BEST THING I NEVER HAD
This blog has been particularly difficult to write. I've hemmed and hawed about how I wanted to share this aspect of my life. While blogging in itself is hard, personal blogging is harder. Some secrets are meant to be kept forever - locked away and never mentioned again. This blog has been a few months in the making, so here goes:
It was around one in the morning. I'm not sure the date, exactly. I just remember that it was cold, for San Diego. I was walking, alone. My face was stinging from being punched. My ribs throbbing from being thrown and hitting the coffee-table. The pain, both physical and emotional, was excruciating. To this day, I don't know which one hurt more. All I know is that was going to be the first - and last - time someone I was in a relationship with would put their hands on me.
It's something that I don't talk about. I try to forget that it even happened. The warning signs were there, telling me to get out sooner than I did. Why I didn't listen, I may never know. Something like this, we assume, only happens to women in heterosexual relationships. Abuse, of any kind, is not reserved for those kinds of relationships - I know that first hand. The horror for me was this was my first relationship with a man; It was shortly after I came out to family and some friends that this relationship blossomed. I was 21, he was 34. Age didn't bother me: I felt mature for my age. Besides, he was a nice guy, caring, affectionate. At least at first.
I fell for him...hard
For my first "real" relationship, I wanted to make it something that I didn't have before. Sure, I had girlfriends, went through the motions, but nothing felt natural. I told myself that this was going to be different; that this time I was free to be unapologetically myself. All this, though, came with a catch: Masc for Masc. Seeking "masculine" qualities in another "masculine" man was where I found my Grindr advertisements. It was a way, I thought, to indicate that I was looking for another man like me: Someone whom liked sports, beer and the gym (my three favorite things at the time). At that point, I was still early in the GMC (the Gay Male Community, explained here), and Masc for Masc was where I thought I fit in. I wasn't expecting any repercussion.
In my experiences with this section of the GMC, it's an area where you can't have feminine characteristics and a deep voice is expected. Toxic masculinity runs rampant and nobody seems to care. It's an exclusive section of the GMC and if you don't fit based on a picture (you're only price for admission) then it's going to be difficult for you to gain membership. Simply put: if you don't have a 6-pack or your smile is too "nice", you're not welcome here.
This is where I met him.
Over the coming weeks and months, I pursued. Persisted. Ultimately, it led to a date. Then another. Until finally it was official. More time passed and then I started spending more and more time at his apartment, often staying for a weekend. Those weekends turned into long weekends. Then the weeks simply never ended. It was easy; We had similar interests, had similar hobbies, laughed at the same things. Then, slowly, things started to unravel.
They were subtle at first. He wouldn't come to family dinners if we were invited. He would isolate himself, cutting off ties to people he had been friends with for years. I thought it was because the apartment we now shared was too small, that more space would do us both some good. We moved into a bigger apartment, got another dog (he already had one). Things appeared to be on the upswing, like we were back to where we were when it started.
At the time, I was heavily into fitness. I would run twice a day: a few miles early in the morning with a few more before dinner. I was in the gym frequently, mainly because I worked at one. I was in the best shape of my life. Now, I realize that it was gaslighting. But at that time, I thought he was just upset that I was gone to much. I was told that I needed to stop running or going to the gym because I should be home. So I did. I felt like it was my fault that he was isolating himself; that I wasn't giving the relationship the attention it deserved. A couple weeks would go by, where I wasn't exercising like I was.
"You should go to the gym, you're letting yourself go," he would tell me. This back and forth continued until the bitter end.
It's at this point that I should have seen the warning signs. I should have seen that this wasn't something that I wanted to be part of. But I thought that this was what it's like being in a same-sex relationship. Growing up, we're taught that males should be dominate and that we should do anything we can do achieve that dominance. I thought that this was just a typical dynamic of males being in a relationship together.
I've never been more wrong.
Months went by. The back and forth of the gym turned into a back and forth about what our weekends would look like. I was not much of a fan of going to nightclubs. Anyone that knows me, knows that I enjoy my sleep. If I'm awake too late, my eyes start to turn red and I know that I have an hour, tops, before I need to lay down and recharge. He liked the nightclubs, however. It was his time to "unwind" and "relax" from the week. The only thing was I wasn't allowed to drink at the club. I was invited to go with him only if I agreed to be the designated driver. And every time, I agreed to do so. These were the only times that he seemed to show true affection - always sealed with a kiss.
One day, I had decided that I had had enough. It was time for me to do something for myself, with friends I had made. Although I was an adult and could make my own decisions, I still felt as though I had to ask permission to go out. Begrudgingly, I was given approval to spend an evening with friends at a bar. It was the most fun I had had in a while. It was the first time where I didn't feel like I had to worry about what I was doing, how I was dancing, if I had a drink too many that would send him over the top. I was able to move freely, knowing that I had someone to go back home to.
It was my decision to leave the bar earlier than planned. It was late, for me, and I was ready to go back to my apartment to spend a few moments with him before we both fell asleep. When I arrived, the lights were out. Figuring he was asleep, I was quiet to unlock the door. To my surprise, he wasn't asleep at all. Instead, in the dark, he was watching a movie. Innocent enough, if there weren't someone - whom I had never seen nor met before - next to him. I froze for a moment, trying to figure who this person was, if I was imagining things. I didn't want to assume the worst until "you're home early" was uttered.
Flight was my response. I didn't say anything, rather, I went to the bedroom to collect my things. Maybe it was the liquid courage, maybe it was a year and a half of pretending things were fine. He followed me into the room. I don't remember the exact exchange of words; it was panic, anger, frustration, betrayal all wrapped in one. I was trying to get out, to leave the situation. I must have said something that set him off, but the next I remember, I was thrown to the ground, clipping the coffee-table on my way down. He was then on top of me, throwing punches left and right. A few connected before he was pulled off by the stranger in our apartment.
Days later, I took my name off the lease and went to get the rest of my things. As I was putting the final box in the car and getting ready to drive away forever, he stopped me. What he said haunted me for a long time: "You know this isn't entirely my fault, right?"
Gaslight (as a verb): manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their sanity.
It took some time to put trust into potential relationships again. When it happened, I didn't want to share it with anyone other than family, thinking that it would cause a reaction of "well, why didn't you leave earlier?"
I don't have an answer to that question. Reflecting on all of this, I realize now that I was in a gaslighting situation where I was led to believe that there wasn't anything other than this; that this was a normal same-sex relationship between men. Often, you don't realize situations you're in until it's too late. I'm one of the lucky ones that was able to get out after the first physical altercation. My heart breaks to think about those that are not able to do the same. To think of the many that endure it twice or more, thinking that it's normal, that there isn't an escape.
You never know what someone is going through. What is on the surface may not be what's within.
Check in on your friends, even the ones that appear to be having it all on their social medias.
It only takes a second, and that second can change everything.
Title: Best Thing I Never Had
Year Released: 2011