Cupid is a Sociopath, Part 1
I met the man of my dreams on Halloween, which should have been the first clue things weren’t what they seemed.
Halloween is like the gay man’s Christmas. It’s a chance to dress up and become someone you’re not, like a sexy fireman, or a sexy doctor, or a sexy single guy not afraid of commitment. I usually go for someone hunky and straight, like a 300 Spartan. (OK, mostly straight.)
Of course not every gay guy dresses as a hot straight guy. Plenty dress as hot straight women.
The year I came out of the closet, I attended my first gay Halloween party. It was just a few blocks off Market Street in San Francisco, home to the annual street festival before it was discontinued.
I was dressed in what would come to be my fallback costume for all future Halloweens: Indiana Jones, specifically, the Temple of Doom version: minus a sleeve, half unbuttoned, slashes across the back, and a makeshift grip wrapped around my right hand. The costume was multi-functional. The over-the-shoulder satchel was convenient for carrying my wallet, car keys, cell phone charger, protein bar, Rolaids, condoms, pocket pack of Kleenex, and emergency Claritin.
I had barely entered the backyard of the house party when I locked eyes with a friendly face near the liquor table. I didn’t know who the guy was, but there was a guy-next-door familiarity about him, almost under the radar at first glance. Dressed in a grayish-blue tank and sporting a worn Breckenridge ball cap, he was the only person at the party not in costume.
As I sipped my drink, Clay introduced himself, and his friend Phil, whom he was up visiting from Los Angeles. With that bit of news, I quickly lost interest and moved on to the local attendees. After all, I was focused on making friends and possible dates who lived in the Bay Area.
However, throughout the night, everywhere I turned, I seemed to find Clay’s smile. Only an hour into the party, he had given me his cell phone number on a crumpled sheet of paper, explaining he makes it up to S.F regularly for work, but if I happen to find myself in L.A., I should give him a call. It was clear I was the only person at the party he was interested in getting to know.
And by the end of the night, I felt the same. Clay would later claim I was playing hard to get. But that required a level of strategy I had not yet mastered.
I eventually relinquished to Clay’s charm and allowed him to sequester me in the corner of the host’s living room. It was decorated like a dungeon, with red brick paper taped to the walls, and rubber skeletons hanging limply from the ceiling.
I leaned against a table, while Clay stood in front of me, taking in my costume and showering me with compliments. It was during this moment of affection that I really took him in. Upon a closer look, this guy next door seemed to embody an Abercrombie and Fitch ad, aged in the warm sepia sun by fifteen or twenty years; humbled with a life of hard work, but never without that disarming, aw-shucks smile.
It was a moment that seems more profound in memory than it seemed at the time. After all, I didn’t think much of this guy when I entered the party. And here he was complimenting me, telling me my eyes were the most beautiful he had ever seen, that my eyebrows were like brushstrokes. (Even if to me, they looked like two brushes had made contact mid-sneeze while God was aiming an inch higher.)
I’m the first to admit I have a weak spot for the all-American looking jock with a floppy head of hair and broad shoulders; that small town guy with big city dreams, with a masculine predisposition, but a tender-hearted soul; who’s much more likely to wear a ball cap than bother with mousse or a brush.
But then again, who doesn't?
I took Clay’s cap off to see the dirty blond hair underneath. He removed my fedora, ran his hands through my hair, and said that the moment I entered the party, he leaned to Phil and said, “I’ve got to meet Indiana Jones.” He thought I had captured the look perfectly, especially the smirk – the only part of the costume I wore all year long.
I teased that since he saw my half-exposed chest, it’s only fair I see his. Clay pulled up his tank to reveal a perfect muscular physique, lightly covered in almost-imperceptible corn-silk hair.
Clay wanted to kiss me, but I protested since I was just getting over a nasty cold that week. He said he’d take his chances. I still resisted, mainly because I didn’t want to risk catching anything myself. So he kissed my neck.
I was playfully shy, unaccustomed to anyone giving me such attention. I wondered why I had fought the urge all night to surrender to this handsome stranger. With each gentle kiss and thoughtful gesture, I melted.
When the clock struck midnight, I realized I needed to make a dash like Cinderella. Except instead of a carriage turning into a pumpkin, I had a sedan in a Union Square parking space that would soon be towed. I made a quick pit stop in the bathroom, whose lock had broken earlier that night. Clay, like a gentleman, guarded the door while I took care of business. When I re-emerged, he had gathered all my belongings.
I began to worry that catching a cab at the same time the street fest was ending might prove to be a challenge. Clay walked me to the curb, hand in hand. He not only hailed me a cab, but put me safely in, and hugged goodbye.
It was the first time in my life another human being had held my hand like that. It was the first time in my life someone, male or female, had ever pursued me.
And it felt good.
The next day I went back to work, and Clay flew back to L.A. I phoned him that afternoon to apologize for running off so quickly. He thought nothing of it.
Over the next month, we chatted over the phone a couple times and emailed sporadically.
Wanting to explore this connection more, I invited him up for Thanksgiving. I had never experienced such a rapport with another person, and I owed it to myself to see if there was something there.
Clay claimed the store he ran would demand all of his time that weekend. He seemed evasive about committing to another weekend, so I reluctantly wrote him off. I was getting pretty accustomed to this process. It was the natural next step after meeting a potential date: you hang out once, then erase the person from your cell phone and short-term memory.
But then, late on Thanksgiving Day, he called. He was just thinking of me and wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving.
I was touched. And a week later I headed to L.A. for work. Naturally, I made plans to meet up with Clay the only night he was free.
I was staying at The Standard on Sunset Boulevard, and when he picked me up for dinner, he wore a casual denim shirt over a crumpled white tee and another well-worn ball cap. I asked him if he always wore a cap. Clay joked that a ball cap was part of his uniform. He had several thrown haphazardly across his backseat, and his closet at home contained dozens more, he explained. It was as close as he got to collecting anything.
Honestly, I was surprised he hadn’t flaked on the date, or changed his mind once he saw me out of costume, but he didn’t disappoint. Clay was as attentive and charming as I remembered.
On the way to the restaurant, when Clay shifted gears, I noticed sunspots on his hand for the first time, and I thought, “What if I’m no longer attracted to him?” As if reading my mind, he mentioned he hadn’t worked out since Halloween because of a rotator cuff injury. Uh oh, I thought, what if without beer goggles the chemistry’s gone? I dismissed the passing thought, only relevant in retrospect.
Over the course of dinner, all such thoughts quickly evaporated. The more we talked, the more beautiful he became.
Clay explained that he had only been meeting guys since he turned 30, the same age I was at the time. He was now 38. Clay was married in his late 20s when he lived in Chicago, and he had a ten-year old daughter. He didn’t let his gayness define who he is, he said, and it never interfered with his straight family life. None of his straight friends knew about his sexuality, and between caring for his daughter and running a business, he rarely emerged to meet many gay people, of which he knew very few. The only reason he moved west was to be close to his daughter when his wife relocated to Orange County. Because the daughter lived with him full-time, he had put all personal relationships on hold until she’s out of school and out of the house. This was why he was so evasive about Thanksgiving and open weekends.
The entire story caught me off guard. I realized I could not have a real relationship with this guy. Yet, nevertheless, here I was, twirling pasta around my fork, sitting across from him on a cozy outdoor patio, cognizant of a sinking feeling in my stomach. The nervous, almost queasy sensation quickly killed my appetite. I returned the fork to the plate while Clay continued.
He said he was surprised how open he was with me in San Francisco, and how quickly he told me about his family just now, as he usually doesn’t do that. He never introduces any of his guy friends to his family, not even if they want to meet the daughter.
Clay admitted to struggling with being gay for a long time. In fact, his homophobia and paranoia is what drove him to pressure his ex-wife to get married. I regretted that I hadn’t been bisexual enough to stage my own fake marriage.
I empathized with Clay’s struggle of coming to terms with his sexuality. He shook his head and said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” The pain in his face reflected the pain in mine. It was a thought that crossed my mind many times. And a shame that many gay men never fully escape.
At that moment, my tortured soul fell deeply and hopelessly for his. This handsome, well-adjusted father shared the same insecurities that I did.
After months and months of misses, I had finally met someone like me. Hell had officially frozen over, and somewhere Satan was buying a winter coat.
Clay explained the real reason the marriage fell apart was that he and his wife were having problems. One day he checked his savings account to discover she had spent all of it. That was the moment he ended the relationship, as he had never felt so betrayed.
My heart leapt.
As we got to know each other better, conversation moved to lighter topics. He went to a large university in Illinois, where he was in a fraternity, and even crowned Homecoming King. This was also where he had his first gay experience. His roommate was a football player, and one night the guy came home drunk, and Clay awoke to find the footballer giving him a blowjob. Clay pretended to be asleep as the guy sucked him off. Clay never mentioned it to him, nor did the roommate.
Wow, I thought, wasn’t that every closeted guy’s fantasy? Here was Clay living it.
Soon Clay moved on to post college life, regaling me with a modeling career I had no knowledge of. He dismissed his looks by saying he was an old fart now and claimed I was much better looking. By this point you could have peeled me off of the table like candle wax, while somewhere, Satan must have been buying an ice scraper.
Apparently an image Clay had emailed me was from a photo spread in Men’s Health from last April. He modeled a lot more in Chicago, he explained, and was once in a national Head and Shoulders ad and a Bud Light commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. He was also the Kenneth Cole belt model in the late 90s, most notable for an ad campaign seen on billboards worldwide where his naked body was wrapped in various leather belts. Clay laughed at how he accidentally got the gig. He was waiting for his girlfriend at the time, who was in P.R., and they mistook him for the model because the one they hired never showed. He ended up on runways in Milan, naked, wearing only a dozen belts. He said he used to get mistaken a lot for Val Kilmer back then. His favorite model memory was driving his mom to a billboard outside of Chicago, making her close her eyes, then revealing the belt ad to her for the first time.
I recalled my equivalent college experiences – getting nominated for Homecoming Court, but not making it past the first round of interviews. And doing some local modeling that amounted to little more than volunteer work.
Clay reassured me it was all in the past. The most excitement he got these days was being drug to the White Party in Palm Springs, where he was propositioned by a Nautica underwear model and the Doublemint Twins, all of whom he politely turned down. It wasn’t really his scene, he explained. Palm Springs wasn’t really my scene either. It reminded me of a Florida beach town but without the beach.
The entire evening, I couldn’t help but think, why is a guy like this – who can have any model he wants – talking to me? I’d never felt desirable in my life, until Clay. And out of everyone at his disposal, he was sitting here with me?
Somewhere, Satan was renting a snowplow.
After dinner we went back to my hotel. Clay pulled me onto the bed to make out more than once, but I wanted to continue talking and learning more about him, partly because I found him fascinating and unlike anyone I’d ever known; and partly because I knew that when things turned physical, it would signal the night was drawing to a close, and I desperately didn’t want it to end.
I opened up to him about my own challenges in coming out, and how hard it was to find someone to connect with, how everyone I seemed to meet was so polar opposite from my straitlaced sensibilities. Clay empathized, citing a recent example of when he was in San Francisco. He returned to the hotel room to find his friends snorting coke and having sex with an escort they found online. That’s how he met Phil – he went out for a drink just to get away from them.
For every story of my exclusion and rejection, Clay seemed to have a matching one, despite his good looks and popularity. I’d never experienced such synchronicity in all my life.
I wondered if this was what it felt like to meet your soul mate.
Clay was my quintessential type, long before I even realized what my type was. He was more than the guy next door. He was the kind of person who grew more beautiful the more you got to know him, with eyes as deep and blue as a great lake.
His may have been the first eyes I ever truly noticed. He may have been the first person to ever hold my gaze before I looked away out of shame or insecurity. His eyes were like crystals, shimmering shards that caught the light in brilliant reflection, reflecting everything I didn’t even know I wanted. It was hard to look away. Their magnetism was both real and hyperbolic.
In other words: trouble.
By the time we got physical, I no longer even needed to. I found him more attractive than ever, but the intimacy was more fulfilling than sex could possibly be. We still hooked up, of course. We were two gay men, after all. But the experience of not needing to was a first for me with another gay guy.
After sex, he rested his head on my chest and fell asleep in my arms. Another first. As I myself drifted off, I became aware of a sinking feeling that had started at dinner and grown stronger throughout the night, crystalizing there in the quiet dark.
I asked him if I’d ever see him again. “Once or twice a year,” he joked. “And Christmas Cards.” I couldn’t bring myself to chuckle. I was afraid it might be true. I tried several times to utter the words, “I’m really gonna miss you tomorrow,” but by the time they finally came out, they were barely a whisper, and he was fast asleep.
When I awoke the next morning, the reality of parting ways was gut wrenching. I knew the impending heartache would bring me to my knees the moment he walked out the door. But first, like any other pair of hot-blooded gays in a double bed, we had sex. Except this time, my feelings of attachment, longing, and separation anxiety swirled inside me like a maelstrom.
When I climaxed, it was the biggest wave of release I’d ever experienced. It wasn’t the intensity of the orgasm. It was as if the torrent of torment, and fear and passion, crested and receded out of me in one finite gesture of love. This, I thought, is what it must be like to make love, not just have sex. I would not experience it again.
After that we showered together, another first with another person. Quickly after, he left.
And I crumbled. I slowly, methodically got dressed, wondering how I’d make it through the day.
Then the phone rang. It was Clay. My heart jumped. Did he miss me already?
No, he was in the lobby, needing to get his car out of the garage, and didn’t know my last name.
My heart sank. I knew his last name. I remembered it from the first time we met.
Shortly after, I met my boss for breakfast, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat. My stomach was in knots. I was quiet, sullen, pale. He asked if everything was all right. I nodded. I had not told a single person in my life that I was gay, so all of the suffering I kept to myself.
When I returned to San Francisco, the city was ablur with rain. Over the next week, as winter set in, the pit in my stomach began to corrode my appetite, my sleep, and my senses. I walked around in a haze.
Unable to fully concentrate on work, I struggled to think straight. I was lucky if I got two or three hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. The bundle of nerves in my stomach made it hard to keep food down. I started living off Ensure and high-calorie yogurt drinks. I was losing weight, and I didn’t have much to lose.
I kept thinking that with each passing day, I would get a little better and a little better, but I didn’t. I’d break down in tears in my car, my office, in the bathroom at work, in the shower at home, at Target. My emotional state didn’t keep me from going through the motions of work and life, but it made everything absolutely miserable.
I fought attempts to phone or email Clay. I knew where we stood. I just had to get over it. But I didn’t know how. He was the last thing I remembered thinking when I went to sleep, and the first thought on my mind upon waking.
I started taking Ambien, but I’d wake up after only three or four hours and toss and turn the rest of the night.
When I didn’t think I could take it anymore, I finally came out to my first friend. She couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding. Even though it took me 5-10 minutes just to say the words “I’m gay,” she still complimented my courage. She cried with me. She hugged me. She let me get everything off my chest – coming out, dating, and Clay.
My spirits momentarily lifted, but by the next day I was back to square one. I shopped for a ball cap to send Clay for Christmas, and I found a blue one that would look great with his eyes. I mailed it to arrive just days before the holiday.
I wanted desperately to hear his voice, to talk to him, but I knew that wasn’t a good idea. So, I did the next best thing. I searched the web and libraries for his modeling pictures. After working in the library system for almost a decade, I prided myself on my resourcefulness, yet I was unable to track down a single Calvin Klein ad, even looking through every men’s fashion magazine from the late 90s. I did find the Men’s Health from April, but alas, I couldn’t find his picture or spread.
I put the research on hold when I went home for Christmas. Immediately, my mom knew something was wrong, but I dared not utter a word. I spent the holiday comatose, on autopilot, physically present, but miles away.
I had hoped Clay would call on Christmas, as it wasn’t just a major holiday but my birthday as well. And surely he’d received the cap by now?
The phone never rang. Not even a text.
By the end of the week, I could take it no more. I had to phone Clay and tell him how I felt. I knew a relationship wasn’t an option, and yet… The chemistry was just so strong. Maybe despite everything he said about not allowing himself to date guys or fall for them, maybe he liked me just a little? I had to be sure. The intensity of his interest just seemed to fly in the face of everything he said over dinner. I needed to know there was no hope. I needed to hear him say there was no way to make this happen. I needed to know that he didn’t feel anything.
We spoke the day after Christmas. I admitted I was reluctant to burden him with what I had to say, but how important it was for me to get it off my chest. I explained that when we met in L.A., I had no expectations, but despite everything he said at dinner that night, I still came away with feelings. I didn’t dare admit the degree to which those feelings were consuming me, but I did reveal how they caught me off guard.
Clay said he was glad I felt comfortable enough to share this with him, as communication is important. I said I knew he wasn’t looking for a relationship, but I needed to hear him say it couldn’t go anywhere. I needed him to say he wasn’t interested in me. I told him not to be afraid of hurting my feelings.
Clay chuckled a bit and said that now I was making him feel bad. I promised I didn’t mean it that way. He said that maybe if I lived closer, maybe things would be different. It would be nice to get to know me more, but he couldn’t promise me anything. His family came first, and they took up all his time. In fact, he said, he hadn’t done anything gay-related since he saw me several weeks ago, as it’s just not part of his life.
Clay said he tried a relationship once in Chicago, but it didn’t work out, and everyone got hurt. So he didn’t allow himself to have those feelings for anyone, and if he did, he nipped it in the bud.
He made it sound so easy.
Clay confirmed he didn’t have feelings for me, and that if he did, he probably wouldn’t tell me anyway. I said I wanted him to trust me enough that if he ever did, he could tell me, and we could have a rational conversation about it.
I was very rational. It was my emotions that were irrational.
Clay said he had no intention of dating until his daughter finally asked him why he was single, but not until then. And even then, whomever he dated would have to be good with kids, and he’s still not sure he’d want to share his family with anyone.
Clay admitted he had a connection with me, and that he was very attracted to me, but knowing how flakey guys were on the West Coast, he never really expected to hang out with me again. Plus, my down-to-earth innocence contradicted the gay culture he’d experienced, so I kinda fascinated him.
I admitted that maybe I read too much into things. I asked if this sort of thing happened to him often – having guys fall for him. He knowingly laughed it off without really addressing it. I guess he just had that effect on people.
After an hour of conversation, we netted out in a good place. He said he didn’t want to burn any bridges, or end any friendships, and he’d really like to keep in touch. He was expecting to be back in the Bay Area sometime in the spring, and maybe we could sync up then.
Before I hung up, I asked if he’d received my gift, and he said he hadn’t, but he’d let me know when he did. I also asked him about the Men’s Fitness spread. He said it was in a pullout section of the issue and he’d mail me a copy.
This was the last time we ever spoke. I never received any package, nor did he ever ask for my address.
Immediately after the phone call, I found myself throwing up, a total of three times. This was the first time I had thrown up sans alcohol in nearly 25 years. I can only assume it was from expunging the obsessive thoughts that had overrun my neural circuitry for the last three weeks. I did feel lighter. I had gotten everything off my chest, including dinner. And more importantly, I got clarification.
By the time I returned to San Francisco, however, the emotional distress returned to pre-Christmas levels. Once again, I could barely eat or sleep, and I had lost ten pounds. The anxiety got so bad I finally called my general practitioner for an appointment.
It was scheduled for 11AM on a Friday. The office closed at noon on Fridays, and I got stuck in traffic for an hour en route. Fearing I wouldn’t get there before they left for the weekend, my anxiety levels shot even higher. While stuck in the swamp of stalled cars, engines running but barely moving, I wondered if this was what it was like to go mad. To have your emotions steamroll off the tracks while you kid yourself you still have control of the wheel.
Fortunately, I made it to the doctor – barely. He prescribed antidepressants, and recommended I see my first therapist.
It’s official, I thought. I’m crazy.
The emotional part of me – this growing thing – seemed to exist independently of my senses, immune to my practical self.
I knew there was no relationship to pursue. I knew he had no feelings for me. I knew I needed to suck it up and get over the damn thing.
I was being rational, but my depression was biochemical.
It refused to dissipate. It was cancerous to my mood and my mind. It infected everything in my perimeter with an overwhelming sense of despair, like some sort of growing virus. No matter how much I told myself, “You are not getting sick,” there it was, growing, making me sick. I can only imagine that’s what it’s like to find out you’re pregnant. “What are you doing in there? Get out! Finals are in two weeks!”
But no logic, no reason, no rational part of me could prevent this malignant emotional mass from intruding into every single thought and eventually manifesting physically.
I fought it like crazy, with exercise, work, therapy, meditation, medication, distraction after distraction. But it was unreachable. Untethered even. Whether in a crowded bar, a dark theater, or alone in bed, desperately praying for sleep or a brain aneurism, it was always there... an emotional havoc, if you will.
Writer and psychologist Jesse Bering asserts the original Cupid of mythology was a sociopath who impulsively wrought emotional havoc with the pierce of an arrow.
Cupid was no mischievous cherub with a whimsy for matchmaking, but a malevolent being that scorned law and order. According to Roman author Apuleius in Metamorphoses, Cupid roamed the night corrupting lawful marriages and doing “nothing but evil.”
That was exactly how I felt – like a victim of love so callous and cruel, plucked straight through the heart like some hapless fool.
Continued in Cupid is a Sociopath, part 2