One night, I had consoled and comforted him when he and his other friend with whom things had become complicated were going to be taking an indefinite "break" to sort things out. I secretly wished his devastation had been about potentially losing me. I was also irritated that we had arranged to meet and discuss the situation between us, and he was using the time to moan about the other guy. I wanted to swear at him and call him unbelievably selfish, but I couldn't dwell long on those thoughts because he was so clearly upset that I had little desire to make it about me and have two of us focused on our own pain. I could see he was in real pain, and I knew I was his main confidant. Ah, so that was it. I was the confidant, not the heartache. I pushed away the sting because to mope in self-pity over that was to distract from his pain now when I could do that later on my own or with another friend, since he couldn't help me with that anyway.
I had intended to call for a break that very night as well, but I played the role of supportive friend while feeling my heart break a little at the realization of the feelings his reaction over their indefinite break probably indicated. I thought, "I can't stay and comfort him just to try to keep him from feeling alone. I need to do what's best for me, and he's a big boy and will survive; don't flatter yourself thinking he'll crumble if you turn away now. Besides, I can't stay now hoping the other guy is out of the picture and won't come back. It's not like I'm going to move in on him anyway. And maybe the best love right now is tough love, letting him lie in the bed he made." I thanked myself for trying to intervene to my own benefit but informed myself I was willing to take the risk for his sake.
I told myself it wasn't too late to keep the friendship and let go of the romantic part without needing the break right now. I decided not to call for the break because I wanted to see what would happen if I just focused on him and our friendship rather than focusing on self-preservation. But honestly, in part, I think I was afraid that if I withdrew, and the other guy came back, I'd somehow be the bad guy, the one who didn't stay, the childish one who couldn't deal with his emotions. I had hoped, for a moment, the other guy would never come back, so I could prove I was the one who cared, but I quickly brushed that thought aside as a selfish and petty one. I didn't want him losing friendships, mine or others, and I wanted to maintain his friendship.
Within a day or two, the other friend called him and wanted to talk. He seemed relieved and happy, and I was glad he was happy but tried to hide my dismay that we were back to the triangle so soon. My bitterness had begun. I had somehow interpreted some things he'd said as meaning he was more comfortable and himself with me than with the other guy, which I in turn thought should mean I'm the one he should've fallen for if he wasn't thinking with his hormones. I didn't take into account the fact that we don't always choose whom our hearts lean towards or why and that certain traits in someone, great though they may be, don't mean the best fit for us. "Why choose him, though, if you said those other things?" I demanded of him in my mind, "Why fall for him instead of me? Is it because he's more willing? Is it because he has a much hotter body than me? Are you picking passion over intimacy?"
I was questioning to myself this way in the Lovesac as I lay now distanced from him, making it clear that he had made his choice. If he wanted affirmation, he could go to his other friend for it. And then it hit me: "he's not the one 'picking'; you're the one forcing the choice because you're too invested now to handle not being the favorite, not having your love and affection returned exclusively and in the way you want it." I was feeling unreciprocated love, the other side of which I’d experienced a few times, but this side of it hurt so much that even intellectually recognizing the irrational nature of my emotions didn't change them or take away the pain. I still felt defensive, rejected, and guarded, and I struggled not to let that manifest itself as angry or bitter behavior or language.
I had seen him with the friend he was falling for. I noticed how they interacted and how my friend smiled, and how naturally they seemed to talk, how at ease he seemed. While I had a natural connection with my friend as well, I began to see the two of them as coming together more fully than before in a way that he and I weren't. Or maybe I was purely jealous. But somehow, it didn't feel like jealousy. In that moment, seeing them together, I realized what I most wanted was for him to be happy, because I loved the cuss, and if that meant watching him go for someone else, I hoped I was prepared to let him go in that way and "strong enough" to keep the friendship. That's a painful kind of relief to find, that love of letting go. If I could let go of my romantic or exclusive feelings while staying close and maintaining the intimate friendship we had, I wanted to try. He seemed to think it was possible.
I felt a definite but subtle tension between us. For whatever reason, I was beginning to realize that some dynamic in our friendship or in my emotions was truly changing, that whatever fantasy thoughts I'd built up were dissolving, and it was hard for me to really recognize how or to accept the necessary changes. I felt insecure. I caught myself being flirtatious or getting almost clingy when I noticed any apparent indifference or lack of attraction towards me. We had decided to back off of the flirtation, so he was probably just doing his part, but part of me wanted to test and see if he had really lost interest or if he was actually having to resist temptation (me). I could find out by flirting until he caved, then stopping because the test had proven what I wanted to find out and the flirtation was no longer necessary. Who was I becoming? Was I really playing that game? Of course, there were also times when I was behaving myself and he was the one to push. I realized I didn't want this to become an unhealthy cycle (too late?) and backed off, trying to focus on appreciating the friendship we had without needing that romantic affirmation from him.
After I'd been more distant from him for a bit, he started to cuddle in. I said, "Back off. Don't touch me." I didn't want to cuddle with him. Yes I did. Kind of. I didn't want to be a consolation cuddle, a recreational cuddle, or just another cuddle buddy. I didn't want to be the "safe friend" anymore. Yes I did, because I didn't want to cross boundaries and muddy a friendship I definitely wanted to keep. But I wanted to be the preferred cuddle. But why would I feel that way? I didn't want a romantic relationship. Not really. I did want the intimacy. Wait...were they different in this case? Looking back, I should've known exactly what was going on, but in the learning process, it's not always so clear.
I found myself feeling fed up with gay friendships and their complications. I found myself wanting to find a girl I could settle down with and start a family with. I'd take the complications of a mixed-orientation relationship over these ones. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in pseudo-romances, never really engaging because I either end up never loving a girl the way I hoped to or not accepting a same-sex romance as a viable or doctrinally acceptable option for myself. I could just be single and very careful about my male friendships, but the easiest answer seemed to be a wife and family, without all of the moral questioning, religious conflict, social stigmas, family tension, wondering if my adopted kids should have a mom, and wondering if I'd ever even find a guy who was interested in committing to me monogamously and faithfully, let alone willing and even capable of doing so. In the back of my mind, I knew these were probably passing, defensive thoughts.
I realized my defensiveness and cuddled back, trying to just trust and let go of the defensive feelings. Physical affection was to remain benign because of our now-even-stricter boundaries since he and his other friend had realized the nature of their affection for each other, and we were all trying to figure things out. I didn't want to get into some sort of competition. ...I just wanted to be 'the one'. Would I ever really be someone's 'one', and they mine? I looked up at the Christmas tree my roommate and I had put up and wondered if I would ever have my own "family tree" with my own family and our own traditions. That tree, decorated in sparkling silver, glowing gold, and rich bronze, looked stark and tinny in that moment, full of store-bought decorations devoid of life and meaning. I told myself to stop wallowing in holiday blues and to quit projecting this one friendship, which never even involved any expectation of commitment or romantic dedication, onto my whole future of companionship and attachment and to just trust the moment.
We tucked ourselves in on our sides in front of the TV and continued watching the beautiful performance. I lay there behind him, with his back partially resting against the front of my torso, my face just next to his neck and head, my arm not tightly around him as I had done so often before. I started to gently play with his hair as I had before, but I thought better and stopped, resting my hand by his head instead. I breathed in his familiar scent and looked down at the side of his face as he watched the TV screen. I wanted to wrap my whole body around him in enveloping love that could enmesh our very souls, but instead I just looked at him and smiled wryly as I imperceptibly shook my head at our predicament.
Our shared experiences and conversations to that point in our friendship flashed through my mind. The connection we’d developed--the laughter and tears we’d shared, the places we'd gone, the physical closeness--came flooding in. I simultaneously felt a deeply peaceful, overflowing love and appreciation for him and his friendship as well as the sharp realization that though I could hold him in that moment as intensely as I could or as tightly as I ever had, he was not and would not, and maybe should not, be "mine" in the way I was now recognizing I wished. Though pressed up against each other, and though I believed he truly appreciated my friendship, the part of his heart I was now realizing I wanted was probably increasingly directed at the friend he was falling for. I was still his good friend and confidant, but now I finally knew I was also "the other guy", and I knew it was really time to start letting go. Though I still wanted to wrap my arms around him and pull him tightly in to me, to kiss his cheek and rest my cheek on his, I just lay there "respecting" the boundaries of the friendship while giving up on holding on to something that never was mine, and it tore me to my core but also felt very right.
My heart might have ached in that moment as I held him while losing him, but deep gratitude for the love I was feeling washed over me, and I was strengthened by the assurance that what I wanted more than having him for myself was to see him happy, to treasure what we did have, and to maintain our integrity with each other. I realized that the most important expression or form of love I felt for him was that his welfare and happiness were worth sacrificing my own comfort or convenience, not in a doormat kind of way (one which would compromise my principles and general welfare) but a sort of magnified version of what I'd felt for family and friends. The romance or passion, while beautiful and enriching in their own right, are ultimately less important to me. This feeling was better, more glorious, more full, harder won. That might've been a very sad, hard moment, wondering if I'd ever feel it again with someone in a romantic context, but I simultaneously felt a quiet confidence that somehow, someday, I could find the kind of love moments like this reminded me I so deeply longed for and that someday I could feel so richly for someone else who felt the same in return, which made it easier to face letting go more fully.
The confluence of such poignant love, loss, appreciation, hurt, and gratitude welled up to produce a warm, salty stream running across my cheek and tickling my earlobe. I let it run. To wipe it would be to both reveal and dismiss its existence. I didn't want to concern him with it because there was nothing he could do about it, so I held back the additional tears pushing behind it and tried to calm my shuddering breath. "What if it drips onto his neck?" I wondered. "Maybe he'll just think the music got to me." I never asked if he knew I was crying quietly behind him or if he was aware of the intensity of love and loss I'd felt in that moment. It didn't matter. With that single tear, I started to let go, and it felt right. Whether or not I was truly "in love", I felt enriched and enlarged with magnificently beautiful, incredibly pure love as I smiled subtly through wet eyes, absorbing the clarion sounds of the chorus adorned with Sissel's angelic voice, in the warm glow of my Christmas tree, in one of my most poignantly bittersweet moments in recent memory.
>>> Continue to the Epilogue