We met because of a one-night-only, one-man audition show I once did. It was called “You Knew Before I Did” and consisted of monologues based on friends and family, ex-girlfriends, ex-lovers and others who realized I was gay before I realized it for myself. The play was a reflection of myself at 23, done through my preferred way of processing life: acting and writing.
The audition did not land me a role. But the biggest win of the show was the most unexpected. I got an email from an older man who was a regular performer at the theater. “It was really wonderful,” he wrote of the show. “The same time hilarious and heartfelt.” He then offered something surprising: a potential suitor. “Separately, but kind of related, I want to introduce you to my friend,” he said. He thought the two of us would get along well.
I thought we’d get along well too, because I was eager to be un-single after two decades of suppressing my sexuality and dating the opposite gender because it felt like the only way to stay safely in the closet. I met my date at a bar a few days later. That date turned into more dates, which turned into meeting friends, which turned into folding ourselves together via various rainbow connections.
I wanted to spend all my time with him. We made each other laugh, which was important because we were both aspiring comedians trying to be funny for a living. Making the person you love laugh felt healing, restorative, like it could solve all the problems in our lives and in the world.
After two months, I thought it was time to make our relationship Facebook official.
We met for brunch, both indulging in Sunday morning burgers before wandering back to his place. I figured we would continue hanging out, maybe cuddling or watching a movie.
As we wandered in the sun, I asked him what he wanted to do that afternoon.
“I actually have to drive down to see my parents later,” he said. “Family dinner.”
I nodded and tried to smile, as I saw my plans disappear. I was feeling hot, like a kettle was boiling in me: I wanted to be exclusive, to be more serious, and I had to ask him now. We were good and had been good for two months. Given our goodness — he met members of my family, he loved my dog, and we had weekly screenings of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — it felt like we had met all the measures needed to make this commitment to each other.
“I was thinking we could be exclusive,” I blurted out.
I expected a mirroring, a nod and a kiss — excited affirmations about the future — in response. Smiles and smiles and smiles.
“Actually,” he started, taking a deep breath, drawing in everything around him. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that?” This was a question instead of a statement. There was wiggle room here. He said it with a smile. It felt like a joke, and I mirrored the smile. “What?” I asked, a snorting laugh rumbling beneath my question.
It was his family, he explained. They couldn’t know about this — us — because they didn’t know that he was who he was and that we were who we were. This was fun but not something he could commit to right now. He hoped I would understand.
I stopped on the sidewalk, needing my entire body and mind to focus on what he was saying: Even though we were in a man-loving-man relationship, where friends knew us as men-loving men who loved each other, this was not how he identified himself to his family. He wasn’t going to bring me home to his parents. Our relationship was good, in the bubble of Los Angeles, in a siloed life. But we could not be Facebook official.
He was so calm, so nonchalant in his delivery, speaking in a way that suggested this was all going well.
“We could keep doing this,” he suggested. “But I’m not ready to get serious with anyone.”
He had found a way to test out a lifestyle, a vessel to contain all of his queer life, a way to make preferences and identity something you could ignore — or abandon — with convenience; I saw this as an evolution of newfound queerness, a way to amplify and celebrate being gay, moving from a one-man show to a two-man show. This was clearly not what was happening: I was pantomiming without a scene partner.
We stood there. I crossed my arms. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I think …” I looked at my hands. “I think you should think about this.” I looked at him and his smile, and I didn’t see him seeing me. He seemed to be looking elsewhere, into the beyond, to other plans and other times and other people.
I had already done my work, and I wasn’t interested in going backward. Coming out is a lonely experience, and while I had friends and support along my journey, friends and support do not do the work for you. I was not interested in queer counseling.
There were no answers here.
There was no future here.
“Where’d you park?” he finally asked. I pointed, we walked in that direction, and we hugged and said goodbye.
I cried as I drove, and I told myself that I would give him a week to call or text. He didn’t. He had his family. He had his life. He had his process of being gay, and I had mine. We were on the same journey that all queer people are on — the journey of finding oneself and being found.
There would be more men, I told myself. He would figure it out. We will all figure it out.
The author is a writer based in Los Angeles and can be found on Twitter at @1234kyle5678.
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