Words by Mark Reed | @Mark_Reed88 | Photo: © pixabay.com/STVIOD

I can still remember the heady heights of my first few nights out at a gay club. It was like having the run of a sweet shop at night. There were goodies all around and boy did I want to sample them all.

I’d get ready to go out, meet my friends for pre-drinks (the favoured choice of poor students), head out to a club, make eyes at the cute guy across the dance floor and dance to the hypnotic beat of Rihanna’s Umbrella-ella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh (oh hey Summer of 2007). No worries or fears, just dancing, flirting and kissing. It’s a hazy, hedonistic blur, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Those first few nights of gay liberation are amazing for many young gay men who’ve never had the chance to express their sexuality and enjoy themselves without fear of judgement. But while going to gay clubs can be a lot of fun, it can also be damaging – causing feelings of jealously, bitterness, insecurity and anger.

While I did enjoy my first nights out on the scene, I remember how quickly I started to worry about how good I looked in relation to the other guys out that night, including my friends. It felt like we were all in a bizarre competition, and if we found our dance card empty towards the end of the night, what started out as fun could quickly turn sour.

Some of your friends might feel more confident about getting the attention of guys. They’ll be the first to strike out, sketching out the talent, sidling up to people and racking up the boys one by one. This can often leave you feeling dispirited, reducing the confidence you had to approach anyone in the first place. A few drinks later, it’s become a desperate race to lock lips with someone, except that someone could be just about anyone, which isn’t fair to you or the guy in question.

You can even start to become hyper aware of yourself on nights out, checking out because you’re too busy checking yourself and how you’re coming across to other guys. Monitoring yourself in this way is damaging because all your energies are placed into sculpting yourself into an idea of a guy that you think people want. Sadly, whether or not someone fancies us is mostly outside our control. That’s why it’s much better to just drop this, relax and enjoy the evening.

This can be facilitated by not focusing your whole night around flirting, pulling and getting numbers. And if that’s how you actually view it, you’re not being a very good friend. Meeting someone great should be a nice bonus of a night out, not the end goal. We should value our friendships a little bit more, and not just dump our mates as soon as we set our sights on someone we want to do the no pants dance with.

But if we’re all going out with the aim of getting someone’s attention, then our friends’ needs are quite far down the list. This behaviour often damages vital friendships with very special people who are much more important than any anonymous guy on a night out.

And if you always go out with the desire to pull and get attention, then how much you enjoy your evening becomes based on something completely out of your control. If things don’t go to plan, you might get pissed off, drink heavily, make poor decisions and wake up the next day with morning-after-the-night-out dread – What did I say? What did I do? Did I offend anyone? Apart from asking all those questions, it’s just not good for your emotional wellbeing to put yourself through the ringer like that on a regular basis.

The pressure and expectation we put on these night outs isn’t healthy. We can’t control how they go, who we’ll meet, or how things will play out. The one thing we do have in our control is our perception of the evening.

And we can change that perception by taking nights out at the club with a pinch of salt.

As touched on above, don’t get to a point where you’re so agonisingly self-aware that you can barely function. No one’s going to like that guy anyway, they’re going to like the genuine version of you – not the one who’s constantly scrutinising their own appearance and behaviour. Just be you and have some fun. This night, and all the others to come, are a tiny stitch in the big gay tapestry of your life.

You can’t base your self-worth on the opinion of a few drunken tits either. Rejection is a part of life, and yeah, some guys are going to turn you down. But these experiences are loose threads in the aforementioned tapestry.

And if you’re still not happy in that environment, remove yourself. Seriously, there’s no book of gay laws that says you have to go out to clubs anyway. If you know that going to a gay club is a destructive experience for you, don’t do it. It’s as simple as that. Your happiness is much more important than the cheap thrills of a snog with a stranger – or the fallout because it didn’t happen.

But if you still want to go out to gay clubs without any of the hang-ups, the following tips may help you:

  • Don’t make decisions that you’ll regret the next day.
  • Don’t forget who you are on a night out. You’re a fabulous person with lots to offer.
  • Be a good friend, always.
  • Enjoy the company of your mates.
  • Don’t constantly re-arrange your hair.
  • Don’t get sad or pissed off. If that’s where you’re heading, head home instead.
  • Dance with your friends, and not while scanning the whole room around them for a cute guy.

And above all, have fun. Seriously, do have fun – that’s actually the whole point of going out in the first place.