I don’t mean to draw dividing lines. I’m not trying to revive the Mason-Dixon. But its no secret that folks who grow up in the South* have their own traditions — some real, some imaginary, some copped straight from Gone with the Wind, which is a little of both.
Occasionally, those traditions can be as charming and genteel as an icy pitcher of sweet tea. Other times, they’re downright intimidating, like the complex social negotiations involved in putting together a cotillion. To non-Southerners, it can seem as if we’re speaking in tongues (and not just because of our accents).
At heart, the problem lies in the different expectations that Southerners often have of friends, family, and most importantly, significant others. It’s like a language barrier — one that’s prone to sink relationships. And so, being the helpful kind of guy that I am, and being a yenta at heart, I thought I’d offer a few practical tips for anyone interested in dating a Southerner. They don’t apply just to gay relationships, but I think they might have special resonance with guys, so for what it’s worth….
1. Before he comes over, clean your house.
Non-Southerners, I’m not insinuating that you’re all slobs, nor am I implying that every Southern man’s a neat freak. I’m just saying that many of us from Down Here were forced to straighten up the place before company dropped by, or else we’d be outside picking our own switch. (You know what I mean.) Show your date that you’ve gone to a little trouble and made the place presentable.
On the other hand, if you’re the one doing the picking up, try not to judge — at least not out loud. And for goddess’ sake, spit-shine your car.
2. Apologize for keeping such a dirty house.
I don’t care if you have a staff of 20 maids, if your house reeks of bleach, if you’ve gone over it with an ultraviolet light looking for dirt and bodily fluids: apologize for the mess. Blurting out something like “Please excuse the place, it’s a total wreck” makes you seem more casual and human, and it’ll put your date at ease.
On the other hand, if you’re the one dropping by, your Southern date will expect you to reply to his apology with something like, “Not at all, your home is lovely. I wish mine looked half as nice.” Do it even if the place looks like Atlanta after the Civil War. If you don’t, you’re in for a very awkward evening.
3. Dress up for your date.
Religion is still big business in the South. That’s changing as America becomes more connected and cosmopolitan and homogeneous, but in many smaller towns — which were, until recently, what most of the South consisted of — Sunday church is the high point of the social calendar. And I don’t care what they’re wearing to those megachurches on TV, the men and women at First Baptist do not wear blue jeans on Sunday morning. EVER. Treat your date like a visit to church and put on a nice pair of Duck Heads, won’t you?
4. Offer to pay for dinner exactly three times.
Sexual liberation is awesome. Every gay man should be marching in the streets for women’s equality, just as every woman should be marching for LGBT rights. But there’s one rule that Ms. Steinem hasn’t been able to change: the dude pays for the meal. In the case of two dudes on a date, the dude who asked the other dude out is responsible for the check. If that’s you, that means that when the bill comes, you need to reach for your wallet first.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your credit card will be the one zipping through the swipe. Your date may offer to pick up the tab — and you may well let him, but not before you’ve insisted on paying three times. IMHO, it has to be three times on the nose, three instances of “Oh, no, let me get that”, “Your money’s no good here”, and “No, I insist”. Less than three and you look like a cheapskate, more than three and you start to make a scene. Once you’ve used up your three protestations, you’re on your own. Figure it out.
Agreeing to go Dutch is fine, I suppose, but it’s not very romantic and probably won’t get you into anyone’s bedroom — at least not on the first date. Which brings me to…
5. Don’t be shy about sex.
According to stereotypes perpetuated in literature and on certain Lifetime movies, everyone in the South is all god-fearin’ and shy when it comes to their own bodies — doubly so when it’s a matter of letting those bodies play with others. But consider two things, friend: (a) it’s hot down here, and (b) we drink a lot.
I’ve never understood the song “Too Darn Hot”, because frankly, I think the sun goes to men’s heads — their smaller heads, I mean. If you’ve ever been to Panama City Beach or New Orleans in August, you know what I’m talking about. Throw some whiskey on all that writhing, seething exuberance, and you’ve got a gangbang that Titan Media could only dream of.
Bottom line: yes, we’ve had sex, and yes, we’d like sex again — right this very minute, if you don’t mind.
* Naturally, there’s not just one “South”, but I think we can talk generally about the region — though there are limits. When I came home for lunch yesterday, I was sitting at the kitchen table leafing through Southern Living (I subscribe, natch), reading about how this was so Southern and that was so Southern and this was the way that so-and-so’s grandmama always did it — and they were talking about Oklahoma. Now, Oklahoma is a perfectly lovely state, but I kinda doubt that the residents of Tulsa consider themselves “Southern”.