“I can’t be naked with you physically because we’ve already undressed each other emotionally.”
That’s what he told me late at night while we were standing in the kitchen downing shots of tequila. Both of us were trying to numb a certain pain. He didn’t know how to be alone. I had no idea how to be with someone else. I needed another gulp of poison to wash down the words. Even in an inebriated state, I understood their meaning.
Neither one of us knew how to form a healthy connection. He was an intellectual who chased after twinky blonde guys whose waste lines matched their IQs. I was an artist who created disaster by falling in love with men I could never really have. He gravitated toward shallow bottom feeders who abused him mentally and physically. I was propelled to intriguingly complex men with vast potential who clearly had no interest in me sexually. He became muted accidently by the expressive cruelty of others. I was always conquered electively by unrequited entanglement. He had lots of hot sex and a leash to keep him close to his lover’s bed. I had endless lonely nights and the freedom to roam the world answering to no one. Both of us consented to such machinations. Perhaps we envied the other’s position. But if we did, we didn’t know how to move toward it.
An awkward truth always permeated our friendship. When I met him, I did what I always do. I made him my obsession. He was cute, fun, smart, and interesting…a package of essential qualities typically lacking in the wasteland of my home in Kansas. You can usually tell within the first hour if you’ll ever have sex with someone; with him, I knew the answer was a definitive no. I didn’t get interested in that first hour, though. At that point, he was merely a sex object, and not even one that I found particularly appealing. My fascination built over time. It wasn’t until I understood how truly multi-layered he was that I wanted him. By then, the friendship discourse had settled in. “Just friends” is how we described each other. It’s funny how the word “just” becomes a mitigating qualifier to something that was actually a lot deeper than a causal connection.
So, we were friends. Just friends. He and I.
We got to know each other quite well over the course of several months. Therein lies the problem. I only ever go after guys I can’t have. My interest is only ever piqued when their desire for me is squelched. This is the point where we should both part ways, but long ago I learned a secret spell: instead of offering my body for a sexual connection, I can offer up my soul for a weird sort of meta-physical mind fuck. I can be the person who understands them better than they do themselves. I can be the one who makes them feel safe. I can be the only individual who knows their darkest secrets. I’m the one whose untenable loyalty and consummate kindness commands a part of them not even their closest lover will ever have access to. This keeps them coming back more often, and with more to give, than if I were actually blowing what’s in between their legs.
It’s an odd sort of voodoo I’ve enchanted over half a dozen guys with. I told myself he would be different, though. This time, the magic would work! Unfortunately, truth is the ultimate dispeller.
He would never be with me because we both knew too much about each other. Somewhere in the dance of our friendly courtship, he told me too much about his childhood, and I volunteered more than he needed to know about my adolescence. I knew too many of his secrets, and he held more than a fair share of mine. Details about our lives—small and large—amalgamated into a strange sort of shared tapestry. We blended.
I wanted to believe this was the making of love. But really, we both knew better. This was us not wanting to admit what we knew about love. In order to allow someone to love you, you have to first actually be in love with yourself. He knew that just because you’re having sex with someone you call your boyfriend doesn’t mean you’re actually in love with him; it means you don’t know how to be alone. I knew that my witchy efforts to coerce sex out of intimacy were futile, unfulfilling, and unfair; I was so afraid of my own body that I didn’t know how to let someone else enjoy it. Both of us knew the truth.
So one night, we found ourselves downing bad tasting, cheap alcohol for hours in a lame attempt to intoxicate ignorance. It’s a sad, simple fact: gay men are pretty much handicapped when it comes to achieving true intimacy.
And no, Maggie Gallagher, that’s not because God created Adam and Eve. The universe is challenging us to connect at different and higher levels. A man-on-man marriage of raw carnal knowledge and expressive sentiments is the latest trial in the human condition. Lucky for most, only the “G” and half the “B” in the sexual orientation alphabet soup have this has their karma. For he and I, this is our destiny.
We gay men are masters at compartmentalizing our emotions. We box up the most vulnerable pieces of ourselves so that no one will ever see how truly fragile we are. We hide this case inside a closet, and we hope no one ever discovers it. Inevitable, though, we let our guards down. When we do, we make sure the person who discovers our pain will never penetrate it. We’re so afraid of what’s on the other side of agony that we deny ourselves the ecstasy of real intimacy.
Maybe he and I really should be together. He could stop being shallow and co-dependent. I could stop living out fantasyland versions of my life in a lame attempt to copulate. He could just accept that the person he needs to be with is the one who knows him best, even if he turns him on the least. I could deal with a less than developed partner as long as I was getting the intimacy.
Or maybe I should just do what he said to me the morning after, when the tequila bottles were empty and we could both conveniently pretend those words from last night were never said.
“You should be with someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them.”
He’s right. I should. But I probably won’t. That, it seems, is my fate.