My assumption is that you all have the most sterling of track records when it comes to your dating lives. No longer can you navigate your way around an OkCupid conversation or tickle your Tinders to find a match in your vicinity because you, Old Faithful, are only thinking about which board game your significant other of time immemorial would like to play in bed tonight as you marathon Law and Order otherwise known as the only other institution that can even come close to resembling the good run you've had with your bae.
Let me tell you. That's not the story for all of us.
You see, some of us are blessed with lives that resemble only the first half of rom-coms, the unbelievably painful hijinks sans assurance that the two star-crossed celebrities will figure it all out and fall in love. AND THAT'S ALL RIGHT [tears drip down cheek, malfunctioning keyboard] because, hey, all lives are different and who would be able to tell you funny stories? [Uncorks a $4 bottle of wine and laces the coffee mug in which it will be poured with Hershey's chocolate syrup.]
And so it came to pass this week that a fourth ex of mine either announced his engagement or his marriage. To a man. Because that's the world we live in. A world where gay men can flaunt their disgusting marriage-desirous ways in front of me at any hour of the day without any respect for my own morals. THINK OF THE CHILDREN, THE CHILDREN I WILL NOT BE ADOPTING.
To celebrate such a momentous occasion, I will now recount the break-up scenes of all four of my exes for you. Their names have been changed. Their heartbreak has not been.
Ex Number One: Breakup by Syllabus
The walls of my first bedroom in Seattle are painted an Easter yellow. They have holes in the plaster, and I can see through to the backyard. This is the image that comes to mind when I think of Carter. Not because we spent much time there in my bedroom, but because I would call him on my bed nearly daily when he was at school out of town.
"Have you talked with your parents?" I ask.
"You don't really want to come, do you?"
I shrug even though he can't see. I've brought up the topic at least three times before and three times he's avoided a clear answer. We've dated for nearly six months, tied with my longest relationship (to a man), and I feel the event of his college graduation is a perfect occasion for me to show his family that we're serious about what we have developed together. Although I have met Carter's parents twice, both times were more or less by accident. I want them to know I'm taking an active role in getting to know them on purpose.
"It's just," he says through static, "in my family, graduating from undergrad isn't that big of a deal. I don't know what it's like in the Middle Class."
I don't say a word. I'm trying and attempting and struggling to understand not only the phrase he has just uttered, but the circumstances that exist that would allow it to be stated. I have never been put down for my financial background, nor do I feel I—or anyone else—have any reason to be put down for it. In dating Carter, I realized his family had a significant amount of wealth, enough to take multi-month vacations around the world, yearly or even more frequently. Sure it had been attractive, but only as a novelty. What I actually loved in him was his goofiness. His way to stay lighthearted when everything around him exuded stress and over-accomplishment.
"Clio?" he asks.
"I can't believe you just said that," I say.
"What? It's true! In my family, we go to grad school, so I don't think I'm going to be inviting them to commencement."
"That's so not true. There's no way your family would skip out on seeing you graduate from college. I just want to be there, too."
"Because we're boyfriends, Carter. And that's what boyfriends do. I want to be there to support you. I want to sit next to your parents and show that I love you, and that I'm a part of your life."
"I just don't get it."
"Do you not want me to be there?"
"It's not that I don't want you to be there..." he says.
"Then what is it?"
"I've already told you! It's just not that big of a deal."
"Graduating from college is a big deal for everyone."
Carter doesn't respond, and I can feel the adrenaline taking over my body. I love Carter in a way that I've never loved another person. I've never felt excited to live with someone forever. When he asked if he could choose the curtains in our future house, I got butterflies in the most amazing way possible. I've never felt the mutual connection we have. Like we each add to the other person without taking anything away.
"Do you remember last week how we were talking about your engineering degree?" he asks.
"I don't want to bring that up now, Carter. Ohio State is a good school. I'm sorry if it isn't private."
"But I think that's part of the problem."
"You're really making me mad, right now."
"I looked up the academic requirements for an engineering B.S. from Ohio State."
For a second time I fall speechless, but Carter continues.
"You didn't have to take as many classes as I do, and I'm only getting my B.A. Ohio State is just not as rigorous a school as Pacific Lutheran, and I think that's part of what's different between your family and mine."
The conversation continues. Maybe. Or maybe it doesn't. I've checked out so suddenly I can't actually be sure my emotions have registered how to feel. I tell Carter that what he's told me is inexcusable. What he has done, gumshoeing through Ohio State's academic requirements to determine if our engineering degrees are equitable is unbelievable. I tell him I need a week to think things over because this is a new low I have never experienced.
"I'm sorry, Clio," he says seven days later after we have had no interim conversation.
"I'm glad that you're sorry, Carter," I respond, "but I can't forgive you for what you said. It's part of your personality, and it's not something I'll ever be able to change."
Over the next couple months we see each other twice more for rounds of tennis. I think we're navigating how to move forward. He asks to see my new apartment when my roommates are away. I let him in. I show him around. I can still see it in his eyes, though, no matter how hard I want to ignore it. His superiority. I tell him he needs to leave.
A year later he and his fiancé start a blog for arts and crafts.
Ex Number Two: Breakup by Brickside
Four months have passed since Carter and I ended things. It's the end of summer. I have returned to OkCupid and begun dating rather frequently. It's exhilarating. I'm in the best physical shape I've been in for quite some time, and the Seattle boys are actually returning my messages. Even better, I don't need to send them.
Michael and I have been seeing each other off and on for a couple months, and even though we haven't discussed labels, it's clearly moving in that direction. I know that he knows we're both feeling the chemistry. I can tell he likes what we have going.
I'm stranded in Capitol Hill one night after a few friends left for home, and I don't want to end the revelry just yet. I call Michael and tell him to meet me for drinks. Possibly more. We know the drill. He says he can't tonight, but I know that he lives around the corner.
"Just one drink," I say after calling him back.
I'm sure he can tell I'm tipsy, but he's also shown me he's a bit of a lush himself. My tone may be approaching a beg, but we're at that point in the courting where it's inevitably going to sound endearing. Sure enough, he tells me he's on his way.
When he arrives I'm surprised to see him hop out of the passenger side of a minivan that does not belong to him and that I've never seen before.
"I'm hanging out with a friend," Michael says. "She's going to come pick me up after we're done."
"Ok?" I respond.
Without hesitation he takes my hand and walks with me, not to the row of bars immediately at our disposal, but into the shadows of the poorly lit neighborhood situated behind the night life activity. I ask him where we're going, but he tells me to just wait.
An older man crosses the lamplight and I can see him eyeing us strangely. It's only 2010; we don't have our rights yet to marry, and as far as I'm concerned society still thinks we're pariahs, even when we're strolling in our own ostensible gay district. I begin to panic. We shouldn't be holding hands or walking so close to one another, but a moment later Michael pushes me into a brick wall and pins my wrists behind my head.
My eyes close, and maybe it's the public nature of the act, or the alcohol, or both, but I'm melting under his grip as he kisses me with fury. I'm losing myself to a sexual ecstasy I've only dreamed of. I kiss him back, unbelieving that this moment is happening. I'm running my hands up and down his chest. He's slipping his fingers behind my belt strap, here in the dark, up against a bedroom wall's exterior.
I can't say how long it lasts, no more than a minute perhaps, but it comes to a halting stop. Just as deliberately as before, Michael takes my hand and walks me back to the corner, underneath the yellow light where the older man had seen us, back to where he jumped out of the minivan. I'm surprised that it's parked there and even more so when he let's go of me to walk towards it.
"Call me, tomorrow, ok?" he says. "I'm going down to Olympia, tonight."
"Ok!" I call back as a smile reaches around my face, though I have no idea what's happening. "Sounds good."
But Michael doesn't answer my call the next day. Nor does he answer my texts, my Facebook messages, my OkCupid messages, or my emails in the following week. We pass each other on the street a few months later, and he doesn't acknowledge my presence. We ride the same bus one day with only a handful of people, but he puts in his iPod earbuds.
I tell my friends it's the single most evil act you can commit on someone: not explaining what happened. And to this day, I won't leave a bad date without saying "this isn't going to work." I look upon that night as one of the hardest moments of my entire life. And I barely even knew him.
Two years later my next ex tells me Michael's married.
Ex Number Three: Breakup by Salsa
Days after I accept that Michael is never responding, I meet a man who can dance.
"I'm not looking for a relationship," I tell Dylan as I lie naked on my bed, cuddled in his arms.
"I'm not gay," he responds.
It's hard to place the bookends on our time together because of this symbiotic agreement. For months, maybe a year, we skirt around the reality that we can't be apart from one another. My being relationshipally abstinent and his thinking he still likes vagina is largely irrelevant. Multiple times a week we go out to the clubs. We dance merengue, the cha cha, and salsa to Top 40, not caring that we require enough of the precious floor space for six people. We arrive as singles and help one another get other guys' (even girls') phone numbers. But at the end of the night, we always go home together.
Our friends know about "us," and some even confide it's easier to refer to "us" as "us" when we're not around to get offended. We're boyfriends even if there's no label, they tell me. I smile, enjoying the fun and the freedom I have stumbled on somehow in the same person.
It's New Year's Eve when it happens, and Dylan and I haven't been dancing as much. Not together at least. We had an argument a few weeks back, but like usual it can't end something that doesn't actually exist. The fireworks are about to launch off the Space Needle, and I get an unexpected call from him.
"I thought you had your party," I say.
"Where are you?"
"At my apartment with some friends."
I tell the two guys I'm with to expect a fourth, and within minutes Dylan's walking down the crowd-filled road with a bottle of champagne and flutes.
"What's up?" I ask.
"I just wanted to see you."
It's minutes to midnight, and Dylan pours two glasses of champagne. Something's odd about his demeanor, and when I go to take a sip, he reminds me I have to wait. I realize there's these traditions people live and die by, and I smirk at how he always likes to remember those smallest of details.
He stands right next to me when the fireworks finally go off, and I down my glass without hesitation. Then he grabs my waist and turns me so I'm facing him.
"What are you doing?"
I kiss him on the cheek and then slip out of his fingers. He's only come to be with me as the new year rings in, and I can't believe I was so dense to not get that. It's cute and romantic, but some of the fire between us has started to cool while other flames ignite elsewhere.
He asks what I'm doing for the rest of the night and I tell him I wanted to hang out with my friends. Simple. No drama. Within minutes he's gone. He mentions some hot guy wanted to go dancing with him tonight. I feel confused, but at the same time relieved.
Two hours later I get a call from a different Dylan from the one I know.
"He was a dud!" Dylan says through the phone.
"No, I can't. You literally told me you had a date tonight. It's 2:00a.m. I'm not just letting you come over."
"I'm drunk, Clio."
"I can tell, Dylan."
"There's no way I can drive."
"Then call a cab."
"Clio, come on."
"Clio....I'm standing outside your apartment."
I hang up the phone, crawl out of bed, and see Dylan pacing frantically back and forth outside my door. I'm so aggravated I could push him into the snow patch, but I tell him to come inside. I'm tired, and I know it's wrong, but I avoid the pretense of not knowing how this night is going to end.
"Just get in bed," I tell him.
We're naked within minutes and tumbling under the sheets. It's some of the worst sex I've ever had. Unlike every portrayal of virile lovemaking I've seen in film, anger does not translate well into passion for me. Breakup sex—the very sex I'm having without knowing it—is not a palatable exercise in my mind. I don't like crossing those disparate wires in my brain, and I'm convinced it's something Hollywood has fabricated. Like time travel or sharknadoes.
When it's over I feel disgusted and terrible and less than human.
"You need to go, Dylan," I say. I know it's what I need, but I know on some levels, it's also wrong.
"I'm still drunk," he says.
"I don't care. I don't want you in my house right now. I'm sorry. You just need to go."
"You can't just kick me out."
"Just let me stay on the couch."
"Call a cab! I don't want you here when I wake up, and I don't want you here right now."
Slowly Dylan concedes, and I can't look him in his eyes. I've done this, at least part of this. I'm upset with myself.
He puts on his clothes, and I walk him to the door. It's cold, but I don't call to make sure he gets home. I assume he takes a cab as I slip back into bed. Later I find out he walked back to his SUV and drove drunk across town to where he lived in Queen Anne. He refuses to talk to me for nearly a year, at which point we both agree that night was when "us" officially ended.
Two weeks ago he showed me his engagement ring over happy hour margaritas.
Ex Number Four: Breakup by Atrophy
It has been a while since Dylan and I stopped hanging out. I meet a number of guys for drinks, etc. I've stopped looking for a relationship. I don't know what that looks like anymore. It's easier to just find someone who's reliable for drinks, sex, and banter. Jacob fills that bill.
We talk about the other guys we're seeing. We talk about how relationships are pointless. We talk about how each other isn't that perfect of boyfriend material anyways.
We text and chat, but we don't make dinner plans outfitted for personal conversation. We talk politics and economics to stay away from getting too intimate. We fuck. We tell each other it's not the best. And we look for others.
Clio: In a relationship???? OOooooohhhhhh!
Jacob: With Jesus Christ our Savior =o
Clio: haha...wait, I thought Sarah Palin was our savior???? no, but really, are you in a relationship with that guy you're drinking nuclear waste with?
Jacob: lol. yeah. And Palin is a Goddess too <3
Clio: Score! nice job landing him.
Yes. "Score." Exclamation point. "Nice job landing him." Like I think a boyfriend is a fucking internship at McKinsey & Company.
I'm not even mad though. It makes perfect sense. He's seeing other people and found someone that can actually last. We barely know each other as it is. There's nothing to be sad about.
It's been almost two years now since that Facebook conversation. I've had other boyfriends, worked through some of the problems that keep coming up, attended my first gay wedding back in June. I spend more time thinking about bettering myself than finding someone else. Though single, I'm happy. Really. And five days ago when Facebook fittingly showed me Jacob's wedding photos, I clicked "Like."
I'm pretty sure I meant it, too.
Time Out with Clio is a weekly pause each Friday when you can come and spend a moment with me as I daydream of dragons and badminton alone in the corner. I don't have any idea where I'm going when I start writing. Feel free to leave suggestions or inspirations for future posts.