Redlining, Part III of V: Cold Morning

“It wasn’t that I thought you would freak out.” I’ve just, unthinkably!, told Ryan G. that I’m attracted to him, and now I am explaining why I didn’t tell him before. “I just thought you might start to…I don’t know…”

“Keep my distance?” Ryan says it with a grimace, like it is the stupidest idea in the world. Not that I am stupid for thinking that it might happen, but that he would have to be an idiot to do it.

“Well, you know,” I say. “Not that you would want to keep your distance, but you might decide that it wouldn’t be good for me to see too much of you, because maybe I’ll get worse.”

He grimaces again: another stupid idea, but I’m glad he thinks it’s stupid, even if I don’t understand why yet. “No, I’m not going to do that,” he says. “I’m not going to have any kind of agenda in hanging out with you, or not hanging out with you. I’m just going to hang out with you because I like hanging out with you, and if you like hanging out with me, then we’ll keep hanging out.”

This conversation is not going how I thought. For someone who I’m pretty sure has never had an openly gay friend before, Ryan is proceeding with a surprising amount of confidence, plunging surefooted as a mountain goat into what I thought was a dark landscape full of cliffs. If he were confused and disoriented, I would be, too. Instead, the matter-of-fact way he’s laying it all out makes me wonder why I was so worried.

“It’d be different if you were a girl,” he says. Keep going, I’m thinking, tell me more! Because I had imagined that every time I hugged him he’d be watching to see if I held on a fraction of a second too long, every time I looked at him he’d be checking to make sure I didn’t look into his eyes too deeply, or too creepily, or something, I don’t know. But it turns out that those are my anxieties, not his. “Why would it be different?” I ask.

“Because when a guy and a girl spend a lot of time together, the natural thing that happens is that they are going to be more attracted to each other,” he says, “because men and women are supposed to be attracted to each other.”

I chew on this for a minute. “I think I get you,” I say. “You mean the more you do a thing, the closer it gets to being the thing it’s supposed to be.” He nods. “And we’re supposed to be friends,” I say. He nods again. “So the more time we spend together, the better friends we are,” I conclude. He nods one more time, smiling because I’ve got it now.

I’m still not sure. He thinks friendship is like a shoe that you have to break in, and that you break it in by wearing it. But I am thinking it is like a car engine: I’m imagining it low on oil, some idiot sitting in the driver’s seat on a cold New England morning and revving and revving the accelerator, not bothering to let it warm up first, redlining it before it’s even left the driveway, bits and pieces flaking off and jamming up the works until the whole things seizes to a shrieking halt.

Is that what I’m doing? Yeah, Ryan, between two straight men, friendship is the thing that naturally happens, and the more time they spend together, the closer they get to that natural thing. But is that how it is when one of the men is gay?

I want to see through to the truth of this, but I can’t, because I’m too much inside myself. William Lynch says, of the mentally ill, that they are ill because their imaginations have stopped working correctly. They can no longer picture a world that is not dominated by their fears and regrets; they are locked in the darkness of their own solipsism. That is how it is with me, now. I can see my own perspective, but no other.

So the only way out is the imagination of a friend, someone who sees what I cannot see, sits outside the cave of my skull and yells in a description of the view from outside.

I see myself briefly from Ryan’s perspective. Feelings are not facts, goes the mantra, so I imagine the view from outside of my own buzzing mosquito-net of a brain. Forget who I am to myself: who am I to Ryan? I am his friend. We laugh together, drink together, work out together, watch TV together, and make hilarious jokes about horrendous problems together.

Privately, inside my mosquito net, things are different. I am anxious about Ryan, and sometimes jealous, and a little confused. I am tempted to think that these things are the whole reality of our friendship.

But are these things real, even inside my own skull? In fact, I realize, these things buzz louder when Ryan is not here. When we are in the same room, those thoughts — if they surface at all — seem like the most stupid nonsense. Instead of seeming like the whole reality, these things barely seem real at all.

Which, in the end, they are not. As we practice friendship, the unreal bits — the anxiety, the suspicion, the jealousy — begin to fall away, like rust. Eventually the only thing left is the steel structure underneath, the framework that was there all along.



11 Comments on “Redlining, Part III of V: Cold Morning”

  1. Briana says:

    I love this so much. I definitely understand that my issue has a lot to do with my failure of imagination. And I know those mosquitoes so well. Constantly worrying that the way you see yourself is the way others see you. Thanks for this.

  2. Aspie Girl says:

    “But are these things real, even inside my own skull? In fact, I realize, these things buzz louder when Ryan is not here. ”
    I’ve experienced this. Man, sometimes our own head, it can drive one nuts.

  3. Aspie Girl says:

    This is off topic, but I’ve read that it’s only older cars-old enough to have a carburator, that need to be warmed up before being driven in winter.

    1. Well then, I guess the car in my metaphor is an old one. :)

  4. Angela says:

    Hi! It’s me again. I am following this postings with interest. Alas, there is not much to say, which considering my windbagginess is probably a good thing. Sometimes friendships go through the whole someone is attracted to someone else stage, (or at least some of my friendships with boys have done so, and with the girls its been admiration/jealously bit). I find out later that sometimes they do know I like them, sometimes not. But even if I have the feelings/emotions/what have you, I learned and grown from them, while also saying, yeah, I like x, but I wont’ let it get in the way of our friendship. Granted it’s been really awkward sometimes, but then it’ll pass. Mostly. Course I’m speaking of infatuation. But continue on wards. Thanks for posting. It’s great.

  5. Mirthfully Bemused says:

    (Hi there, I’m new at commenting, but I’ve been reading your blog for a while!)

    Wow. Lots of food for thought here. I definitely relate to the last two paragraphs, although my situation is a bit different: I (a straight, single woman) am seriously crushing on my close, gay male friend. (I’ve told him; it hasn’t changed anything and is astonishingly un-awkward.) But even though this romantic attraction is “natural,” i.e. heterosexual, it still has always felt somehow…confused, and out of place. Even before I knew he was gay, there was always a strong sense that friendship, not romance, was the greatest goal of our relationship, and that this attraction was a distracting but ultimately harmless deviation from the friendship love between us. And – this seems similar to what you are describing – when we spend time together, it seems to me that there is a sort of “realignment” of my feelings towards him. It is only afterwards, when I have too much time for worry and daydreaming and introspection, that the confusion arises.
    So what is the “steel structure underneath” in our friendship? Considered one way, my attraction to him is perfectly reasonable, perfectly natural; one could even suggest that his lack of attraction to me is what is abnormal. (Or is that too flattering to myself? :P) But some strange intuition tells me that it’s the other way around, that in this instance my (natural, heterosexual) feelings are the aberration. (I guess, then, that I slightly disagree with your friend – men and women aren’t always supposed to be attracted to each other, and the “natural thing” may or may not become more likely with increased time spent together.)

  6. Jon says:

    If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last year it is that the anxieties, fears, frustrations, and depressions of worrying about a friendship are exactly that: worries. And often enough, when ruled by disordered natures and fearful hearts, those worries are unfounded, and have no bearing in reality.

    Recently, I had a dark moment where I was so depressed and upset, thinking I had made some mistake and that none of the guys that I though were my friends actually liked me and that it was all fake and that everyone hated me and my world was collapsing in on itself. Then, I went to bed.

    When I woke up the next day, it was my birthday, and the amount of love and support that my friends poured out on me that day made me realize that what I was upset about was totally untrue, that I was loved for who I am regardless of my faults and weaknesses. It led me to the understanding of what is best explained in the last part of your post:

    “But are these things real, even inside my own skull? In fact, I realize, these things buzz louder when Ryan is not here. When we are in the same room, those thoughts — if they surface at all — seem like the most stupid nonsense. Instead of seeming like the whole reality, these things barely seem real at all.

    Which, in the end, they are not. As we practice friendship, the unreal bits — the anxiety, the suspicion, the jealousy — begin to fall away, like rust. Eventually the only thing left is the steel structure underneath, the framework that was there all along.”

  7. Mary T. says:

    I have been following this blog for about 4 years and I just want to say thank you. I’ve learned so much from this blog -everything you say has been thought through so thoroughly and is expressed so well. Most of all, I appreciate your emphasis on hope. I think that is key. We can endure and even find the joy and the peace in every situation so long as we have hope – which is simply trust in God. That said, I am so anxious to read the other installments of this story. I know that a good piece cannot be rushed, but when will the other parts come? I suppose I should just trust and hope that you will write the other pieces and not try to get ahead of the pace of the story. To try and get ahead of it would disrupt it. That being said, its all right to be a little eager for the ending.

  8. Vijay Stavros says:

    I can relate. I wish I can find the courage to be that honest with my straight male friends whom i find myself attracted to, and also experience that kind of acceptance and affirmation. Thanks for sharing. God bless you.

  9. Alex says:

    Thank you SO much for sharing! Your insights on imagination and anxiety are marvelous and hopeful–God Bless!

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