By: Mike Givens*/TRT Assistant Editor—
It was Halloween night. I was 24 and worked as an editorial assistant at a newspaper. I’d been exchanging emails with a handsome man in his 30s. We agreed to meet in Boston, go for drinks, and, if the chemistry was there, go back to his place for sex. We’ll call him Greg.
I was recently out of the closet; an insecure, but intelligent writer just starting his career. Greg was from Massachusetts, well-educated, single, and devoted to his career in education. He was handsome with salt-and-pepper hair, a charming smile that made me shake, and a temperament so engaging that—though I’d only taken a couple sips of beer—I felt intoxicated.
What was initially supposed to be a one-night stand had given me a high I hadn’t really felt before. In the following weeks, I developed a narrative around Greg, this man whom I’d only met once. We would be in a relationship, he’d help me learn to love myself, I’d love him, he’d love me, and we’d create a life with each other.
I even wrote an article about the organization he worked for. In mid-December, we met up again and I expressed an interest in pursuing something more substantive. He was ambivalent. His work took up a lot of time and he was to pursue another degree at a prestigious university. He only had the time and capacity for something casual.
If you’ll recall a column I wrote about a year ago, I’ve always had a pattern of falling for unavailable men, and Greg’s rejection only made my desire for him stronger. A few weeks after our mid-December meeting—the day after Christmas, no less—I saw him at Club Café, a local Boston gay hotspot.
By then, the pattern had a full hold of me (or maybe I had a full hold of it). We chatted with each other briefly and made plans to see each other during the New Year. It could have been the loneliness of the holidays, my intense desire to be in a relationship, or the pattern that I’d become so entrenched in (probably all three), but I reproached him later that evening, took him aside, and declared that I was in love with him.
His demeanor changed. He told me quite sternly that he wasn’t interested. He wished me a good night and told me we’d talk in the New Year.
We never spoke again.
About a month after my embarrassing declaration, I sent him an email apologizing profusely. He responded kindly, but with distance, and said he needed space.
I was a mess. I cried, lost a tremendous amount of weight, closed myself off from others, and grieved the imaginary love affair that never was and did my best to forget the fictional life he and I would never have.
A few years later, I sent him another e-mail apologizing and asking for his forgiveness. He responded again with kindness and understanding, but with no intention of seeing each other again. He said that my feelings were a “rite of passage” for young gay men—developing feelings for someone who doesn’t reciprocate—and said he forgave me.
I saw him once in an Apple store. We made eye contact briefly and he hurriedly turned away without acknowledging me.
I don’t blame him.
It’s been nearly 11 years since that Halloween night where the pattern got the best of me (or I got the best of it). I’ve grown a lot, moved forward in my career, had a brief (and disastrous) relationship, and have learned quite a few lessons along the way.
In late August, my friends and I got together to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday. We took him out to dinner and ended the evening at Club Café. As I’m standing outside with a friend chatting, I see Greg about 20 feet away.
I lounged around the bar area, people watched, and spent time with one of my friends while the others went dancing. Greg walked by me a few times without acknowledging me.
I don’t blame him.
What on earth was I thinking falling in love with a stranger? I didn’t know this man from Adam, but I projected every hope and expectation I had for love on to him.
He’s in his 40s now, still handsome, but I literally know nothing about him other than what I gleaned on those two superficial dates 11 years ago. Maybe he was right. Maybe feelings like I have for him are a rite of passage. As the song says, everybody does play the fool sometimes.
I challenge anyone to say they’ve never met someone they found attractive and immediately started projecting expectations onto them. Maybe the feelings weren’t as strong as love, but I think we have a tendency to create narratives in our heads around people who are physically and intellectually attractive to us.
And it wasn’t love I was feeling for Greg. It was the need and desire to be in love and be loved. Greg was just that blank screen through which I projected a lifetime of insurmountable hopes and dreams.
As I thought about him that night, I realized that he probably was not all I made him up to be. Maybe he’s a horrible boyfriend. Perhaps he’s too picky to ever be in a true relationship with anyone. Could he be a lemon? Gorgeous and tantalizing on the outside, but bitter to the taste?
These are nothing more than hypotheses. I have no basis in reality for knowing what type of person Greg is, but I didn’t let that stop me from imagining and letting that dream get out of hand.
So, I learned my lesson. Stop holding others up to expectations they cannot meet. Only love when there’s love to be had. Most importantly, love isn’t a commodity. It’s not something you sell or give away freely just because of convenience or to fulfill a transaction.
Greg and I will probably never be friends, and most definitely will never be lovers. However, he taught me one of the most valuable lessons in my life.
*A graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Mike Givens has been a social justice advocate for more than eight years. During that time he’s worked on a range of initiatives aimed at uplifting marginalized populations. An experienced media strategist and public relations professional, Mike currently devotes his spare time to a number of vital issues including racial justice and socioeconomic equity.