To begin with a cliché, what a weekend! Three important people have been brought back into my life, all of them unexpectedly. Recently I’ve noticed some old school ‘friends’ floating about on facebook, and on Friday one of them messaged me out of the blue to ask if I was in recovery. He had noticed in some of my status updates that I talk about doing the twelve steps, and it turns out that he too has done the steps and is two and a half years clean and sober. We got into a long and meaningful conversation about recovery and sobriety, our differing views on the rooms and how our lives have changed in the past ten years. What we both agree on is that school was responsible for nearly screwing our lives up.
It was the kind of conversation I’d never expect to have in a million years. I lost touch with all those people ten years ago; as far as I knew, none of them were contactable any more because I had no idea where any of them were. To be contacted by Sean again was very strange. Neither of us is the same person any more. Ten years is a hell of a long time, though inside my head it feels like a very short time indeed. On the outside I may have changed hugely but at night I still have dreams about going back to school, about facing those demons which I’ve never been able to kill.
Maybe now that this has happened things will change for me. Maybe I can finally move on from those dark times, knowing that at least one person who was there to see it all feels as bad about it as I do. Sean was by no means the worst of the bullies and he wasn’t someone I expected amends from. But he says he feels bad for never sticking up for me (to do so would have amounted to social suicide for him at the time, but still) and to hear him say that means a lot to me. He’s going to India soon to teach, so the chances of staying in touch are disappointingly slim. But a conversation that should have taken place years ago has finally happened, and it’s provided me with yet more evidence that my higher power is on my side.
On Saturday I arranged to meet up with Phil, an old friend from my online social networking days who I had not seen for months. For a while I though that we’d lost touch, since we hardly chat on a regular basis any more, and a bit of awkwardness was still left from two years ago when we went to Berlin together to witness one of my drinking rock bottoms. I managed to make amends for that incident two years ago without knowing anything about step 9, and he appeared to accept my profuse apologies, but things would not be the same between us and I simply assumed that what once could have been a great friendship had been abused too much.
This weekend he seemedwilling to forget about the past (not that he’s the type to hold grudges anyway) and we met for lunch on the South Bank. We ate in a posh, expensive restaurant overlooking the Thames before going to sit outside on the grass in the scorching heat. It was the hottest day of the year, reaching nearly 26 degrees at one point, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. My favourite kind of day. Phil and I talked in a friendly, polite manner with hardly any awkward silences. That wouldn’t have been the case two years ago. Unfortunately in those days we were both very shy people; if I wasn’t drunk any attempt at conversation could be excruciating for me, especially because he is as shy as I am. This weekend we were at least able to maintain interesting conversation on matters such as pop music and going out on the London gay scene. I suppose two years’ experience of socialising without alcohol has helped me a great deal.
Despite the positive signs of progress, we never quite got past the polite small talk stage. Phil, like me, isn’t very good at broaching more serious subjects. With most good friends I can talk about the things that really matter to me, such as my recovery and my love life; with Phil I can get close to breaking the taboo from time to time, but he can’t quite give the little push needed to get us across that line. Until two years ago I thought I was in love with him – he was so kind and generous to me, no more so than when he paid for the holiday to Berlin. It broke my heart to realise that, sober, I actually need more from a potential partner. I think we’ll stay in touch; I hope it won’t be another year before I see him again. He’s still kind and generous and everything that a friend should be. But I can’t pretend to be in love with him.
Later on Saturday I had a romantic evening with Gareth to look forward to. I hadn’t seen Gareth for about two months, since before Easter when I came home from another night of hot sex feeling empty and ashamed of myself. At that point I seemed to realise I was using sex like a drug, ignoring the lack of emotional and spiritual connection just so I could be with him sexually, because with him sex is better than it has ever been for me. Two months ago I was convinced that he would never want to be anythimg more than an occasional shag, so I decided to cut contact with him to protect myself. If I could have somehow separated sex from love, accepted that I didn’t need him to be my knight in shining armour, I might not have made that decision, but I could never quite shake the feeling that he was really bad for me.
This weekend I heard from him again – I won’t say it was out of the blue because he does appear to have a habit of contacting me every few months when he’s feeling particularly horny. He opened the conversation with the usual ‘how are you?’; instead of replying with the usual ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ I decided to be brutally honest. I told him that I’d had a terrible week, that I had reached an emotional crisis and that I felt like getting shitfaced (because that’s how I really felt on Friday night after another disastrous attempt to be sociable at the Hop Gardens gay meeting). I thought carefully about sending him this text message: it might scare him off forever. In the end I realised that that’s what I wanted, to make him leave me alone because the sporadic half-hearted attempts at being friendly were getting annoying.
Instead of leaving me alone he decided to be equally honest, apologising for having treated me so badly and admitting that he had been scared to commit to anything with me for fear of hurting me. I’d heard him say things like this before, but this time – I don’t know why, but he sounded genuine. We proceeded to talk online into the early hours of Saturday morning, about our fears and our needs. For the first time there was real honesty between us. At the back of my mind I regretted the fact that we weren’t saying all of this face to face. It’s easy to be honest online when you can’t see someone’s facial expressions, when it’s OK to take your time and think about what you want to say. In real life there’s less tolerance for awkward silence, at least in my experience; it’s more difficult to say what you mean to say, but that’s why real life honesty is better in my opinion.
By the end of our long conversation we had agreed that ‘giving it another go’ was a good idea. This time Gareth seemed willing to be more romantic, to take me out for dinner and to actually talk to me. All the times we met before, we never talked to each other. There was some barely polite small talk, but that was it. That’s why I always came home feeling like the world had ended: I always knew that it could be so much better, if only we’d bothered to try harder. On Saturday night I was supposed to be going clubbing with Phil for his birthday; Gareth didn’t have to try hard to persuade me to change my plans. When I met Phil for lunch he wasn’t too upset about my sudden change of plans, so after I’d taken my home group at Notting Hill I hooked up with Gareth and went for a Chinese in Soho before returning to his place for the night.
All day I’d felt like I was walking on air, knowing that I had Gareth to look forward to again. He had said so many nice things on Friday night, about my personality as well as my physical appearance. It felt like something really special might be about to happen. As the hours quickly passed I became increasingly nervous, hoping beyond hope that we wouldn’t mess things up again. The prospect of the special relationship that I was looking forward to seemed so precarious and fragile; I knew that Saturday night would need a lot of work to be a success. I realised that the only way to make it work would be to be myself: past encounters had failed because I was always hiding my personality in order to make him like me more. This time round I needed to be honest and open at all times. Being honest and open had encouraged him to be the same on Friday night when I’d thought it would scare him off. The more honest and vulnerable I could be, the better. Which is why I was terrified when I finally met him at 8.30.
Dinner in Soho was nice. We started to talk about my hang ups around sex; Gareth, like most people I know, believes sex is a natural and wonderful thing to be enjoyed as much as possible. While I could sort of agree with him, I found it hard to let go of the idea that I’d like to be more than just a sexual being. This is where the problem always really laid between us: he’s quite happy in relationships as long as the sex is great, I’m not. It was nice of him to take me out for dinner on Saturday, even nicer of him to promise to try and be more talkative and serious and honest. But from that point onward I didn’t get the impression that he really wanted to be there.
In the car up to his home in Hertfordshire conversation continued quite naturally. We shared some of our life stories with each other. I talked about my parents and my experiences at school, things which have as much power and relevance today as they did fifteen years ago. I learnt a bit about Gareth’s family background, which was nice. I learnt that he had been adopted, that his father had died a few years ago and that there had been problems when he came out to them in his teens. It was great to be able to learn all these things. He was letting me into his life, showing me who he really was. I don’t think he was doing it unwillingly. It felt like a conversation between friends, which is exactly what I wanted. There was even laughter and humour at points, something that had never happened before. But I could not shake the horrible feeling that we were acting in a play, that this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t demanded it on Friday night.
We got to his place around 10 and we could hardly keep our hands off each other. Though he had put weight on and shaved off his beard in the time since we’d last met, I still found Gareth incredibly attractive at that point and, not for the first time, making love to him felt like the right thing to do. When we’re in bed doing all those things to each other we are at our best as a couple. There’s no awkwardness or shyness in bed with him, like there is with pretty much all other guys. This is why I’ve spent the entire year struggling to figure out how I feel about him. I love his body, his lips, his eyes, his hair, his arms…so much so that when we’re lying there embracing each other I can almost forget about the unnatural conversation, the sheer lack of interests that we have in common, the unwillingness from his side to commit to anything real.
When we’re making love I know deep down in my gut that I love him, and I know there’s a bit of him that feels the same way about me. He enjoys the sex as much as I do – he’s gone as far as to say that I’m the best he’s ever had. It’s more than a physical connection. It sort of feels like the spiritual connection I spent days talking and arguing about with Cole earlier in the year. With Gareth there is a definite spark, something deeper that I feel like I’ve been looking for all my life. That it happened so unexpectedly probably makes it even better. I knew when I first met him that there was something very special about him. So why do I get such a deep sense of uneasiness about the whole thing? Is it because he can’t commit to me properly? Or is it that I’m scared of something real actually developing between us?
All my life I have obsessively grappled with the word ‘love’, trying and failing in every brief relationship to define it and find it. No matter how I look at it, my relationship with Gareth has been different to all the others. He’s my most regular sexual partner of all time (after six months that side of things is still going strong); he hasn’t been scared off by any of the things that I’ve told him about myself yet. He knows I’m an alcoholic in AA now, he knows I have a hundred hang ups around sex, he knows I can never afford to buy him dinner, yet he’s still there, at least for now. And I realise I’ve just listed a number of positive things about our relationship, reasons to feel good about it.
That doesn’t stop me from doubting. Since coming home yesterday I haven’t heard a thing from him, not that I was expecting to. I know I don’t need him to save me or look after me. But it would be nice not to have to do the chasing sometimes. Yeah, he did a bit of chasing on Friday night, but I doubt that’s ever going to happen again. The truth is that he leads a very busy life, he lives twenty miles away and there are so many equally attractive partners out there for him to choose from who don’t have the hang ups that I have. So I went to bed in tears last night, as I realised just how fragile this thing that we have really is. Like a flower it will need nurturing and taking care of. I don’t need taking care of, but the relationship does. It’s not going to work with him just picking up the phone every three months when he feels horny. Like in any friendship, both parties will need to make some kind of effort for each other. I didn’t build all the close friendships that I now have in AA by never going to meetings and accidentally bumping into people on occasion. The friends that I don’t see in AA are the ones that I lose touch with.
After all this time I shouldn’t be crying myself to sleep over a man, I really shouldn’t. I guess I cried last night as much out of happiness for realising that there is something special worth working on between us as anything else. There’s only so much work I can do. Too much pushing and I will scare him away. So I need to hand it over, like I need to hand everything else over. Whether this works out or not in the long run is up to God, not me. I can do certain things now to keep Gareth’s interest. Perhaps I could text him in the week to ask him how he is; I don’t think I’ve done that before. I get the impression that he won’t bother responding, but I could be wrong. Maybe just letting him know that I still exist every now and then will be worth it.
If this thing doesn’t work out like I think it isn’t going to, I don’t know what the chances are of finding something similar with someone else. That’s also why I cried last night. I’ve waited 26 years to experience something like this with a man. Of course there are loads of other attractive guys out there, but I don’t know them like I know Gareth now. I haven’t put the work in with them like I’ve put the work in with Gareth. I just hope he can appreciate that. If it doesn’t work out I’ll accept it because I know that whatever happens, good or bad, is God’s will. I think it would take me a very long time to get over Gareth. With him I’ve only just begun to believe that love might exist; a few weeks ago I didn’t believe there was any such thing. I thought it was just some fairy tale dream that people talk endlessly about to make themselves feel better.