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What I Learned

STORY: It was one of those days I will never forget. It was the Spring of 1999, probably in late March, just after my birthday. It was on a Saturday afternoon. I walked into the less than crowded gym, and there he stood — a somewhat muscular, attractive, Italian man with a greying buzzed haircut.

As he was dressing to leave, I was changing to work out and our eyes locked. Then, suddenly, he let out a “wolf whistle” while nodding in my direction, which embarrassed me, but also oddly gave me a nice ego boost.

As gorgeous as I found him (and every other guy in the area was checking him out as much as I was), he’d focused his attention on me.

“I’m Eric” he said, introducing himself. “I’m Avery.” I answered back. We made light conversation and exchanged numbers, but it was sometime before either one of us contacted the other.

It was about six months later, when, out of the blue, I got a call from him. He wanted to get together. I explained that I was headed to the gym but offered to get meet him afterwards. He suggested I come to his office in midtown when I was done, which prompted me to rush through my workout.

When I arrived at his office, it was late in the day. Most people seemed to have already left for the day. I spotted Eric across the office. He was speaking with a woman who was putting on her coat to leave. As she made her way to the elevator, Eric smiled and motioned me to join him. Dressed casually, he looked amazing. He gave me a warm welcome hug and a peck on the lips.

We made small talk, as he finished up some work. Then, we went into a conference room and started kissing passionately. Reading the hesitant look on my face, he replied with reassuring confidence, “No need to worry. We’re all alone.” We disrobed and had some of the best sex I’d ever experienced right there in his office conference room.

Taking the train downtown together afterward, we talked a bit. We seemed to have a lot in common. Because it was already late and I needed to get back home to Jersey City, we promised to get together again at another time.

I guess we both expected this would be a casual affair and at first it was.

Eric and I began meeting fairly regularly, for sex and companionship, though at times events in our lives interrupted our meetings for a while. For example, he had some work issues around 2003 and disappeared to someplace in Asia. Weeks later, after his return, he called me, as I was, again, making my way into Manhattan, headed for the gym. He asked me to meet him at his apartment after I was finished.

When I arrived at his apartment, Eric looked tired. He kissed and hugged me, as I entered the apartment and took off my coat. As I sat down on a barstool, in his tiny duplex apartment, Eric explained that he’d had a terrible falling out with his boss. I can’t remember if he’d been fired or if he’d quit, but he was fearful of no longer having health insurance. As is my nature, I tried to reassure him that things would work out and that he would be okay.

After that, we began spending a lot more time together. We went to the movies, went out for dinner, and met and spent time with each other’s friends. At one point, I even helped him redo his resume.

One evening, I went to dinner with my best friend Matthew and we got into a conversation about relationships. He pointed out that I was finally in my first relationship. He reminded me that, although I hadn’t looked at it that way, that’s what it was. Yet, I still remained hesitant to call it that.

Shortly after, early Christmas Eve, 2005 that same year, Eric called me at work and asked what I was doing. As usual, I was going to the gym for a quick workout. He was heading out to Long Island, wanted to see me before he left, and asked me to come over after I was done. I arrived at his apartment in the pouring rain, rang the bell, got no answer, and stood there gradually getting angry. As I turned to leave, I heard my name being called from down the street. I turned around to see Eric coming towards me, carrying a bag of gifts. He wrapped his arms around me and then we went up to his apartment.

When we perched on the stools overlooking his tiny kitchen, he told me he loved me, he was so glad that I was a part of his life, and he probably wouldn’t have survived, if it hadn’t been for me. This was a lot to take in, but I really appreciated it, as no one had ever said anything like that to me before.

I was invited to my best friend Matthew’s apartment for Christmas Day brunch/dinner that year. On my way, I received a text from Eric telling me that he loved me, and he hoped I was enjoying my Christmas celebration.

A bunch of us had congregated at Matthew’s and, of course, we smoked tons of pot, sat around scarfing down food, and talked. Somehow, my current dating situation became the topic of conversation. I was always the quiet guy in the group and hardly divulged any information about myself. It was only then, that I began to wrap my head around what was going on in my life and realized that Matthew had been right about me being in a relationship. I was in a relationship. My very first relationship. And it had been going on for almost seven years!

Then, one night a few months later, I made my way to Eric’s place after work (and another quick workout) to celebrate his birthday. We hung out for a bit before I took him out for dinner. The meal was great, as we drank, ate, and enjoyed each other’s company.

Unannounced, he stepped away from the table. At first, I thought nothing of it. I had been enjoying myself so much.

When he returned, it was apparent from the look on his face that something was wrong. I had no idea what had just happened, but suddenly Eric’s mood changed. He became silent, distant, and angry. My efforts to ascertain what was wrong and to placate him went nowhere. It was as if I was with an entirely different person.

After that night, there were no more phone calls and he didn’t return any of the messages I left for him. Initially, I was in shock. I couldn’t make any sense of his behavior.

I was devastated, depressed, hurt, and angry. I hurt so badly that I cried. I tried to focus on the memory of the good times we’d had and on my saddest days, it made me smile. For some time, I kept hoping he’d find his way back to me. At the very least, I wanted an explanation, though none was forthcoming. It took me a long time to begin to reconstruct my life into some semblance of order, but gradually I did.

A year later, I was at the gym one day, when, stepping off of the treadmill, I bumped into Eric. Not surprisingly, he was with a new boyfriend and completely ignored me.

Even though I was surprised to see him that day, by then, I had reconstructed a plausible explanation for the abrupt ending of our relationship. I’d learned from a mutual friend, Steven, who had spent time with Eric on Fire Island, that he had a decided preference for Hispanic men, which I was not. He also told me that, in the years they had been friends, he’d witnessed Eric do this to other men several times.

In the years since then, there have been brief moments when the hurt and anger I felt regarding my relationship with Eric resurfaced. But, as quickly as those emotions arise, they fade away.

Fortunately, since then, I’ve come to realize a few things. First, regardless of the precise nature of it, or how it ended, I learned the value of having been in a relationship, especially its best moments.

Secondly, whenever possible, it’s helpful not to take things too personally – the abrupt ending with Eric had been less about me and more about him. And finally, as much as I wanted to be in love with Eric, sometimes love just isn’t in the cards.

Since then, I’ve been in a few relationships. Thankfully, no one since then has ghosted me the way Eric did. But, I have yet to experience love in any deep, meaningful way. I have even wondered at times if there’s something wrong with me or if it’s just a gay thing.

Recently, I had dinner with my sister, who was going through a divorce. We were talking about relationships and she said, “I want to finally experience real love.” We laughed and started singing “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige. All I could think of was “Yeah. Me, too.”


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