What I know now is that I'm a total prick. It took a long time to realize that I was anything but the well-adjusted homo citizen with the best intentions. I wasn't that at all, but I spent a good 10 years believing I was fucking great. Most gay men feel this way about themselves, despite all the noise about self-loathing and deep insecurity. Take, for example, the gay fixation on real estate: You have to love yourself so very much to occupy the renovated loft apartment with the Sub-Zero fridge and modernist Italian furniture. But my prickdom transcends mere materialism. For years I considered myself quite Super Gay, the man any man would want, big-hearted and savvy, such fun at brunches, and--ugh, the worst part--always bragging about how willing I was to accept others, the whole rainbow connection, the entire snappy-fingered wild gay universe. God, I was an asshole.

I thought I was fun on dates. (Like, incredibly interesting.) I thought it was nice that I remembered birthdays, or the name of your sister. I thought my pillow talk was fascinating; fascinating in the way it was both kooky and led to more sex (which, of course, I thought rocked). I lived with the notion that you would want as much of me as you could have, even when it seemed like you didn't want me at all. Here's the clincher: If you somehow showed that you liked me, I would casually start to disconnect from you. If you received my signal and started to also disconnect, well, this was when I would start paying attention, start calling you back and leaving longer messages, suggesting movie times, that sort of baloney. Sometimes I left little love notes, or treats (Hot Tamales candy in a Speed Racer lunch pail, which I bought at that idiotic lesbian retro-krap store down the hill, because I was the kind of guy who honestly believed in the power of lesbian retro-krap stores and "Surrender Dorothy" and "Orgasm Donor" bumper stickers). I left notes and treats because this was what I thought were little attempts to sweep various men off their feet. What I know now is that I was busy falling in love with one guy: me.

Oh, the coolness of me. Clearly the men I dated saw it, but let's review just in case they missed it: My impeccably diverse tastes in music, about which there could be no wiggle room. My tediously liberal viewpoints that nobody present disagreed with, but that doesn't matter, I still had to go on and on about them as if I had to sway the entire table. My ability to see a movie before you saw it and pronounce it brilliant or unwatchable (and so rarely anything in between). My embracing of a starlet or band or writer or pop phenom, and then the way I would drop the thing the minute too many people also dug it, or it showed up on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. My liking of Will & Grace until the moment I deemed it tired, which meant that anyone else still watching it was also tired. (Fuck Will, fuck Grace: The real self-absorbed prick believes that the whole world, as the writer Nick Hornby once pointed out, is just a TV show of which the star is... you guessed it. What I know now is that nobody's watching the TV show about me. Nobody thinks it's funny. No one is following the plot.)

I considered myself remarkably noble, a decade back, for having spent weeks writing a sonorous three-part newspaper series about the "struggles" of passing a gay-rights initiative in the state legislature. I interviewed drag queens who'd been fired from fast-food jobs; I went to a gay wedding; I went with lesbians to PTA meetings; and I wrote the whole thing with this unbearably trite sense of urgency and purpose and superiority. I threw fits when the series was (in hindsight, judiciously) edited down to two parts and Day Two did not begin on the front page. I kicked a file cabinet, had my Oscar moment. By now you understand that this had nothing to do with gay rights, and plenty to do with me.

The parades I marched in, the walkathons, the checks I wrote to gay causes, the readings I attended at coffeehouses and bookstores--I can't get past the sinking feeling that I was trying to be too perfectly gay, so that everyone would know how perfectly gay I was.

I used to not call guys back, even when I told them I would.

Then I felt bad.

Then I decided, in all my self-appointed saintliness, that I could somehow salvage all gay karma by always calling a man back, even if I wasn't interested. You should always call a man back, right? You should not be the bad guy; you should be the good guy, right? You should let him down gently, right? (See how even this makes me feel better about me?) I've broken up with guys and said, "It's not you, it's me," only I said it with a bigger vocabulary, tried to make it sound like a new concept instead of a cliché, and that is something only a jerk would do. If a man gave me drama, even a little, I would say, "You know what? I can't deal with this drama," and I would emphasize the word "drama" like it was fecal matter on the tablecloth.

I cut short a first date once because the guy was wearing his belt through the label on his jeans. I didn't go on a second date with another man because I saw Amy Grant CDs next to his stereo. (Reader, I'm telling you there was more than one.) I didn't go on a third date with a different guy because he wrote "LOL" after every other damn sentence in his incredibly boring e-mails. Dealbreakers all--because, I promise you, I have not been the decent man I claim to be.

What I know now is that I need to have my ass kicked. What I know now about myself just may be the very thing I purport to abhor: I am the man who complains about gay bars and gay men while standing in the middle of one, surrounded by hundreds of them, all blowing cigarette smoke in my face. "You seem like a really nice guy," says one. "You seem like you're drunk," I tell him back, and the wounded look on his twink face is so wonderfully priceless, I wish I had a Polaroid of it. "What's your problem?" he asks, and I am vaguely happy that I finally know.

Hank Stuever is a staff writer at the Washington Post.