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Smoking out the truth 

When I met my girlfriend, she had recently quit smoking. She knew from the very beginning that smoking is a deal breaker for me, but despite the encouragement from me and all her friends, she keeps having "lapses." I haven't dumped her over this because we live far apart at the moment. However, I feel very firmly that we can't take the next step -- one of us moving to be with the other -- until she kicks this habit for good. She has always insisted that she wants to, and she knows how much smoking bothers me. But at what point will I know if she has finally quit? My fear is that there will always be another "lapse" coming. She is so great in every other way that I don't want to blow her off prematurely, and I want her to quit for her own health, too. Am I being an unreasonable perfectionist?

Do Not Use My Name

Beware the smoker who stops -- or "quits" -- just long enough to convince you that her smoking days are behind her and then, once you're living together or married or otherwise hopelessly entangled, suddenly experiences one final and everlasting "lapse." Be clear and up front, DNUMN: Smoking is a deal breaker if she moves across the country to live with you, it's a deal breaker if you marry her, it's a deal breaker now, it's a deal breaker forever.

I don't have a question. I have a story to share.

My parents had an unusual strategy for sex education. Instead of picking a day to have a birds-bees discussion, they first explained all the mechanics of the penis/vagina/uterus/baby when I was 6 months old. This was to give them practice. Then, as I got older, any question I asked that was moderately related to sex resulted in me getting the whole of the penis/vagina/uterus/baby story again.

Fast-forward to sophomore year. While playing a drinking game, people were asked to retell the story of when they got The Talk. But I never got The Talk because I grew up with it. So on winter break, I demanded The Talk from my dad. He came up with a few quips -- sex is easy, sleeping in the same bed is hard. But the next day my mother pulled me aside.

"So I understand that you and your father had a conversation yesterday," my delightfully WASP-y and cheerful mother said.

"Um, yeah ..."

"I want you to forget everything he said and remember this. Whatever you're doing, do it slower. Whatever you're doing, do it softer. And whatever you're doing, ask more questions."

She turned around and walked away as I picked up my jaw from my floor.

J.

I don't want to contradict your mother, J., but for the record: Some folks like it fast and hard, and prefer the barked orders to the thoughtful questions. But it's a sweet story, J., thanks for sharing ...

I'm a young gay man, not messed up, and I ignore people who think there's something wrong with being gay. Why don't more gay men do this? I can't go on a date without hearing the coming out story or dealing with EPDM, or "Effeminate Personality Defense Mechanisms." Where are the gay men living as they want to live rather than living in reaction to people who have a problem with their sexuality?

Optimistic Gay Guy In Ohio

P.S. I've enclosed some pictures. They're basically to get your attention ... hope they worked.

As first-date conversation topics go, OGGIO, it's hard to beat coming out stories. You get to swap a little info about your families, your first sexual experiences, your first boyfriends. Basically you get to learn how your date came to be the healthy, out homo sitting in front of you, and he gets to learn the same about you. And the next time you're listening to someone's coming out story, OGGIO, remember this: Truly messed up fags can't tell you their coming out stories because they don't have coming out stories to tell. They're still closeted.

As for effeminacy, OGGIO, it's not always an act; it's not something insecure gay men do to piss off homophobes, straight or gay. Even if you're not attracted to the honest swishes, which is fine, don't assume they're not "living as they want." And the next time you see someone with what you think is a bad case of EPDM, try to remember this: It takes more guts to be an out swish in our society than it takes to be a str8-acting, A&F-wearing, frat-boy clone.

Oh, and thanks for the pics. Obviously they worked.

I'm a 30-year-old gay guy and moved from one city to another. Shortly after I moved, my boyfriend dumped me and I began a fairly long and severe depression. I had scarcely any friends in my new city, but never in my life did I need friends more.

The problem was that many of the guys I met were interested in a romantic relationship. I, however, was entirely undatable. But because I was lonely, I went ahead and dated these guys for a while. These were great guys, and I really wanted their friendship, but I wasn't emotionally available for more. I feel bad because I ended up jerking them around and hurting some feelings.

This is my question: How can a young gay man negotiate the whole "friends" thing? Should I view other single guys as poor prospects and seek out girls/couples/heteros for friendship? Is the line between friendship and dating always fuzzier for gay men?

Looking For Friends

You're making this more complicated than it needs to be, LFF.

Look, you were depressed and alone in a new city and had recently been dumped, LFF, and all of that sucks. But it's naughty for folks -- gay, straight, bi, whatever -- to take advantage of people who find them attractive. And that's exactly what you were doing to those guys. There wasn't anything "fuzzy" going on here, LFF; you weren't confused about your feelings. Those guys made it clear that they were into you, it was clear to you that you weren't into them, but you went ahead and dated them anyway -- you encouraged them to think you had some interest in them -- because you wanted their companionship and support.

And you got it -- under false pretenses. Understandable, again, given your emotional state, but not cool.

Now, you don't have to rule out all other single gay men as potential friends in the future, LFF, just the ones who are attracted to you sexually and/or romantically. Unless you're all things to all people -- and you can't be because no one is -- there are single gay men out there who might want your companionship but not your ass, LFF. Make friends with them.

Download the Savage Lovecast (Dan's weekly podcast) every Tuesday at www.thestranger.com/savage. To ask Dan Savage a question, write to mail@savagelove.net.

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