Alex Gabriel is deploring the use of euphemisms to mask our desires, and reading it reminded me of my one gay date.
This was ages ago, in 1979, in Eugene, Oregon. I was a fresh new graduate student, living all by myself (I wasn’t married yet) in a strange new town. For socializing, I fell in with a bad crowd: grognards. There was a group of people that met once a week to play wargames.
This was in the days before everyone had computers. I’m talking paper maps, cardboard chits, dice and tables of numbers. That’s how old I am.
Anyway, one evening I was teamed up with a new guy. We were the Russians, trying to hold the line near Smolensk, against the invading Nazis. Our opponents were a pair of grim veterans of the gaming community who were nearly perfectly silent the entire time, carefully and precisely setting up their panzers, while we were just having a good time, chatting and laughing while we were shuttling masses of ill-trained farm boys in box cars to hold the line in unruly ranked masses. We were slaughtered. Sorry, Russia!
But it was just a game, we had fun, I was mainly there to get to know people and have someone to talk to, and my partner was about my age, another student, and we had a lot in common.
Afterwards, he invited me to the cafe downstairs. For coffee.
I know. I was naive. I said sure — I was enjoying our conversation.
We talked for an hour or two, it was getting late, but we were getting along grandly. And then when the bill came, he swept it up and paid for both of us. That was odd, I thought, as my brain slowly began to make associations and recognize that this situation seemed strangely familiar.
And then he said, “My apartment is just around the corner, would you like to come up for a bit?” and it all suddenly sank in. There were alarm bells going off in my head, my ponderous brain was slowly waking up and thinking, “oh, yes, that’s why this is so familiar, only last time I was sitting in his chair, and the person in my chair was a young lady.” I was in a panic.
Not because my friend had done anything wrong. He was a nice fellow and he’d been sending me signals all night long, and I was the stupid one who failed to recognize them, and here I’d gone and led this pleasant young man along. I felt awful because I had missed all the cues.
I stammered out something about having to go home and get a good night’s sleep, my girlfriend from Seattle was coming down to visit (I really did have a girlfriend in Seattle! But she wasn’t actually going to visit any time soon.) It was awkward for both of us.
You know what was worst about this, though? He was polite, he showed no disappointment, but when I bumped into him a few times afterwards, he was civil but we never got into a good conversation again — I think he felt a little embarrassed, too, and he might easily have misread my clumsiness as distaste. And he was a good guy, I liked him and enjoyed our one gay date, and we could have been good friends.
It was an opportunity lost because signals were misunderstood. And you know, it also struck me that many women who have the potential to be my good friends could be feeling exactly what I felt that night — that good company can be made awkward by unreturned desire, and that while there’s nothing wrong with desire, there’s also nothing wrong with lacking it, while sharing other interests.