I’d had boyfriends before, but until I met Michael in my last year of college I’d never experienced the kind of instantaneous chemistry that fuels a thousand romance novels (or Kate Hudson movies).
Meeting my crew of college radio friends for our weekly pub quiz -- we were trivia-cool -- I walked up the stairs to our balcony table and there he was: all 6 feet 2 inches of him, short dark hair, thick, furrowed brows, and a cigarette held to his lips ever-so-coolly between two fingers. And he would not. Stop. Staring… At me.
I’m the sort of person who gets embarrassed when an entire group of people all turn their eyes to me in an instant (which happens often as I am usually the last to arrive to, well, anything). So I said hello to the table, apologized for being late, turned bright red, sat down and tried to immediately blend into the group.
But this guy wouldn’t let me have a moment of anonymity to blend; he just kept staring. And I glanced up every few seconds, unsure whether or not to return the gaze. I almost definitely did that thing every girl does of turning around to make sure he wasn’t actually staring at a hottie behind me.
Let’s get this over with right now: I have a few guy friends who are gay and, to my finely-tuned gaydar, Michael came across as totally straight. And his intense and immediate reaction to my presence in the room certainly gave no hint at what was to come. I mean, it didn’t even cross my mind for a second.
So we got talking at the pub quiz, which led to the whole group going out dancing, which led to me finding out he had a very recently established girlfriend, which led to him breaking up with said girlfriend, which led to us as a newly established thing.
He was very masculine. He was a little bit wild, which was about right for that time of my life (every girl needs to date one bad boy, right?). He flirted with everyone, which, of course, frustrated me no end, but
I was young, and immature, and jealously put up with it because … hello, chemistry and hormones and whatnot. He was privately insecure. He was annoyed but gallant when, during our hot-and-heavy make out sessions, I would bat away his wandering hands -- but not gallant in a relieved kind of way, like you might expect, knowing where this story is going.
In short, I was a nice girl he was genuinely attracted to, but I was hard work (and still am -- my current boyfriend has admitted it) and I coincided with a time in his life when he was trying to really find himself after a difficult childhood and teen years. I didn’t stand a chance.
Did I mention that I met him right around the time I was being rejected by another boy that I’d been in love with for over a year? Adam had liked me, I’d liked him, then I’d gone to study abroad for six months. When I returned, it seemed like he was going to ask me out until a new girl arrived in our group. He literally looked at her, then looked back at me, and then quite decisively turned his attention to her for the rest of the evening (and the rest of his life -- they fell in love quickly, got married, and seem very happy together, and I’m genuinely happy for them).
But when I met Michael, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. It makes sense that I would crave the attention of this person who everyone had a crush on and who was so obviously wrong for me. I wanted to be wanted, and I needed everyone to know he had picked me.
After a few weeks of making out, my 21st birthday and countless hours of dancing (should this have been a clue?!), I started to feel uneasy. He seemed to crave attention from everyone, male and female. I started to get possessive, jealous, and riddled with self-doubt.
Finally, after about six weeks of what was, for me, a very emotionally intense period we were forced to take a little break -- fall break, from school. I could sense he was pulling away, and I assumed it was because of the constant drama of “us.” He brought out an obsessive side of my personality that I didn’t like, and over fall break I began to realize that a permanent break would be in both of our interests.
It was very amicable. We returned as friends, and stayed that way, with the occasional rebound make out session.
Then we went out for drinks and were having a fine time until he said, “I have something to tell you.” I figured he’d met another girl, or was dropping out of school, or had been diagnosed with cancer, or abducted by aliens… Basically, anything except what he did say, which was: “I think I might be gay.”
On the outside, I acted like a caring friend, but inside I threw myself a major self-pity, self-loathing party.
He started dating a guy and I’d try not to burst into tears whenever I was around them. I felt like friends were secretly glad I’d got what I deserved after dating the guy everyone liked (which is stupid, I have the best friends in the world). He and I had a few arguments, often in public; I shouted at him for deceiving me and for embarrassing me. Yeah, I’m not proud of this time in my life.
Once, I started crying outside a bar as he sat with me, quietly letting me get it out. I asked him why he dated me when he was questioning his sexuality. I asked why he even bothered breaking up with the other, brief girlfriend for me, knowing that we didn’t even really stand a chance.
He replied quickly, without thinking, “Because I didn’t love her, I loved you.” It was a strange moment, being so clearly unplanned, and he was visibly embarrassed to have said it. It only made it harder.
He defriended me on Facebook a couple of years ago; I’m probably not a happy memory for him. I made his coming out really difficult, when I should have at least tried to be a compassionate friend to him and let go of my own self-esteem issues.
Because one thing I’ve learned is that’s almost impossible to live your early 20s without creating a little collateral damage. All of us leave a few broken hearts behind us as we grow up.