Dealing with Rejection: Living openly and learning to forgive
Sex is easy. Intimacy is hard. Having spent so much of my life sexually frustrated, I didn’t realize how true this is until after a painful breakup with my ex, Kay1.
I partially came out at 20. I came out more fully at twenty-five. But I didn’t really properly date until I was 29. Which means I had about a 10-year lag on most heterosexuals. The romantic and sexual experiences that most other people go through earlier, I went through later, but with the same emotionally undeveloped tools as an adolescent.
So when I met Kay, I rushed in. I felt too much, too fast, and then we fell apart.
This happens to straight people too of course. But I think our straight peers have the advantage of a larger culture that better equips them to deal with romantic failure. They receive mentorship either directly from friends or family, or indirectly from media, on how to recover from a failed relationship.
At least for me, I spent much of my adolescence and early adulthood having my own sexual interests dismissed. And so when I finally found a guy who provided the fulfillment of a meaningful relationship, and then had my heart broken, I felt like there was never a point to it. I was rejected by straight culture, and now I’d been rejected by my own. I gave up on any kind of “happily ever after.”
For a full week after Kay and I ended, I barely left my apartment and just sat streaming videos. I burned through all of True Detective and much of The Wire. Cocktail hour started at sunrise. I deleted him from my phone. I felt lonely all the time. I still do sometimes, though I’m better now at managing it.
Everyone at some point finds themselves feeling abandoned, as though alone in a boat. But as a gay man, I felt adrift, with neither rudder, oar, nor sail, as I watched my straight peers move on ahead. They too went through many of the same struggles, but always seemed to recover better and faster, while I bobbed around at the whim of the waves, traveling each way and none.
I pursued myriad shallow relationships, rather than investing and losing too much by giving too much to one person. There are ten guys in my list of contacts with the last name “OKCupid.” There are 23 with the last name “Grindr”. For one of them, as a first name I just wrote “Some Dude.” Those are just the ones who made it into my contacts.
I found lots of opportunities for easy sex, but didn’t push for anything more from the guys I met.
I even hooked up with the same guy twice and didn’t even realize I’d had sex with him before until, as we were undressing, I recognized a familiar birthmark otherwise hidden by underwear. I still don’t know his name.
Kay and I lived in the same city, which meant that we would run into each other occasionally. Each time it had been painful to pretend that we were strangers. As two gay men between the age of twenty and forty living in a small city, we were going to share space. We’ve probably shared lovers. But the isolation we’d brought on ourselves had been its own kind of burden. Even worse than the break up itself. The breakup happened and ended. The loneliness that came from going unacknowledged dragged on and on.
Recently, I was wrapping up breakfast with a man I’d been seeing for eight months. (Both of us had been cautious—we hadn’t had the “boyfriend” talk. Love comes more slowly the second time around.) I received a text with the name heading: New Contact Found: Maybe Kay.
When I got the text, beginning, “Hi, this is Kay,” I felt fearful, anxious and angry. I looked at the calendar: It had been three years and two days since our first date.
Kay was texting to say that he was sorry for how he had treated our relationship. For years, this was what I had most wanted from Kay. I didn’t want him to beg for forgiveness, or tell me that he loved me, I just wanted him to see that how we ended had left me hurt. But, even more than that, I wanted him to recognize that we had, once, been important to each other.
The funny thing was, once Kay apologized to me, I realized I could do the same for him. There were things about our relationship that I was sorry for. I had done things I regretted, and had wanted to apologize for, but hadn’t because I thought it would make me look like a chump. I was the one who got dumped. So why should I be the one to say I was sorry?
But after this exchange, I could feel my anger and resentment toward Kay evaporating. He had been trying to identify what was important to him, and had realized that he needed to take better care of his relationships. It was not something that came easily to him, but he was trying to do better.
I felt that he meant what he wrote, and I made the choice to believe him. Mostly because I’ve been feeling the same way. And acknowledging that it, and each other, has let me release a lot of weight I’d been dragging around ever since we split. Yes, I had been avoiding Kay. But I had also been avoiding my own fears of intimacy.
I’d tried to dodge every single guy I’d ever been on so much as a date with, which meant strategizing how to best navigate an ever growing minefield of discarded lovers. Sure, when Kay and I crossed paths we pretended we didn’t know each other, but I’d been doing that with everyone who’d shared my bed.
Recently, I reached out to another ex after a chance encounter in a thrift store. When I saw Luis in the store, I spun around and walked out. Almost immediately I felt embarrassed and went back inside to apologize, but he had already left, or else was hiding in the dressing room. So I texted him to say how sorry I was that I had avoided him. That the next time I saw him I would say hello.
Kay and I will probably never be friends. We don’t need to be. But at least we aren’t strangers any more. We can say hello when we see each other in the street. I even opened up my contacts and put his name back in.
This is not exactly a story of mental illness, but it is a story of a years’ long recovery process that took much longer than it should have. LGBTQ individuals are almost 3 times more likely to experience depression and other mental health disorders as their straight peers. Many LGBTQ people fear not being able to openly discuss their emotions and experiences, even after coming out, which can lead to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse.
You can find out more information about mental health services from the Trevor Project, Trans Lifeline, Hope line, and more at Queer Mental Health and also at the LGBTQ webpage of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
1Names have been changed.
Premium aged, naturally aromatic, produced in a facility that also uses soy, nuts, dairy, and gluten: these are the words that might be used to describe Cirrus Wood. Or they may just be something he read off a bag of basmati rice he had in the pantry because he didn’t know what to write here.
Cirrus Wood is a freelance writer and photographer, fine art model, bike messenger and, occasionally, adult film actor. His writing has appeared in the Bold Italic, California Magazine, UC Berkeley alumni journal and other publications.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of BETA or of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. BETA serves as a resource on new developments in HIV prevention and treatment, strategies for living well with HIV, and gay men’s health issues. Our goal is to inform, empower, and inspire conversation.