The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, A.D. 2008, will stand in the Annals of Jason as being a period of intense growth and transition, as significant to my personal development as the myriad events of December 2004 and the autumn of 1997. Herewith a recap of the chief lessons and experiences, in no particular order.
- The biggest “baggage” I took into the summer was a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy about my body. Although I lost a lot of weight a few years ago, I retain a fair amount of stretched skin on my abdomen, and have been very self-conscious about it ever since. Happily, I’ve met enough people who were attracted to me physically — including some exceptionally good-looking folks — that this self-consciousness no longer presses upon me as once it did. I’m still not happy with my body, but the lingering disaffection is no longer paralyzing; in fact, it motivates me to do something more about it, perhaps including surgery. My concern about my body has moved from the domain of the negative, to the domain of the positive, and this marks a huge turnaround … I haven’t been this comfortable with my appearance since I was a teenager.
- Related to self-image has been the larger question of physical intimacy. Until this summer, I had been somewhat touch-averse; I was aware of touch, and usually didn’t appreciate it — hand-holding, kissing, even a gentle pat on the arm were simply foreign to me, and the whole “what do you do at the end of a date” thing would tie my stomach in knots long before I’d part company with my companion. THAT hang-up has been resolved; nowadays, I’m more likely to be too “touchy,” and lately I’ve been known to partake in the occasional tacky/excessive public display of affection (like last week … when Matt threw me down on the pool table at Diversions and others broke us up before we got tossed out).
- I’ve learned that gay men are no better than straight women in the relationship department. In fact, they can be much worse. Whereas women tend to be reserved and very specific in what they seek, men tend to be open to more, but with generally less willingness to commit to anything beyond sex. In fact, the gay community in West Michigan feels dysfunctional in a lot of very important ways (it seems that just about everyone has slept with everyone else), and I’m grateful that I’ve had Andrew to help me with my initial wayfinding. At this point, having sampled the heretofore “forbidden fruit,” I’m back, I think, to being more nuanced in my approach to sex and dating — if no one seeks to understand us bisexuals, we may as well retaliate by being dark and mysterious and coy about our true accessibility. 🙂
- The hesitancy I’ve felt about meeting people, on account of my inexperience, has been utterly eradicated. After my brief relationships with Dawhn and Rachael before the summer, and my various forms of involvement with Andrew, Dave, Edmund, and Matt during the summer, I no longer feel like I have an experience deficit. To be sure, I don’t have a long “ex” list, but I’ve experienced enough to feel comfortable with myself and my ability to handle new situations with a satisfactory degree of grace. In fact, the old approach anxiety — the bane of well-meaning but timid men everywhere — has evaporated quicker than a cube of dry ice in a high-school chem lab. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Tony’s “method” and from Matt, it’s that self-confidence and social poise count for more than a good body or fat wallet. No one will be successful if he stands in the shadows with a drink and watches the revelry; he needs to actively engage others and provide a social value (e.g., not being a creepy molester type) that draws other, less outgoing, people into his orbit, if he wishes to grow new relationships of any type. Plus, as Tony reminds me: What do you lose, really, even if you do get shot down? Just move on to the next person and try again.
- My drive to form a meaningful, long-term relationship has cooled off a lot. Although I’m still looking in an abstract sense, I have been less careful than I should have been this summer, and I paid an emotional price that was not insignificant. Those lessons in the virtue of prudence have been learned. I am still a believer in being open and honest and direct, but I’m no longer focused on relationship-seeking. If something should happen, fine. But I’m not specifically looking for love or sex anymore — I’m merely seeking friends and interesting new experiences, and if something more should develop, that’s OK, but I won’t expect it to. This isn’t bitterness talking, either — having satisfied my initial curiosity, I’m now content to wait for the right situation instead of the immediate gratification.
- I’ve met some very interesting people this summer who have shaped my life for the better in various ways. Andrew has become a good friend and confidant, and has helped me to navigate another side of my personality. Dave helped me to understand that I really could date a male, and that I am worthy of someone like him, whom I can respect on many different levels and is the archetype of the “perfect boyfriend.” Edmund helped me to understand the pros and cons of spontaneity and fast movement, and I hope he will continue to engage with me even though I pushed him too far, too quickly. Matt, despite the short time I’ve known him, taught me that emotion unfiltered by reason can be as dangerous as it is powerful, and that rejecting others is almost as hard as being rejected myself. Through it all, my established friends have been invaluable; Emilie and [redacted] have supported me in ways I didn’t presume to ask for, but for which I am most grateful, and my relationship to Tracy and Teri has become stronger over the last few months.
- The emotional unsettledness I’ve experienced of late has finally lifted from me. The cumulative impact of the summer, when assessed in depth during a three-hour road trip, has been overwhelmingly positive, and I think that my former serenity has returned with renewed discipline. My friend Jen once told me that I needed to stop acting like a 12-year-old girl, and I think she’s right. I needed this summer to play catch-up for all of the life-and-love experiences that most people my age take for granted, because they started in junior high, but which I compressed into just a few months during my 31st year. I’m now satisfied that I’m on the same playing field as my peers, and this realization has been incredibly comforting and confidence-building.
- My sense of being tied to the expectations of friends, family, and community has been broken. My innate independence has become manifest by means of my new openness about my bisexuality, and I think I’m a better person for it. I no longer feel a need to be secretive about aspects of my personality and aspirations merely out of concern for how others will react, and this is liberating.
The above notwithstanding, I’ve fallen back a bit in some areas. The several interpersonal dramas I’ve participated in sapped a lot of my time and energy, and some areas — most notably, my karate, running, and diving — suffered significantly. I’ve also been slow to continue my work with Gillikin Consulting; the summer has been a period of unacceptable dormancy, requiring a fair amount of ameliorative effort to get back on track.
However, on balance, I’ve learned, loved, and grown this summer, and I’m a better person now than I was before Memorial Day. In the end, that’s what’s important.