Sunday, January 30, 2011

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

This post is something of a sequel to the article entitled "Dance Me to the End of Love" and is part of a series of entries on my first love, Farid. I have said it in previous articles, but I will repeat it here: the love was not reciprocated. My holy male virginhood remains quite intact, even with respect to kissing on the lips. I also don't use that word, "love," casually. I'd been infatuated with people for as long as a year or two in the past, but this was different. This was not a fun fantasy, all daisies and lollipops. This was real and mature, and I've never cared so intensely for someone in my life. It was painful. It was torture.

Love's Labours Lost

It was, however, mostly a one-sided affair. I was the only one who really cared. I think Farid appreciated the friendly overtures and the attention I afforded him but had long previously written me off as a sexual or romantic interest. The change in tone of our relationship came sometime in May when we went on vacation together. There were flashes of attraction and romantic gestures when we first went there, but our relationship was unequal (he depended on me to some extent in the anglophone environment), and I thought I was being respectful toward him by not coming onto him when he felt more vulnerable. But he seemed too timid and needed me to make some kind of move or demonstrate some level of attraction, and when I respectfully didn't, he quickly moved on in mindset and decided not to pursue anything. I didn't realize at the time, but apparently that was the end of that. Spending a lot of quality time with him made me fall in love, at the very moment he started to lose interest. What horrible luck.

As the summer turned to fall, my love grew and grew. Then came that fateful night described in the last post "Dance Me to the End of Love." I went to surprise Farid at his favourite dance club, the Stud, and not only did he not seem appreciative of the gesture, he appeared to be downright embarrassed. No effort to let loose ameliorated the situation, and I returned home a dejected, shivering mess. The following month was a difficult period for me. Virtually no communication from Farid, except very terse and occasionally insulting notes on rare occasions. I lived for these e-mails. In general, the nearly three months following the night at the Stud was a period of cycles, of downs and extreme downs, and the worst of it was not the week after the Stud but actually a month later.

I could hardly concentrate at all, work or elsewhere, and there were times when I was almost sick with the pain of what happened. I had moments, quite randomly and even weeks after the Stud incident, when I would feel like crying and duck into an alley to avoid being seen. The funny thing is that I never cried, even though I truly wanted to, just to let it all out and let it go. The feeling was there, but I could not muster the tears. It was like a sneeze that keeps building up but never comes out. It was an awful feeling.

In the process of mourning the loss of both love and friendship, my sexuality was entirely erased. I closed all online profiles and completely cut myself off from the gay world, retreating to the comforts of family and the straight world (aka, “reality”). I felt no attraction to anything, except for Farid when he came to me in my dreams, and that led to a regression to my fiery passion for him as well as huge messes in the bedroom. I went back and forth--cycles of intense feeling for him, being turned on for days following such dreams, proceeded by cycles of penetrating sadness or anger. I was overly sensitive and emotional, expressing parts of myself that I normally keep hidden for reasons of respectability, behaving defiantly and abnormally. I did not feel like myself; I was going through my own dark ages.

At the same time, I tried to retain a façade of having been unaffected and retain some level of continuity. I left a large box of Lebanese pastries for Farid on his balcony for Eid-al-Adha and called him in the morning to tell him about this surprise gift and wish him happy holidays (surprising him with Arab pastries for Eid was a new tradition had begun at the end of Ramadan). He told me he was taking it into his workplace to share with his new colleagues. Ok, his reappropriation of my gift kind of annoyed me. Then the next weekend, when I had left some more baklava at his place for him and his roommate, after distributing most of my batch to the homeless, he wrote me and told me not to do that again: "it is not necessary." I was just trying to be neighbourly, as I told him in a reply e-mail--it's not like I didn't give baklava to other friends as well.

At the same time that I pretended like nothing was going on, I had to make some effort to explain the disappearance of Farid in my life to friends and family, who were used to hearing about him. I told the truth--to some with whom I am out, I talked about what happened--falling in love and the lack of reciprocation of even my platonic overtures. To others, including my mom, I just said what I believe very well may be the truth--things changed when he found a job.

I think to a certain extent that I was a distraction for him during his unemployed period, and now that he was employed again, he was trying to erase elements from his former life that symbolized his failures. No one else, other than his fuckbuddies, probably represented that past life he was trying to forget more than me. I had known him when he was temporarily employed, but most of our friendship together had evolved while he didn't have a job. I made a bilingual website for him and put it online. I had volunteered to give him 14 hours of free work per week to help get his business off the ground. I told him when I offered it that such daily contact and pressure from me would make him hate me and would ruin our friendship, but that was ok, because all I wanted for him was to have work and be happy. He took my offer seriously but could never motivate himself to get the business off the ground.

I quite simply told my mom and others that, while our friendship began while he was employed, Farid's context for me was mostly within this difficult period without work. I saw him fail. With time, I saw all of his faults. Now that he's busy at work, he's trying to reconstruct his reality and erase the past. I told my mom in mid-November, with precise reasoning, that I doubt I'd ever hear from him again for this reason. With less free time, he was going to simply cut me out of the picture and concentrate on what is truly important for him--cooking, taking naps, doing the housework, keeping up with his roommate, and finding sex. The latter was easy to understand--he had prioritized meetings with "friends," as he called them, over spending time with me in the past. The sex addiction that had begun the summer before, after an attempt to initiate a relationship with a young mexican muslim had failed (see the last paragraphs of "Finding our Way: My Friend's Story" from February 2010), didn't just disappear when he got a job.

Farid and I didn't see each other again in 2010 after that night in the Stud (which was at the beginning of November), except once randomly in the street one Sunday night in early December. He was coming back from having loveless, affectionless sex with a guy in the neighbourhood, and I just happened to be going for a walk. Even though it was over a month after my fateful second visit to the Stud, I was experiencing my lowest and saddest moment. I was fuming with anger toward him and thought, if I were to see him, I would probably hit him and should avoid being near him at all costs.

As a very wise young man once said to me, it's only when you're trying to avoid something that it pops up in your face. Sure enough, Farid appeared right in front of me at the end of that obsessive, angry weekend. However, unlike what I would have expected, when our eyes locked as he was coming up the side street, I took him into my arms to give him a hug, and I didn't want to let go. Dopamine flooded every ounce of my body.

We talked for maybe 20 to 30 minutes in the street as I asked him what was new in his life, then we gave each other bisous as we parted and I hugged him again. Something about being in his physical presence again, even though it was a surprise encounter on a cold winter night, filled me with joy and also turned me on. My head was swimming again with affection for him. I went home and immediately wrote him an e-mail, "It was nice to see you in the street tonight, Farid. I miss you, my friend. Don't be a stranger." I was disappointed by my weakness--it was then that I realized just how powerful my attachment had been. A month of trying to move on was erased by a brief random encounter in the street. At the same time, it was something of a relief—I needed a reprieve from the heartbreak and the sadness.

But he responded, and suddenly we were back to writing each other more regularly. They were shorter e-mails, but at least he was responding to me, and we were writing on more equal terms. He apparently now discovered the joy of reading e-mails during his lunch hour. I was a little more at peace with the situation as it was. I was regressing a bit toward my old feelings, but the blissful puppy-dog innocence had disappeared--the night at the Stud in November had changed me forever. I was generally miserable in Montréal anyway, as it was getting very cold, and I could see San Francisco on the horizon (where my work was sending me for a week in mid-December). I had invited Farid to go to San Francisco with me a while back, as the cheapest room I could find had two beds with it automatically. However, having a new job meant that he couldn't go, and he had communicated that to me before my appearance at the Stud. Still, I thought about him a lot when I was in San Francisco.

Sex Addiction vs. a Higher Love

One of the reasons Farid and I had never really been on the same wavelength was because of his attitudes toward sex. He told me back in August (see the post "Coming to Terms with God: Islamic Wisdom" from September 2010) that he was not able to erase the memory of previous sexual encounters, and that he had been "ruined" by an excessively active sex life, which would forever prevent him from being able to appreciate sex with one man. He said that it would have been best if he had, like his parents, just developed a sexuality with solely one person. But he had made mistakes, fallen into the trap of gay sexual promiscuity, and could no longer fit into a monogamous sexual reality. My perspective: I saw a man who was capable of appreciating and idealizing monogamous romance but who did not have the willpower to move beyond his sexual appetite, habits that were no doubt encouraged somewhat by the permissive enabling lustfulness of his ex and current roommate--Pietro. So I fell in love with a man who was a romantic at heart, still with that leftover dream of wanting to find a life partner, even a husband, but prioritizing his sexual needs over human relationships (whether that be friendship or a romantic partner).

His confession to me in August did not make me love him any less, even though it should have. The heart can be a powerful thing and can kill even the greatest cynic within us. However, I'm not stupid either, and it did show me what I was up against. So I watched and waited for any signs of the Farid I met back in Autumn 2009, the return of the guy with hope and his own sense of how the world should work. Not the MSM (Man who has Sex with Men) that he had been the previous months, but the man with real sexual and romantic convictions about whom I wrote in the article "Finding Our Way: My Friend's Story."

Sure enough, with almost cyclical predictability, my old friend, the guy I met before his relapse into sex addiction, reappeared. The person with sexual restraint and hope for the future, he was back. I was in San Francisco when Farid started a new online profile, and he said "hi" to me from it. When I read it, I was taken aback. He wrote so many beautiful things that touched my soul in that moment. He wrote about his values, his dreams, and his failures. All of it may have seemed quite ordinary to most people, but for me, who had seen him struggle for the past several months, it was almost like a minor miracle.

The guy who did not have the resolve to do anything but satisfy his base sexual desires, he had reestablished his equilibrium and was looking for a higher love. Farid said explicitly that he wanted a monogamous relationship, an affectionate, loving union, and that he wanted to erase his overactive sexual history and start over with one man. He also made it clear that he was going to remain chaste until he found that person. Suddenly, I was confronted with the guy, whom I still loved despite his lack of reciprocation and appreciation, who was putting forward almost word-for-word the same values and dreams that I had expressed in our conversations. He was looking for the same thing as me; he wanted to be like me and live my values.

I had been waiting and waiting and waiting for this moment, and it finally arrived. I loved so much about Farid, but the one thing I never liked was his sexuality. It was the self-centered "Farid the Gay" (or, perhaps more aptly, Farid the MSM) who I had problems with and could never be reconciled with. Then, suddenly, the Farid that I loved most of all reappeared, and that ugly part of him (the MSM that I could never relate to) seemed to dissolve. Although nothing in life is ever really that simple, now more than ever was the time. After sitting on the sidelines for so long, I had to make my play.

Sacrificing the Lamb

It was my last day in San Francisco, and within earshot of the sea lions of Fisherman's Wharf, I responded to his profile: "My God, Farid, you've really destabilized me here with what you said in your profile. I'm going to send you an e-mail tout-de-suite!" He wrote back, "ok :)" Then I wrote one of the boldest declarations I have ever made in my life:

"Wow, Farid. Wow! What can I say? I have just woken up to read your profile. Wow, you have moved me deeply with your courage. You are finally and again the Farid that I met more than a year ago. I told you in my e-mail the other day that I was proud of you, and this was the e-mail that I wrote to my Farid that only wanted sex (from what he’s been telling me these last few months). But now, wow, I could not be more proud of you. You are incredible, my friend. You are not “simple” like you describe yourself in the profile, not at all (sorry :)), but you are incredible. In this moment, you leave me without words (and that is very difficult to do, as you know), but I just wanted to share with you this feeling.

You asked me once what seduction is and how to do it. Well, what you said in your profile, that is true seduction, and you are apparently a master! You are looking for the same thing I have always looked for, and you put into words what I have always felt but could never communicate as clearly or directly as you. Your words penetrate to the bottom of my soul. I have never been seduced before, but you have done it so easily and beautifully here. I want to be this guy for you, the guy that you describe that you want to discover and share with, to mature and age together. But yes, don’t worry, I understand that your instincts do not lead you too me, too bad I’m not your type :). Thus I tell you this just to share with you a true feeling and pay you this compliment. I have never reacted to a profile like I did to yours. I believe that you will succeed, if you keep your confidence and your conviction for your life goals and your faith, and I see clearly that these two fundamental parts of you mix here in your profile. Farid the Gay and Farid the Believer are again the same person. You have found your equilibrium, and you will succeed to realize your dreams, I have no doubt. You will be happy, my dear friend. Beating all the odds, God has responded to your prayers to come here to Canada, and I see you are trying to realize your promise to Him. He will not abandon you now—I see now that He is holding your hand and taking you on the right path.”

The e-mail continued to describe the mundane aspects of what I had planned for the rest of the day in San Francisco and cracked a joke about a photo I had sent him the previous evening. After writing it, I let it go, and put it to the back of my mind. I had things to see and do that day, and I wasn’t going to let my bold romantic play preoccupy me. My e-mail foreshadowed the impossibility of such a union and my acceptance of that fact, without requiring him to respond affirmatively or negatively.

He responded while I was out enjoying my day: “Hi CT, it doesn’t surprise me that you enjoyed my text. I know that these are your values as well. I never changed, I just permitted myself to live other things to understand them, but it’s just a text, and I don’t think that there will be other guys online who will truly understand what I wrote. I only wanted to affirm myself and show my true colours. You are my friend and I don’t want that to change!” Then he proceeded to wish me a good rest of my day in San Francisco and talk about mundane things about his plans for that weekend.

I received his e-mail that evening when I was at the airport waiting for my flight to leave. I responded immediately with the following e-mail:

“Thanks for your response. Yes, you really took me with your text. Should I have shame? Be embarrassed? I don’t think so :). I see a handsome guy with a cute cat that says all the most important things in life. I see there in your profile a man of God and a tender person, my philospher-friend (a nickname that I had developed for him). I couldn’t help but react. It was a moment where I saw the radiant beauty in what has been in front of me all of this time. What you wrote, as you said in your recent e-mail, it’s deeper than just you. But it comes from you, because you understand my world, my values, my God. In reading this, I am entirely innondated in a way I have never experienced before, as if I am on fire, a fire that hits me harder than waves in the Pacific Ocean did just two days ago. I see again my brother, the good guy, the right guy! I see the man who understands my joy (Agape Love), my pain (the failure of love), and is my best friend. In reading that, I was ready to marry you, seriously, and you know that I am normally emotionally reserved and careful with my words. I do not say things that I do not want to say. I could not keep my silence for my appreciation of my friend. Reading your text, that gave me real hope, more than you know. I saw your faith and God inside, and it’s incredible. I copied your text into a document, and I will keep it with me until my death. My friend wrote that! You see now that the pen (or the keyboard) is mightier than the sword.

And yes, I understand. It takes two people to make a relationship, a passion from two sides. I also want you to remain my friend. It’s just something beautiful that I needed to express to you, because you truly moved me with the words in your profile. You are a poet of prose. In any case, I hope you find the sexy guy that sees you the way I see you, and I will remain your brother and your friend. You have convinced me. I could not be more honoured to be your friend. But if you ever change your mind and decide you want a guy more like me, don’t hesitate to let me know :)

Then I continued on with a description of my day for a while, told him to have a good night of dancing at the Stud, and closed with “a guy in Walgreens today told me that I had a 'pretty smile,' and it’s thanks to you! :)”

I sent the e-mail and boarded my plane for Phoenix. The funny thing was that there was no sadness in me at that point. It was warm, I was far from Montréal, and life was good. I was heading home to see family, my refuge, so I was coming from a position of strength. And I was proud of myself—I had finally said what I needed to say, but in a neutral and passive manner so that he didn’t have to address my feelings or reject me directly. After sending that e-mail, I felt happy. I didn’t ever receive a response to that particular e-mail, although I did receive a reply for another, shorter joke e-mail I sent a day or so later. I didn’t expect anything to come of my heartfelt expression and didn’t really want a response to it either. I said what I needed to say. And on the upside, it’s not just anyone who gets to say that they left their heart in San Francisco. Leave it to me to find a new, complicated, and technologically-innovative way to do just that.

The Farid Chapter Comes to a Close

Farid and I stayed in touch fairly regularly through e-mails and calls until the Night of the Musical Candlelit Bath (see the article of that title), at which point my patience was tested to the max. While I hate being clichéd, it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Everyone has a limit, and I reached mine then and there.

I decided it was my turn to isolate myself and be withdrawn and busy with other priorities. What I have resolved to do is focus on the positive of our history, all the fun and meaningful moments we shared together and the beautiful feelings and high-quality work that he inspired in me. Most of these feelings and moments were not featured on this blog, but if anything they were more important than the negative experiences discussed here. Quite simply, writing here about the bad times helps me express them, put them into context, and move on. My words here are my “tears” so to speak, the building sneeze that is finally released.

In retrospect, I feel kind of like one of those women who thinks that she is pregnant and undergoes all the symptoms of a pregnancy, only to find out at some point that the entire thing was in her imagination and all that's really happened is that she's gained weight. I fell hard for someone and felt all the symptoms of a relationship without ever even having the joy of being in one, of having a real friend, of experiencing real reciprocation. The whole affair, entirely created by my overactive imagination, disgusts me and leaves me feeling emotionally, sexually, and romantically drained. I've lost time, I've lost opportunity, and all of it was for nothing. I think I'm disappointed in myself more than anyone else.

If I see him on the bus or cross him in the street, we’ll talk amicably. If he wants to, I will remain open toward a generic friendship with him in the future. But in order for me to permit that, he will have to invest in it as much as I do. The relationship has to be equal. Without further effort and reciprocation from his part, Farid will remain an integral part of my past, my ‘special’ best friend for a time, and my first love toward whom I will always be fond. But he will not play a role in my future, as a friend or anything else. I’d rather be alone than in bad company.

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