Not us, by the way
(The following is a VERY detailed account of my relationship with my ex-boyfriend. I started this post attempting to talk about how I ended up living here in Delaware, and explaining what happened up to this point. I decided that the best place to start was with my breakup a couple of years ago, but that accidentally turned into a flashback and, well, I basically went through the entire thing. If you’d like to read a very personal account of my experience trying to make a monogamous relationship work while dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, and a discussion of emotional and physical abuse in relationships, plus some explorations of family and death, feel free to read. I wrote this to help myself, to reflect on the past, and to help myself move forward toward the future. If you want to know more, you’re welcome to read.)
About two years ago, I broke up with my boyfriend of nearly three years. It was a tumultuous relationship, but unlike previous relationships which seemed to mostly consist of a series of one uncomfortable moment after another with little joy in between, this one actually had a lot of good moments.
We met under weird circumstances: I had moved to Georgia with my family, and he was going to college an hour away from where I lived. We met online and I went to see him in the middle of the night, where we made out and had sex until the sun rose, at which point we sleepily headed over to his college’s music building where I got to play several pianos and a harpsichord. I spent a couple of days with him and started to feel immediately overwhelmed.
I have this problem with getting into relationships. Most people have a “honeymoon” phase at the beginning of their relationships, and I’ve experienced that, but the beginning of a relationship is always an incredibly stressful time. I experience something akin to deep grief, or loss. Connecting with a new person makes me feel incredibly vulnerable, but it also makes me feel that the foundation of my life has been pulled out from under me, and I’m caught in a rushing torrent with no one to hold on to but this new person, who I’m enamored with but who I have no trust built up with. I always experience panic attacks, intense anxiety, dread, fear, and often get emotional and start crying a lot.
This is a problem that I didn’t really start to notice until after the relationship started. It’s a pattern that’s followed me through almost every romantic relationship I’ve ever had. The beginning of a relationship is fraught with panic and anxiety equal to or greater than the excitement and joy of being with a new person. This time was no different.
By the way, about this person’s name. He is my ex-boyfriend, and we’re still friends today, but truthfully the details of our relationship would be painful for either of us to reflect on in their entirety. For the purposes of not dragging him through the mud (I want to tell the truth but the truth doesn’t reflect well on either of us), I’m going to give him the pseudonym Guy. Because he’s a guy. I’ve said his name before, but for the purposes of this story, his name is Guy.
Guy and I spent the weekend playing video games (I was immediately attracted to the fact that he loved Sonic the Hedgehog and had a collection of just about every game), did a lot of fooling around and kissing, watching movies, and of course, more sex. Because that’s what you do in the beginning. But I kept feeling overwhelmed by this unbearable dread. A few things started happening all at once:
First, my OCD kicked into high gear. And I mean ACTUAL Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the kind you can be diagnosed with (and I was, as a child), the kind where you have to blink your eyes an odd interval of times or else you’ll be overcome by panic. Whenever I get into a new relationship, I suddenly have this urge to be COMPLETELY honest with the new person I’m dating. And I mean entirely. Brutally, painfully honest. Like, it’s hurtful, for both of us. If I feel that I’m not entirely physically attracted to the new guy, I’ll feel the need to tell him, or else I’ll feel that I’m hiding it from him. Consequently, I start blurting out a lot of confused feelings all at once. “I’m not sure I’m entirely attracted to you, I mean I am, but like, just not sure how much. But it doesn’t change anything. I just wanted to be honest. But I don’t want to hurt your feelings. Oh god now I’ve hurt your feelings. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s just that I’m not sure how attracted to you I am, I mean I am in some ways but not in others, but it doesn’t mean, well, what I’m saying is…”
You can see how embarrassing and uncomfortable this is for both of us. Well, it was like that EVERY day, multiple times a day. And frankly, if I were him I’d have dumped me right there because that much emotional need is too much for anyone to handle. I am not going into this story under any illusions that I was a blameless angel. But the thing is, it wasn’t like I was TRYING to be hurtful toward him. It’s just that my fun array of mental disorders all started coming out all at once, and I was unable to keep any of them in check, so I was word-vomiting my every feeling, no matter how good or bad, and I was caught in a continual state of confusion.
And that’s the second thing: the confusion. Getting into a new relationship is an incredibly upsetting experience for me, because I have problems with commitment. And I don’t mean like in television when you hear a woman say that a guy “has commitment issues,” and just wants to be single, I mean that I literally cannot exist happily in a monogamous relationship. Again, this is something I did not know about myself at the time, and I had to learn the hard way. The absolute pressure of agreeing to be someone’s boyfriend is unbearable for me, the seriousness and weight of the decision is equivalent to agreeing to marry someone. Imagine agreeing to marry someone a day after you first met them. Think of how pressured and afraid and in way over your head you would feel. Alright, now multiply that by a few degrees, and you’ll have an idea of how I was feeling. I knew he wanted to be my boyfriend. I knew I was considering being his boyfriend. But the confusion kept bouncing around inside my head, each question tinged with red hot panic welling up inside my chest and burning my neck: “Am I ready to be his boyfriend? If we’re boyfriends that means I can’t see anyone else. What if I don’t love him? It’s too early to know if I love him, but what if I don’t FALL in love with him? How will I get out of this? I’ll have to break his heart. I don’t want to break his heart. I should just do it and see what happens. But I’m not ready to do it and see what happens. But am I leading him on? What happens if I say no? Will I regret it? Should I just run away and cut off all contact? Let’s just try and enjoy this moment. But I can’t, the more I enjoy it the more pressure I feel. I wish I’d never come here, this is too much pressure. Why can’t I just be happy?”
If you think reading that is aggravating, imagine having it bouncing around inside your head for days. Or months. Or years.
All he wanted to do was give me a chance and try dating me. And for me, that was the equivalent of him asking me to marry him and move to another country tomorrow. It isn’t his fault that it happened, and that he had to deal with what frankly was probably emotional abuse from me, because of my anxiety. And it isn’t my fault either, I tried everything that I could to stop the raging tumult of emotions, but they just wouldn’t stop, and the only thing that helped was to talk about it out loud.
I’m going to digress from the story about Guy for a moment to explain why I was acting this way. A big part of why this was happening was that I’d recently had a succession of very quick, failed relationships. I met a guy who seemed pretty cool, then immediately lost interest when I saw what he looked like. I felt terrible about myself for this: how could I be so shallow? He was a nice person, we had a lot in common, and I was gonna bail on him because I didn’t think he was very good-looking? I decided I was being ridiculous and went out on a date with him anyway, which ended in us more or less having sex. Afterward I felt even WORSE. Now I had an emotional attachment to him but I STILL didn’t think he was attractive and it was a HUGE problem for me. What did I do now? I went back and forth, from hour to hour, from minute to minute. The intense emotional anxiety of that time is, to this day, the worst stress I’ve ever experienced in my life. It last about three weeks, and for those three weeks I could not sleep, I woke up feeling like I was going to vomit, I was assailed at all times by relentless panic. Ultimately I ended this brief almost-relationship and collapsed into a mess of emotions right in front of him, putting this poor guy in the awkward situation of comforting ME for breaking up with HIM, for the express reason that I just found him too unattractive. What a horrible thing I did to this guy. And I’m not here to make excuses for it, I probably scarred that guy in a way that can’t ever really be healed, but I didn’t mean to do it, it was a product of my anxiety, and my deep inability to connect with or trust other people.
After that incident there was another guy, who by the way was a good deal more attractive, and believe me I felt like a pig for even bothering to make a judgement on it, but even though we seemed to get along well I just couldn’t bring myself to agree to be his boyfriend, despite spending a lot of time together and having sex and generally doing things that couples do in the early stages. Finally I just couldn’t do it and had to call it off with him, and I found myself getting dressed for work while crying hysterically, and going in to work holding back tears all day. It was unbearable. And I just thought, “Is this what every relationship is going to be like for the rest of my life? Do I demand perfection from everyone? Am I even CAPABLE of feeling love?”
It was a terrible feeling, and it was very scary. And it persisted into this budding relationship with Guy.
At first, I just told him flat out we couldn’t be boyfriends, I just couldn’t do it. He was very understanding. He did something very sweet. He said, “How about for this weekend, and just for this weekend, we be boyfriends? Just for two days. And there’s no pressure, and we can just have fun and enjoy ourselves, and when you leave you don’t ever have to talk to me again if you don’t want to.”
Patience of a saint, this one.
I did it. We spent the weekend together. We went out to dinner. I cried a lot. I cried because I was so sorry for doing this to him. He held me. He told me it was okay. He kissed me and promised me I didn’t have to worry. He said all he cared about was that I was happy.
When it was time to leave, I told him I just wasn’t going to call him again. In order for me to get back to normal I had to completely cut off contact from him. He said he understood. I made it home, relieved. Now that I was relieved from the pressure I had a chance to reflect, and I kept thinking to myself “Look at all that this guy did for me. He could have been a great potential boyfriend. Hell, with patience like, he might be husband material some day. And I’m just going to throw him away?”
I found myself sitting in my truck, and I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. I cried. I cried a lot. Finally I called him and told him I was sorry, that I didn’t want to cut him out. He understandably didn’t know where this put us as far as the friend/boyfriend barrier was concerned, but he assured me all he wanted was for me to be happy, even if that meant it wasn’t with him. I kept apologizing to him for how fucked up I was, how I was so unable to love or care about someone without all this emotional weight pressing down on me. He told me he didn’t mind. I kept saying I was sorry for being crazy. He would smile and say he liked me just how I was, even if I was crazy.
Things went back and forth some more. I would hint at being his boyfriend, then take it back. I went to visit him again, but there was no conclusion reached about where we stood. Although that didn’t stop us from having sex. After a couple of weeks we were meeting for what was probably the third time and he finally just put it to me straight: I want you to be my boyfriend. I didn’t know what to do. I told him about my doubts and my confusion, my inability to overcome the intense anxiety attached to being in a relationship. He told me he didn’t care, and that he just wanted me to give him a chance. He said that if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out, but I owed it to myself to at least try.
If either of us had been older and more mature we may have realized some things. Firstly, he might have realized that I was an emotionally dependent basket case, and that no matter how much he tried he was never going to fix me. I don’t think he WANTED to fix me, but my behavior toward him was emotional abuse, I was playing with his feelings even if I didn’t mean to. I was battling my own demons, but he was caught in the crossfire. However, I don’t think his desire to be with me anyway came from being young and naive, I think it came from the fact that he’s just a caring person who wanted to love me despite my flaws. He didn’t care that I was impossible to please, he just wanted to give it a chance with me. Now, if I had been older and more mature I would have realized that giving the relationship a try might have been possible without the anxiety if only we agreed that it wasn’t monogamous, because I simply cannot cope with that relationship structure, or handle the rigorous pressure I feel when in a monogamous relationship. I might also have been better at containing my emotions and not word-vomiting all my feelings, both positive and negative, all over him. I might also have been wise enough to realize that I just WASN’T READY for a serious relationship.
But we were twenty, and we were kids, and we were falling in love, however dysfunctionally.
He made the bold choice of telling me he loved me, right after I agreed to be his boyfriend. Tentatively, I said it back. The words had a hollow ring of dishonesty to them that didn’t sit well with me, because I didn’t think I was capable of loving him yet. But I certainly felt something, and it was strong.
The next couple of months were intense. We were with another almost every day. Which is difficult to do when you live hours apart from another. Here’s how we did it: I would go to his school when I had days off from work, and when school was finished he ended up going home to his family. Because he had no obligations over the summer, I’d bring him back to my house with me, and he would stay in my room, which was a camper in my mother’s back yard. He’d sleep during the day when I was at work, and when I had a day off, I’d take him the two hours to his parents house and stay with him there until it was time to go back to work, at which point he’d come back home with me. This continued for about two months, and though there were a few times when we were apart, we ended up spending most of our time together. Finally my mother decided she was moving back to North Carolina. I had no intention of going back with her, both because living with her was miserable and because I didn’t want to leave Guy. Guy suggested that I ask his parents if I could stay with them over the summer and look for a job in his hometown, and in the meantime he would quit school and look for a job too, so we could find a place together.
Again, a more mature version of myself might have told him that dropping out of school to shack up with your boyfriend is just bad practice, and doesn’t bode well for a future career. But at the time, I found it romantic, and agreed to this plan of action, so I called his parents and asked if I could stay with them for a while, and they said that it was fine.
Here’s the funny thing: his parents MUST have known we were boyfriends. They knew he was gay, anyone can tell that I’m gay after just talking to me for a few minutes (one of my best friends once made the hilarious observation that “even blind and deaf people know you’re gay”), and we were obviously spending every waking moment together. In addition to that, I’d be staying in his room and sleeping in his bed with him. They HAVE to have known we were dating. But they just never said anything about it. Neither did we. There was a reason for this. Guy had told me that his parents had been a little uncomfortable when he let them know he was gay; apparently his father had accepted it pretty easily but his mother didn’t like it, and felt very uncomfortable about it. Because of this, Guy didn’t know if his parents would have a problem with a guy who he was clearly dating moving into their house, but they didn’t seem to mind.
And it was never mentioned. It was quietly acknowledged without words. Guy and I spent every moment together, we just made an effort not to hold hands or do anything too affectionate in front of his parents. Guy’s sister knew we were together, and once told me “I don’t mind if someone’s gay but I don’t want to see ’em kissing on each other and stuff.” You might thing that sounds homophobic, and well, you’d be entirely right. But this was in Georgia, and his family were from a small town in the mountains, so that’s about the closest you’re going to get to gay acceptance. She really meant no harm. People who are ignorant about their own homophobia don’t realize when they’re being homophobic, and don’t know how much their words can hurt. I did take pleasure in getting her back though: a little later on we were at her house and she had Guy in the kitchen, trimming his hair with an electric razor, and she tried to make a joke by asking him “Are your pubes all bright blonde like your head or are they dark?” I called out from the other room, “They’re dark!” To which he burst into laughter and she let loose a disgusted sigh. Take that.
Living with Guy’s parents was, to put it mildly, an experience. Both of them were getting older, and both of them had very serious health concerns. Guy’s dad had had a stroke, and was nearly immobile, confined to his recliner most of the day, using an oxygen machine to help him breathe at night. He was a great guy, though. He loved science fiction and had a big collection of Star Wars novels, and spent a considerable amount of time watching every series of Star Trek on Netflix. Guy’s mother, who I was at first afraid of because of the fact that she hadn’t taken Guy’s coming out well, was incredibly kind to me. I once took the initiative of giving her a foot rub when her feet were hurting, and it quickly became my occupation, so she would every now and then call out to me from the other room to come and rub her feet. His parents shared everything with me, I was allowed to have any food in the house that Guy could have, and even though the sodas hidden in the kitchen cabinet were theirs, they shared them with me often, or didn’t chastise me when I snuck in at night and grabbed some.
One night I was washing the dishes and Guy’s mother came up to me and hugged me, and thanked me for doing the dishes and for being so helpful. I was a little surprised, and told her I was happy to help. She looked at me and smiled, and she said, “You know, you’re my son too.”
I was their son, too. And they didn’t just say it, they treated me exactly the same as Guy. I was given the same amount of privilege and responsibility. And not ONCE did they ask me for rent. And they had every reason to, not the least of which being that I lived there for nearly six months and never paid a dime. Why didn’t I pay anything? Well, the short answer is that Guy and I couldn’t find jobs. The more honest answer is that we didn’t really want to. We slept every day until late in the afternoon, and put in job applications online only sparingly. We went job hunting every now and then but truthfully we didn’t put much effort into it, and a consequence we remained unemployed. My mother would send me twenty dollars or so every now and then and we would use the money to go Taco Bell late at night. Taco Bell was great because we were poor.
We were really poor. And really hungry.
Guy’s parents got disability checks once a month, but most of it had to be used to pay bills on the house, which was actually a small trailer that was falling apart at the seems. The electricity cut out if too many things were plugged in at once, there were mountains of garbage behind the house, stinking and covered with maggots, because Guy’s parents simply couldn’t hall it all off to the dump and there was no one to do it for them. So Guy and I began to slowly, over the course of several months, chip away at the piles of garbage by loading them into my truck bed and taking them to the dump. It wasn’t just bags of garbage but old furniture, big bulky stuff that was difficult to get rid of. The grass was entirely overgrown because it hadn’t been moved in a very long time. We helped out with that, borrowing a lawn mower from Guy’s brother and trying to get the grass cut down to size.
There were several cats in the house. One of them was very old, one of them was just fine although he was incredibly fat, and one of them was sick. The sick one died. Guy’s parents noticed it had crawled behind one of the living room recliners and just died there. They asked us to clean it up. I didn’t want to touch anything dead, but there was no one else to do the job apart from Guy and myself, so I started digging the hole. I lost my cool in the yard. His parents were very difficult to live with, asking us to do all the cleaning, to take care of everything that had to be done, often making Guy cook us dinner with what small amount of food we had, and when they did get their disability checks they refused to buy groceries, instead sending us out to pick up pizza for a week at a time until they were completely broke and we had to borrow money for bread and peanut butter until the next month. Looking back on it, I can see that I was being ungrateful, because despite the fact that we were poor and had very little food, they still hadn’t asked me for a penny, not even SUGGESTED it. And I actually HAD found a job, at Sears, and quit on the second day because I hated it. And they had said it was alright, and hadn’t asked me for any money at all.
In retrospect I wasn’t really mad at Guy’s parents, although their stubbornness at NEVER grocery shopping and wasting all of their money on fast food and cigarettes had a negative impact on all of us. But really, I was mad at the situation. I didn’t have any anxiety medication (I’d started a year before but had to quit when I lost my insurance), I was having panic attacks, Guy and I were beginning to fight a lot. We would sometimes get into screaming matches, and we lived in VERY close quarters. Our entire living space was his bedroom, most of which was taken up by his bed. There was nowhere to walk to and no gas to drive anywhere, so we were stuck with one another at all times. Most of the time that was alright. Other times it was incredibly difficult. Both of us were losing weight from how little we had to eat, and I became very aware of the fact that I was in a hopeless situation. It was doubtful that I would find a job close enough to justify the gas money needed to drive there, much less hold down a job because of my anxiety. Guy and I had a lot in common, but something felt off about our relationship. Still, something ALWAYS felt off when I was in any relationship so I just started to accept that that was an inevitable feeling for me.
One thing I do miss is having sex with him. Even now, I still miss it. As we grew closer, I started to find him really attractive, as opposed to in the beginning when I kept honing in on any imperfection about him. I started to really love his body, his lips, the way he kissed, how warm he was at night when it was cold. I really loved being close to him, I loved trying things out with him (in the beginning of our relationship he’d been the bottom and I’d been the top, he became convinced that he was a top now but we could never really make that work). I watched a lot of porn and don’t get me wrong, I was still craving sex with someone new, like I always do when I’m in an agreement to only have sex with one person, but I began to feel really attracted to him, and the more that happened, the less I worried. Knowing that I found him sexy meant that one of the fundamental reasons a past relationship had failed and this relationship had started rocky was now overcome. I made a point of telling him often how beautiful I thought he was, in an effort to make up for how I’d hurt him in the beginning by telling him that I thought he was unattractive. That’s something that still bothers me to this day. I know that the reason I did was because I was having an anxiety attack and my OCD made me blurt out every thought, but I see now how much I must have hurt him, made him feel unattractive, and inflicted an emotional wound on him. If you’re reading this, Guy, I’m sorry. I really am. I didn’t know what I was doing.
Eventually, something had to change. My mother was asking me to come live with her in South Carolina, but I refused to come unless Guy could come with me. For religiously bigoted reasons, she didn’t want a gay couple in her house. She thought that not only was it “inappropriate” and “sinful” for us to live together, much less sleep in the same room, but that it would have a negative impact on my little sister, who was about eight at the time. Basically what she was implying was that having us around might turn my little sister gay, or at the very least, instill in her the distasteful idea that gay people were allowed to be together, live together, and that gay love was alright. You can perhaps see why I had no desire of ever returning to my mother’s house.
But frankly, I was hungry.
No really, the hunger was driving me crazy. I would get incredibly angry very easily, because I just didn’t have food. For weeks at a time, the only food we had would be bread and peanut butter, and when that ran out, cans of green beans or some frozen chicken that had to be thawed, cooked without any seasoning, and eaten as it was. Sometimes there was ramen. I hate ramen, by the way. I was just so freaking hungry, and whenever I had two dollars to rub together I’d go immediately to Taco Bell, but then of course there’s the fact that Guy and I were together at all times, so if one of us was eating, so was the other. This was fine except it meant that in addition to being so poor we hardly had any money to eat, we had to have double the money needed just to go through a drive through and get something. And we couldn’t get something like pizza, because that was too difficult to hide from his parents, who would have undoubtedly asked for food as well if they knew we were going to get it, which is why we usually went to Taco Bell at three in the morning and hid the bags in our trash can.
To their credit, his parents usually knew when we’d been out getting food, and his mom once smiled at me coyly and told me she knew that we’d been out to eat the night before, but there was no resentment in her voice at all. I think she knew how desperate we were feeling.
Finally, my mother agreed to let Guy come as well, under the stipulation that we were not allowed to sleep in the same room together. It wasn’t a great option, but there was food at my mom’s house, plentiful and readily available food, and I think that was ultimately what led me to accepting the offer.
Okay, this one actually is us, featuring my sister
I was too hasty in my desire to leave. I wanted to go home, I wanted to be near places I recognized, I wanted to have my own family to rely on the way Guy had his, and I wanted to have a chance to get a job and start really working on getting a place with Guy. His parents were sad, but truthfully they were being evicted and had to move out anyway, and they were going to be moving in with Guy’s sister, who had no room for us. We had to leave, one way or another. On the last day, after we’d packed up the truck, Guy’s mom hugged us both, and told Guy that he could come back any time he needed to. Tentatively I asked, “What about me? If things don’t work out, can I come back, too?” She seemed genuinely shocked that I would ask. “Of course!” she said.
I’m going to skip ahead a little to tell you that Guy’s mom died a year later. We were living with a roommate by then, and had driven down to Georgia to see her in the hospital. When she’d woken up briefly to talk to everyone, she asked, “Where are [Guy] and Jesse?” She asked for her son, and asked for me too, even though she’d only known me for a year or so, but she considered Guy and I a unit. She knew where one of us was, the other was nearby. She had never actually acknowledged, at least in front of us, that we were a couple, but for all I know she may have just felt awkward about it, and thought we didn’t want to talk about it in front of them as much as they didn’t want to talk about it in front of us. But this woman was on her deathbed, and she thought to ask where I, of all people, was. Guy was there, I wasn’t at the hospital at that time, so the second time she woke up, I was there in the room, and she smiled at me and did something that I still find really incredible.
She pointed at Guy and myself, and she said “I love y’all.”
Y’all is of course the southern way of saying “the two of you,” but it was really important that she addressed us together. She was dying, she had to know she was dying, and this was literally the last time she ever spoke to her children. And she didn’t tell Guy, “I love you,” she told Guy and his boyfriend, “I love y’all.”
When I was alone in the room with her, while she slept, I spoke to her.
“You’ve been better to me in a short time than my own mother ever has. You’ve treated me with love, no matter what, and taken care of me when you didn’t have to. You gave me a home when I needed one, and you told me I was your son, too. Well, you’re my mother, too. In a year you’ve shown me more love and kindness than my own mother ever has.”
I also felt that she was giving us her blessing, as a couple. I don’t remember if I said it out loud, but I decided that for her sake, I would take care of Guy.
We had already made the journey back home when Guy got the call that she’d passed away. We went back to Georgia for her funeral. I was mostly silent, I didn’t know what to say. I did walk out of her funeral service, though, because the preacher was some insane fire-and-brimstone preacher who took this opportunity of a woman’s DEATH to start preaching about Jesus and telling everyone in the room that they’d go to hell if they didn’t believe. He was turning purple and stomping his feet so hard that her coffin ACTUALLY started to shake. I could take it no more and went outside. His family wasn’t mad at me, Guy’s sister laughed and said that I just wasn’t used to “that kind of preaching.” Sadly, I HAD seen that kind of preaching before, and it sickened me, but it sickened me even more so that this awful man used a woman’s death to take advantage of her grieving family to push his idea of salvation on them. But that’s another topic for another day.
Guy gathered some things from his childhood possessions. One of them was an assignment he’d done in Kindergarten, where the students had to fill in the blanks talking about their mother. “My mother is as pretty as ______,” “I love my mom like I love _____,” “My mom’s favorite food is _____.” For the record, is answer to the first one was “My mother is as pretty as a bird,” which is about the most fucking adorable thing I’ve ever heard. He put it into her casket and she was buried with it. When we got home, there was a photograph of Guy’s mom, it was not an incredibly flattering picture, just her standing in the kitchen with her mouth open, looking surprised to have had her picture taken. But he framed it and put it on the wall.
I still have it. It’s sitting on my desk. It travels around my room to different perches. It’s not that I had an incredibly emotional attachment to Guy’s mother, it’s not that her death caused me profound sadness. And I don’t say that to be insensitive, it’s just that I am terrified of death so I purposely maintain an emotional wall between myself and everyone save a few select people. Guy is one of the people whose death would devastate me, and whose death I continue to fear. Maybe one day I’ll overcome my fear of death, but regardless, I felt a little odd keeping Guy’s moms picture. I didn’t know if he’d left it behind when we broke up on purpose, or just forgotten it amidst all the other stuff in our room. But I kept it, and though it sometimes hides in a dresser drawer (for some reason I would feel weird keeping it on the wall), it’s always in my possession.
Guy’s mother treated me not only better than she could have, but probably better than I had a right to be treated. She deserved rent from me, she deserved more from me than I probably gave, but I was afraid and hungry and anxious, and I did what I could, and so did she. She never judged me, she never turned me away, and treated me as her son until the day she died.
Her acts of kindness are important. They showed me that the kind of parenting my mother gave me was not love, it was dysfunctional emotional abuse. Guy’s mom loved me unconditionally and she had no reason to at all, apart from the fact that she just wanted to. She made me a part of her family. I was her son, too.
Guy and I lived with my mother for a few months, it was predictably pretty awful. Our emotions got really turbulent and ultimately it led to a physical altercation between us. There was a day when I was pissed off about something, storming around in a huff, and I grabbed my keys because I was going to go for a drive to calm down. Guy didn’t want me driving while I was upset, he would be too worried that I was going to get into a wreck. His intention was good, but he made the unfortunate choice of snatching my keys out of my hand, which led to me trying to grab them back, which led to us scuffling toward the living room recliner, where she shoved me down and held my arms down. His intention was to hold me still so I would listen to him, but as you can imagine it didn’t work, and my immediate reaction was to go on the defense. He shoved me down into the chair and my reaction was that I shot out my hand and slapped him across the face. He responded by throwing a hand back out and hitting me on the head, then started screaming at the top of his lungs.
I looked into his eyes when he started screaming and I broke.
I fundamentally broke.
I had thrown the first punch, let it be known. This was not an abuser-victim one-sided altercation. We had both hurt one another. But I was the one who broke first. I started crying, and then I started screaming. Really, really screaming. Guy picked me up and carried me into our room, where I collapsed onto the floor in a sobbing heap, still screaming. I didn’t speak, I just cried, and screamed, very loudly. No one else was home. He sat next to me. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said over and over again, he chided himself and said how terrible of a boyfriend he was, he said he was sorry over and over again, he held me as I screamed. After about half an hour of relentless crying I started to breathe. I opened my mouth to speak and I could not form words. To this day I don’t know if I was being dramatic, or if I actually went temporarily mute. I would make a gurgling nose and then close my mouth. I couldn’t speak.
When I could talk, I said that I didn’t know what this meant, or what to do from hear. I called my friend Thomas, I told him that this clearly was a sign that we weren’t working and it needed to end. But I decided to sit down and talk to Guy. I told him that what happened was indicative of a larger problem, and it showed that we just weren’t going to work together, no matter how hard we tried. He believed we could move on past it, and promised he’d never put his hands on me again. I was making him out to be the bad guy, I admit, I wouldn’t really acknowledge my part in the physical fight. I made it sound like he had hit me, when in truth we’d hit one another. But being the victim was the only thing that made sense to me at the moment, it was the only way I knew how to cope with what was happening.
Things were never really the same. For weeks, I would remember the incident when I was at work and fight back tears. I was so angry at myself. How could I have hit him? How could I have possibly hurt him? I hated myself for what happened. I hated myself for hurting Guy.
Things got worse. We did find a place to live, away from my mother, living with a roommate. We were both working and bringing in enough money to live on. We had video games and we could go places for fun, and we had a little life together. But the arguments got worse. We were growing apart. He didn’t want to have sex nearly as much as I did, he told me he just wasn’t a very sexual person, and it was hard for him to deal with me not only wanting to have sex so much but wanting to touch him so much, to hold him and kiss him and be romantic with him. It was hard for him, he felt a little smothered, and weirdly so did I. But I felt smothered by RESPONSIBILITY, not by his actions. It was so hard to be with him when I wanted so badly to pursue other relationships with available gay guys I had met. I didn’t want to dump Guy, but I just wanted to at least have sex with someone new. It was a natural urge that I had no way of fighting, and truthfully I didn’t want to fight it anymore. I started spending a lot of time watching porn, which by the way I believe is a completely healthy way of exercising your sexual desires.
There were more physical fights. Almost every time, he and I would get mad, and I would try and goad him into hitting me, so that I could play the victim. I’d get in his face and say “Hit me then, like a big man. Push me around, hit me.” Sometimes he’d shove me. At the time I thought I was standing up for myself. In truth I was trying to start a fight so I’d have an excuse to say he hit me. We got into a physical fight when he was on the way to work one morning, with me riding in the passenger seat. I finally got fed up with him when he was screaming at me and slapped him in the head, to which he responded by punching me straight in my chest. I sat quietly, gasping and holding my chest. He pulled into a parking spot and got out, and walked inside. I sat there, holding my chest. He’d punched me. How could he do that to me? It didn’t seem to matter to me at that moment that I’d hit him first.
I went home, told the story to my friends online, made myself the victim, and decided that either way it was time to end it. I don’t remember if I tried to break up with him right then, but there was another incident when he stormed outside, got in my truck, and backed out of the driveway, spinning dirt everywhere, and screaming out the window at me, cussing and calling me names. I turned around walked inside, and said “This is just too white trash for me, this is not an episode of Jerry Springer. I’m done.”
He brought me flowers when he came home. I told him it was over. He apologized. He begged. He cried. He got on his knees. I went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife, acting like I was going to cut myself. He cried, I started to cry a little out of sheer frustration, he begged me to stay with him, I gave in. I just wanted all the pain to stop.
A few days later we were at my mom’s house. He asked me to come outside with him and we stood in the little greenhouse where my mom kept her plants. He got on one knee and asked me to marry him.
“Are you serious?” I said
It was not a nice thing to do. But admittedly, it was a bad move on his part. Our relationship was falling apart and the only thing he could think to do was ask me to marry him, like that would fix it. I see now how hurtful it must have been to be rejected by me, but it was a very strange move by him. Still, I see why he did it. He was desperate. He wanted to fix something that couldn’t be fixed.
I started talking to an old friend, and we swapped some dirty pictures back and forth. Guy and I had decided a while back that this was okay and did not constitute cheating. There had been once incident in which a friend and I had jerked off together on webcam and when I told Guy he said I’d cheated on him. I felt terrible, but I was more than a little annoyed to learn later, after we’d broken up, that he had ALSO jerked off on webcam with someone, and it had been THE SAME GUY. I was mad at both of them for not telling me, and at Guy for making me feel so bad when he’d already done the same thing before I did it.
So this old friend and I had been flirting online, and we’ll call him James for the sake of the story. James and I met up and he actually took me on what amounted to a date, driving me through the mountains, and we actually did walk up a mountain together and take pictures on a bridge high up in the air, and at one point during the ride I actually pulled my dick and let him touch it. When I got home I told Guy what had happened. He was mad.
But he was also tired. We were both tired. We were tired of trying. We were tired of failing.
We were sitting on opposite couches when suddenly he just piped up, all happy, saying “What if we just stay together?”
“Huh?” I asked.
“We don’t have to be boyfriends anymore, but we can keep living together, and seeing other people. Nothing actually has to change, there just won’t be any pressure on either of us anymore.”
Weirdly, incredibly weirdly, I perked up too. “But we can be broken up?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes,” he said, “But we’ll still stay in each other’s lives, we’ll still live together.”
We were both smiling.
How fucking weird is that?
Looking back on it, we were both in denial. Our relationship ended right there, and we just went back to doing what we were doing. We kept on hanging out in the living room, chatting like nothing had happened. We had agreed on something between polyamory and an all-out breakup right then and there, and we just sauntered on like nothing happened.
The denial didn’t last for very long. Having now gotten permission and my freedom, I slept with James pretty quickly. But Guy and I realized that this just wasn’t happening. And if we were going to break up, we had to really break up. And so we did.
It was very, very sad.
He made plans with his sister for her to come and pick him up, and take him back to Georgia with her. I stayed at my mom’s house for a couple of days, not wanting to be with him, because it would just be too hard. Eventually I did go home. I crawled in bed with him.
Late in the middle of the night I felt something wet on the back of my neck. His arms were around me. He was crying into my hair, and he was also singing.
He was singing the words to the love song from Final Fantasy VIII, it’s called Eyes On Me. It hadn’t exactly been “our song,” but he had really liked it and learned to play it on saxophone.
I held his hand. He sobbed into the back of my neck.
“My last night here with you, same old songs, just once more.
My last night here with you, maybe yes, maybe no.
I kind of liked it your way, how you shyly placed your eyes on me.
Did you ever know that I had mine on you?”
A few days later it was time for him to leave. We kissed a lot. We held each other. We waited for his sister to show up. She arrived and I helped load his stuff into the car. She waited outside. We stood in the hallway. I kissed him again. We said goodbye.
He got into the car and she drove away.
It was quiet.
I didn’t turn around or go into my room, I grabbed my keys and my laptop and got in my truck, and went to my mother’s house, where I stayed for a few days. When I came back, it was still quiet, our roommate wasn’t home. I stood at the closed door of our bedroom. I knocked on the door, knowing he wasn’t there. I called out his name.
“Guy?” I asked to nothing.
There was no response.
I opened the door.
Our stuff was strewn everywhere. We’d made a big mess packing. He’d left some things but mostly it was my stuff everywhere, and some of his clothes that he’d left for me.
Folded neatly on the back of a chair in our room was a tee shirt. It was a navy blue shirt for some restaurant, a shirt he’d had for a long time. When we first met, when I’d told him I was going to cut of all contact with him, he had given me that shirt to remember him by. I asked if I could have something that smelled like him, so he’d worn it all day and then given it to me. Now it was laying here, folded, on the back of the chair, and he’d worn it the day before. I picked it up and pressed it to my face. It smelled like him.
I looked around at our room, clothes and games and papers strewn everywhere. I started pacing around the room, into the closet, and back to the center.
I opened my mouth and sang.
“My last night here with you, same old songs, just once
My last night here with you, maybe yes, maybe no
I kind of liked it your way, how you shyly placed your eyes on me
Did you ever know….? That I had mine on you?”
I sat down and cried. I held his shirt, and I cried.
I cried for two years. Sometimes it was easier, sometimes it was harder. I lay in bed at night and felt so strange to have the bed all to myself. I missed him there. I missed snuggling up to him and pressing my waist against his butt. I missed touching his hair with my fingers. I even missed him waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me to stop snoring.
I didn’t regret my decision. But I missed him.
I still miss him. I still think that breaking up was the right thing to do. Most of the time, I’m alright. Sometimes, I miss him. It’s not that I regret breaking up, and in fact I think that the way our relationship happened is what HAD to happen. I learned a lot about emotional abuse, as both the victim and the abuser. I learned about monogamy, I learned what my boundaries are in a relationship, I learned what I can and can’t handle, and I learned when it’s time to let go and move on.
Breaking up was the right thing to do. I hope that he agrees. But I still miss him.
And he still misses me too. We talk, we’re friends. There was a long period of silence, but we became friends again. We’re not incredibly close friends, but he knows where he stands. Which is to say, he hasn’t stopped being important to me.
During the past year when I felt suicidal, every time I imagined killing myself, I always imagined what my suicide note, or video recording, or online post, might say. Every time it included Guy. I always left him everything. I always told him I was sorry. I always told him that I loved him. Every time I’ve imagined what I might do if I were in the hospital dying, I always open my mouth and ask for Guy. He rushes to my bedside and tell him I just want to kiss him again before I die. It’s morbid, but depression is morbid. Whenever I’ve thought about dying, the most important things that I think about are telling Robert and Zack how much I love them, how much their love and support means to me, and to tell Guy that I love him.
I don’t believe Guy was “the one,” because I don’t believe there is “the one.” Even in a polyamorous sense, I don’t believe that there are certain people you’re just destined to find. But I do believe that you find someone you care about, you connect, and you make it work. One of the most important things I learned was that I DID love Guy. I worried our whole relationship that I didn’t really love him, that I was just forcing it. And there were many things I was forcing, and I was even forcing myself to love him before it was time, but in the end I DID love him. And I still do.
I’ve thought about what would happen if he were to ask me to be with him again. I live in Delaware and he lives in Georgia, and we haven’t physically seen one another since that day that he left, but still, I’ve thought about what I would say or do. I know instantly that getting back together is not the right thing. But then, I think to myself, what about this longing I feel for him? What about this pull toward him, what about the fact that I still miss him, that I still love him?
I’d love to see him. I’d love to kiss him, to hold him, to fuck him, to be close to him again and experience that love that still exists.
Just because your relationship can’t work doesn’t mean you don’t love someone. And just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can make a relationship work.
It’s hard. But I learned so much. And I only learn things the hard way.