Part 1: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Myself
How do you live with heartbreak when you were never supposed to fall in love? What happens when you fall in love with a friend and you don’t want to ruin a friendship? How do you find the goodness in loving someone even if those feelings are, at some point, also romantic? I still don’t think I really know the answers to these questions, although the circumstances of my life seem hell-bent on teaching me. Heartaches and heartbreaks have taught me about myself, about my heart, and about my community. These are lessons I’m slowly learning, and I hope that in these ramblings maybe you too will find some semblance of an answer. At the very least, you’ll find something that you can empathize with, because at some point, gay or straight, heartache and heartbreak happen.
Twice in my adult life I’ve fallen in love with a man. Early crushes may have happened before adulthood, nothing significant enough to write about. The first time I fell in love was for a writer I’d gotten to know through his blog. I’ll call him Corey. As much as I struggled not to fall in love with Corey, I eventually did. I was madly in denial about what I was experiencing because it felt so incongruent with my values and, in many ways, pointless. Hundreds of miles separated us, and he never reciprocated my feelings, so there were fewer kicks to the face emotionally that would have made the nature of my feelings more apparent to me.
Caught up in all of the heartache was fear. I feared what these feelings meant for me and for my future life as a celibate gay man. I couldn’t figure out which of the feelings I experienced were acceptable and which I was supposed to try and kill off. It took me over a year just to start finding language I felt comfortable with to describe what I was feeling. In many ways, because falling in love seemed pointless as a celibate gay man, I just wanted to forget about the whole thing altogether. My heart, and sometimes my dear friends, never really let me ignore it entirely, though I tried. It took Spotify listing my number one song of 2014 as “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else,” by A Great Big World, for me to begin accepting that even the music I was (cluelessly) listening to somehow expressed what I could not. Experiences like the one I wrote about in “Forsaking All Others“ also helped me come to terms with my myself and slowly began to help me identify what I was feeling.
During the two years my feelings for Corey were most intense, I found myself filled with both a sense of hope as well as a sense of fear. I never really believed my romantic feelings for Corey were reciprocated, which made things both easier and more complicated. Things were easier because there was never a serious fantasy that we would end up together, either as a couple or as some sort of chaste romantic couple. I felt for the first time that I knew whom I would want to marry, if I were to do that sort of thing, even though I never believed it was a real possibility. I also had hope that, whatever happened, we could still remain friends. I pushed myself to view Corey foremost as a friend out of fear that I would ruin our friendship by desiring something more that could never be.
My feelings for Corey were similar to the feelings I had for any good friend. With Corey, though, there was also something else, an extra element that made things not quite the same as my other friendships. His text messages mattered more, his blog posts were read first, and how he was doing was more important to me than how almost anyone else was. These, and many other small things, made up the extra element of our friendship that was new to me. I eventually would call this extra element, romantic attraction.
I don’t think I would have pursued the friendship like I did if I believed these romantic feelings were reciprocated. I knew a romantic relationship would be incongruent with our shared theology, and I also knew I wouldn’t have wanted to pull him away from our shared commitment to our faith. Our similar convictions were a part of what caused me to love him. If there were a possibility of reciprocation, sharing my feelings with Corey felt selfish because it would only serve to complicate our lives.
After two years, two visits, and a few thousand miles of travel, I finally got up the courage to share my history of romantic feelings with Corey. As hoped, he understood and thought no differently of me. My feelings soon began to fade, and the underlying friendship stepped into the place where the more romantic feelings lived before. Corey has remained a part of my life and we communicate in both individual and group settings regularly. Both our lives are busier now than they were before, and I haven’t pursued the friendship as deliberately as I once did. It has also helped that after two years of friendship there was a greater sense of who he was as a person and who I was. I had seen ways in which our lives and futures would be incompatible. There was also just a sense in which I fell out of love. The romantic attraction that caused the heartbreak had faded and left the core of our friendship and relationship intact and matured. As Corey’s interests changed and developed, the topics and issues that we had in common also changed; this shift aided the diminishing of my romantic feelings.
This experience of falling in love with another man helped me better understand myself as a gay man. Up until this point in my life, I could say that I was “same-sex attracted” or that I was a celibate gay Christian, but I’d never really known what that meant about me outside of the realm of lust. Suddenly my sexual orientation and sexual identity also meant that I was not just sexually attracted to other men but that I was romantically attracted to them as well. I didn’t have any experiences before this first love to make me understand I was prone to fall in love with other men. To know myself as a man who falls in love with other men gave new depth to what it meant that I was gay. Being gay wasn’t just about lust or sexual desire; it also meant that I longed to be a husband to my husband. While seemingly obvious, I’d never really understood this about myself until Corey.