“John, I think I’m in love with my roommate,” the lovely senior political science major posited to me over the phone.
“That’s cute,” I said. “Love to hear that you and your roommate are getting along.”
We small-talked all the time, her and I. Over our four years as friends, first as precociously naive freshmen together at Syracuse University before our lives took increasingly divergent paths geographically and otherwise, we had grown to become very close.
We disagreed on things, she was a starry-eyed optimist and I was a grizzled cynic, which shaded our conversations with complexity. But more often than not, her and I saw eye to eye on a multitude of topics, and we both found each other to be enthralling, captivating personalities.
It was our mutual passion for life, people and coffee that fueled our friendship, a friendship forged almost exclusively over AOL Instant Messenger, long-winded marathon phone chats and Starbucks coffee.
There was that time where we kissed goodbye at the end of one our coffee dates in Rochester, and there were multiple kisses – a passionate series of queries into each other’s souls – where our knees buckled and smiles were impossible to contain. She always had a boyfriend, was always getting put off by a boyfriend, was always doubting the pureness and integrity of men.
But I was so nice, so different, such a welcome breath of fresh air. At least I thought I was, until fresher air came along.
“Yeah, you COULD say we get along reeeeeeally well,” she chuckled. “Last night was one of the most magical of my life.”
I joked, “Awwww, did you make out?”
“And then some.”
“Wait,” and I tried to picture it, and tried not to enjoy it, and felt still perplexed like she was pulling my chain, “You’re serious?”
There was that time when she told me, in the throes of another heated, “We shouldn’t be doing this, this isn’t practical, but my god it is fun and who cares if it wrecks our friendship” moments, that I was the only man she loved, the only man with whom she felt completely safe and comfortable.
It was too late, of course, to pursue anything of meaning. I had bounced from Syracuse and was finishing up four years of disappointment and unfulfilled promise that was my college career at The University at Buffalo – which someone should really just nickname “The @”, much like Miami is “Da U” and Ohio State is “THE Ohio State University.”
It was too late, because she was moving to Austin, Texas to pursue her PhD in sociology and women’s studies, and I was snorting my bartender tips up my nose. When you’re in the midst of full-fledged struggle like that, it always seems too late for everything.
“Yeah, I’m completely serious,” she gushed. “She’s the most beautiful, kind, wonderful person I’ve ever met,” she proclaimed. “I think we are soulmates.”
I paused. The woman who was always attached to a man, always seemed to attach her validity to a man, always waxed on and on about her trials and tribulations with men, sounded very … unlike herself. “That’s awesome,” I said. How could it not be? Someone who’s been living with a girl for three years in a double-bedroom at the Pi Phi house finally founds out that girl is a soulmate? The odds are pretty good she’s right!
“I think I’m a lesbian,” she confessed. “I have no idea how or why, but I think I am.”
“Well,” I probed, “How did it happen?” I assumed it was the result of a drunken stunt taken too far, an awkward bit of exploration yielding unexpected treasure.
“It just did,” she described it, “We were just sitting in our room, talking about life, and about men, and [and this is the part where it gets real cliche like it was the beginning of some dorm-room amateur adult video] she said, ‘Women should just be with women. We always know what women want.’ And I felt compelled, John, I don’t even know why. But I kissed her … and we just never stopped. For hours. And when we woke up, we both felt completely safe. And happy.”
I’d known her for years. We talked nearly every night via some medium. She never once expressed an interest in her roommate, or even a curiosity about her. I barely even knew her name and I sure as hell don’t remember it now. But I remember her next question, “John, is that okay?”
I didn’t need to pause this time, because I knew the answer by the uncontainable smile through which her words escaped. “Of course it’s okay,” I confirmed. “A soulmate is a soulmate is a soulmate. Whether it’s a man or a woman, white or black, Christian or godless, you can’t help who you love.”
Not long after, I started work at a restaurant, where I immediately connected with a lovely girl who had it all. She was intelligent, boisterous, kind and ambitious. I liked her from the very start.
The more we worked together, the more we got to talking, and the more we truly enjoyed each other’s company. She had a boyfriend: a bizarre, freakishly unpersonable prick with scruffy hair and a foul stench to him. But she relished the few moments she spent spilling her guts about him to me and grabbing beers with me after work or what-have-you.
One time, and I can’t remember when or her exact words, but she confided in me that she was also extremely attracted to women. It didn’t change my opinion of her one iota. I’d been through this dance before, and the gal in love with her roommate was pretty much my favorite, and so I told her, “If you ever decide to date a gal, I know the perfect one for you. She’s smart, really into politics, beautiful and has great taste in music and she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.” I could feel her get genuinely excited chatting about women, and we both enjoyed checking out girls who we saw walk into our restaurant or out at bars and parties.
Did I mention she sang and played guitar? She sang and played guitar! She would come over and play her songs for me and I’d marvel because outwardly she seemed awfully shy (she was always open and loud with me, but I figure I bring that out in people because she was surely uneasy and careful otherwise), but when her fingers struck the fretboard and her throat opened up, she became something otherworldly – a siren from above.
One day she asked me, “John, do you have Showtime?”
In fact, I did. “John, do you watch ‘The L-Word’?
In fact, I did. “John, the new season starts soon, we should watch it together!”
In fact, we did.
Every week, she would come over to my place and watch ‘The L-Word’ with me, and she’d always bring one of her friends, who at the time seemed like a caricature of lipstick lesbian temptress siren, always wearing her schoolgirl outfits and giving me bedroom eyes while I poured her a drink and whatever. And they’d always come over to chill. I believe the gal I worked with viewed my apartment as a sort of asylum where it was completely awesome to be into girls if you were a girl. At least, I hope she did, because I had no problem with it.
We’d go out to parties together, her and I, and get drunk and form some hazy memories. Out of respect for her, I won’t go into detail about how far we took it and when. But we weren’t always on our best behavior, and we weren’t always platonic. Alcohol was generally involved.
It was too late, of course, to pursue anything of meaning. I had been bounced from the restaurant and was finishing up a complete summer of disaster and unfulfilled promise that was my post-college career experience – which involved trucking around the Northeast in a car, playing songs for peanuts and basically wondering why the hell I dragged myself into extraneous student loan debt without a career picked out.
It was too late, because she was going to law school, and I had hitched my star to the first girl who seemed remotely sane and was willing to accept me for my various faults who still saw potential in me. When you’re busy trying to sweep your liquid life back into it’s carton, it always seems too late for everything.
Cliche dictates lightning doesn’t strike twice. But, in this case, lightning struck three times.
Through friends, I was introduced to a lovely, ambitious, super-intelligent gal really into politics, law, music, feminism, coffee … and, of course, other women.
A tremendously voracious consumer of literature and the arts, she was well-read, well-cultured and wasn’t ashamed of revealing her strong will and activist spirit in front of anyone. This meant, and I credit her for making me somewhat comfortable in this arena, long nights engaged in political arguments and taking society’s temperature. And she often complained about other people’s (especially on the right side of the political ledger) ignorance and incivility.
But she could always find a friendly disagreement with me, and I think she found comfort in that. Our talks were endless. We regularly cracked each other up, made each other think about life in truly profound, macro terms and kept each other active doing the things we love. I’d say that’s the mark of a good friendship.
But, apparently, guys and girls cannot just be friends, even if Harry meets Sally and Sally’s into Tracy.
There’s no true method to the madness of how it started. Somewhere in between those ideologically-charged chats, the frequenting of the LGBT bars around town, or the 4am-and-beyond electronic dance parties spent harmlessly, drunkenly against each other, or the long hikes outdoors, or those days we drove around aimlessly for hours, something progressed into something unforeseen – and that spark ignited.
We’d kissed more than a few times, for what I don’t know, but it was fun and exciting and devious and really, really satisfying.
By turns, I played it off or played it up, and there was one night in particular at this house party to which she’d invited me, and I went outside onto a dimly-lit rooftop where she was, and we sat on the balcony.
She mouthed to me, “I want to f**k you.”
To our credit, we never did, but that didn’t stop either of us from alternately trying or teasing. And it provided a bizarrely invigorating twist to our friendship.
A separate friend of mine once told me, “John, ALL friendships begin as an attraction on one end or the other. So, if it isn’t you, then it’s the other one. Until it’s both or neither.”
I always found that to be particularly wise words. It helped me deduce people who were right for each other, people were into each other, people who would become friends, or people who would never work out long before the parties involved could conclude for themselves.
But in the case of me and this girl, it felt like a slow burn. Just a cascading, snowballing build that turned into something so overt that our friends would tease us about it.
“You two should get room!” They told the dude and the lesbian. It became the most poorly-kept secret in Western New York, I believe. But to the outside, it made zero sense. None. To me, though, it made perfect sense. It always did. After all, I’d become a seasoned veteran at being the “Guy with the really close girl friend who’s into girls but also might be into him.” It wasn’t something I could explain, it was just something I could intuitively tell you was right at the time and seemed perfectly normal to me.
As I said above, you can’t help who you love, right?
But you can help who you love. And if there’s one thing I can say I’ve learned from those formative years: Love is a shared action. It’s the product of attraction, but it isn’t the same.
It’s not an effort, no, to describe any of what happened above as ‘effort’ would be conflating forcing something and doing something. When the pieces fit, figuratively speaking I suppose, action feels more natural than inaction. But it’s a shared action that creates and fosters and allows the attraction room to grow.
At some point, a relationship between two people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, crosses into a realm where it feels as though platonic activities feel like “holding back.” Where you know it, the other party involved knows it, and (occasionally) the rest of the world knows it. The stage is set, the move gets made or the show goes into 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th acts.
The difference between scenarios 1, 2 and 3 above? Just timing. That’s all. All three situations could’ve ended up differently than they did. But timing matters. Your situation, where you’re at in life, your receptivity to how close you long to be with someone (or anyone) matters.
I was close to those women then, and I would’ve taken a bullet for them then. But date them? Hold that thought.
Some time ago, they passed a law legalizing Gay Marriage (I prefer Marriage Equality, since marriage is marriage) in New York State. I texted every one of the girls I mentioned above and told them “Congratulations.” Because I was happy for them, and I was happy for me.
I support marriage equality because, as I’ve stated before, I support equality for all people and everyone should be able to have the same fair shake at chasing after happiness and their dreams.
But, somewhat selfishly, I supported it because I wanted my friends to be able to express themselves fully without being persecuted against, frowned upon, outcast or thrown in jail. This is who they are, this is what they believe in. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if I found out that I wouldn’t be allowed to marry the love of my life. I think I’d die completely.
Everyone mentioned above and countless (and I mean, countless, I’ve sincerely lost count) others are phenomenal people who deserve to love and marry whoever they choose and not just because they’re phenomenal but most importantly because they are people. I’ve found so much goodness and strength and excitement in them all that to watch anyone clamp down on them in any form, for any reason, seems like a spitefully-imposed limit on what the human spirit can achieve if left uncapped.
But, lastly, I understand the LGBT movement 100% because I understand love taking someone by surprise. I understand what happens when one minute, you’re sitting there with a good friend, and the next minute you’re brushing back their hair, lips locked and trembling in excitement. From both sides.
I remember their joy recounting their first surprise encounters, about how it just sprung forth organically and passionately. I remember my joy in being surprised by them in various stages of puppy love. Events that run counter to our intuition and our perception of what’s possible or probable happens all the time.
Dating? That’s the ritualization, the standardization of something as wildly unhinged and complex and unable-to-be-standardized as attraction or love. I could have never dated them. But some of my most magical moments were spent with them. And none of those moments ever involved sex.
No, it was always the shared experience, the ability to call them whenever I wanted and their comfort in calling me whenever they wanted, and our mutual desire to spend whatever available time we had together just exploring the world, learning from each other and enjoying the excitement of being truly alive. That’s the thing that matters, really.
And if that’s the most quixotic method of saying that this made me the world’s most messed up serial monogamist ever, where whenever I was single I absolutely had to be tied down to a platonic/unrequited relationship with a lesbian who I would never date or never even have sex with once in a while, then so be it. Maybe it was a void I never knew needed filling. Maybe it was an extra bonus relationship that I believe everyone should have at some point in their lives. I don’t know these answers because I don’t even know if there’s a question.
It’s a complex world without a lot of “if –> then” and a whole lot of “if –> perhaps.” We’re lucky to even be alive at all. It’s a miracle. And if we put ourselves out there, we might find love in some really unexpected places. And I’m definitely all for that.
Thirtyist is a series of 30 tales of the 30 people, places, ideas and events that shaped the last 30 years of the life of someone of no particular importance – told in no particular order. To read them all, click on the post tag, “Thirtyist” or on the links below.*