As any homosexual my age knows, life is burdened with insurmountable expectations. There is the unreachable twink physique, the eternal desire to have voluminous hair, and the pressure to enjoy Ariana Grande. I do not possess any of these qualities, and my lack of them has been a constant struggle, always obsessing over my body’s folds and curves and never really feeling like a ‘proper gay’. But alas, all of this is manageable; exposure to the wider gay community allows these desires to evaporate as I realise our slice of society is just as diverse as others, with the possible exception of the over 65s (twinks do not abound there). However, one expectation will plague me forever, I am sure, and it is a variation of what feminists once termed the ‘Cinderella Complex’. It is the desire of women to find a rich and powerful man who will protect them forever and turn their lives upside down. I am suffering from something less impacted by Disney and more by Julian Fellowes’ excellent ITV period drama, Downton Abbey. It has instilled within me a deep yearning for an elaborate, dramatic romance which will rival the, shall we say, rocky relationships of Lady Mary; one which is achieved by wit, sub-textual flirting, and dinner invitations. The Downton Complex has marred me forever, and my sex and romantic life is being impacted in ways which I will now outline.
Let us begin with Tinder, the modern equivalent of Robert and Cora’s cocktail parties. For gays, we go to Grindr for sperm and Tinder for love. We allow this platform to sift through the potential men in our area to meet them easily for a date, which saves a lot of time when you are about 5% of the population. But unlike The House’s cocktail parties, as a medium it cannot deliver the deep feeling I want from it. I do not know why, but with every Tinder date I go on I have the same high expectations of melodramatic strings underscoring a kiss, or of romantic innuendo dominating a conversation.
Of course, this never happens as the app itself does not allow for any non-sexual precursory meetings, therefore there can be no subtext when you first meet. You encounter one another for a date, having never met before – we did not meet at a town house or a ball, but because someone looks nice in their bathroom lighting or they had a dog in one of their photos. Even the first conversation online cannot develop naturally into romance, as you’re talking on a dating app – you know what you’re on there for. In many ways, the cocktail party analogy is useless as when couples meet in Downton, they have their whole hoard of family and friends around them and so, naturally, flirty subtext arises and they discover a fondness for one another through that discretion. The only way Tinder could feasibly give me what I want is if it randomly allocated eligible gay men into a group chat with my grandparents, parents, and sibling with the gentlemen’s families as well, and then we had the option to secede from that chat once we decided we liked each other. As you can see, an elaborate process to say the least. Too often the means for which we search for love ends up undermining what we want from love.
On a recent date, the man turned up on time (unlike I, who was fashionably late, as Princess Anne would be) and to start with all was good. He even found me funny, which as I am sure you have now realised, is rare. But I soon discovered that he was not what I had hoped. He unloaded his life onto me in that godawful spoons, telling me all about his troubled upbringing and father issues. And then, later, in his room (I’ll have you know that Lady Edith shagged before marriage, so I’m not even worse than an Earl’s daughter) he told me he “really liked me”, which was slightly scary. I realised on the tube home, that I clearly attract broken, damaged men. I must have the Downton Complex of Lady Sibyl, thinking I can transform a person’s life and take them in, as she so wonderfully did for Branson the chauffeur. Anyway, I decided it would never work with him, and so decided never to see him again and about three days after he ignored my messages.
For anyone wondering why I do not simply look elsewhere, I am afraid it is not that simple. Grindr is hardly the place to find a relationship – I doubt anyone’s Aunt on Downton Abbey, no matter how liberally minded, would describe them as (and I promise these are all genuine) ‘butt slut’, ‘looking for a group NOW’ or ‘Human toilet’ in front of Yorkshire high society. Being gay is evidently a trap. Meeting others for a relationship is extremely hard given the lack of sober settings for us and the fact that there is simply less of us around. Our parents are not throwing parties to introduce us to prospective husbands; there is no courting season (Pride cannot count; it’s ultimately an orgy with a precursory parade) and at present, approaching a man without solid knowledge of their sexual orientation is risky. Being gay robs you of the heterosexual Downton fantasy, a fantasy which I have unfortunately bought into. Downton Abbey does have a homosexual storyline, but it is hardly a fantasy. A gay servant is basically allowed to work there and dies alone. Maybe, in this respect, I will follow the show’s plot.
It seems that for me, as soon as I am leaving the stage of my life where I want to be thin and have wavy hair, I am simultaneously entering a new stage of high expectations, worryingly influenced by a fictional 1920s aristocratic household. Even if it is not Downton Abbey exactly, we all, gay or not, seem to harbour ludicrous expectations of love not unlike the ones I have outlined here; a whirlwind romance, posh dates, being well dressed and spoken, a period of subtle Jane Austen-style flirting preceding a long, loving, loyal marriage. It’s been somewhat instilled in us, and I for one am stuck with it now. We need an alternative, which I am sorry to say I cannot provide. I am doomed to want the entire relationship to somehow provide the same sensation as stroking suede or planning a tube journey without consulting the map. It seems that, as always, we (I) need to stop focusing on the elaborate and zoom in instead on the mundane, the quiet, the lovely.
Enjoy the trivial aspects of romance, instead of perpetually chasing a reality that even those in the Abbey did not truly reach. Pray, don’t fall victim to the Downton Complex – or, as I am, you will end up more terminally underwhelmed than series 1-6 Lady Edith.