“Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean (2012)

I’ve had hundreds if not thousands of crushes over the year. Hell, I can think of four or five people I’m crushing on this very second*. But I’ve only been in love two times in my life. Or at least “in love” relative to what I now know as “being in love.”

The first time this happened was with someone we’ll call D**. I met D on OkCupid six or seven years ago; about halfway through my time in Boston. Our first date was pretty low key. We went to a BBQ restaurant, talked about music (he loved Phish–and I didn’t hold it against him), and his work (he was a high school principal at the time, but had previously criss-crossed the country in a covered wagon to teach kids and he was a published author!) At the end of the date, as I was walking him to his car, we stopped at a pet store and hung out with the dogs and cats for a bit.

Strangely, we barely spoke for months after what I thought was a good day. I called him for a second date and he mentioned something about being sick. Knowing what I know now about him, he was probab…definitely lying. I carried a torch for several months until I wound up moving into the same neighborhood he lived in. This move was 99% coincidental…I can’t say that the thought of potentially running into him on a more regular basis didn’t cross my mind. And guess what happened? I began to run into D on a much more regular basis. He frequented the diner I lived across the street from. I’d pop in and he’d be sitting at a table. We’d say “hi” to one another and promise to hang out soon.

Within a few weeks, we were officially hang out buddies. We’d get together once a week or so. I took him to a Trey Anastasio show (the things I do for love.) Maybe six weeks after we started hanging, he was let go from his job, and our hangs increased to every other day or so. We developed a routine: I’d finish up work for the day, he’d come over, we’d smoke a joint, cuddle up on the sofa, talk, and watch Law & Order: SVU reruns for 3 or 4 hours. He’d then head home.

We fooled around a few times, but only actually slept together once, in the middle of our weird courtship. It didn’t go well (which is at least one reason it didn’t happen a second time(. We were both dealing with major anxiety and depression issues that led to both of us being hospitalized (separately) during our time as whatever we were. He was struggling to find a job. He also had something of a drug dependency (and I’m not talking about just weed). Even with that, though, we had fun, and believe it or not, it was the most functional relationship I’d ever had to that point even though he stopped short of calling it an actual relationship. When I went home for Christmas, I entrusted him with the keys to my apartment so he could watch my cat. When I got back to Boston, he’d made food for me and left it in the fridge. We’d get dressed up in button-downs and sport coats and go to fancy brunch. We paid thirty bucks each to see This Is The End in a deluxe theater where we ate chicken fingers and drank beer. We dropped acid together (the first and only time for me as I write this.) and I played with the hair on his arm while he laughed. He talked about me to his mom (although not in a romantic sense). He was responsible for my coming out to my folks. But what me and D had was some weird funhouse mirror kind of relationship. It wanted to be a “real” relationship. I wanted it to be one, and I think there was a part of him that wanted one too–he’d often speak about how we were “soul mates” or “kindred spirits”. He loved me, and maybe even loved me the way I loved him. I’m not totally sure whether that was the case. At any rate, distance put a cramp on whatever it was we had. About a year to the day after we started hanging out regularly, he moved about 2 hours West, having finally started another job. We haven’t seen each other since.

This unrequited love, to me it’s nothing but a one-man cult…

And cyanide in my Styrofoam cup.

I can never make him love me
Never make him love me
Love me
Love me
Love me
Love me
Love me
Love me

I may have been in love, but I wasn’t dumb. The writing was on the wall with D, and I didn’t stop trolling dating sites looking for something less complicated. I hadn’t yet fully come to terms with the idea that you could actually successfully love more than one person at a time. Anyhow, I soon began a friendship with someone we’ll call A.** A lived further out in Northern Mass, with his wife and kid. He and his wife were in an open relationship and she knew he was actively bisexual. Our “courtship”, if you could call it that, was long and drawn out, and we didn’t meet in person for probably a year after we began conversing. It was all over e-mail, text and Twitter. By this time, his wife was pregnant with their second child and the relationship was closed (by her, not with his consent). He came over to my apartment one night after his Uber shift was over the first time we managed to see one another in person. A few weeks later, I took the train out to his summer rental out in the sticks. I met his wife. And his kids. And his parents. It felt…not so weird that it was uncomfortable. But definitely weird.

The weird face-to-face meetings didn’t push me away. They may have actually drawn me closer. I’m going to leave out a few things in the interests of discretion because I still think very fondly of A and I don’t think this story has wrapped up yet. In the time since those first couple of meetings, we’ve seen each other periodically (every few months or so), and I think we’ve both come to realize that our connection (just by virtue of having lasted for three or four years now) is more than a “hook-up” connection. I mean, the sexual tension is thick as hell, but there’s much more beneath the surface. And we’ve both acknowledged this with alternating amounts of hopelessness and regret.

This connection has led to some uncomfortable breaks in the friendship, because I think we both realize that we can’t be in one anothers’ lives the way we want to be and we have trouble trying to figure out how we can get past that without making a clean break. So I don’t know whether this love we both feel is unrequited more than it is unresolved.

With D, there was a “kindred spirit/soul mate” (his words, not mine) connection that didn’t resolve itself for reasons I’m still not quite certain of. With A, there’s a “kindred spirit/soul mate” (this time my words) connection that distance and circumstance makes difficult to manifest. In both cases, I’m not getting what I want and have felt/am feeling deeply hurt because of it.

Earlier this year, I went to see A as his job at the time necessitated that he come to NYC a few times a week. As all of our face to face meetings are, this one was equal parts warm and awkward. We sat for about an hour and talked. He admitted that he had trouble listening to the podcast I occasionally contribute to (a recurring topic is open relationships/polyamory). He called it a “trigger”. Giving it some thought, I realized that his presence was actually a trigger for memories of a lifetime of unsuccessful/unattainable relationships. I also realized that, in a best case scenario, it was going to be years before I got anything even vaguely resembling the type of relationship I wanted from him (or we maybe want from another? I don’t really know.)

The exchange put me in a bit of a spiral. We both smiled as we took a photo together for Instagram, but I was in tears as I walked back to my office.

Taxi driver
I swear I’ve got three lives
Balanced on my head like steak knives
I can’t tell you the truth about my disguise
I can’t trust no one

When D and I were hanging out regularly, he told me on several occasions that he wasn’t comfortable being out and that was one reason that our relationship couldn’t go to that next level. The last time he and I spoke, he’d mentioned that he was now in a relationship-with a guy. Via e-mail, I said that being aware of this development bothered me enough that I thought it would be good if we cut off all communication going forward. His response was “you mean good for you.” However, after that exchange with A, something compelled me to log onto Facebook and see what D was up to. As it turns out, he got engaged…to the same guy.

I felt defeated, destroyed, robbed…I don’t even think those words together actually describe the hopelessness I felt at that moment. I stared at my computer screen, immobile and slack-jawed. My boss, who sat across from me at the time (we were back to back) walked over to my desk. I think he’d been calling me and I wasn’t responding. He looked at me and noticed that I had tears streaming down my face.

It’s a bad religion
To be in love with someone
Who could never love you
Only bad, only bad religion
Could have me feeling the way I do

For the next week or so, I played “Bad Religion” religiously, sometimes 3 or 4 times in a row. While I think both D and A loved me (and in A’s case, actively loves me), there’s a finality or limit to these relationships that could’ve changed if circumstances were different. It’s one thing, as a queer man, to develop crushes on straight guys. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there’s an awareness that this is never going to go anywhere (unless it does, which is a mindfuck we’re gonna need to dedicate to a while other song.) However, when those feelings are, to some extent, mutual; not being able to make them work is life-altering. At least it’s been for me. And maybe for Frank too. I don’t think a song like this could’ve been made if not.

*-conservative estimate

**-because that is his first initial.

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