Given all the years I spent developing the best gal pals a boy could want, you would think that I would have learned a critical lesson. No, not that I was gay. Coming to terms with that was an inside job. But, my gals’ worst mistakes in love should have helped me realize this: boys are stupid. A childish oversimplification? Yes, but also well-supported by my own few, incredibly subjective, and one-sided experiences.
That first morning after, my unslelpt eyes winced as I stepped into the early sun, but there was a skip in my step. I hadn’t just wandered out into the daylight, struggling to pull it together after a night that had gotten away from me. I seized the moment. I didn’t run. I didn’t hide from the truth of who I was or what I wanted. Sure, there was some liquid encouragement. But it was me who took his hand in mine, pressed my lips to his, and well… I had yet to learn that what was a big moment for me might have been just another Thursday night for him.
I muddled through the next workday, giddy at his text messages, which didn’t arrive until well after noon. “OMG. I just got up. Are you okay?” and “I couldn’t make it into work after last night. What did we do!?!” We had advanced plans to see some art that weekend. I was not going to be the first one to bring it up. What if he changed his mind? (He didn’t.) What if I was bad? (I wasn’t.) “U still down for Sat?” Coy. Be coy. Not overly interested. “Sure, if you’re game.”
As we made it to the sculpture garden, he asks if we should talk about Thursday night. “I had fun. I like you, am surprised by how much, and I’m not sure where this goes, but I would like to find out.” He reminded me that he wasn’t interested in being part of the newfangled relationship structure I was exploring. His polyamorous friends had made some overtures years ago. I gathered that it didn’t end well. “I think we just have to communicate, about where this is going and how we’re feeling about it.” (Yes, because it is always just that simple.)
An awkward afternoon amidst marble shrines to the male form gave way to a great evening. At one of my favorite restaurants, he managed to charm both me and our waitress. Apparently, she was to be married in that sculpture garden in a few months. He feigned plans that we’d be her wedding crashers. Giddy at the idea, I silently planned my crasher attire. But, I wasn’t alone (okay…maybe in the outfit planning). The truth is that we were both caught up in the novelty, the mystique of a new could-be relationship. Over the next few weeks we shared great food, fun music, good sex. Yet, he couldn’t have expected and I wasn’t prepared for how this fleeting romance would coincide with the moment where I came face-to-face with the inescapable truth of my sexuality.
For half of my life to that point, I struggled to address what I can only describe as an emptiness, a void in my spirit that I didn’t fully understand and which prevented me from being understood. Simply spending time with him, experiencing what it meant to yearn for an honest connection with this man, helped fill in some of the blank spaces. And although our tryst certainly has its place in my story, despite how Gay Ben’s ego might like to remember it, my coming out was decidedly not about him.
It was about that bullied little boy, too scared, too traumatized to find his truth. It was about the iterative process that led me to that first night in his bed. Sandwiched between naïvety and denial, I had thought that if I came clean to my then wife about the extent of my pre-marital experimentation with men, that the emptiness would subside. (It didn’t.) I pivoted: if I was an ally, if I identified with and supported the LGBT community, that would be enough. (It wasn’t). But, if I acknowledged my same-sex interest, and came out to those closest to me as a bisexual man in a loving marriage with a woman, I would feel full. (I didn’t.) If I indulged my too curious ex-wife’s suggestions of an open marriage and we each addressed our sexuality in the context of what was an exceptional partnership, that would quell my longing. (It couldn’t.)
It came over me one evening: more than a decade’s worth of truth denied, standing in front of me, refusing to be silenced, demanding to be seen. Ever so slowly, I came to understand that what I wanted–what I needed–was to be intimately and emotionally connected to a man, and for that experience to be primary. I did not want to be “open.” I did not want this truth to be something that I merely indulged on the side. I wanted it to be a piece of an otherwise full life.
While inartfully explaining this to Gay Ben over out next Thursday dinner, I was still coming to terms with a burgeoning new reality. I stumbled all over my words, and possibly implied that I wanted him to be primary. There I was, a married guy, coming out to his side piece over dinner, suggesting that we be boyfriends. I should have corrected myself. (“I don’t want you to be my primary partner. I just realize that I want my primary partner to be a man.”) But as I said, boys are stupid. Shockingly, he didn’t act like a deer in headlights. He didn’t tell me to hold on, step back, or take a breath. With a reassuring gaze, he simply said, “we’ll take our time.” We walked along the East River while I confided my fears of what a divorce might look like and how it would affect my twins. He assured me that everything would be okay.
I knew that a lasting connection with Gay Ben stood as much a chance as him actually crashing the waitress’s sculpture garden wedding. Still, I wonder what sparked his seeming sincerity. Perhaps he was somewhat honored: that I fully came out to him first; that our time together also marked a critical moment in my journey; that he bore witness to a new chapter of my life beginning to take shape. He wouldn’t be there for much of it. The first pages would be sprinkled with our short-lived romance–a few cute gifts and a bunch of fun nights–before the text messages and emails slowed, the dates became fewer, and he gradually slipped away into the crowd of gay men grasping for a connection, and recoiling when they found one.
Months after the initial silence, I reached out, curious about why he disappeared. I had thought that, if nothing else, we were building a friendship. He apologized–sort of–explaining that he only really wanted a friend, not a romance, and was afraid that he had something to do with the end of my marriage. To assuage his guilt (and counterbalance his ego), I assured him that the end of my marriage had begun long before he and I had caught eyes. Then I offered to be his friend–without all the pillow talk and free love. Why? Because boys are stupid.