The Third Time I Fell in Love
The first time I fell in love, well, I almost don’t count it. I was a freshman in college, and the young man didn’t feel the same way. We didn’t even date. He was my best friend. We were both English majors. We worked together. We socialized with each other and had all the same friends. He was funny and kind and smart. He and his brothers used to throw Egg Balancing Parties during the Fall and Spring Equinox. I used to write him letters that were more like personal essays, like this blog, and he kept them in a notebook that he still has, and he treasured them.
We spent nearly every day together. Sometimes it was every day. When I first met him I asked him if he was gay, and he told me he wasn’t. I don’t know what it was about him that made me ask. He wasn’t stereotypically effeminate. Maybe it was a sixth sense and years of socializing with high school thespians.
By the time that I got around to pressing the issue my friend and I had been as close as two people can be without having sex and being close. I was too young to know that if I had to press the issue with a confession of any sort that I could know in advance what the answer was going to be. If you have to tell a guy how you feel about him in order to find out how he feels about you…here’s a hint…he doesn’t.
But he let me down gently. And he was honest about it. He didn’t give me any agonizing details. He didn’t lie. He just said he wasn’t interested in me in that way and that he wouldn’t ever be interested in me in that way. I took a friendship sabbatical and came back, and after maybe a few verbal jabs that he endured with patience and humility, I returned refreshed and renewed and envigored about the friendship. He told me he was gay a year or two later. I should always trust my first instincts with my gaydar.
Now I guess I could technically get upset that he wasn’t completely honest about the gay thing, but I figure that a young man in his early 20s in Oklahoma in the early 1990s can be cut some slack in the honesty department when it comes to coming out of the closet. He didn’t lie about his feelings towards me; he just wasn’t feeling it, and maybe if he were straight he would have not felt the same way.
The second time I fell in love was a little over a decade later. I had just turned 30. I met a guy at a bar who was nine years older than me and was obviously a bad relationship risk on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. It was a friendship and a casual sexual thing (which I’m not proud of and not terribly ashamed of, either). It wasn’t meant to evolve into anything else other than what it was. And then one day when we were in bed, he told me that he loved me. He clarified so I would know it wasn’t anything platonic, “I mean, I’m in love with you.”
I think that in my thirties, with nearly all my girlfriends having been married, and me having nothing to show for my life and very little in the way of dating prospects, that I was just desperate to be loved. I had worked it out in my head that love was a commitment, and I would commit to this guy.
Surely, he could see that he was getting better than he deserved in me and would treat me accordingly. I really thought that was what would happen; I thought that if I encouraged him and held high expectations for the relationship, that he would rise to the occasion and everything would be moonlight and roses and picket fences and 2.3 children in the suburbs.
Unfortunately, the second time I fell in love, I fell in love with a sociopath. He wasn’t capable of loving anyone, not even himself. He was incapable of fidelity. He was entirely self-absorbed. He was a pathological liar. He couldn’t hold down a job for any length of time. He had no discernible moral code. He’d been divorced twice and had abandoned two children, and I thought he could change because he told me he wanted to be a better person. I could oversimplify the relationship by saying that The Rat Bastard eventually dumped me because he told me he was gay, but the truth was that I had outlived my usefulness to him. The glass workboot didn’t fit.
I actually met Guy #3 before I met Guy #2. I worked with him, and then I didn’t. For a long time. We met up once during this time, and I stopped by the apartment he shared with his brother for a visit. I don’t even recall how this came about, since we had socialized with each other a few times, but we weren’t close.
About two and a half years ago, about eight years after we first met, I ran into this guy at the cafeteria at my work. I didn’t say hello. For one thing, I didn’t recognize him for sure. I thought maybe it was him, but I wasn’t sure. And then there was my crippling discomfort with the fact that I was now eight years older and several pounds heavier. I knew that I would be measured against the yardstick of my cute and skinny self and found lacking.
I looked up his name on the employee directory, and then I sent him an email. And then I waited. I think it took him a week or longer to respond. Obviously, I hadn’t made a very big or favorable initial impression. But eventually he did respond, and he asked me if I had plans for New Years Eve, and I told him I didn’t. So, we made plans for this pseudo New Years date, sight unseen. Well, I had seen him, but he hadn’t seen me.
It was a double undate, and I could get into the details of that night, but it’s unnecessary. He recognized me right away, and he didn’t register any shock or even any acknowledgement of my altered appearance. He kissed me on the lips on New Years, and then I drove him back to his car. That night I had worn some shoes that killed my feet, and I took them off, and he gave me his shoes to wear instead. That glass slipper motif again.
He seemed interested in pursuing a relationship, but what the hell do I know? Maybe he was just trying to encourage me to get out of the house more and get a life. I put him off with the excuse that we worked together and for that reason it would be unwise to date. Later, I added that I couldn’t pursue a relationship with someone who didn’t believe in God, and I stick by that decision. If someone refuses to acknowledge what’s most important in your life and denies its very existence, they can never fully know you.
Over time he became my best friend, and I think I became his. Again, the details aren’t important. In writing this I am breaking a promise that I made to not write about him anymore, but I think that he’s long since quit reading this blog. Also, I don’t want to write about how it all unraveled or my disappointment or what I perceived as his dishonesty. I don’t want to trash him for his failures or his frailties.
The most hurtful things he did or said I’ve kept to myself. Despite what seems to be my complete candor, there are still some secret scars that I don’t share with the world or with him. It’s like the gift that you do not give. I do not give it because I love him. I want to write about what made me love him in the first place…how he snuck up on me and caught me unaware and made me love him.
He was sweet. He was generous. He was kind. He had a great smile. I never went anywhere with him or did anything with him where he didn’t make me feel profoundly safe and provided for. He thought I was smart and funny and even pretty. He took pictures of me with no makeup on and saved them to his iPhone over my protests (I hate having my photo taken).
We could talk for hours. We went out into the world together and snuggled on the couch and watched television. He was a very talented musician. He had these great hands. And he had a quality about him that was fundamentally decent and boyish and vulnerable. It was like he’d grown up with the soft spot on his skull still intact.
You know how there were some experiments years ago about how family members could recognize each other’s unique odor by making these family members wear t-shirts for a day with no lotion and no deodorant? Then afterwards they passed the t-shirts around and each family member could recognize each other by smell alone. I could recognize him by smell alone.
And so I loved him, and one day I decided to tell him, but just like with Guy #1, if you have to be the one to break the news, then you should already know the answer. And his answer was perfect silence, which was, of course, humiliating.
There was an “incident.” There always is. But none of it matters. I was sick, and I couldn’t be in a relationship and still be in my sickness. You know that song, the one that says you only get what you give? He was sick as well. We couldn’t heal each other. We would both have to recognize a problem and then seek help to get well. And for that reason I can forgive any of the other bullshit and just remember that once I was in love.