I can’t beat myself up about it now, because I’d already fallen for him when he told me about the other boy.
We were in my bed, my cheek on his chest, when he said my name followed by a pause. “Justin…”
And I braced myself, ecstatic stars colliding in my head, because I’d been waiting for this moment. Never in my life has someone asked me to be his boyfriend. I’ve never let it get to that point. I don’t fall for people.
But he was different.
Sure, he had all the same basic traits of my type – beautiful, soft-spoken, mysterious, melancholy – but that first moment he flashed a toothy mischievous smile, I was smitten. When he got excited he would stutter, and I would melt. He was the first fellow Asian man I ever fell for, and I was wholly intoxicated by him, deliriously delighted. A cocked pipe stuffed with opium; I’d press my face to his body and inhale; this was a heady high.
He paused again. And I made a concerted effort to control my breathing, despite my racing mind. I wrapped my arms around him hard and squeezed.
Then he asked the question, his voice muffled into my hair. “How do you feel about open relationships?”
I swallowed hard, allowed myself to be crushed for only a moment, and then stuttered a few attempts at being casual. And I vaguely heard him tell me about the other boy, the one who already knew about me, the one he’d been dating long before me. “I showed him your picture,” he told me, “and he thinks you’re cute.”
“Oh… Thanks.” As it all began to sink in, I realized that his friends and our mutual friends had known all along too, and I felt like a fucking idiot. He slept over that night, but I stayed awake.
Of course, I should’ve known better. I had no right to be angry. Sure, it sucked that I was hearing about the other boy for the first time considering that we’d been dating for months, that he’d come to my birthday and met all my friends, and that he spent the night every time we saw each other.
Maybe to some people that’s foul play. Maybe some would say that this should be a dealbreaker. But it shouldn’t be to boys like us.
Didn’t you know? All the cool gays are polyamorous.
So it didn’t end there. But I definitely did try, via texts – surprisingly sober ones – sent the next night at 4am. “I wish you wanted me more,” I actually texted him. Jesus. If I could go back in time, I’d bitchslap myself.
But whenever I was upset with him, he wanted me the most. Ours was a wheel of alternating ambivalence and passion. I’d lash out at him, angry about the pit we were both in, and he’d apologize to me with big brown eyes wide with fear that he’d might lose me, and I would crumble. We would then cling onto each other, drunk on a reignited lust between us.
So another couple months passed, and soon enough there was no joy in the love, only shame. So I told him that I loved him. Once again we were in my bed, this time his head on my chest, as I kissed his forehead. Yes, I knew that saying it out loud would be the end for us.
He actually asked me, “Well, what about [the other boy]?” Then he said that he was wary of codependency. And finally he told me that he loved me, but he wasn’t in love with me.
We held each other and cried for a while, and then I asked him to leave. As he slowly pulled his clothes on, he kept looking back at me, and I could feel at that moment that his passion was renewing. He wanted me again: The wheel had once again been rejuvenated with our sad sexual longing.
But I didn’t say anything. He looked at me one last time as he pulled the door shut behind him. I stared at that door for hours before falling asleep.
In some ways, I’m still staring at the door behind him. It’s because I know that if I had just pulled him back, told him to forget what I’d just said, wrapped my arms around him and held him tight, he would have stayed. I could be curling up snug into him right now, instead of writing a bitter story about confused boys.
Since that final night a couple weeks ago, I’ve thought a lot about heartbreak, this alien emotion that will just creep up on me like a cloudburst when I least expect it. I’ll be sitting in traffic or watching Netflix, when suddenly my throat will knot up and I’ll choke even before I realize what I’m sad about. I was giggling with my grandmother at Chinese New Year when hot tears suddenly sprang to my eyes, and she asked if I was drunk.
I also think about if I could’ve tried his polyamory if I’d known about the other boy from the beginning, if I’d been given a chance to frame the way I thought about the situation, rather than being blindsided en media res. Basically, am I cool enough for an open relationship? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think I’m going to find out.
I get that gay love is different than straight love, and I get that many if not most gay relationships have some degree of openness in them. I imagine this can be a liberating and fulfilling arrangement.
As for me, I instead think of the moments with him when I completely forgot about that other boy, when our minds and our bodies were an entangled mess and two names were whispered to each other in the darkness.
I could live in moments like that forever.