As the coffee shops close, couples scurry home to avoid the freaks who only come out at night. Those freaks are singles, and I'm one of them.
The bars and clubs are our playground, where rowdy gay men indulge in the exciting freedom of singledom. Dim lighting becomes our friend, and our friends often become our biggest competition.
The plan is to go out for drinks, but as soon as we enter the bar our eyes dart around the room weighing our options, sorting the men into categories: "yes," "no," "possible fuck," "I know him from somewhere." We've come out for a cool beer amongst friends, but we're also shopping for something hot.
It's the Thursday-night best chest competition, and there are plenty of prospects to choose from. My spirits are low, but that could easily change with some spirits of a different kind. I'm going to need a few to boost my confidence, since I'm coming off a breakup.
My friends have gotten me out of the house with a reminder. Yes, when hurt, you can stay at home with a big tub of ice cream. But instead - and this is where gay men differ from our straight-girl fag hags - we choose to go out, get wasted and find a man to eat that ice cream off of.
They're right - I do want to go out. I'm in "the Meatrix" phase: a little jaded but feeling the urge to have casual, no-strings-attached sex.
During this phase you have to choose carefully which friends to go out with. Best are the ones you know will be on the same manhunt. If you pick up, they won't be upset that you're leaving. Billy is an obvious choice, because for him the Meatrix isn't so much a phase as a lifestyle. Justin fits in because he's 19 and a newbie.
After about an hour, Billy meets a guy and leaves. I'm in the company of a hot Italian. Justin, after a few bar laps, returns from the washroom.
"There was some old guy jerking off and trying to get my attention at the urinal next to me! Did he really think I ." Justin trails off as he notices that the best chest contest is underway. His eyes gleam with the gusto of a kid in a candy store.
"Welcome to the Meatrix," I smile.
Over the next few weeks, I engage in one-night stands and have so much fun that I forget all about my ex and the breakup. I even have repeat sex with the Italian, because it's hot and I kind of like him.
I'm so busy avoiding the pain that I'm slow to realize I'm getting over it. Using casual sex to fill my hole is a success. It's like a vacation from all the relationship aftermath, where you can replace pain with pleasure and not be judged by your friends.
I used to think Billy was a slut for never wanting to leave the Meatrix, but now I see he doesn't want to leave a place of simplicity and bliss. That's the biggest perk about the Meatrix: you're able to have relationships with no drama. Or so I tell myself.
I'm sitting in my apartment waiting for the hot Italian to call for our third encounter. The phone rings, but it's Billy instead. Apparently, he's been turned down by one of his fuck buddies because the guy had other plans with me. My Italian is also Billy's Italian. Billy makes it clear that he had him first and I'm to stop seeing him.
"Are you jealous?" I confront him.
"No," he lies. "I just want you to stop seeing him."
"Well, are the two of you dating?"
"No," he replies.
"You can't get territorial over a fuck buddy . "
He cuts me off. "That's not the point. He's I . " He can't finish.
"Wake up, Billy. You're mistaking casual sex for a relationship."
After a long pause, I hear the dial tone.
Later, I answer a call from a blocked number that I happily assume is the Italian, but instead it's from the public health nurse at the Hassle Free Clinic.
A monotone voice informs me that I need to get tested because someone I've slept with in the last four to six weeks has been treated for gonorrhea.
The next day I get tested and treated. After telling me about the medication, the doctor looks me straight in the eye and asks if I'll be able to refrain from sex for the next four weeks.
I say that I will. He puts his hand on my arm, leans closer and, with the stern look of a father catching his son in a lie, asks me once more. This is obviously standard procedure, but it makes me wonder if they rent out chastity belts to the men who really can't go a couple of weeks without sex.
I leave the clinic with two weeks of pills, four weeks of abstinence and one new perspective. As utopian as it seemed, the Meatrix could only last so long.
Thankfully, it's only a phase.
Billy experiences the same drama but decides not to talk about it. Justin's curiosity will wane with time, and the candy will become less enticing.
As for me, a slap on the wrist from a public health nurse is enough to snap me back. As I walk home from the clinic, reality sets in and my Meatrix phase fades - at least until my next breakup.