If you know me, you know I am persistent. I’m persistently social: If I’m throwing a party, you better believe I’ll be sending you an email, a text, and a Facebook and Paperless Post invite. I’m persistently creative: I make a living as an author, a feat born of dogged persistence in the face of constant career instability and unsold manuscripts. But the story I’m sharing tonight isn't about the persistences that have paid off for me. No, I’m sharing a persistence that lead to heartache and humiliation. My persistence in falling in love with gay men.
And I don’t mean having a crush on Neil Patrick Harris or dreaming about removing Anderson Cooper’s black-framed glasses to share a thin-lipped kiss. No, I mean spending a good chunk of my teens and 20s crushing on guys who would never (and could never) return my feelings.
There was Matt, my first crush at age 8, best friend of the boy next door. With his huge brown eyes and mop of chocolate-colored hair, Matt looked like a cross between Bastian from The Never-Ending Story and a Labrador puppy. I was so furiously in love with Matt that I swore to myself, with every ounce of resolve in my tiny girl-child body, that when I learned to drive, my first license plate would read "MATT." Luckily, I never learned to drive, as Matt’s current profile pic on Facebook features him wrapped in a rainbow flag.
Later, in my early 20s, I couldn’t resist the plump lips and bedroom eyes of my Greek gay bestie, Peter. One night we got very drunk and made out in an elevator, which somehow led to me slapping him across the face and starting a band together.
My mid-20s saw me falling for Alan, lead singer of a local indie band in Sydney. Ah, Alan, you really bore the brunt of my obsessive affection for years. Sorry I chose to tell you I was in love with you after you confessed to me that your parents were getting a divorce, something that was clearly really upsetting you. It wasn't the right time and I guess the price I pay is never forgetting that look on your face when I made my carnal confession: a mix of fascination, fear, and uncut horror.
But the most humiliating source of Cupid’s misguided arrow was Jay. Jay. Jay, Jay, Jay: Maybe if I say your name enough times I can rob it of meaning, render it dull and misshapen in my mouth like a sweet I’ve been sucking too long. Unfortunately not. Because even though many years have passed since our sexually stupid Shakespearian folly, I still feel the slow burn of humiliation when I remember what happened.
I met Jay when I was 22, fresh from my first-ever breakup. I’d been with my then-girlfriend for almost three years, which in college years, was the equivalent of three decades. I wanted to see “what else was out there," which meant I wanted to “sleep with my friend Bronwyn." I did, and it was bad, and I realized I’d made a huge mistake. Jay was there to pick up the pieces. A 6 foot Eurasian activist/fashion student from Melbourne, I met Jay when he was in town for a queer conference, which meant Melbourne University paid him to come up and get drunk with other activists from Sydney. He was devastatingly handsome, like an Australian half-Asian Keanu Reeves. He was kind, funny, flirtatious and very good dresser. I was head over heels. On our first night hanging out together, a bunch of us all got drunk on boxed wine. Ridiculously drunk, we made out in the backseat of a bus. My blood was singing, my skin awash with heat. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for days.
I fell so hard for Jay. I knew he was gay, but so was I, and I liked him, so I guess the whole gay thing was pretty flexible, right? I knew his sexuality wouldn't simply bend to my will, but I wondered if he was more fluid than he let on. After a week of intense infatuation, which felt entirely reciprocated to me, Jay retuned to Melbourne. I pined. I wrote bad poetry on a legal pad I kept by the milk crates that held up my mattress. All of the sadness I felt from my breakup, all of the longing I had for sex and love and a relationship, I poured into someone who was completely unavailable to me.
Now, had it ended there, I would have walked away unscathed. But I couldn’t let it go. I daydreamed about his sexy smile, I bored my friends stupid with endless interpretations of every moment that’d passed between us. Among my friends, sexuality was playful and permissive — very much an anything goes mentality — but my friends started to get a little weirded out. “He’s gay,” they’d say in a you-know-that-right? tone of voice. I’d picture our kiss in the back of the bus and reply, “Mm-hm. Yeah. I guess…” They told me to forget about it.
I booked a trip to Melbourne to see him.
Leading up to the one-week vacation to see him, I was frothing with excitement. I pictured strolling hand-in-hand through Melbourne’s charming little alleyways, riding the tram to St Kilda, getting Italian on Lygone Street. Of course, I’d be staying with him. Sharing his bed. Looking back on it, I’m not sure why Jay allowed this to happen. My best guess is that maybe didn’t know how to say no to me without coming across as mean. I steamrolled him. I was persistent.
Things went south pretty much straight away. To start, he wasn’t there when I arrived. He’d left a key so I made myself at home in his apartment, which was sleek and modern and completely unlike the knockabout terrace houses I was used to in Sydney. I waited up for him, but eventually it got so late I went to bed. His sheets were bright white and felt expensive. Immediately, I smudged my pillowcase with the black eyeliner I’d taken to covering my eye area with. Hours later, I heard the front door ease open. Like a thief, he crept into the room, slipping gingerly in beside me. We both lay there, him pretending to be asleep, me pretending like it hadn't started to dawn on me how fundamentally ridiculous this all was.
Jay was up early, all terrified smiles as he tripped over himself to get out the front door. He had a “really busy week,” he told me. “I might not be home much.”
“Don’t worry,” I told him, with a brave smile. “I get it.” His gaze dropped to the eyeliner stain on his perfect white pillowcase. A muscle in his jaw tensed.
I spent that week wandering through Melbourne’s charming little alleyways, riding the tram to St Kilda, and getting Italian on Lygone Street, but I did it alone. It didn’t occur to me to come back to Sydney early or work out somewhere else to stay so the whole thing dragged on a like a bad reality show that everyone else had stopped watching. At the end of the week, we hugged goodbye. “Sorry I was so busy,” he said. “Next time…” The words hung in the air as if they were written in black eyeliner. We both knew there wouldn’t be a next time. We never spoke again.
Why gay men? Well, I have a few theories. They’re not emotionally or sexually available to me. They’re a fantasy. They’re not straight men, which considering I now live with a female partner, makes a lot of sense. As a queer person with a strong — perhaps too strong — imagination, negotiating desire was complicated. I could talk myself into pretty much anything, including the likelihood of a man who was attracted to other men falling for me. Now, I realize that I was dismissing my crushes' sexuality. Ultimately, I just didn’t really know a lot of about relationships and what it was supposed to be like when a guy liked you. Because I didn’t want straight men to like me. I wanted to be with women, even if that wouldn’t become crystal clear to me for another 10 years or so.
Who knows. All in all, I’m glad my persistence in falling for gay men has come to a close. I hate breaking promises to myself, but I think it’s fair to say that if I ever do learn to drive, I’ll resist the urge to get a license plate reading "MATT."
Georgia Clark is the author of The Bucket List.
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