of mine from the drag scene introduced me to a small circle of very cute boys. One particularly hunky white boy complimented my writing, with which he was familiar. Immensely flattered, I smiled a lot and stuck around. His boyfriend, a svelte and energetic blond, danced rambunctiously just outside the circle, trying to lure his companion into the crowd. 

I tried to be flirty toward both of them, but the boyfriend politely evaded any kind of advance. He came off the slightest bit mean — in that side-eyed, unimpressed-looking way only bottoms know how to shade each other when we feel primally threatened. I twirled off again to find another friend.

I’m big on non-monogamy, but I approach couples at parties with excitement and caution — excited I might get tag-teamed by two hotties, but cautious of the mess navigating the tough terrain of nightlife with a beau often brings. Having underestimated their own insecurities, boys in relationships get jealous, then guilty, then self-righteous, then manipulative and finally petty, all in the time it takes to get one drink. And through all that, they’re terribly unavailable to hook up with me.

Case in point: An hour later, I found myself back dancing with the same group of boys, sans the single-minded blond boyfriend. Hunky White Boy let me touch his chest and back while dancing, but he couldn’t look me in the eye. He seemed so excited to meet me, but I couldn’t get a read on whether he was interested in a friendly dance floor make-out. I kept wondering if I’d made my intentions clear enough, or if he was just anxious in an intimidating kind of place.

Looking back, it was fairly obvious he wasn’t interested. If you have to ask — and I asked with my eyes over and over to no reply — you’re best off taking it as a no. It could’ve been because of me, his boyfriend or his own mood that night. But it doesn’t really matter why. He most likely enjoyed my company, but he struggled to deflect my desire without telling me to buzz off. Which is fine. I’ve been on his end before

I was mesmerized, however, by the slightest bit of his attention, plus the good music and alright drugs. I felt myself slipping into my own wordless wanting and the long, focused dance of trying to catch somebody’s gaze.

His boyfriend finally reappeared, alongside a tall, handsome stranger. He was still cold toward me but as vivacious as before. The group of us proceeded to dance. While I watched the hunky boy I liked, my drag buddy whispered something into my ear. There was tea, you see, the same kind of tea that’s been sipped and spilled about generations of silly gay boys. Blond boyfriend had disappeared from all of us to suck off the tall stranger, who also happens to be hunk’s ex-boyfriend. 

Now he was blithely attempting to initiate a threesome among them, but my hunk wasn’t having it. The three of them half-heartedly danced and whispered together. I finally snapped out of it and twirled away from the situation. 

I’d seen this before: It’s gay people daring to participate in gay relationships and in gay public life at the same time. This is a bold act when society sanctions solemn, respectable nights of Netflix and painkillers with your husband above other kinds of intimacy and connection. I get wanting to be the girl with the most cake — a companion and a community at the same time. I’ve been the boy at the club looking for his boyfriend. 

Tempting as it is to chalk up my swerve to a dysfunctional relationship, that wouldn’t be fair. I don’t really know either of these people, their relationship or any other reason why they weren’t interested in me. The dance floor, that historic site of queer belonging, can also be fraught with exclusion, anxiety and rejection more largely. I admire the effort of trying to navigate it with a boyfriend, but perhaps it could be even more daring to cultivate the personal boundaries and security to party without him.

After I left the disjointed threesome, I carried on dancing and running into friends, although the party was beginning to empty out. I felt a flicker of Last Call Anxiety about how I’d conclude the night. By some miracle, the DJ played a Kylie Minogue remix, and I felt a sweetness spread through my dancing body, a sweetness just as good as the eyes or touches of a cute boy. I found my roommate outside losing a fight against his coat. Later, I laid peacefully on his lap in the car ride home.

Had I wasted my time? I was making friends. I was dancing. I was watching a cute boy dance. When I worry about wasting my time on boys, I don’t mean that it’s “put out or get out.” I just don’t want to spiral down the double helix of my uncertainties and desires only to emerge from my tunnel-vision in a barren club wondering where my night went. Every night out, including this one, is a practice in staying grounded enough to go away when an encounter isn’t going anywhere. 

Then it’s not a waste, just a twirl.