I have this friend, Ben. He’s smart, worldly, charming without being too aware of it, artistic and daring yet well-grounded, a bit too self-effacing for his own good–and hot. I really admire Ben, and not just because I think he’s a catch. (He’s straight, of course.) Despite my being way better at making gal pals than boy friends, Ben and I have built a great friendship over the years. He’s a loving, fun and reliable presence in my life. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, when I slowly crept out of the closet and began dating men, I was immediately lovestruck by a guy who seemed a lot like Ben. You can imagine where this goes: he was no Ben. I got burned. Important lessons abound.
When my ex (wife) birthed the stellar idea of opening up our relationship after birthing twins, I was initially resistant. I was worried that it would bring about the end of our marriage. (It did, sort of.) She was much more romantic about it: ideas of enlarging our “chosen family,” welcoming others who could respond to the needs and the parts of our hearts that we could not fully open to each other, despite trying–hard. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get caught up in those romantic notions at least a little. Still, the idea terrified me at first. Not just because I’m in some ways a traditionalist who has a hard time imagining being in a successful multi-partner relationship, but because I had never fully disclosed the extent of my (pre-marriage) same-sex experimentation. Even more terrifying was the thought of giving voice to my most private thoughts–sometimes whispering, other times shouting, from behind my steel doors of denial.
After she met a few women, and our relationship began opening at least on one end, I slowly became more comfortable with the idea of putting myself out there. I had no idea about how to meet men, and I was tentative at best. So, I did all I could manage and called on that chubby electronic cherub. For weeks, I didn’t proactively seek anyone; I just fielded messages–most of which were just too unabashedly sex-seeking for this newbie. A few guys complemented me on the effort to address this part of myself that went unspoken for so long. Those were sweet. Still, I couldn’t find the gall to actually initiate a conversation. Until I saw him: the Gay Ben.
Many of us gravitate toward the familiar–seeking people, places and experiences where we can easily find comfort and common interest. Gay Ben was that sort of touchstone. He seemed to possess many of the qualities of a man who I hold in high esteem. That was really important for someone like me who, at least in my younger years, experienced most men as aggressive or outright threatening. He did not end up being everything that I thought he was or hoped he’d be (who is?), but in fairness to Gay Ben, he told me not to expect much of him. In our first few messages, he shared stories about good friends of his in an open marriage, how he really admired them, how he respects their way of life, loves their kids, and considers himself a part of their chosen family. He was upfront, and clearly stated that he did not think that he could date someone who was open, but thought that we might make good friends. I, of course, heeded his warning and avoided becoming romantically interested or entangled with him.
Our first night out together was great. We had so many shared interests: music, travel, food snobbery, creative cocktails, politics, a love of kids (he was a pediatrician…just kill me). Dinner turned into cocktails, and suddenly it was 2am. We did this dance for weeks, always making a plan for next time. He was charming, a great conversationalist and we really enjoyed one another’s company. We fell into a routine of text messaging daily and taking turns e-gifting each other our favorite albums. I was smitten and had so many feelings: connectedness (we got each other), relief (that I could develop such a connection), attraction (he was quite sexy), and excitement (I was eager to see where this could go). Whether these were “dates,” I didn’t know. I wanted them to be, and in hindsight, I grafted onto his ambivalence a desire for the same.
A few weeks in, the undefined nature of this new relationship had become too much to bear. I decided that I had to make a move. Attempting a simple good night kiss would have done it. But here I learned my first lesson in how, sometimes, two men just cannot help themselves. It was what had quickly become an ordinary Thursday night dinner for us–good conversation, laughs, critical evaluations of food and libation. I suggested that a karaoke bar could be funny, and after a few songs (encouraged by a few shots), I decided to kiss him mid-verse. It remains one of my best endeavors to seize the moment.
It was everything I had hoped it would be: the way his lips lingered on mine for just the right amount of time, how I could feel him smile as our tongues met. Flirtatious dancing, some groping in a cab, and we were back at his apartment. That night was my first real time with a man, and he knew it. It was at once gentle and pushed new limits. I felt brave. I was bumbling at points, not unlike that first time in my high school bedroom with the girl I took to junior prom. Except this night confirmed my worst fears, while oddly setting me at ease. It was, without question, a big moment–too big to base anything on, I would soon come to learn.
As the sun crept in, we laughed about how we hadn’t slept and now neither of us had a clue about how to make it through the day ahead. People went about their morning bustle as I stepped out of his apartment in yesterday’s outfit. I was a mess. I desperately needed a shave, a clean shirt, and a cup of coffee, but their was a skip in my step. It was anything but a walk of shame.