It was about a month after we started dating that I decided my boyfriend was gay.
"I'm not gay," he told me, resting his hands on one knee in a way that looked both professorial and (was it just me?) kind of gay.
I had arrived at his Dallas apartment after a three-and-a-half-hour drive from my place in Austin. It was a trip spent singing out loud to the Xanadu soundtrack, blotting lipstick only to reapply it, and letting my mind gallop ahead into paranoid, no-win corners. What if I get there, and he hates how I look? What if I hate how he looks? It was still early in our relationship, that uncertain window of time when the possibility for something terrible and amazing
exists in equal measure. We might get married and have kids! He might harvest my kidneys! As I drove along, tapping out a drum beat on my steering wheel, I would cook up some airbrushed cinematic fantasy — his tongue tracing the soft curves of my inner thigh — only to watch the frame blister up and be replaced by him listening to the Goo Goo Dolls, reading kiddie porn and wearing the world's most asinine Hawaiian shirt. I hate to brag, but I have a special gift for worst-case scenarios. Eventually my boyfriend came up with a word for this. He called me the catastrophist.
"So why do you think I'm gay?" he asked, rolling up a sleeve of his tasteful button-down.
Argh. It involved his neighbor passing me in the hall on the way up the stairs, giving me a funny look. It involved his fine taste in furnishings. It involved a personal history of falling for gay men. It involved the nagging disappointment I felt every time I arrived at his door, and he kissed me politely, and failed to throw me belly-down on the bed, rip off my panties and trace his tongue along the soft curves of my inner thigh. It involved him offering me a glass of red wine. It involved the wine having a nice label.
Okay, I didn't think he was gay, exactly. But I had this queasy, extrasensory feeling that something was wrong, and the gayness bubbled up into my head. It's like when I'm getting on an airplane, and I have to call my mom and tell her that if the plane crashes, someone needs to feed the cat. It's like when I drove to Alaska, and I told my best friend how to handle my funeral.
"I can't have this conversation with you," she would tell me.
"Okay, that's fine. Just bottom line? No open casket."
These miserable scenarios are like a ticking time bomb in my back pocket, and passing them off to someone else relieves the
"I'm not gay," he said. "But I think you're possibly a little bit crazy."
anxiety. Of course, very few people want to be gifted with a time bomb.
My boyfriend laughed. He swirled his Cabernet so that it streaked a purple halo onto his glass. "I'm not gay," he said. "But I think you're possibly a little bit crazy."
At least we could agree on one thing.
I've written before in this column about the agony of breaking up, of the ways love can disappoint when it runs out of breath. But sometimes just as agonizing is falling in love. There is a temporary insanity induced by the nerves, the distraction, the hoping and not-knowing and fearing. Months later, spooning on the couch during a Grey's Anatomy marathon, all of it may seem so quaint and funny. But falling in love is scary and bewildering. It's like hoping for a kiss and bracing for a slap, puckering up even as you wince.
A month earlier, I had started dating Lindsay. We'll call him Lindsay, because that's his real name. I met him at my high-school reunion in Dallas, and somewhere between the smoke breaks we kept sneaking and the wine we kept knocking back we wound up groping each other near an outdoor water fountain. The next day I was surprised to discover the blouse I had worn was ripped. And also, that I wanted to see him again. For six months, until I finally moved in with him, we took turns on the monotonous 180-mile stretch of asphalt that separated our apartments. Sometimes I gave him updates from the road, just to have something to keep me awake. "I've passed the giant turkey billboard but I haven't seen the dancing frogs, so I should be there in, like, forty-five minutes."