I Was The Other Man

I met him in a drag bar in the West Village on one of the first warm days of the year. While I certainly get the appeal of drag queens, it's not really one of my favorite forms of entertainment. But I didn't want to be a spoiler so I watched some really large Italian man in makeup quote Trina's rap lyrics in exchange for laughter and a few dollar bills. Right around the time I thought to leave, he walked in. And we immediately locked eyes. We gazed at each other for an hour until I noticed something: He was with someone else.

How long was the other dude there? The hell if I know, and to this day, I still don't particularly care. I do remember mouthing off, "Is that your boyfriend?" To which he nodded yes and I said, "I'm sorry." He told me it was okay and we continued to study one another from a distance. Since I'm never approached, I'm used to going to men first if interested. So when his boyfriend went to the restroom, I went for it.

But as I made my way to his table his boyfriend came back, and I swiftly turned my trifling ass around. To the amusement of my company, I was greeted by them with the following: "WIG!" "Kim Zolciak!" and "Close your legs to married men!"

I'm not usually this guy. In fact, I hate people like this. But I wanted to find out more. I followed him to the restroom line to talk, hoping he would find my Southern speech, now coated in alcohol, charming enough to give me his number. He did.

After we exchanged information, we looked into each other's eyes for a few minutes. Ho shit or not, it was sweet. I could have tried to do more—kiss him, feel him up, et. al—but since New York City bathrooms are full of bed bugs with gonorrhea, I decided to cut it short.

The next day, we set a date. I'm not much of a dater. In fact, even at the age of 30, I've never had a real boyfriend. This tends to frighten some people—even other gays—given it suggests that something is "wrong" with me. I shared this with him during our first date. And, really, I didn't anticipate much to come from us meeting each other one on one. If anything, I pegged him to be some guy who was having relationship problems and wanted to "see what was out there" before he got scared and rushed back to his man.

I have been in love before, but my 20s were spent either ducking intimacy or pursing it in unattainable men. Men that were in denial about their sexuality, their feelings for me, or a gumbo consisting of the two that would've alerted a saner person to run away. Coupled with my childhood experience—a cocktail of depression, violence, and watching two people clearly not meant for each other suffer from their failure to stop being codependent—I am admittedly fucked up.

But he enjoyed every bit of it.

He knew what it was like to grow up in a violent home. Despite being younger than me, he had more experience with boyfriends, but still seemed to struggle with letting people in. Yet he was letting me in very quickly and I was happy to return the favor. Then the strangest thing happened on our first date: he grabbed my hand at the dinner table and held it the entire time. I'd never been open with affection like that before. I recently opened up about my fear of sex in response to very early exposure to AIDS, but I'm not a virgin by any stretch of the imagination, and the sad reality is, I'm probably far more comfortable with you holding my dick than I am with you holding my hand in public.

Days later we had another date that started at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once again, he made me hold his hand. Then we kissed in public. We eventually left for the second part of the date at my apartment, where he cooked for me. We had dinner and dessert ready, but ended up naked not watching Boomerang, our bodies spread across my bed. In the time we spent together—more dinners, meeting up to walk around the city and enjoy each other's company, and coming to spend my birthday with me before I left to go get drunk and dance to Beyoncé with my close friends —we were constantly all over each other. But it wasn't just sexual—and that ultimately became the problem.

When I realized I was starting to fall in love with this person, I tried to exercise as much self-awareness about the situation as possible before losing control. I looked myself in the mirror and quoted Monica's "Sideline Ho," the best song from the painfully underrated album The Makings Of Me: "Ho. Ho. Sideline ho. You's a ho. You's a ho. Sideline ho." I also sang a little bit of MoKenStef's "He's Mine" while cruising through both his and his boyfriend's Facebook pages. I began to make peace with my reality.

I told my friends and waited for their judgment, which mostly came from folks who had been cheated on, and thus, projected a lot of their old wounds onto my newfound happiness. Then there was one very special friend, who would present me with questions like, "So what does he tell his boyfriend when he's with you?" They stopped once I finally said, "You know, I already know how much of a horrible person I am for what I'm doing. I don't need the constant reminders."

But to be perfectly honest, I never truly felt guilt about what I was doing. It was a selfish moment in time. One that I knew would eventually come back to me, but a moment I wanted to enjoy for as long as I could. For the first time ever, a man that I found beautiful and charming and smart and special felt exactly the same way about me. Plus, he quoted K. Michelle lyrics back and forth with me via iMessage as a means of flirting. It was his way of saying, "I didn't really know you were this fucking ratchet, but I'm with it."

No matter how pathetic any of this sounds, I needed this because I was starting to feel empty.

Years ago, my mom told me that I would end up alone. I don't even remember what she was criticizing me about, but it's a remark that continues to haunt me. I'm not sure if it's rooted in her saying I have certain character flaws, or her way of projecting loneliness onto me for fear of a genetic trait that she thinks will leave me hell bound. I am a mama's boy, but after various conversations about professional triumphs this year, I wrestle with the prospect of having to distance myself from her because she doesn't like that I'm a gay man who doesn't think Jesus wants me to dip my dick on permanent chill in order to get to heaven.

The few months I spent with him made me erase that fear. But the abrupt end of whatever we were triggered a lot of unresolved anger that I'm still learning to properly deal with.

As it turns out, he was dating me, his boyfriend, and some other motherfucker. Realizing how unfair he was being to all of us (despite being a willing participant), he eventually made a decision: that motherfucker. I didn't take this well. For the first week I tried to be rationale and said all of the things that you tell yourself when shit blows up in your face: "You knew what it was when you got involved. Blah, blah, ha ha, you sideline ho, etc."

The next week, I ended up at that same bar drunk and with a friend who, like me, could stand to learn the values of "woosah." What I do remember about that night is carrying her out of the club. She wanted to throw a drink in his face in defense of me, which I did not ask for nor did I approve of. We got into a cab and left. I told her I was fine. But I really wasn't. I broke into tears. Crying makes me uncomfortable, so I turned to rage, unleashing a fury on Sixth Avenue that had me kicking over people's bikes, various trashcans, and pushing over newsstands. Apparently I made my way back to the bar to yell a lot of not nice things about him. Another friend had to come down to restrain me and remind me about the consequences of a black man acting like a damn fool in the West Village.

Although I knew it was over—because he already didn't pick me, and I looked crazy as shit now—I apologized days later. Repeatedly. He accepted. We talked for some weeks after the incident, but I had to let him go. The last thing he told me was that I smelled good. I left it at that and considered it closure.

You can learn a lot of honest truths about yourself while being a deceitful slut. For instance, with men, as much as I'd like to think I could be strictly Erotica-era Madonna with them, I require Mariah Carey levels of mushiness. And when I get treated in a way that reminds me of gloomy Mary J. Blige albums, I turn into Keyshia Cole. I've also got to distance myself from brown liquor when feeling unsettled. I now acknowledge that I have yet to conquer certain unresolved issues from my past as much as I like to pretend that I have. I plan to get therapy, and no, I'm not counting Super Soul Sunday.

Most of all, I learned the value of real intimacy. I realized I wanted to be a man who, like my friend Bassey Ikpi often says, learns to operate from the space of "Fuck fear. Love anyway." I am finally prepared to be that person—with an available man who doesn't have to worry about me destroying public property. It's a small accomplishment, but I'm proud.

Michael Arceneaux was born in Houston, lives in Harlem, but praises Beyoncé's name wherever he goes. He has written for the digital hubs of Esquire, Time, Complex, and Ebony, among others, sometimes blogs at The Cynical Ones, though he's surely tweeting at this very moment over @youngsinick.

[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]