Cartoon Devil

October 2015

“I’m here! Plaid shirt and blue jeans, corner table, what can I order you?”

I had butterflies when I sent the text message. I hadn’t been on a date in a few months and it was nice to be back on the market. I was so, so sick of dating. It exhausted me. Maybe I was picky or impossible, or maybe I kept hoping to find that unobtainable unicorn out there. I wanted someone with a job, who took care of himself physically, who was good with kids, who was charming. I also wanted someone with some self-confidence, and a sense of humor, who was out of the closet, and had themselves figured out when it came to their family and religion. Utah was so full of these guys who didn’t like themselves, who berated themselves because of their religious upbringings. They were the way I used to be, but once you have got your own shit together, there is nothing quite so threatening or annoying as someone who hasn’t.

By this point, four and a half years after coming out of the closet, I’d had dozens and dozens of terrible and weird dates. Admittedly, sometimes I was the terrible and weird date. I went through a phase where I was too codependent, or where I expected others to put in all the effort while I coasted along. I fell in love too quickly a few times, and fell apart too quickly a few others. I even turned down a few really amazing guys in the hopes that I might find something just a bit better out there. But I was now ready for something to stick, to last more than a few weeks. I think seven weeks in a relationship had been my longest record since coming out, with someone who was 14 years younger than me, but that hadn’t worked out either; he moved to another state to go to college, and there was no way I could do long distance while I had two little kids.

And so, for a time, I had given all of my energy to just being single. I focused on my career, my hate crimes research, my blog, and went to the gym. I took myself on dates and little trips. I spent time with friends, I hosted my own movie nights, and I, of course, spent every possible moment with my incredible sons, at this point ages 7 and 4, two little men who delighted me constantly. They were with me every other weekend and a few nights per week. I loved my time with them, but I also grew to love my time flying solo.

Tonight, this was my first attempt back into the dating scene after over two months of focusing solely on myself. I met the guy over OKCupid just days after I’d reactivated my account. My first impression of his pictures elicited an out loud ‘DAMN!’ I sent the first message and he answered within minutes. He was witty, funny, handsome, employed, cute and fit, but in that guy-next-door kind of way, not in that ‘I stare at myself in the gym mirror for ten hours per week’ kind of way. And then on day three of chatting, I invited him out for coffee. He responded with enthusiasm, in an “I thought you’d never ask” kind of way. I hired a babysitter, got to the coffee shop ten minutes early, and texted him promptly at six that I was there.

6:10 rolled around. 6:15. 6:20. No message, no word. People played chess at a nearby table. Other people studied. We were getting past the point where it was acceptable to be late without some sort of notice. I sipped my decaf coffee and waited, wondering if there were too many red lights maybe, or maybe he’d forgotten an appointment. But maybe he was just standing me up. Lord knows this wouldn’t be the first time.

Finally at 6:32, my phone dinged. I grabbed it in a hurry. The text said, “This is terrible, but I can’t do this. I went there, but I couldn’t go in. You’re a good guy, Chad, but I’m still in love with my ex, and this isn’t right. I’ll understand if you never want to talk to me again. Best of luck, Chad, I don’t expect to hear back from you.”

I felt my upper lip rise into an involuntary sneer, and my nostrils flared with frustration. And then I set my coffee down, put my head in my hands, and… pouted. The old interior voice I had worked so hard to contain came back with a vengeance. All of my demons came back to the surface.

You’re pathetic. You knew it would be like this, but you tried it anyway. There are no good men out there, none. And if there were, do you think one would want to be with you? A guy who waited until he was 32 to come out? You have two kids, you’re in debt, and you are hardly in the best shape of your life. Why would he want to be with you? And of course you’d pick a guy who is still hung up on some guy. If there’s a pathetic guy out there, you’ll find them every time, it takes one to know one.

I lifted my head, pursed my lips, furrowed my eyebrows, and said, “No!” out loud, but not loud enough for anyone else to hear. That voice inside was dark. It was that little devil that appeared on Bugs Bunny’s shoulder in the old cartoons. I instead willfully gave voice to the angel, invisible on my other shoulder.

No! You’re a good guy, Chad! You get to be happy! You don’t get to beat yourself up for trying to find someone! Now you don’t give a second thought to that loser. You live for you! You hired a babysitter, you can do whatever you want tonight, you just enjoy your own company.

Yes. I would do that! I would take myself on a date! Fuck that guy. I was allowed to be happy.

I tossed my remaining coffee in the garbage, marched myself right outside, and noticed the movie theater next door. I would do that! I would go to the movies! I triumphantly entered, got the attention of the man behind the counter, and triumphantly said, “I’ll take a ticket to whatever movie is next, please.”

I was in the Tower, an old indie theater with broken seats, sticky floors, and a balcony. And I was about to see a movie at random, this was my kind of adventure. “And I’ll take that bag of popcorn,” I said.

The ticket agent explained that the next movie would be the ‘Oscar Animated Shorts’, or short cartoons that had been nominated for an Oscar in the upcoming season. I had a night out and I was going to see… short cartoons, apparently.

The devil returned. Oh my god, cartoons, you loser! It’s a Wednesday night! You’re going to the movies by yourself on a Wednesday night and you’re going to see cartoons! You could be doing that with your kids! You’re going to die alone!

No! No, no,  no! You are brave and courageous, and you are doing something nice for yourself on a hard day! You are a good person who deserves to be happy!

Apparently unable to see the talking devil and angel versions of me on my shoulders, the ticket agent took my money and handed me the random bag of popcorn I had pointed to. Then I noticed the flavor. Coconut curry. Well, what the hell.

The movie was starting in 15 minutes, he said. I went in and took my seat, my brave face was on. I was determined to enjoy myself this evening. I opened my phone and played some Pokemon Go  as I sat there, feeling like a real winner. I would watch cartoons and play Pokemon Go and eat Coconut Curry popcorn instead of bantering with a handsome man like I’d planned. Positive self-talk was working!

In minutes, the lights dimmed and I looked up to see the screen come on. There were multiple previews for upcoming indie films, and none of them looked interesting. As the film prepared to start, I opened my bag of Coconut Curry, and it gave off a loud crispy plastic sound. I quickly looked up to make sure I hadn’t disturbed anyone. Then I realized there was no one else in the movie to disturb.

Oh my god, you pathetic loser! You are in a movie theater, seeing cartoons, after getting stood up by a date who is still in love with his ex, on a Wednesday night, planning to eat an entire bag of popcorn, and you’re the only one here! What the hell is wrong with you! You’re going to die fat and old and alone, who lives like this!

No! No, you are a brave and beautiful soul who deserves the very—

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” I told the angel voice. I grabbed a giant handful of salty disgusting popcorn and shoved it into my mouth until my cheeks puffed out, and then I ugly cried as a Dutch cartoon called ‘the Single Life’ started on the screen.

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Seattle Part 12: the Rainforest

March, 2015

The town of Forks, Washington was overwhelmingly disappointing. Not that I was the biggest Twilight fan, but I expected something slightly more elaborate. I parked my car on the street next to a run-down pick-up truck that probably hadn’t been moved in a year. When I got out, a pregnant dog looked at me, laying in the shade of the truck, too tired to get up. Next to her front paw was a smashed Big Gulp cup.

Twilight had been out for ten years or so by this point, and the craze must have died down at least a little bit. If memory served me right, the author, Stephanie Meyer needed a place without a lot of daylight for her vampire novels and she did an Internet search and came up with this town to base her books in. And suddenly, this sleepy town that bordered the rainforests and beaches of the western Washington peninsula was world-famous, with tourists going out of their way to get there.

The streets weren’t well-kept. There were a dozen shops, all with low quality materials, selling various things, and all of them marketing kitschy Twilight materials. Books, posters, themed snacks. A local bus said it did Twilight tours. I didn’t stay long, and instead headed west, through Port Angeles and on toward the coast.

My companion, Xhu, and I made idle chat as I headed westward, toward the Olympic National Forest. We had been talking the entire day, through our stop for lunch in the adorable town of Sequim and during the drive. Xhu was charming and incredibly handsome. A first generation American born to Chinese immigrants, he had settled in Seattle years before into a lucrative job that he loved, and he’d purchased his home just a few years later. He’d carved out a comfortable existence here, with a great group of friends and a happy stable life.

Xhu and I had met on Tinder just one month before. After chatting for a few days, we met up for coffee, and he was even more handsome in person. He had a thick jaw and kind eyes, a muscular torso and strong legs. He was a runner, and he wore glasses that he would take off and play with while he was talking, and then put them back on. I was attracted to him right away, and he to me, yet he knew I had already turned in my resignation at the job I hated and that I was planning on returning to Utah in April. He knew, but wanted to spend time with me anyway. Our chemistry was palpable, and after just a few weeks I started spending the night at his place a few days per week. We cuddled on the couch and watched movies, walked to the pub for drinks, and had a wonderful sexual connection. In just one month, we’d fallen into a comfortable routine of dating. It felt like the first thing that could last for me, something that could represent some permanency for me in Seattle. But our meeting had come after I’d already made the decision to return home. Maybe that was why it was working, because we both knew it was temporary. Regardless, for now, it felt amazing to have him at my side. I reached over and took his hand as I drove.

We headed through the gorgeous trees and tiny towns, into La Push, yet another location in the Twilight novels. But in this case, the books did the place justice. The blue waves hit the rocky beaches as giant outcroppings of black rock dotted the landscape. The elevation, the smell of sea air, the strong breeze, the rolling landscape, the dense greens and the rich browns. It arrested my entire being. Zhu leaned into me and we stood there endlessly, indifferent to time as I pushed my eyes out and over the horizon.

Another 90 minutes later, we took a long hike together through a path in the Hoh Rainforest. Large trees were draped in moss with jagged branches stretching toward the sky and in every direction. The trunks twisted bizarrely, some of them in zig-zags. In some places, I couldn’t see the sky through the canopies of trees. Zhu excused himself for time, and I took in the extreme beauty of the world around me, knowing it was all so fragile, so temporary, or at least my place in it was. I felt tears roll down my cheeks as I thought of the ocean nearby and of my sons in a desert without me a few hundred miles to the south and east.

And then the magical day was over, and it was time to drive the few hours back to Seattle. I realized I would very likely never make it back to this peninsula, though I would surely be in Seattle again. Zhu fell asleep and I contemplated my time here, these short four and a half months since I had been away from home. I thought of my time remaining and what faced me when I returned to Utah. I wondered how differently things might have turned out if Zhu and I had met sooner, and what my life might have been like had I stayed. I wondered at the circumstances that had led me here in the first place. I thought of my friends in Utah, the depression I had had before I left, and the mediocre misadventures I’d had in this beautiful place.

There had been a shift in me in the past months. The storms within me had quieted. I found peace easier now. The depression was gone. I found myself less angry about past pains, and less in a hurry to arrive at destinations. I missed my children so much at it ached deeply within me. I’d seen Seattle as some strange and easy path to happiness, and instead I was leaving the city with resolve. I had goals in mind now, big things that I wanted to accomplish, and I was beginning to believe that I was capable.

I had a few sights left to see, a few more weeks at work, and then I’d be packing up. I’d be returning home to my children, to my friends, to my heart space. And I was taking me with me. I realized as I drove that that was perhaps the greatest lesson I had learned in my great move here.

Wherever you go, there you are.

Seeking Discreet Hook-Up

CL

I saw the ad for “discreet hook-up”, in the Men Seeking Men section on Craigslist. It was alluring.

“Discreet local athlete. Looking for discreet encounter with regular or semi-regular partner. Want someone who is fit, who knows what they want, who doesn’t ask questions, and above all, is discreet. Discretion is a must!”

Three “discreets” and one “discretion is a must”, complete with exclamation point! This guy was more paranoid than I was!

Back in 2011, I had only been out of the closet for a few months, and I was still too scared to show my picture in situations like this. I was only selectively out of the closet at that point, meaning only a few people knew that I was gay. If someone on the other end of that computer screen saw me… what if they knew me? What if they were in my ward, or worse what if they were a former client of mine? No, the risks were far too great.

So instead of sending the requested photo, I sent a description of myself. “5’11’’, 175. Not in perfect shape, but regularly go to the gym. Recently out. Seeking connections and could be fun to meet up.”

And when I checked my Email the next morning, he replied. “If you’re real and interested, send photos. I would send one, but I’m discreet.”

Discreet, okay, I get it already! I sent a quip back that I was uncomfortable sending a photo without seeing one in return. Then he replied, “Fine, but you better be good-looking. I’ll meet you in the front lobby of my apartment building. But don’t tell anyone you are coming. What time should I expect you?”

And so, after getting off work that afternoon, I found myself driving to an unfamiliar address. I’d passed this building a thousand times and never had reason to go inside. As I parked the car, I wondered what I was doing. This could be a woman, a troll, a con artist, an older man. Anyone can use any description from behind a keyboard. But in a situation like this, where we were both scared of exposure, it seemed that we both had a lot to lose, and that equal playing field gave me bravery.

Sex with men was still something very new to me. At this point, I’d only met up with a half-dozen guys, and all of them had been brief encounters with guys who, like me, had a lot to lose. There was the college student who’d looked like a grown-up Harry Potter, the tall model looking guy here on vacation, the rugged carpenter guy. All of them one-time meetings with guys I would never see again.

I was living in a fairly rural area of north Idaho, and meeting guys seemed difficult and confusing, especially since I wasn’t looking to date yet. The novelty of meeting random guys was already wearing off, but after decades in the closet, finding physical connections was proving to be a bit addictive. All those years of holding myself back, and now my adolescent self was screaming, and the hormones just wouldn’t quit. Kissing was amazing, touching was incredible, skin-to-skin contact was bliss. Orgasms now no longer brought with them crippling shame and nausea. Who knew sex could be this fun! All the previous versions of me from every age, 13, 16, 20, 25… they were all celebrating within me with every experience, shouting out, ‘Finally, Chad, finally!’ A quick encounter, even if unfulfilling, was titillating, sexy, a bit risky. But after a few days, I would already be wanting more. It was a little easier to drive west to Spokane, Washington, where they had a few clubs, places I could actually meet guys, but that meant late nights when everyone but me was drinking, and a long drive home. For now, random encounters would have to do.

After sending the stranger a quick Email saying that I was there, I headed into the apartment building lobby. I didn’t know a name, what he looked like, or even if he was married, and I would avoid asking any questions on purpose. If I could just shut down the ethics in my brain, maybe I could kick back and enjoy this. God, I hoped he was cute.

In the lobby, I took a seat, and casually looked at the décor. A minute later, the elevator dinged open and a very cute black guy walked out. I mean, very cute. Frizzy hair, caramel skin, full lips, athletic build, gorgeous brown eyes, lean and muscular with a perfect butt. He was wearing grey sweat pants and a black tank top. He stayed in the elevator as I stood up, looked me over for a minute, then made eye contact. Without speaking, or even smiling, he craned his neck, indicating I should enter the elevator, then he stepped back inside. I followed and looked over at him, extending a hand to introduce myself. “I’m Chad—“ I started, but he just shook his head no.

“Not yet,” he said.

The elevator rose to the seventh floor, then I followed him down the hallway, confused but also very interested. A few doors down, we entered his apartment, and he closed and locked the door behind him. The place looked more like a hotel room, not like a place that was lived in. It was too clean, too sterile, with black furniture and the kind of art on the wall that could be purchased at a place like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We stood there in the entryway and he finally looked at me.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear your name. And I’m not going to share mine. If this goes well, it could be a more than one time thing for you. I don’t live here, but I come use the company apartment a lot, and can host when I’m here. But if you ever see me out in the streets, you just keep walking. I don’t want a hello, a wave, or anything. I won’t know you either. Don’t try it. Seriously, just don’t.” He paused, looking me in the eyes, then he pulled his tank top over his head. “Now you.”

I unbuttoned my own shirt as I looked over his very nice body. Lean, strong stomach, chiseled chest, a bit of curly chest hair. He kept talking.

“I’m a runner. I take care of myself. And I like the guys I am with to take care of themselves also.” He watched as I slid my shirt off, twisting his lips upward as he appraised me. “Not the kind of guy I usually go for. But I can tell you try hard, and you’ve got a cute face.” His eyes shifted up. “You’ve got some grey hair. How old are you?”

“33.”

“I’m 26. I like that you’re older, that works in your favor. Follow me. Leave your shirt there.”

I followed him into the sparsely furnished living room, avoiding flashing thoughts like ‘axe murderer’ and ‘narcissist’. He took a seat and looked at me. “You can go ahead and take your pants off,” he indicated, and I could tell he was a little bit aroused. I was confused, appalled, and intrigued by his orders all at once. A guy this handsome, maybe he could get away with it.

“If we are going to do this, I’m going to want lots of kissing,” he said as I unbuckled my belt, and I indicated that would be fine. “Before we do anything, I also want to make sure we are both clean. I’d like to shower first. Why don’t you join me.” It was a statement, not a question.

As we headed toward his bathroom, my brain flashed back to my first time at a gay club in Spokane just weeks before. It had been a freezing cold night, and there had been a line to get inside, with the club at full capacity. It had been after 11 pm and I’d been standing there shivering for 30 minutes when a very drunk gay man came stumbling out of the club with a couple of his friends, struggling to put on his own coat. He began talking loudly to the line of people outside.

“Sorry everyone, the club is full! They are only letting hot people in now!” As he walked by, he began rating everyone, in a very effeminate voice. “You aren’t hot enough. You don’t get in. You definitely don’t get in. But you, you can go inside right now! Look at you!” As he’d walked away, I’d been both secretly flattered to be the one pointed out as hot, and horrified at how he had treated the others. The newly out gay man who liked attention, and the social worker part of me that demanded social justice, were at war with each other.

Those parts felt at war again now, as I entered the shower with this man, feeling both intrigued and judged. He kept surveying me, as if wondering if I was worth his time, and that was a terrible feeling, and then he’d smile a bit and seem interested, and that was a fantastic feeling. And he looked very, very good naked.

When the water was warm enough, he handed me the bottle of shower gel and instructed me to wash him. I gave him a confused look, and he turned his head impatiently. Clearly, he was used to giving orders and having them followed. After I washed his back and he rinsed off, he handed me a straight razor. “Why don’t you go ahead and shave my back?”

He turned his back to me and I could see long, straight, shaggy hairs, haphazard across his back and shoulders. “You want me to shave your back?”

He didn’t turn around. “Yeah. It’s not like I can see back there. What, you can shower with me, but not shave my back? It’s no big deal, dude.”

This had to be some kind of joke. I hesitated with the razor in hand, and quickly plotted my exit strategy. I’d have to leave the shower, dry off, get dressed, and run away, ride the elevator back down to my car. I was here already. This was weird, but I was here already.

So for the next few minutes, I shaved his back. The razor was dull, cheap, and I worried more than once that I would cut him. I didn’t know this man’s name, and here I was engaging in this incredibly intimate act. Moderately long isolated hairs washed free, more than I had initially noticed, until his back was smooth and clear. When I finished, he turned around, clearly pleased, like I’d passed the test.

We kissed a bit there, then he pulled back. “Remember, after this, you see me, you don’t know me.” I rolled my eyes, agreed, and then started kissing him again. He interrupted one last time. “All right, daddy, now you’re in charge.”

Thirty minutes later, I left the apartment, after denying the sexy stranger a few very uncomfortable things he’d demanded. He’d been disgusted that I wouldn’t concede to his every request, even though technically I was supposed to be in charge at that point. But after shaving his back, I was done conceding. I never saw him again, though I did see that same “discreet hook-up” ad back up a few weeks later.

I drove away, smiling and teary eyed both over this new secret life of mine, and wondered what it would take to live, out and proud, and find encounters, ways to be true to all parts of myself, without shame. But the entire community seemed to be full of complicated guys, closeted guys, judgmental guys. I didn’t know where I fit in all of it yet. Eventually, I wanted a long-term relationship, but for now, Craigslist would have to do.

He Said

AG.0002.4112

he said

“You’re husband material,” he said, looking into my eyes with candor. “And I have a terrible habit of only falling for guys who are bad for me. So I’m not really interested in seeing you again.”

“I made a huge mistake,” he said, looking away. “Making out with you sent the wrong message because I don’t think you’re that cute. But maybe we can hang out again some time.”

“Chad was the one who got away,” he said to a friend, who later told me. “He was sweet and good-looking and actually wanted to date me. But he expected me to text back, to put in effort. I know he’s still single, but I’m just not ready for that kind of guy.”

“You’re the kind of guy I could move across the country for,” he said, with those blue eyes right on mine, “and you’ve accomplished so much. I can’t do this, not until I’m someone who’s done as much as you have.”

“You’re friends are crazy hot,” he said, eyes mischievous on the dance floor. “But they aren’t my type. I prefer guys like you, guys more average.”

“I like everything about you,” he said with a reassuring lopsided smile, “and there is nothing I would change. I could spend my life with you if you just change the following things about yourself.”

“I love you,” he said, with sincere eyes much too quickly, repeating it often and consistently until I believed him. Then one afternoon, he shrugged, averted his gaze, and said, “You know, I’m just not feeling it anymore.”

“If only I wasn’t married,” he said.

“If only I was younger,”  he said.

“If only you were younger,” he said.

“I’m not ready for kids,” he said.

“Can you bring your kids on our second date?” he said.

“You have nice skin but you have some work to do on your body,” he said.

“I might be busy for a month or two but maybe I’ll give you call some time,” he said.

“I only like older guys,” he said.

“I only like younger, skinny guys,” he said.

“I only like beefy bears,” he said.

“It’s only been three days, but do you want to be my boyfriend?” he said.

“You’re not Mormon enough,” he said.

“I don’t date ex-Mormons,” he said.

“I like you, but not as much as I like meth,” he said.

“I like you way too much way too soon,” he said.

“I’m just not ready to date someone again,”  he said.

“I’m just looking for sex,”  he said.

“You actually look good now, what changed?” he said.

“Don’t call me handsome, it makes me insecure,” he said.

“I’m ashamed of myself as a person,” he said.

“I’ve never dated a therapist. Do you think I have depression?” he said.

“I’m not capable of trusting another person again,” he said.

“Yo keep a lot hidden,” he said, his brown eyes focused on me intently. “It makes me wonder what you’re thinking. It makes me wonder about you. You seem like a great guy. I mean, how is a guy like you still single?”

 

 

 

 

Date Night For One

As I sat in the coffee shop just before I was supposed to meet Jeremy (not his real name), I scrolled back through our text messages from the few days previous, remembering the details we had exchanged about home towns and jobs and hobbies.

Jeremy seemed like a quality guy: he had a stable job, he owned a home, he had an adorable dog, and he took care of himself. I scrolled through the photos he had sent after we met on an online dating sight. He had brown eyes, a wide smile, and seemed to be in great shape. After a few days of chatting, I had asked him out for coffee and he had responded with an enthusiastic “YES!!!” that made me laugh.

I looked up to the time. 6:10 pm, and we were supposed to meet by 6:00. I’d give him a few more minutes before I texted. I took a sip from my decaf drip.

Jeremy had also checked all of the boxes that I had: he was single, emotionally stable, communicative without being standoffish or needy, funny, he liked the fact that I had kids, he wasn’t in a rush for a relationship, and he didn’t live hundreds of miles away (this had been a problem for me more than once). It was coffee, nothing more nothing less, and I was actually excited about this one.

My phone dinged and I looked down to see it was 6:15. There was a message from Jeremy. I smiled, thinking he was telling me he was running late, then I grimaced instead.

“Hi Chad, I was really looking forward to meeting you tonight and I’m glad we chatted the last few days. I was reading through our messages just now and I realized that I’m just not emotionally equipped to have a conversation with someone new right now. Work was just too stressful today. You seem like a great guy and maybe I’ll contact you in a month or so when things settle down. Sorry. Jeremy.”

My mind went instantly calm, but I could feel myself clenching my jaw. I took a long sip of my drink and then sighed. Okay, I told myself, this is not your thing, this is his thing, and it’s just coffee. This isn’t even someone that you know and it’s no big deal.

I briefly considered texting back, but instead just closed my phone. A text cancel 15 minutes after the meet-up time was rude at the very least, even if he was a really good guy. A bit frustrated now, I considered how to spend my suddenly free evening, and, after finishing my drink, took myself for a walk. I laughed and then cursed as I heard my friend Billy’s voice in my head, teasing me that I have the super power to attract any handsome guy in a ten mile radius who is either major drama or has major emotional problems. #### you, Billy, I thought with a smile.

As my feet moved, my head started spinning with the human panic and shame that sometimes comes with rejection. Six years of this! Six years of guys who don’t message back! Six years of chatting only to have guys fall silent or only want sex! Six years of first-time meet-ups, sitting across from someone while you size each other up, is he good looking enough stable enough interesting enough funny enough! Six years of second or third dates followed by an ‘I’m not interested’ or ‘I’m getting back with me ex’ or ‘I’m not out of the closet yet’ or ‘I should have told you I was married’ or ‘I just got out of a psychiatric facility’ or ‘I don’t like kids’ or ‘I’m currently unemployed’! Six exhausting years of this!

I was mad now and walking more quickly. Not mad at Jeremy per say, because whatever, I don’t even know him, but mad at the emotional energy dating sucks out of you. Six years. Why do I keep doing this to myself?

I rolled my eyes at the sky and slowed my breathing. I was a human having a human reaction to something that on another night wouldn’t bother me at all, but this time I was annoyed. It was only recently I had decided to try my hand at dating again, after a difficult breakup from someone I had loved, and it was the same old games all over again. Like every human, I needed a chance to get mad for a minute, and I’d had my minute.

I took a minute to remind myself that I’m not the only one who goes through this in dating. Men and women of every age get lonely, try to meet someone, get sick of trying to meet someone and take a break, try to meet someone again, and get their heart broken all the time. And, just like me, they in turn break the hearts of others sometimes. I see humans who completely despair when they are rejected. Someone doesn’t show up for coffee and they go on a long spiral of self-shaming, calling themselves pathetic and hopeless and unlovable and destined to die alone, all over something as simple as a cancelled date.

I sat down on a park bench and thought things through. I needed a bit of self-care tonight. I didn’t know of any friends who were free, so instead I decided to treat myself to a movie. There was a theater nearby, so I walked in and purchased myself a ticket and had a brief moment of oh my god instead of being on a date you’re at the movies by yourself before I calmed the voice and exhaled. No, I wasn’t going to give that voice room right now. I was going to enjoy myself.

I got an iced tea to drink and I found a spot in the middle of the movie theater, shutting down my phone so I wouldn’t be tempted to check it. I gave myself a mental pat on the back, happy with myself for self-care skills. I often travel solo, see movies by myself, and take myself out to dinner, and I find myself to be pretty good company.

As the previews ended and the lights in the theater dimmed, I sat up and looked around and realized I was the only person in the movie theater. I mean, I went to the movies alone, but this was a whole different level of alone in a city full of half a million people.

“God, damn it,” I muttered out loud, then folded my arms, furrowed my brow, sank down in my chair, and prepared to sit through a movie.

datenight

The Man I Love

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Hey there, Man I Love,

I’m pretty sure I haven’t met you yet. I mean, it’s possible that I’ve met you and there haven’t been any sparks, or I just don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I’m erring on the side of “haven’t met you yet.”

Anyway, wanted to sit down and write you a letter since you were on my mind. (When you read this, and after you eventually get to know me, I presume that you’ll be charmed and find it totally adorable that I would take time to write a letter like this. I mean, if you don’t find this charming, chances are you and I wouldn’t work well anyway).

The image I put up on the top is a screenshot from that old 1940s movie starring Ida Lupino (how amazing was she!) where George Gershwin wrote that song, “The Man I Love”, and it’s all sweet and sappy about a girl waiting around for that perfect guy that is going to give her the perfect life. (You know the song, right? Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James all sang it later. If you don’t know it, give it a listen before you keep reading).

Super sappy song, right? But totally sweet and hits you right in all the feel goods. The major difference being that I’m not sitting around.

Anyway, where the hell have you been? I mean, I’ve been keeping an eye out for a while now. My kids were toddler and infant when I first became available, and now they are both school age. (They are seriously growing so fast). Six years! I haven’t exactly been idly waiting. I’m running a business, getting in shape, making plans for a future that may well be solo, and generally loving life. I fell in love a couple times, briefly at least, but nothing took. I’m living the hell out of life, solo, and I quite like my company. Still hoping you’ll show up though.

I think I know a little bit about you already, because I know me so well. I have no doubt that you are going to surprise me all of the time with who you are and where you come from. I look forward to that, to constantly being taken aback by the person you are and the life you have lived.

I presume you will be the kind of guy who texts back, and who not only enjoys spending time with me but makes an effort to do so, and that you’ll be bold enough to start a conversation and invested enough to keep one going. I assume we will have similar interests that overlap: old Hollywood movies, live music, hearty laughter, delicious food in small quantities, a love of random selection and the human story, a desire to travel the world, and a nice blend of introvert/extrovert to us. I presume you’ll want to build something together, steadily and consistently, over time. I presume you’ll have heart and soul in equal measure, that you’ll do nice things and enjoy it when I do nice things back.

I presume that you are balanced, and that you have a life apart from mine, one that is full and fulfilling, with a job and family and friends and interests, and that you’ll want me to be a part of that life, and that we can work together to keep ourselves strong individually so we can be stronger together. I presume that my kids think you are hilarious and someone worthy of their trust.

I don’t care what you look like. I mean, obviously I do care what you look like, but I don’t have a type, as long as you take care of yourself. I am way more attracted to a man who can banter, who can hold a conversation, who can make me laugh, and who is kind to others. And a man who can stand for social justice, who can appreciate a powerful woman and who can embrace those who haven’t had it as easy as we have because of skin color or ethnicity or gender identity or country of origin or religion, well that is a man I can stand next to proudly. I prefer a man who can talk it out when things get tough, who can ask for what he needs, who can admit when he makes a mistake, and a man who listens, who doesn’t give me ultimatums or push me too hard before I’m ready.

And if you can enchant me with a pair of eyes, kiss me like I liked to be kissed, and hold me tight in a pair of strong arms, well, I have a feeling the rest is going to happen pretty naturally, and regularly, and repeatedly. Ahem. Better change the subject.

Anyway, mister man, wherever you are, I’m standing here rooted in place with my two little saplings, and growing upward, ever upward. I’m guessing the taller I get, the easier it will be to see me.

Anyway, I’ll close up with a few of Gershwin’s words. I almost look forward to those little silent moments between us the most.

“He’ll look at me and smile; I’ll understand.

And in a little while, he’ll take my hand.

And though it seems absurd, I know we both won’t say a word.

Maybe I shall meet him Sunday, maybe Monday maybe not.

Still I’m sure to meet him one day.”

See you around? Soon, maybe?

Sincerely, the Man You Love

the Deep End

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I hurt someone recently.

It wasn’t intentional. I just wasn’t ready for something that he was ready for. Relationships are complicated, and, given my work as a therapist, I am sometimes a bit too therapeutic for my own good.

I take things in careful measure, careful balance. When things feel out of balance, for me they feel unsafe. I spend a lot of time helping my clients get their lives in balance, so for me to be out of balance, well, not only does it feel unsafe, it feels hypocritical, like a person teaching others how not to smoke while he has a bad drinking habit, or a preacher espousing family values from the pulpit while cheating on his wife on the side.

I’ve referenced this in my writing before, but I have come up with a rubric for helping clients measure satisfaction in their primary romantic relationships. I will have clients take a close look at their satisfaction levels in relationships in six different categories. I’ll have them take a look at the present, not the past or future, not how things could be or how they used to be, but how they are right now (a key component to living for today, something I strive to do). I’ll have them rank each category with an A+ down to an F-, a standard grading scale. An A+ indicates that things are perfect for today, they couldn’t possibly get any better. An F- means things are so bad they couldn’t possibly get any worse. A C indicates an average grade, something securely in the middle.

Here are the six categories, with a brief description after each:

COMMUNICATION: feeling heard and validated, able to talk about difficult issues, able to resolve conflicts successfully without extreme measures (silent treatments, yelling, violence, storming out)

BEST FRIENDS: enjoy each other’s company, lots of mutual interests, ability to spend time together laughing and having fun and dating on a regular basis

INTIMACY: high levels of attraction on both sides, sexual compatibility and diversity and interest, emotional attraction and safety

CO-PARENTING (if applicable): mutual goals and good communication regarding raising, rearing, and discipline of children

FINANCES: adequate money to cover needs, compatibility in spending and budgeting

and, last, FUTURE PLANNING: moving in the same direction in life, compatible plans for big life plans (schooling, job, location, home-buying, family planning, retirement, etc)

While the individual applications for couples are unique to each situation, there are common trends for many couples. Joe and Sally have incredible sex and love spending time together, but money is causing so much stress that they can’t stop fighting. Mark and John have good sexual chemistry and really love each other, but their careers are taking them in different directions. Jan and Susan are best friends who feel secure together, but they are having sex less and less and are growing distant. Amy and Adam have good attraction and communication, but he really doesn’t want children and now they fight a lot.

Relationships are complicated. It can be so easy to fall into a space where one compromises parts of self in order to make something work. And I see it happen over and over again in human experiences, where we quiet parts of ourselves in an effort to be happy even while we deny ourselves happiness. Ultimately, this proves to be one of the greatest errors that humans make. We make excuses for ourselves, compromise ourselves, and then spend years wondering what happened.

Simply put, we all deserve happiness. We all deserve the right to have high grades in all six of the categories. Sex shouldn’t be sacrificed for financial security, laughter shouldn’t be compromised for good communication, a desire for children shouldn’t be set aside for emotional safety.

We all need love and fulfillment in not just some of the areas, but in all of them. We all need to love and be loved in ways that are ultimate for us.

This person that I hurt, he was in the deep end of the pool, treading water to the point of exhaustion, hoping that I would jump in and join him. Yet I stood on the steps of the pool, getting my toes wet and warm, then my ankles, then my knees. The water felt tenuous, confusing, out of balance. When I asked for patience and time, he hoped that I would be able to just dive in.

And there is nothing wrong with a leap of faith, a compromise, a grand move toward happiness. And there is nothing wrong with slow and careful measures, a strong sense of self and taking time. Ultimately both of us deserve happiness and love and fulfillment in not one, but all categories. All of us deserve these things. To feel desirable, to be cherished, to have laughter and light and love.

The best relationships, in my therapeutic and personal opinion, come from two separate individuals who are both on firm solid balanced ground, with brilliant foundations, who then choose to join those foundations together. Relationships can never be used to fill a void in self, to stave off loneliness, or to give a sense of security, not when there wasn’t a strong foundation to begin with.

And so these final words are for anyone reading this, for anyone I care about, for the man I hurt, and for myself:

I hope you can love yourself, can measure out the places that need love and attention and time and balance, that you can find happiness and security and love inwardly and then outwardly. Life must be lived day by day, in the present, with peace and strength, and it must begin within before we can ever find it without.

To every one who has ever broken a heart or who has had their heart broken, may you be able to take the plunge into the deep end of the pool. But dive in for yourself before you begin to look for others there. Once you are used to the water, then you may find someone who is there to swim at your side.

Deepend2

 

Becoming your Boyfriend

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Last Friday night, I went to a house party with a few friends, just a simple birthday get together with drinks and meatballs, cheese and chips. I made small talk with a few people, ate a few bites, played with the cute dog that lived there, and watched the people.

Every time I think I know every gay person in Salt Lake City, I attend a party like this where I know one out of every twenty that are there, or I go out to the club and see 300 people I’ve never met.

But as I watched these strangers come in, I realized that nearly everyone there was partnered. And then I realized that each set of boyfriends weirdly looked like each other. At first, I noticed this curiously, then I was amazed, then baffled, then maybe a little flummoxed. It was uncanny.

Josh and Ben both had on ball caps and had grown their beards out to several inches, and could easily pass as mountain men. They had tight t-shirts on, jeans, and boots. They were groomed and dressed the exact same…

Matt and Tyler were both in their early 30s and were affectionate with each other with back pats, hand holds, and across-the-room glances. They were both well-dressed, both slightly balding, and both about 20 pounds overweight.

Jerome and Adam seemed literally cut from the same cloth. They both had the same muscular build: strong chests and shoulders, thick arms, strong legs, and bubble butts. Both wore shirts that showcased their muscles and tight jeans. Both had trim mustaches on their top lips. Both had dark hair and dark eyes.

The trend continued, every couple looking different from every couple, but each boyfriend looking the same.

After the party, I went out to a local gay club with a few friends, and I noticed the same trend. Two beautiful Latin men dancing, with the same haircut and movement; two tall skinny “twinks”; two muscly men with parted hair and glasses.

I pointed this trend out to my friends and we began reviewing my close friends who are partnered, and realized the trend holds true, with only a few exceptions. Boyfriends seem to gain or lose weight together, to dress similarly, to have the same grooming habits.

At coffee with my friend Steven the next day, I pointed out a couple we know. “Look at them! They didn’t use to look the same, and now they are the exact same! They have the same jeans on, they both have their hair buzzed!”

“Come on, Chad, there are still differences,” he chided.

“What are they! I can’t see them!”

Steven smiled broadly. “Well, only one of them likes to knit.”

Some men seem to only date men that look like them. But for those who don’t, once you are partnered, just give it some time. You’re bound to become your boyfriend over time.

 

Overcoming heartbreak

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For as many love songs as there are out there, there seem to be just as many about heartbreak. Getting up, getting over, and getting on. Some artists have made their careers singing about breakups. Someone somewhere has an entire playlist of these all set up, ready for a large glass of wine and a good cry.

Try not to think about what might have been, cause that was then, and we’ve taken different roads.

The other day, on an evening out with friends, I ran into an ex unexpectedly. One of those guys that I never should have fallen for at the time, and yet it happened, unbidden. We made eye contact a few times in the crowd and I kept my attention divided, my head full of all kinds of thoughts.

The scars of your love remind me of us, they keep me thinking that we almost had it all. 

I remembered how things had just kind of happened magically between us, unplanned and unbidden. We had seemed to connect on every level. Great chemistry, great conversation, similar visions of the future. I hadn’t been looking for anything at the time, and had found myself sitting back in awe, wondering if maybe something good was coming my way. I introduced him to my friends, we checked in throughout the day, we spent a lot of time together but still had differing interests and activities. It had been wonderful.

I don’t want to talk about things we’ve gone through. Though it’s hurting me, now it’s history. 

And then, suddenly, it was over. Finished and done. He had respectfully talked to me one night and let me know that although it had been going well, his heart just wasn’t in it. I had completely understood. And yet, against my better judgment, had become a bit of a basketcase, going through all the stages of grief in just hours. He had wanted to stay friends, but I couldn’t have it both ways. And so months had gone by. And now here he was.

Un-break my heart, say you’ll love me again, undo this hurt you caused when you walked out the door and walked out of my life. 

I found myself going into a petty space in my brain, something all of us are capable of in moments of surprise, and a place I don’t go very often. I hoped he noticed what better shape I’m in now, wondered if he knew what he was missing out on, and thought I would impress him with my conversational skills, my easy laugh with friends, my confidence.

Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.

But he isn’t like that. And truthfully, neither am I. I’m not a game player or a trap layer. And so, to break the tension, I crossed the room and said hello. How are you. How have you been. How is your family. How is your job. Easy and awkward questions about the basics of life with someone I once shared a lot more with. How are your kids, I miss them, he said, and I got a titch of bitterness in my gullet. I’ve been raising my kids on my own (well, with my ex-wife) for a long time now.

Why does love always feel like a battlefield, a battlefield, a battlefield.

He hinted that he is dating someone else now, and smiled at how well it is going. They met online, he said. They are taking trips together and taking it slow, he said. And though my heart hurt for me, only briefly, my brain kicked in quick and reminded me it just hadn’t be right. I told him I was happy for him, and I meant it.

I want you to know that I’m happy for you. I wish nothing but the best for you both. 

I reminded myself how much I admired him for breaking things off when he did, how he did. Although it had been painful at the time, it was right, and I was glad it hadn’t been drawn out.

Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t. You can’t make your heart feel something that it won’t. 

We parted peacefully, with no promises. And I had a moment of enlightenment, that I’m glad to be in a place in my life where my heart can be broken. Life before coming out was stunted. To be capable of love and heartbreak now, even after all these years, feels refreshing. I’ve had my heart broken a few times. And I’ve broken a few hearts. I mean, this is what adults, straight or gay, go through.

Set me free, leave me be, I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity.

My mind turned to the changing person I am, and how I’ve fallen in love with a few people in a few different places in my life. I’ve yet to find a partner. The future remains elusive, as it should. And who knows who I’ll end up with, if anyone. This last time, it went really good for a while. Maybe it will again.

And can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I turned back to my friends, feeling better already, and watched him leave. I was okay before, and I’m okay now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyrics quoted from “What Might Have Been” by Little Texas, Rollin’ in the Deep by Adele, “The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA, “Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton, “Someone Like You” by Adele, “Battlefield” by Jordin Sparks, “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt, “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles, and “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

Ah, look at all the lonely people

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I remember a year or so after coming out of the closet, getting caught in the middle of a group of men who were all in pain and causing so much drama, rather like a bad episode of Melrose Place where everyone loves everyone else and everyone is both a hero and a villain… and I remember absolutely loving the feeling.

It was a typical Saturday night in Salt Lake City and a few friends and I decided to go out dancing together. It was March, a beautiful spring evening. We loaded the car up with five of us, all friends of mine, and though the other four knew each other, I was the common factor among them; none of them knew each other well. So there we were, five gay men in our 30s, all of us formerly Mormon, ready to go out for a night on the town. None of us were in the mood to drink alcohol, so we planned to just go dance our asses of at the local gay club. We got their around 10 pm so as to avoid cover charges, though we all knew the club didn’t get busy until 11:30.

There were only ten other people in the club that night when we arrived. Versions of popular songs by various artists played, each with a techno beat and a loud bass line, and we spent our evening dancing around then heading out to the patio to talk, back and forth. The club got more and more busy throughout the night and overall we had a good time. But oh the drama that developed.

Friend A tried flirting with and dancing with friend B a few times, but when B, who recently had a breakup, wasn’t interested, A found a mutual friend of both of theirs and made out with him for a while on the dance floor, making sure B could see. B pulled me to the side to confide in me and that is when his ex walked in, arm in arm with another guy, and then B wanted to make the ex jealous and danced with another guy, which made A furious.

Friend C was sad that night, feeling like he would never meet anyone and fall in love ever, and friend D tried consoling him, but C left the club without telling anyone and went for a long contemplative walk during which he ignored our texts, only to return when we were ready to go looking for him. D was relaxed and enjoying himself, much as I was trying to do, but at the end of the night, he ended up going home with A, leading B to get even more disgusted with A and C to ruminate on how he didn’t even get flirted with.

I remember laying in my bed that night with a giant smile on my face. Though the evening had been stressful and not as relaxing as I had hoped, I had the incredible sense of power and comfort that I actually had friends, drama and heartbreak included. I had spent so many years without true friends, without experiences like this, that to suddenly have that in my life felt like such a wonderful blessing. I remember rolling over in my bed that night, feeling wonderful and a having a general sense of ‘okay, this is what it is like to be single and gay in Utah, even for a guy in his 30s. Some day soon, I’ll meet somebody and be in a relationship and…’ I drifted off to sleep.

That was over three years ago, and the novelty of being single has long worn off. Just a few nights ago, I had a group of friends over, and I love being surrounded by people I care about. Some of them are partnered and they cuddled next to their partners, hands clutched tight. Others looked across the room at the person they have a crush on or used to have a crush on. Others chatted on their phones with the boys they hoped to date next. At the end of the night, I checked on my sleeping sons, tucked them in tightly, kissed their foreheads, and climbed into bed. I no longer go to sleep thinking I’ll meet someone soon. Instead, I just go to sleep.

It took me a long time to understand the psychology of being gay, and it is intensely complex, as all human psychology is. Simply put, human beings go through active brain development from birth until approximately the age of 25. In the beginning, the brain pathways are forming enormously fast, using the blueprints of DNA, or nature, and coding them with the development of experience, or nurture. The first few years of active development turn into the slightly slower development of learning and relationship formation, which then meld into adolescence and hormones, and finally into adulthood. Many of the developments happen at particular ages, such as the early building blocks of language and motor skills. When something happens to interrupt that learning process, personality can be impacted long-term, lasting throughout the life span. For example, if a young girl is abandoned by her father, she may grow up having difficulty trusting members of the opposite sex, and that aspect of her personality will show up in different interactions in different ways throughout her life span. There are volumes and volumes written on this topic and I can only cover these thoughts briefly here.

Now most kids recognize an attraction or interest in the opposite gender relatively early on. It might be as early as first grade or even younger when they start having ‘crushes’ on kids, and it is only a few years later when sexual interest and attraction develop. For most gay kids, they develop an understanding that their attraction to the same gender is wrong, it makes them different from other kids, and they learn a coping mechanism to deal with it; they hide it, suppress it, or ignore it, even as young children. So a few years later, when sexual interest develops, heterosexual Janie gets a crush on heterosexual Charlie and they go out and kiss and break up and she cries over her heartbreak and falls in love all over again with Sam just a few months later, and her brain, at age 13 or 14 or 15, learns how to process this and handle it. But homosexual Linda has a crush on heterosexual Sally, and she can’t tell anyone, so Linda instead pretends to have a crush on heterosexual Bobby, and she never learns how to love, or be loved back, or to have her heart broken, or to get over it, and instead she only learns how to hide.

Now for many gay men and women who grew up in religious environments, such as Mormonism in Utah, there is the additional damage that comes from growing up believing that their homosexuality was a curse from God, an affliction like alcoholism, and/or entirely curable through therapy or faithfulness. Coming out of the closet often results in a loss of faith, rejection by religion and family, and a loss of community.

Now, fast forward to five gay men in their 30s at a nightclub in March, having their hearts broken, feeling rejected, feeling like they are doomed to be lonely forever. Suddenly, those lessons that most of the straight kids learned when they were 13, the gay grown-ups have to learn while they hold grown-up jobs and grown-up relationships. And some of them, like me, have kids to raise. And it is difficult and painful and there is so much at stake.

I can’t tell you the dozens of men and women I know who turn down love because they think they don’t deserve it; who value sex more than they value relationships; who fall in love but run from it because they think they are settling too quickly and maybe there is something better out there; who grow despondent and depressed because the person they like doesn’t like them back; who grow jaded and bitter toward those who don’t have the same values and motivations that they do; who isolate themselves or cry themselves to sleep or think that loneliness is the only long-term option. And these are the people, these often damaged and in pain individuals, who are dating each other and looking to each other for their own loneliness to be filled up and taken away.

Coming out of the closet and experiencing the authenticity of self is a powerful and incredible thing. After so many years of hiding, it is wonderful to have a clear head and a full heart, like coming up for oxygen after years of holding breath. It is also intensely confusing and painful. You have to learn to experience not just happiness, attraction, and fulfillment, you have to learn how to process shame, desire, rejection, and confusion. There’s no easy way through it. Friends help, therapy can help, journaling can help, a supportive family can help. But ultimately it is a path that simply must be taken and a journey that must simply be experienced.

My only advice for those going through this part of the journey to authenticity is to be kind to yourself, to take it one day at a time, to surround yourself with people who love and validate you, and to know what you are looking for so that when you find it, you are prepared to embrace it, work for it, and be happy and alive.