Redlining, Part I of V: Know You Better

I’ve been trying for months to write a post to answer a simple question: whether a man can fall in love with another man. After a lot of false starts, I found out that the only way to answer the question is to tell a couple of stories. That’s how the best questions usually work anyway.

I had only known S. for a month or two, and we had just come back from the bar. Two other guys were supposed to have been there, but I had secretly hoped they wouldn’t, because that way I wouldn’t have to share S. And really, for someone with my experiences, that hope should have been the first warning sign. But, well, that was a long time ago.

When the others failed to show, S. and I kept drinking. We came back a little boozy and still deep in conversation. I don’t remember what the topics were but I know the conversation was intimate, or as intimate as it was going to get (this was still pre-coming-out); I had admitted that there had never been a girl that I had cared about Like That, but I hadn’t said why.

In the kitchen, over maybe an extra beer or so, S. and I were professing our fondness for each other, the way straight men are allowed to do when drinking. Then there was a pause, and S. looked down at the kitchen table and said: “I just wanna get to know you better.”

As C. S. Lewis says, I was undone. Whether it was the shyness of his voice, or his vulnerability; or just the feeling of being seen, and seen as good — as worthy of knowing, being known — by somebody like him, someone with his confidence or his intensity or just, okay, his shoulders, what is it with me and shoulders? — whatever it was, my heart liquefied all in an instant, and resolidified in a different shape. Its contours were molded now to fit him, receive him, delight in him.

This happens all the time. I mean, not to me — that would be exhausting!, and two or three times in thirty years is bad enough — but to all humans, or most of us. I’ve never been in love with a woman, but I gather from friends and books and movies that what I felt for S. is like what other people have felt for the people they’ve wanted to marry.

So, yes; if what happened to me then, and lingered for the next 18 months or so (Lord, that was a LONG 18 months), is what is commonly meant by falling in love, then men can fall in love with men. Duh. If you’re gay, and Catholic, and the man in question is straight and/or Catholic, I don’t recommend it.

Anyway, that’s the end of the first story. It was a long time ago, but I am getting tears in my coffee. So maybe not all that long.

22 Comments on “Redlining, Part I of V: Know You Better”

  1. James Green says:

    I started writing in response to your post but it quickly escalated into a little more and, also, a massively unproductive (from the economic perspective) Friday afternoon but it’s not bad.

    It can happen. As someone who has fallen in love with both a woman and a man I can compare the experiences and say that both were on a level of emotional intensity. The woman was a college girlfriend and she destroyed me -all that I had felt and the man I had become through loving her turned to ash. She meant no harm but I took it very hard and the joy I had felt at loving and being loved was turned into a sense of rejection that was as irrational as it was overwhelming. The pain had comfort though in that since I could no longer hold her I could at least feel the lack. I built a wall and became very good at protecting myself from emotional engagement. The proof of love became the pain and I needed and sought and let it eat me.

    The joy and excitement of that time are less clear but I still smile when I think of New England’s crisp fall nights, catch a whiff of the perfume she wore, or think of the hours spent on the phone. I remember doing all assignments early to spend more time with her, getting out of bed before my alarm because she would be in my day, drinking less because I felt drunk on her.

    When I met him it was not out of the blue. Attraction to men is part of my makeup and, a couple of years ago, I had reached a point in my life where the Faith seemed dead and women can be a pain and guys are easier. So I gave in and started hooking up with guys. It was destructive, thrilling, despairing, and validating, satisfying and insufficient and. in bat-shit crazy kind of way, I was being faithful to the only woman I loved. Mutually predatory exchanges -where there may be attraction but affection and enjoyable company were atypical. So on a day off last October I arranged another hookup.

    Had the me I was then know where it would lead I might have run. We met at a bar and we clicked -told and laughed at the same kind of jokes, easy on the eyes, wanting more than get done and get out. Agreeing to meet up again and then not seeing anyone else was followed quickly by seeing each other all the time. He became part of my week and the highlight of my day.

    It was not as easy as it had been with her. The crisis of faith had not meant I lost the habit of it. I was in the pews but not the communion line. It was absurd. Going from a late mass to my boyfriend’s place or having dinner with him on Friday while making sure to order fish. He was not hostile to it though and in the confusion and crisis I felt I found comfort in his arms and in sitting in mass. Augustine says that “Sin lies in the turning.” No object or person can be a sin and while I had given this distinction notional consent and could extend it to others I still felt that if someone really knew me they would reject me. He did not. I told him at one point, “You’re the only one who knows how Catholic I am.” He saw that I desired the Faith and that I did not. When I did not believe it he told me, “You’re good.” Desire for each other became desire for the other’s good.

    He is wrong on many points but, as most heresies are built on exaggerating a truth, so in a distant echo of the Church’s teaching on culpability, he does truly believe everyone has to discover their own truth. He heard me talk of my family and the faith and I could talk of them in front of him. I was able to reveal my self to him. He wanted me but saw the division and, speaking against his immediate interests, told me to look at my life and to think what I wanted from it. It came from genuinely caring for me and I loved him and so I listened to him. Here was someone I loved and admired who knew me and was not disgusted. My walls came down. The long habits of self-loathing and deep rejection were broken.

    At the same time I was beginning to feel hunted. Psalm 139, The Inescapable God, was running through my head, “Where shall I flee?… If I take the wings of the morning and fly to the outermost parts of the see … if I say, ‘Let darkness cover me and the light about me be as night.’ …in your book were written, every one of them, the days of my life when as yet there was none of them.” Strange coincidences, unexpected people telling me they were praying for me, good advice from bizarre sources, a friends’ statuses that seemed pointed at my situation, “Where shall I flee?”

    I thought about the Faith and when we again had a serious relationship conversation I was able to say that I did know what I wanted and it turned out it was the Eucharist. Sitting in the pews I had begun feel such hunger. I remember the one golden moment of my First Communion and the joy of it that has haunted me seemed no longer like a lost paradise but maybe the summit that was once again in sight. Knowing that one other person knew me and loved me, I accepted that maybe I was worthy of the Cross, and that, if I asked for it, He would only say the word and I would be healed. Not healed in the sense of being free from desire or temptation but healed in that now I would be able to say, “Sin lies in the turning.”

    He is Jewish and, not religious, and when I said I needed the Eucharist he was confused and asked what I meant and I said something along these lines, “If you accept that it is the body and blood then you are accepting that the church has the authority and power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of God. If she can transform creation like that then she reasonably gets to say who receives it and in order for me to receive it we must stop being a couple.” He made no stink about it and was as understanding as a genuinely confused person can be but it was not easy and I was a mess. I miss him and did not stop caring for him when I stopped seeing him. We will try to be friends.

    After a final goodbye dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, I went to mass the next day and then later in the day to a very long confession. It was the first reading at that mass that nearly made me burst out laughing and provided some of the final push to get to confession. It’s from Isaiah and if anyone reasonably humorous reads it he will also laugh at how God is about as delicate as a jackhammer.

    I can accept that I have been in love twice now and denying either her or him is to deny that I have ever felt emotion. I felt genuine love both times and the dashed hopes of the first would not have been possible without its heights but the second, is more confusing -I went out into the night and a man there was the one who got me back into the light.

    There are strange graces. The devil uses lust to snare souls but he is taking a risk because lust can lead to intimacy which can become care, becoming love and undoing him. Hoisted on his own petard -as it were.

    Now I’m free in way I have not been in years. I am letting go of her and back in the world. I feel like shouting at passersby, “Let there be nothing on earth but laundry… Let there be clean linens for the backs of thieves. /Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone. /And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating /Of dark habits, /Keeping their difficult balance.”

    1. Aspie Girl says:

      What a powerful story James. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    2. Person says:

      Powerful, indeed. God bless you James.

      1. James Green says:

        Thank you both and thanks Steve for posting it.

    3. Gabriel says:

      “I caught him with an unseen hook and an invisible line, that is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the earth, and still to call him back with a twitch upon the thread.” Thank you for sharing this. That God moves in mysterious ways sounds like a very trite piece of piety, and then you find out it’s true.

  2. P.J. says:

    For what it’s worth, Joey, I’ve been in love twice — the first lasting 16 years (!) and the second, 8 years… and counting (you’re fortunate to have gotten yours out of your system in 18 months). Both times, it has been (needless to say) very sincere on my part and not based on lust (it feels exactly like what I imagine heterosexuals feel when they fall in love). And both times I’ve gotten hurt significantly.

    What does it all mean? What was it for? I’ve given up trying to understand it or to understand what I was supposed to learn from it.

    Frankly, the older I get, the more life doesn’t make sense.

    Anyhow, hope you’re well and I look forward to your next posts in this series.

    1. Searcheress says:

      Nice to hear from you 🙂

  3. Searcheress says:

    Now I have tears in my coffee…those good storytellers…you make my coffee salt 🙂
    Have a nice week!

  4. Doug says:

    Hey Joey,
    I know how you feel, I currently have a male co-worker who laughs and smiles with me. It just makes me a happier person in general, and there are men who I’ve met in the past that I just love. My head supports Catholic morality, yet without the heart at all it does not seem to matter whether we live or die. Thank you for dealing with this topic.

  5. Aspie Girl says:

    I’ve had emotional infatuation with people my own sex, but the only person I really truly fell in love with (and wanted to be physical with) was the opposite sex. So I didn’t have the same conflict that you guys may have experienced. Nonetheless, it proved impossible to enter into a romantic relationship with him. Initially, he just didn’t feel the same way for me that I did for him. After several years, he developed feelings for me. But he had very different views than I did on some things (ie sex outside marriage) so it became clear that we couldn’t enter into a relationship. So maybe I understand some of your pain. The thing that has kept me going is to think of heaven. (primarily there’s the Beatific vision, but also a close love with the other people there.) I remember how Jesus says that in heaven there will be no marrying or giving in marriage, and then I realize that (since heaven is perfect) this means sexual actions, (such as part of me has wished to have with this person) are not be one’s ultimate fullfillment.

  6. savo says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. One remembers many things from someone whose voice touched a reflection to speak. Perhaps, your question is a test. To pass through the test, count your blessings. The figure amounts to faith. Be easy of thoughts upon your mind as beauty within your eyes.

  7. Elder Sister says:

    A story (I pray it gives you some comfort): Some forty years ago, I attended a Catholic high school run by Irish-born priests, some Benedictine monks, and Polish-American religious sisters. The word “homosexuality” was spoken aloud exactly once, as a question in a religion class, and there was a collective intake of breath while the priest-teacher fumbled around verbally while trying to think of something innocuous to say to a bunch of sheltered ninth graders. (As the most sheltered of the sheltered, I was completely in the dark, and I would remain so for too many years.) But, in my senior year, the monk who taught biology said something I have cherished. I suspect he overheard some muttered insult directed at one of my classmates, because he was lecturing on a topic unrelated to sexuality of any kind. Abruptly, passionately, he burst out: “I hear you kids laughing and mocking and calling people ‘fruits’ and ‘fairies’ and ‘pansies.’ I want it STOPPED! You have no idea how many of the people you mock are leading lives of heroic virtue, yes, truly heroic virtue! So STOP IT NOW!” We lowered our heads in shame, knowing we had wronged the innocent. So, Joseph and James and Doug and others: Before you were born, in a classroom you’ll never see, the sacrifices you make/have made were anticipated and honored. A blessed Easter to you all.

    1. Becky says:

      I think that the story of Severus Snape shows young people how a person can live a life of very hidden virtue.

    2. Alex says:

      Not a single day goes by when I don’t struggle (either pursing my lips quietly or raging fiercely) with Church teaching (read: the Truth, and what it means for my life as a gay man). Every–EVERY–time I come here, even when it’s with the intent to roll my eyes at what Joey’s written or to scoff at the people in the comments who have it soooo much easier than me, who have noooo idea what it’s like…..I’m shamed for such pettiness, and I feel immensely grateful for such loving and noble people.

      1. I don’t see any cheesiness there!

      2. Alex says:

        Agreed–though I can’t say cheesy, I feel for you! It’s driving me nuts–and I’ve got a long life ahead of me, so thanks to Steven and the rest for sharing!

  8. Angela says:

    Love is hard, but God is gentle. I am not attracted to women, but never the less I understand your struggle with unwanted heart grieves and struggles. I am very grateful and blessed that I am Catholic and can receive Communion.

    Before God sent my fiancé I was finding myself more and more turning to God in prayer, (mostly whining and ranting) about my life. But once I surrendered myself completely (as much as my need to be in control could be) to God’s will for my life, (my I will become a nun if I don’t get married by 30 promise). I found myself a few months later dating my husband to be and we’re getting married June 2015.

    God works in strange ways. I think for me if I wasn’t going to get married then I’ll be single for the rest of my life because as I journeyed more and more into God’s love, it didn’t compare to the world. Yes being a chaste virgin at the ripe age of 28 in a world of sin is tough, but the reward of doing God’s will is so much sweeter then my will, even if it is sometimes a bitter sweet (and the pull of graphic romance novels is great).

    I am understanding that true love, not just the physical side of love is glorious (I am a hugaholic, touchy freely sort). I say that because of, well, Love is doing small things gracefully for others. The light glow I get from hugging Jesus in communion and in adoration is like the glow I get when I am around my husband to be. It’s light, calm and peaceful. But not as intense.

    I pray and hope you and everyone else finds that human love, but for now God’s love is great. I don’t think I would have a life if it wasn’t for God and his grace of his love for us on the cross and his gift of the Eucharist.

    God bless and keep all of you. I’ll be praying. Oh, hug and say Hi to God for me.

  9. Dying to hear says:

    I hope you’re still planning to post parts II-V! This was great.

  10. savo says:

    For the times when we run, a swift turn of both cheeks, due to hatred and ignorance, remember Jesus asked to pray alone in the garden.

  11. Alex says:

    Thank you for sharing! Very insightful!

  12. Steven Michael says:

    I know this is 3 years old, but I still have to say that “I just wanna get to know you better” almost makes me undone, and he’s not even my friend. Such is the longing of my heart.

    I asked a friend once if I could read a retreat talk he had given before I joined the group. He asked why, and I said “Curiosity. And to know you better.” He didn’t say anything else to me for three weeks.

    Anyway, this series you did is one of my favorite things I’ve ever read from Catholic/Gay bloggers. Thank you.

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