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DAN BARRY
About New York
 
Gay Marriage? First You Need to Fall in Love

BEFORE he arranges a dinner, Greg Miller spreads the photos of several men onto a carpeted floor and tries to imagine their conversation. Would this one click with that one? Would that extrovert draw out this introvert? Would the one who doesn't follow sports offend the one who finds effeminate habits a turnoff?
 
In recent weeks, the struggle to define our nation has included a debate over the legality of gay marriage. Often lost in the hubbub, though, is any recognition of how hard it is to find a partner for life in the first place. For some, the debate is important, compelling - and theoretical.
Mr. Miller, on the brink of 41, knows how much work is needed, and how much serendipity, before the theoretical becomes the practical. Especially for those who have crossed an arbitrarily imposed divide in a youth-obsessed society: the divide between being born, say, in 1963, rather than in 1964.

When he left rural Connecticut for New York a couple of years ago, Mr. Miller possessed an idealized view of gay city life as sort of one big wine-and-cheese party, where connections were easily made. He soon learned that was anything but cozy. You can walk among the crowds of all you want, and still be alone.

Last year he became the creative director for … a social club that brings together four men and four women, all single and past 40, for dinner, conversation and a chance to attain that elusive chemistry. That he has a partner did not blind him from seeing a need, and he soon received permission…to apply their model to gay men over 40.
… The evenings begin with a cocktail hour, at which Mr. Miller makes introductions, based on his examination of applications and photographs...
"I know the skinny on all these guys," he said. "I say things like: 'Jim, you ought to meet Bob. You both work at the Met.' Or 'You're both in fashion, ' or 'You both work in entertainment.' Or 'You're both pilots.' "
Once everyone is seated - preferably at a round table - Mr. Miller vanishes, hoping he has conjured the right mix. He tries to place kind people beside shy people, for example. And he tries to match people with similar interests, but not to the point where they find themselves sharing stuffed mushrooms with their mirrored reflections.
In some ways, these gatherings of single gay men over 40 are different from those of single straight people of the same age. The pool of candidates is smaller. A few may have only recently come out. And there is that palpable sense of absence in this generation, of so many companions and friends lost to AIDS.
But the similarities far outnumber the differences. Like their straight counterparts, the men have lost interest in the club scene, where the mere affect of nonchalance can be aerobic exercise. They are interested in physical appearance, but more so in substance. And they have worked hard at their careers, perhaps too hard.
"At this point, their time is more valuable," Mr. Miller explained. "They don't want to waste any more time. They want it expedited." The first dinner, at Citarella, was a success, he said, though he acknowledged that he could not say the same for every one that has followed. At one dinner in particular, one of the eight men did not show up, leaving the seven others to wonder why. "The group dynamic gets all out of whack."
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In the days after the dinner, the diners are asked to assess the evening. Some will ask, "Do you have any idea of what so-and-so thought of me?" Others will criticize.
"They'll complain about the other people at the dinner," Mr. Miller said. " 'I said I didn't want to meet anybody who is - this!' "
This? "Effeminate," he said, for one example.
"And I say, 'Welcome to the human race.' "
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