I’m a gay man who recently realised I was in love with my straight best friend. I didn’t think anything would come of it and so I tried to get over him. However he recently described himself as “heteroflexible” to me, and I can’t decide if this means it is worth pursuing him or if it’s just a buzzword. I didn’t ask him what he meant by it for fear he’d glean my real motivation. I’m not exactly smothered by other opportunities for love, but I don’t want to waste my time pining after someone unobtainable. To compound matters I won’t be seeing him for another six months and so I have to rely on internet conversations to try and work out if he has any romantic affection for me.
This letter appeared in the Observer.
This whole letter is about things that have been left unsaid. You realised you were in love with someone to whom you are already very close, but you imagine that he has somehow not noticed this? You didn’t tell him and he didn’t say anything either. Although you say he is your best friend you tried to ‘get over him’, something that sounds difficult to impossible if you really are such close friends. And, indeed, it sounds as though you did not stop hoping (again in silence) because you have been looking out for signs and have pounced upon his declaration of being ‘heteroflexible’.
However, again, he left a lot unsaid and you also didn’t question him ‘for fear he’d glean my real motivation.’ It sounds as though you are terrified of your own emotional truth. It’s impossible to say whether your friend is terrified, as you might be projecting your own fear into him and reading him according to your own specifications. However, your note makes it very clear that you are extremely scared of intimacy and its built-in potential for pain.
Your letter seems to centre around your sexuality and not knowing about his, but I think the issue is actually one of fear of intimacy (sexual preference aside). If you were straight and he were female, you would presumably be in a similar agony of not knowing because you are not talking to each other. After all, let’s say your friend is gay or bi-sexual (if this is what heteroflexible means), you still wouldn’t know if he was interested in you unless you were able to be honest with yourself about your relationship with him. You are both being rather coded and secretive.
Now the distance between you is about to increase even further and you will be doing your strange silent dance via email.
The words you use are very striking – ‘get over him’, ‘I can’t decide’, ‘pursuing him’, ‘just a buzzword’, ‘didn’t ask him’, ‘for fear’, ‘smothered’, ‘waste my time’, ‘pining’, ‘unobtainable’. It sounds as though you have entered this situation already feeling hopeless and expecting nothing. However, instead of seeking out lovers who are clearly available you carried on waiting for one single word of encouragement, which, once received, you hardly dare take as encouragement because you expect so little. This sounds pretty masochistic.
Of course, we can’t know how he feels or what his sexuality is, especially since you have selected just one word of what must have been very many words that pass between you. The word is in no kind of context and it seems you have fished it out in some desperation. Your fear of rejection is keeping you in a strange kind of limbo and you continue to torture yourself without seeming to want a real resolution – which you could, presumably, seek out by going in for a kiss or asking him directly.
You are asking the reader of your letter to read the mind of another man from one word. And this, indeed, is what you yourself are trying to do, apparently ignoring all the other spoken and unspoken communications between you. Nobody can do that, but we can look at what you are doing – feeling condemned to lack of intimacy and making that a self-fulfilling prophecy by dragging out a situation you suggest is already doomed. I wonder whether seeking out single, gay men might actually be more frightening to you than staying in sado-masochistic limbo with a friend who may or may not want to sleep with you?
So many letters to problem pages are an attempt to read a third party’s mind, but the mind you really need to read is your own. It seems to me that you are hobbling yourself on purpose (though unconsciously) for fear of being in a real reciprocal relationship.
This involves a massive amount of risk and potential reward for everyone, of course.
Though this can only be speculation, this is likely to be some kind of re-enactment of an early life in which you were left to guess what your parents were thinking and feeling and in which actually asking was completely off-limits, such that you were in a constant state of confusion about whether or not you were loved. You have brought this baggage into adult life and are continuing to act by the rules of your childhood which you imagine to be universal. They’re not.
Your letter makes me want to scream; ‘Ask him!’ That countertransference I think reveals the level of your own frustration at your silent suffering and how it felt as a child not being able to ask direct questions about your feelings and those of others.
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