Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: sad emails

The Man That Got Away

Late August, 2010. Rushing, I changed my shirt and my deodorant in the bathroom at work. After an eight-hour shift, I was meeting up with a guy from an internet dating site. We shall call him Scott. I had recently been broken up with in an email by the man who I ironically nicknamed the Gentleman. I was emotionally vulnerable, but wanted to get back in the game. No matter what I’ve been through with men, no matter how disastrous my heartbreaks, I’ve always been willing to try again.

I met Scott at Pauper’s Pub on Bloor Street. He was adorable, with curly red hair and a boyish smile. We talked about the Muppets, Joan Crawford and Canadian politics. Our first disagreement was about Michael Ignatieff.

“I actually like Ignatieff,” he claimed.

“Isn’t he just the worst example of a pompous, other-worldly academic who…”

“Okay. I lied. I agree with you.” He laughed.

“What a classic Liberal you are!”

It was the best first date of my life, made better when he agree to come back to my place. We cuddled in my bed and then began to kiss. Overjoyed, I blurted out, “I’m so relieved you’re kissing me!”

“Um,” he started. “What are you looking for right now?”

“What?” I asked, moving away from him. “What are you looking for right now?”

“Nothing serious. I’m still getting over my ex.”

It was like the bomb was going off slowly. In denial, I tried to curtail the unpreventable. “Okay. Scott, this is a first date. It’s going very well, and I want to have a second, but we just met.”

“I think I might have to leave it with one night.”

“Oh…”

We lay in silence for some minutes.

“Scott, do you really think you’re going to meet another guy who wants to talk about the Muppets, Joan Crawford and Canadian politics?”

“Probably not…”

“Listen, it’s okay to go slow. I also have an ex who broke my heart. But you take it day by day…”

Then he began to cry.

He slept in the spare bedroom. The next day, he sent me an email which gave the excuse, “I think we both had too much to drink.” I never saw him again.

 

Late August, 2011. I rushed from work to meet Derrick. Having sworn off dating websites, I had met him on facebook when he ‘liked’ a status of mine. (My status updates are kind of a big deal.) I met him at Pauper’s Pub and he was even cuter than I expected. If you had written a list of features Max likes, you would check off every one: big dark eyes, check; scruffy beard, check; a face which would be intimidating in its handsomeness were its owner not so bashful, check! He had an easy going nature and an admirable community-building job to boot.

We talked about ‘Sesame Street’, Liza Minnelli and American politics. He stared intensely and a couple times openly mentioned that he was interested in me. I liked the Max I saw reflected in his eyes.

He offered to walk me home, and half way there (“Okay, Max, you do not live ‘right by’ Ossington Station!”) we both had to pee, which provided a good excuse to get him upstairs.

“I love your room!” he exclaimed, scanning the walls of all my Edward Gorey, Barack Obama and Vogue pictures. I fidgeted around, excusing the clutter, babbling on. I sat beside him on the bed to show him a book and was interrupted by him kissing me. It was nice kissing.

And this time I was determined to keep my mouth shut. Er, what I mean is, I was not going to say anything to provoke a scary “what do you want” conversation. We made out for ten minutes and he murmured my name softly. No one had ever done that before.

“Max,” he said, looking down on me with a smile, “Have I told you about the difficulty in dating me.”

“What?”

“Oh…”

“What is it!” I demanded, sitting straight up.

“I don’t do monogamy.”

Ba-boom.

“Okay…”

“I just can’t close myself to experiences with anybody right now.”

“Right now…?”

“Or ever, I guess. Although I think I will find a special person to share my life with, I always want to be free to explore others sexually.”

“I see.”

“Are you all right?”

“Why is there always another shoe?” I asked the universe more than him.

“You’re not all right.”

One year after I met Scott, another ‘perfect’ man and I lay in silence. I could have thrown a hissy fit and kicked him out of my house. But what would I gain from that? I didn’t want a repeat of last summer. I didn’t want to lose him before getting to know him. How many guys out there want to discuss ‘Sesame Street’, Liza Minnelli and American politics?

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come,” Derrick said.

“Can you do me a favour?” I asked. “All my dating life people have made decisions without me. Can we just hold out on figuring this out?”

“Yes,” he answered. I kissed him. “I’m so glad you’re kissing me,” he said.

“I have one more question: do you think we might have something really special.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Okay, that’s all you need to say right now.”

It was dawn before we fell asleep.

The next day brought no more clarity. He rode with me on the subway as I went downtown for Jack Layton’s memorial. I told him I was going to my cottage for a week and a half.

“So I guess, if I’m lucky, I’ll see you in a week and a half…?”

He kissed me goodbye at the platform.

The getaway to Lake Simcoe was well timed: I didn’t take my lap top; I watched Indiana Jones movies and read P.G. Wodehouse and P.D. James (who I kind of thought were the same person until I bought paperbacks by both); I thought things over.

During day light, laying in the hammock or going for muddy walks, I’d think, ‘It’s not a big deal. Normally, You wouldn’t ask for exclusivity after a first date. He admitted you have something special and maybe he’ll adapt. He’s the best guy you’ve met in a really long time.’

At night, though, the demons of doubt would come: ‘Max, are you nuts? This guy was willing to jeopardize it on your first date? Non-monogamy is that important to him! What do you think is going to happen? He’s going to change for you, like the end of a romantic comedy? End it with him on facebook tomorrow!’

I should add that I support people’s right to have whatever kind of relationship they chose. The queer community has always pioneered different ways of loving and I admire that…in theory. But polyamory is not for me. I find it emotionally icky.

A drama-free open relationship, like visible abdominal muscles, is a myth of the gay community.

So I was left with a complex Catch 22. Start the conversation soon but risk ending it and always wondering what could have been, or give it time and wait for Derrick to fall in love so that he’d be open to compromise, but risk getting even more hurt.

I succumbed and borrowed my Mom’s laptop and snuck over to our neighbours’ log cabin to use their internet.

I had a message from Derrick: “Is it weird that I already miss you?”

“No weirder than me using my Mom’s laptop and our neighbours’ internet connection to check and see if you’d written me,” I typed.

 

Our second date went well. We rented ‘Burlesque’ and drank a lot of red wine. We managed to not bring up the pink elephant and, more surprising, I didn’t worry about it.

On our third date, I wasn’t so lucky. We were at an art event in Parkdale and Derrick started telling a supposedly funny story about going to “one of” his lover’s parties, an anniversary for him and his partner. Derrick, unknowing of whether the partner understood how close they were, got up to the open mic and told embarrassing stories about the lover. Afterwards, the partner gave him a hug of recognition.

Beyond becoming instantly jealous (Was this a current lover?) I asked myself if I actually wanted to be with someone who was so comfortable being the other man. I want to be part of a committed partnership, but not one in which our younger lovers come to our anniversary parties. With the seed planted in my mind, for the rest of the evening when he mentioned a boyfriend I couldn’t avoid thinking ‘Past or present?’

The next morning, I was so wracked with unease I almost made myself sick from worrying. Oblivious, he cuddled me.

Derrick and I didn’t talk for a week, but he continued to comment on everything I put on facebook. Perhaps I was postponing the conversation (which, despite my best efforts, I still thought of as an ultimatum) because I was hoping something would change.

One night in bed he had said to me, “Do you know how hard it is to meet nice, cute guys who are good conversationalists and good kissers?”

“Yes, I do.”

He surprised me by showing up at the Word on the Street festival. I was tired from being there all day at the WORN table and a little ill from too many sweet potato fries. My heart sunk when I realized I’d have to have the talk with him then.

“You look really hot today,” he said. My heart entered my stomach.

We went for a walk on the UofT campus. Although I could barely make eye contact with him, once I started, everything I had been worried about spilled out.

“I like you more than I’ve liked a guy in a long time. You’re incredible. I probably should have brought this up earlier, but I didn’t want to lose you before we had a chance to get to know each other. You were honest with me about monogamy on our first date, but I also let you know how I felt about your position. If I wasn’t more clear, it’s only because I liked you so much. If you had treated me less romantically, like a casual friend with benefits, maybe I wouldn’t be feeling this way. But I can’t fall in love with someone who wants to sleep with other people.”

We sat down on a grassy knoll in Philosopher’s Walk.

“Derrick, don’t make me ask the question you know I need to ask.”

“I like you a lot,” he finally sighed. “And I don’t treat anybody else the way I treat you. You are amazing and I think we have something special. But I can’t promise anybody monogamy.”

“Can’t promise monogamy?”

“You’re right, that’s bad wording. I don’t want monogamy.”

I told him the joke that had been brewing in my head for three weeks: “I can make you this deal: we can date other people after we break up.” He smiled weakly. I said, “Can I ask why?”

“I want to experience my friends and people I may meet in a lot of different ways, including sexually. I told you, I can’t close myself to good experiences.”

“Thing is, Derrick, you’re closing yourself to me right now. What about when you meet that special someone, you still want to be open?”

“Yeah. It’s something I’m always going to want.”

“Well,” I said. “I think that’s selfish. Being with someone, loving someone, sometimes means giving up stuff which would hurt them.”

He didn’t respond.

“Hasn’t this happen to you before?”

“Not really. I’ve had boyfriends, it’s just always ended over something else.”

“You’ve been lucky.”

“Yeah, I’ve been told that,” he said.

“This sucks,” I said.

“Can we at least be friends?”

I shook my head. “I don’t stay friends with exes. Most of my exes have hurt me too much.”

“You’re breaking up with me, Max.” I needed to hear the words come out of his mouth to actually believe it. “I’m going to really miss you. It makes me sad.”

“It makes me sad too.”

We got up and walked to the subway, mostly in silence. “Any extra time I can spend with you,” he said, wistfully. He stopped to pick up some smooth chestnuts and I almost started crying when he tried to give me one.

“Derrick, please, no…”

Outside the subway station he asked if he could invite me to his birthday party in December.

“No. I’m always going to wish I was your boyfriend.”

“Are you even going to delete me off facebook?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to go.” We hugged. It was tight and lengthy. “Listen, this sounds weird,” I whispered in his ear. “But I sort of love you.”

“Not weird at all,” he said, tears coming to his eyes.

“Please don’t message me. I’ll email you if I want to.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

I walked all the way home.

 

Postscript: That first evening, I grew angry that he hadn’t budged in his position. He didn’t waver about the non-monogamy in any way, wasn’t even tempted to try to stay with me. But soon I realized that this also showed that I did the right thing. We would have fought about it eventually and the break up would have been even harder.

I also realized that I was just as stubborn as him.

But the difference is that I’ve been a push over with guys in the past. The Max of four years ago might have stayed with him longer, or changed his mind mid-break up. The silver lining of this whole mini-romance is seeing plainly that I know who I am and can put myself first. Offered a relationship with a beautiful and wonderful guy, but one who would hurt me, I chose to be single.

And the freedom of choice is a wonderful thing.

Advertisements

Signs and Sensibility

 

Dedicated to my friend Alyssa, who knows that the best thing to do with Jane Austen men is steal their names for cats

No matter how many online profiles protest that the creator “doesn’t want to play plays games” dating is all about games. From how you write about yourself and which digital self-portraits you share, to where your messages fall on the flirtatious/friendly nexus, to when you lay your cards on the table and attempt to lay them, everything about the scene is contrived and constructed. Maybe there are straight-talkers in Europe (“Uh, he wants to sleep with you,” the bartender, acting as a translator, told me in Florence, Italy, about my new acquaintance) but Canadians are especially weary of speaking directly. We think it’s rude. Instead, we act nice and act nice and act nice and then disappear.

It’s a world of signs and symbols, of complex social codes, as Edith Wharton put it a hundred years ago, a world of hieroglyphics. But there’s no Rosetta Stone to guide us. We feel our way around in the dark, hoping to find the way to the light and maybe, just maybe, happily ever after.

We learn by trial and error. I used to think that kissing someone meant that you liked them. And, for me, ‘liked’ meant that you would at least kiss them on one more occasion, and, if nothing unforeseen happened, you would continue to kiss them. I gradually learned that this was not the case for everyone, that there were a myriad of reasons to kiss someone, many less pure than my preteen Sweet Valley High ideals.

So I changed, but I kept my faith in signs. When, after our first date, the Gentleman told me I could leave a toothbrush at his house, my head was filled with Carrie-and-Big over-analysis. I was excited, but I also felt like maybe he should know that that would scare off a more commitment-phobic boy than myself. Then he brought me roses on my birthday. And called me his boyfriend after returning from a trip. And invited my parents over for dinner. All signs pointed towards his seriousness about me, to us being together for at least the immediate future.

So I was devastated when he ended it in an email, and on top of that, retroactively de-romanticized us, claiming that I had misinterpreted the toothbrush, the roses, the dinner. Maybe, if we were being charitable, we could buy his argument that it was a cultural thing. He comes from a country where men are physically affectionate with each other and where you always repay someone by having them over after you were their guest.

Sure. Fine. Whatever. But then I braved the internet dating world again, wondering if I was ready for it but not wanting to wait around for my sex life to find me, and met an amazing Canadian guy, had probably the best date of my life, only to be informed that he wasn’t ready to start seeing anyone.

“We can be friends though, right?” My favourite sentence.  

Again, all the signs were there, and they led me astray. We are truly in the dark. We rely on signs and signals that are not guaranteed, that change meaning all the time. Someone like myself, who wears his heart on his sleeve, who is always open to getting to know someone new, is encouraged to trust, to not over-analyze, and then shot down, again and again.

But this is how the scene is, and there’s no other choice, unless one wants to be like some of my friends and simply declare that they don’t date, which, despite my periodic bouts of rebellion, is never going to be me.

It makes one nostalgic for a time when there were discernable rules, when courtship was a highly-structured sport, when they designed rooms with an alcove specifically for young couples and a chaperone. I like the idea of love letters, of country dances, and Jane Austen-esque secret engagements. At least, I thought, people always knew where they stood. (And, yes, as a gay man, I realize that I would not have participated in such dainty rites, but I can dream, can’t I?)

But then we watched Sense and Sensibility for which star Emma Thompson also wrote the screenplay and Kate Winslet earned her first Oscar nomination. It was directed, of all people, by Ang Lee, a credit card that always surprises me. Thompson and Winslet play Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, sisters who, like all Austen women, have seen their financial situation alter and need to find husbands so as to not end up in the poor house. Elinor is stoic and introverted, the ‘sense’ in the title, while Marianne is sentimental and dangerously romantic. Both sisters end up falling for men who clearly share their affections, but mysteriously do not propose. Marianne in particular becomes obsessed with the charming Mr. Willoughby, chasing him all the way to London and confronting him very publicly at a ball about not replying to her letters.

“You didn’t even text?” you can imagine the modern day equivalent snapping.

“Did he tell you that he loved you?” her sister asks, after Marianne receives a letter from Willoughby claiming that she minsinterpreted their relationship from the beginning.

“Yes, she replies. “No… never absolutely. It was very day imlied, but never declared. Sometimes I thought it had been, but it never was. He has broken no vow.”

“He has broken faith with all of us! He made us all believe he loved you.”

“He did!” Winslet cries, her voice raising an octave. “He did – he loved me as I loved him!”
 
Never have I watched this scene and so related to it. And, let it be said, that young women in the 19th century, led to believe they were practically engaged and then dropped, were in a much worse position than myself. They could lose their priceless ‘reputations’, while all it does to me is shake my already fragile dating ego.
 
Love may be blind, but it’s instructive to remember that in both Regency-era England and 21st century Toronto, dating is too.

Sunday Reflections: A Thousand Words

“Can I give you a little bit of constructive criticism about your blog?” my co-worker Padraigin (the fantastically-Irish version of ‘Patricia’, ‘Padg’ for short) asked me during a break.

I said yes, not without a bit of trepidation.

“While I completely understand your reasons for not wanting too many pictures, I feel like the internet is a visually medium, and people really like pictures, and you could hook in even more people with them. A lot of your posts could have really good ones, and it doesn’t need to look messy and cluttered. You could make them all the same size, or something. This is all I’m sayin’.”

So this is why I’ve been illustrating my posts for the last week. It just so happened that this week was (hopefully) the worst week of my summer, and rather than fun posts on Lady Gaga and Ken Finkleman, I wrote about job disappointments and break-ups. (And thanks for all the supportive emails and calls, my loyal readers.) I especially liked how my own photographs look on the site. I’m still nervous that it will be distracting if I have big pictures of people, like Barack Obama and Lauren Conrad, who we can all visualize anyways.

But one of the pleasant surprises was been how this blog has become a communal affair, with people showing their investment by giving me feedback, suggestions and story ideas. At work and with friends, it has been the catalyst for discussions, and I often assume I don’t need to catch people up on the recent goings on in my life because they’ve already read about them.

So, in keeping with the spirit of this, the People’s Blog, how do we feel about pictures?

Amsterdam, Interviews and Edith Wharton

At the end of last summer I flew from Dublin to Amsterdam. I met up with university friends and we wandered the canals, visited Anne Frank’s house, ate pancakes, saw Vermeers and drank lots of beer. I was staying in a hostel called The Bulldog which was in the middle of the tacky Red Light District, where prostitutes wave at you through windows. That sounds like it might be kind of fun, but I ended up thinking it was sad. Immediately every morning I escaped downtown and, map constantly in hand (Amsterdam is a complicated city, built in concentric half-circles) searched for small museums, interesting shops and gay bars. Speaking of which, the Dutch speak English well, but are very blunt.

“Everyone rides a bike here!” I told an older gay guy at a bar.

“Yes,” he said. “I ride my bike every day.” Then he squeezed my thigh. “Hmm, you don’t ride your bike every day.”

But that is not the story I intended to recount.

After Jen and Stu flew home, after I received a bad email from UofT at my friend Liam’s house in Leiden informing me that I failed a third French test (bursting into tears due to emails has been a habit of mine again this week), and I tried to cheer myself up by going to see Away We Go with Dutch subtitles at the fabulous ‘Chinese’ art deco Tuschinski theatre, I went to an English bookshop on my last day.

“Would you like something about Amsterdam?” the shop woman asked.

“No, I’m Amsterdamed out.” Eventually, I chose between The Bostonians by Henry James and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. My only experience with Wharton had been watching the film version of The House of Mirth, with the X-Files’ Gillian Anderson when she was trying for a film career. I began reading it at the airport and felt immediately I had found a kindred spirit.

Published in 1920 but set in the 1870’s, The Age of Innocence is a tragic-comedic satire about Gilded Age New York, when the old Dutch families who represented capital-S Society had to contend with the liberalization of divorce, the changing role of women and the allegedly-classless ‘new’ money of industrialists and foreigners. It is a world where no one says what they mean, a world of “hieroglyphics”, as the narrator observes, but with Wharton you have a perceptive and sardonic guide leading you through.

Back in Dublin, I found the Wharton biography by Hermione Lee at a charity shop, and I collected what other significant books of hers I could find. She also loved fashion and style, detailing what characters wore in the hopes that you’d pick up the same social meanings as she did. The covers of Wharton’s novels often feature elegant turn of the century ladies, either paintings or photographs (sometimes of the author herself), descending stairways, waiting for trains, or ripping up letters to be blown away by the autumn breeze. Sometimes they even feature pictures which are obviously anachronistic (one cover for House of Mirth had a formal woman at an opera house clearly from the 1950’s!) but it was enough for the publishers to just evoke a lost age of elegance, even if it’s the wrong century.

It was this aspect which popped in my mind during my interview at WORN.  Asked for two pitch ideas, a question I had expected but should have been better prepared for, I rambled on about how long trends take to die out (only later did I realize how much the WORN staff reject stories about trends) but then I remembered Edith. I pitched a story about the portrayal of clothing and accessories in Wharton’s novels.

“Edith Wharton!” Assistant Publisher Sara Forsyth said. “I’ve been reading a lot of her!”

‘That was a freebie,’ I thought.

I got the internship.

And a month or so later, my Editor Serah-Marie asked me to grab a book from a pile to review, and the second one down was called Edith Wharton and the Making of Fashion. I couldn’t believe it.

“Serah-Marie! This book is on the exact topic I pitched in my interview!”

“Oh yeah, I guess it is.”

“I have to review it!”

“Umm, I think Anna called it…” My face fell. But then she went online and Anna said I could review the book that I was destined to.

And here it is.