“You have a lot hang-ups, you know that?” A boy tells me this recently in the men’s department of a Century 21. He’s not saying it to be mean. In fact, it’s intended as a joke. We are both standing here trying on ridiculous coats in the middle of summer and he’s daring me to wear a hideous Jeremy Scott jacket. My knee-jerk reaction is to scowl and say, “Fuck off, no way” So I do, I tell him that, and then the boy just smiles and shakes his head. He’s used to this kind of behavior from me. I had said “no” to him earlier that morning too. He suggested we go get brunch at a restaurant on the water in Jersey City and I balked at the idea.
“Jersey City? No way. Sorry.”
“It’s fun, I promise!”
Putting up a fight about where to have brunch is odd and, in many ways, pointless, but it’s also not surprising. Whenever I like someone, I regress to being in pre-school. I want to pull on their hair, tease them, and act generally aloof. I want to say no.
It all comes down to having walls built up. It comes down to feeling like I have to constantly test someone and put them through hell to see if they can survive it. I’m giving them a million reasons to run and none to stay, all the while hoping and praying that they actually do stick around. It’s like I’m being possessed by an evil spirit that is hell-bent on me staying single. At so many points, I wish I could just break through and be like, “Don’t listen to me! I’m an asshole. I actually really, really like you and I’m just terrible at expressing it.”
Basically, the boy is right. I do have a lot of hang-ups and at twenty-six years old, they only seem to be multiplying.
It doesn’t matter with him anyway though because he already has a boyfriend. When we first met, I didn’t know he was in a relationship. We spent hours laughing and getting to know each other over drinks one night and then he dropped the bomb on me. I was disappointed and surprised, although I really shouldn’t have been. Even though I’m still young, I’m realizing more and more that everyone has boyfriends now. Gay men everywhere in their mid-twenties are in happy monogamous relationships. Who knew? Not this fag, apparently. I guess I was at home Googling “Mary-Kate Olsen bangles” the night everyone worthwhile decided to stop being single.
One of the difficult aspects about being gay and developing a crush on someone is that you can’t help but compare yourself to them. When I was hanging out with this boy, I would often feel grossly inadequate. He was in a serious relationship that had been going on for three years. I hadn’t gotten a blowjob in three months. He biked everywhere. I didn’t know how to ride a bike. He surfed. I was terrified of the ocean. He floated through the days with an easiness that I envied.
So I couldn’t help but ask myself: Did I like him because I was attracted to him or because there was a part of me that wished I could be more like him?
It’s hard to make the distinction sometimes. In this case, I think it was definitely more the former than the latter. Still, there were moments when I would look at him and feel like everything about me was wrong.
Before I met this boy, I was convinced that I was dead inside because it had been two years since I had so much as a crush on someone. I had fake crushes, of course. The kind where you meet someone and will yourself to become obsessed with them before you have any idea who the fuck they actually are. Oh, sure. I had plenty of those. But deep down you always know you never actually like them and that it’s just something you do to feel human.
With this boy, it was different. The spark was instant. He was on my level. He got it. I hadn’t felt this way in a long time and the times I did were starting to feel like a dream, like I had made them up in my head.
Oh, okay. This is what it’s supposed to feel like. This is still possible for you to experience.
It sounds insane to think that you can actually forget this. You can forget that it’s possible for you to like someone. But if you go long enough without anything “real” in your life like I did, it can definitely happen.
It’s amazing how your heart can adapt to loneliness, even though it never forgets what it feels like to be close to someone. That’s the brain’s job. The brain forgets what it has to in order to make it through the goddamn day.
For awhile there, I was determined to tell him how I felt. I planned elaborate scenes in my head in which I would come clean about my feelings. There’d be no point to this, obviously. It would be an entirely selfish act. I would do it just so I could get this weight lifted off my shoulders, even if it meant destroying a special friendship.
To tell you the truth, I found the passion of such a confession to be enticing because it had been so long since I felt anything remotely powerful. Things had been flatlined and I was desperate for something to evoke any kind of emotion other than “whatevs.”
I was never going to do it, though. Maybe if I was 20 years old and still treated my relationships like they were garbage bags for me to take emotion dumps in, I would have but sweet mother of Christ, I am not that person anymore. Besides, it really didn’t matter that this boy knew I liked him because the friendship had already given me the most important gift of all, which is that it let me know that I wasn’t defective. I could love someone again; I would love someone again. Something hadn’t broken inside of me.
People—even the wrong ones—come into your life to teach you the lessons you can’t learn on your own. It is your job not to make a fuss about it. You just sit, listen, let their words bleed into your scalp, and get the hell out at the appropriate time.
This particular boy taught me that the ones who aren’t able to love you often teach you the most about love. Isn’t that funny?
No it’s not. But it’s something.