16 March 2008

Romance 101, Part 2

Falling in Love (With Falling in Love)

I initially wrote more briefly about my experiences, more vaguely, more generally. I opted, instead, to write about three different relationships in more detail. While there is inevitably some comparison to be done, I want to make it clear that each relationship is unique and significant in its own way, and I hope it doesn't sound like my friendship with my female friend matters least because that is absolutely not the case.

In any case, this post became extremely long. So rest up and take an energy drink before proceeding. I imagine only those of you with a more personal interest in me will get through it, and that's quite alright.

Following are some of my experiences with romance as I see it. The peace of intimacy, the thrill of attraction, the need for discipline. These three relationships all explore romance in different ways. While I have necessarily left out many personal details or feelings in order to respect the privacy of those involved and guard that which is perhaps special to me, I hope the experiences here will be familiar to some, eye-opening to others, and illustrative to most.

Story 1, The Non-Girlfriend:

She was visiting her sister at the university I attended, and she captivated my attention from first sight. There was something about her I simply couldn't ignore. Her beaming smile, her sassy playfulness, the spark in her eyes, her confident and well-spoken demeanor, her obvious interest in other people--these all called my attention, and though she was only visiting for the week, I wanted to get to know her, and such desire to invest in a potentially brief relationship is rare for me. I joined the group with which she was playing a game at a singles activitiy in the Institute of Religion and thus began our interaction.

Later, at the student recreation center, she and her sister were walking laps as I was running laps to warm up for a workout, and when I'd pass them, I slowed down, glanced over, ran in place next to them, pretended I was racing them, whatever dorky thing I could think of to play with them. For all intents and purposes, I was flirting. I later learned she didn't think much of my obvious flirtation initially, but somewhere along the way, I grew on her.

She ended up attending the university, and we became friends. There was a certain spark of interest and flirtation initially. The excited, romantic spark, however, wore off quickly on my part. Nevertheless, I really liked and respected her and felt unusually comfortable around her, and I wanted to get to know her better. Over time, we became the best of friends, able to talk about anything and even disagree but carry out our debate with respect and honesty. We shared a lot about ourselves with each other: beliefs, insecurities, doubts, triumphs, silly songs... We were able to level with each other and seemed to have a rare ability to see through each other's facades and appearances. We had both been told by various people that others tended to think of as untouchable, on some sort of pedestal, and sort of robotic or non-human because of our unflinching faithfulness. As one friend of mine put it, "Until spending more time with you, I didn't know I could relate to you and laugh with you like we're doing. I'm just a bit floored you're so...real. I just had a different image of you." My female friend and I saw each other's frailty or humanity, and it was refreshing. We spent a lot of time together. By this time, I had backed off from the flirtatious interaction or the pursuit of romantic involvement. But it was great to have a friend with whom I knew I could talk any time and with whom who I just felt "at home," and I hoped the romantic aspects would come back because this was a girl I could probably seriously consider marrying.

There were rough spots, but most days we could be doing just about anything and we'd have a good time. By most definitions, we were dating, just without the physical expressions of affection and having bypassed, it seems, the "must talk to her everyday and can't stop thinking about her" stage. I did enjoy seeing and talking with her regularly, but I didn't have the giddy feelings, and that was OK. It felt good to be at a mature stage in my life where that sort of thing didn't dominate me and I could approach the relationship more deliberately. I envisioned us making an amazing team, whether business or family. She had most of the qualities of the kind of wife and mother who would work really well with me and my stubborn self. I realized that we had a rare connection, a rare ability to communicate openly and honestly and understand each other. I may not have felt desire to express physical affection or do "romantic" things, but the friendship was rewarding and meaningful, and I figured the rest could probably be built on that over time. Now, it was a matter of waiting to see if those feelings would spark or build over time.

I could imagine a life together, and I was just waiting for...I wasn't sure what. Something which seemed incomplete but puzzled me by its absence. She was an amazing girl with whom I meshed really well. What else should I want or need? Was I really that afraid of commitment? It didn't feel like fear of commitment.

Up until then, I was aware of my attraction to men, but I figured that would pass with time and circumstance, or it would just always be a background thing I could keep neatly in the background. I certainly hadn't discussed it with anyone and didn't plan to. I was the eligible bachelor in the singles wards and intended to keep it that way.

Some friends and family insisted I should not hold out for perfection and that they saw, in the two of us, a rare connection. They counseled me to seriously consider taking this relationship to the next level. I wanted to. Or I wanted to want to. But for now, I was waiting it out and appreciating the friendship we did have.

Story 2, The Non-Boyfriend:

A friend of mine told me he met someone at a conference who was moving to my area and wanted to meet some active, LDS, same-sex attracted guys with whom he could talk and find support. In my vast benevolence, I agreed to meet him. By that point, I had only met two other mohos in person, neither of which were "my type," really, and I'm not theirs, so intense attraction with a guy who could potentially return it had not been an issue. I had my reservations about meeting another moho one-on-one. I wondered whether he might be psycho or looking for action or a "sticky booger" friend (you know, the kind that clings to you incessantly and you can't shake, and they don't really contribute to the friendship in any meaningful way). Aside from those questions, I wondered whether he might be desirable to my as-of-yet untapped homoness. I mean, what if he was a hotty? How would I handle that new situation? I guessed there was only one way to find out. It had to happen sooner or later.

I put my stalking skills to work and found a picture of him online and thought, "Meh, could be somewhat attractive, in a cute-nerd way (by the way, I'm a fan of cute-nerds, male or female--think Ingrid Michaelson or the sidekick guy on National Treasure), but I probably don't have much to worry about. He doesn't look like 'my type.'" But when we met, I was immediately surprised at how 'my type' he seemed in person. Shoot. Now I found myself, rather suddenly, mildly nervous but trying to mask it. This was the first time I'd met someone I knew shared my inclination whom I found attractive in this way. During the course of dinner, I did my usual flippant thing, sort of forwardly but benignly flirtatious, not trying to pretend there wasn't some kind of tension going on 'cause hey, ya gotta keep things real. He commented that I was not at all the awkwardly repressed closet-case he had envisioned. I was glad to hear it.

I enjoyed his conservative mannerisms, his really cute facial expressions, his flirtatious demeanor, our conversation, and his sensitivity so much that I found myself having to remind myself this wasn't a "date," and we weren't going in "that" direction. As we talked, there was a certain vulnerability about him that made him more endearing. We talked about similar likes and dislikes. We talked about our desire to figure this whole same-sex attraction thing out in a gospel context. We talked about our family situations. He gave his leftover food to a homeless person we passed on the street. I remember thinking, at the time, "Wow, that just scored him major points. I wonder if he was just doing it to impress?"

As we continued getting to know each other, his concern for others, his concern for what's right, his playfulness, and his sweetness were all very attractive to me. Our friendship took on a sort of tenderly romantic tone. For the first time that I could remember, I was experiencing this bond of attraction with someone along with a desire for physical intimacy to match it. For the first time in adulthood, I felt a real desire to kiss. Not just intellectual or experiential curiosity or appreciative expression but a strong desire to express my sincere affection and attraction in a physical way. For the first time, I really was exercising discipline to keep boundaries. So this is how people get themselves into trouble if they're not careful!

I felt totally safe with him and trusted him with almost anything, even though I wondered, at the time, how I could be feeling so with someone I'd known less than a month. I always had it in the back of my mind that we couldn't be "boyfriends", and I definitely wasn't ready to toy with that idea much, but whatever our relationship was, it felt really nice to be connecting with someone this way, even while maintaining safe boundaries. We never called it "dating" and were mindful about where it was going and maintaining boundaries, but we were still probably, by all appearances, 'together' as much as any new couple in your local singles ward who are sort of secretly exploring the possibility of a romance. I found myself feeling sunnier, happier in general. A couple of friends commented that I seemed more relaxed, more light. I quietly smiled to myself and kept the reason for my contentedness carefully guarded.

Story 3, The Newbie Fling:

Through a mutual friend, I was introduced to another moho with whom I talked for a while in my kitchen. In the beginning, it was a bit awkward. He was new to the scene and stood as far from me as was possible in the room. I remember thinking how cute it was that he seemed a little uneasy, though he seemed to be engaged in the conversation. I tried to put him at ease and thought, "Nice kid. And he seems less drama- or angst-ridden than a lot of other mohos. More like just a 'normal guy'. We should probably keep him around." But I hadn't felt any particular attraction. I wasn't "on the market", so to speak. I was not looking for romance and didn't figure I was about to find any. I may have been questioning some things, but I was contentedly single and still didn't consider a romantic relationship to be an option.

We hung out a few times, and as we interacted and got to know each other, I became endeared. We have very different personalities, and I found myself attracted to some of these differences. I also was attracted to some of his many talents and activities I had always wanted to do. I began to notice the little things: the unique beauty of his eyes, his adorable laugh, his endearing vulnerability when we talked about personal things, his expression of desire for meaningful work, his respect for the passions of others, the way he'd talk about serious things interspersed with lighthearted quips, etc. Oh crap, I couldn't be falling for this kid, could I? Yup, I was. But in a reserved way. I couldn't do anything about it. I didn't want a "boyfriend." Besides, with him being new to the whole thing, I had no place considering anything with someone so potentially vulnerable and volatile.

But I found myself thinking, "Well, if not me, it'll be someone else. And at least I know I'll not just use him for a little action then toss him aside, as happens to many new guys who become infatuated for the first time in the gay or moho world. I'll be sensitive and careful and keep boundaries while he figures some things out." I know myself and my limits pretty well. I have had pretty good self control where relationships are concerned. So I thought, "OK, what the heck? We'll just hang out, maybe be flirtatious, and sort of go through a 'honeymoon' phase but remain friends and just push the romantic stuff to the back burner until it subsides." It was just a matter of maintaining good emotional (and physical) boundaries. We talked about it some: "why do we like each other so much?" I laughed to myself and shrugged, deciding, for now, to just enjoy it until the infatuation wore off. I was thoroughly enjoying the fun and excitement of this little "fling".

Somewhere along the way, as I exercised some abandon, I fell in love...but not as much, I think, with the object of my affection (though I must admit having fallen for him to some degree) as with the idea of having someone to love, to hold, to talk with, to be excited to see every day. Considering this and other relationships, I wanted someone who brings out shining parts of my personality I had forgotten but which I loved to see again, and I them. Someone who helps me grow and improve, and I them, with an intimate trust. I know the giddy romance wears off, but I had fallen deeply in love with the idea that there could be one person to whom I'd give myself over, emotionally, mentally, and physically, and they to me, with trust and commitment. Someone with whom I'd actually be vulnerable, and it'd be OK because they'd be as vulnerable with me, and neither of us would ever do anything to deliberately abuse that vulnerability. The thought of having such a relationship enveloped me in satisfaction and warmth. I usually am skeptical of romance because of the shallowness of initial attraction, but this desire for more felt deeper, more meaningful, purposeful, even godlike. It felt magnifying. It felt like a pure and beautiful desire.

Ours was not that relationship, mind you, and I knew it, but somehow, it brought alive in me a realization of desire for such a relationship. I realized how much I longed for that kind of intimacy and mutual respect, investment, and affection. And even though I never denied the possibility of finding it with a woman, I couldn't imagine feeling it so beautifully, wholly, and intensely with a woman.

An old journal entry reflects some of my desire, even though admittedly the shallower indications: "Suddenly, I feel like all the love songs and sappy movies make more sense. I get it. I know what it's like to want to just be with someone and not care what you're doing. Just being in the same room is enough. I know what it's like to think fondly about someone throughout the day and just light up a little inside when I wake up to a random text message saying nothing more than 'Good morning! You're amazing!' on my phone, even if I have to remind myself that it's infatuation, not experience, speaking. And I remember, now, the enveloping sweetness of wrapping up in a blanket with someone you just want to hold tight all night and who feels like they were made to fit you. Admittedly, I'm also experiencing the charge of physical attraction to a degree I probably haven't experienced this much in a long time, if ever. I'm a guy. Go fig. But what's more, I've experienced the sweetness of touching each other's faces, looking into each other's eyes and talking about anything." Reading that now, with my freshly jaded perspective, I roll my eyes a little at how goofy it sounds. But at the time, I felt more loving, more forgiving, more tender-hearted, more sensitive to others. I was feeling a lot of excitement about that idea of finding this kind of relationship with someone and actually pursuing it.

My relationship with my female friend is every bit as important to me as the relationships with these male friends. And it has proven the test of time and is a significant factor in my life. I would never want to discount that friendship or make it sound insignificant in comparison to these other friendships because it is, to date, the most solid and lasting of the three. That said, as irrational as it may sound, somehow during these latter two relationships with my male friends, I felt more human, more "normal", more "whole", in some sense, than I remembered feeling in years. But what mattered more to me at the time, what felt most rewarding, was this inexplicable feeling of pure, simple love and contentment. It felt beautiful and warm and enriching. Life had taken on new savor and sweet simplicity with little effort on my part.

Despite knowing there was no future for a relationship unless I was to make some different decisions regarding my beliefs and change some situations, I simply didn't want the feelings to end.

On to Part 3.

Back to Part 1.


Mr. B said...

This post made me think of a song from "The Boys from Syracuse. And since I know how much you love musicals, here it is:


Though I don't necessarily agree with the song...

Original Mohomie said...

Ha, very nice. OK, I like Bernadette Peters, so I actually watched the whole clip.

But wait...it's like you know what's coming in Part 3 or something. Uncanny...

Ike said...

I enjoy reading your thoughts. I find your musings on vulnerability to be of particular interest. I've always felt somewhat bad when experiencing those feelings of vulnerability; as if experiencing them made me weaker, defective or unsure of myself. However, perhaps those feelings ought to be embraced and enjoyed as part of the experience of human-connection making. Perhaps the isolation I have come to expect in life is really a product of my own unwillingness to be hurt by developing deeper, more intimate relationships. I'll certainly be spending some time considering your concept of vulnerability. Thank you.

On another note, I'm always impressed by your self-awareness. It seems like it could be dreadful at times, but also liberating at others (the truth-shall-set-you-free idea).

Max Power said...

by the way, I'm a fan of cute-nerds

So you must think I'm gorgeous then, right?

playasinmar said...

"...as irrational as it may sound, somehow during these latter two relationships with my male friends, I felt more human, more "normal", more "whole"... than I remembered feeling in years."

Sounds like Natural Affection if there ever was such a thing.