In February of 2011, I went with a group of people on an RSVP gay cruise to the Caribbean.
A "bon voyage" party was held on the back deck of the ship as it pulled away from port. One of the men in my group (I'll call him Nate) was introducing everyone to someone he'd just met. When he got to me, he said, "This is our friend Paul. He's a bit desperate."
Nate was not even remotely joking. There was no "wink." This is what he thought of me. My stomach dropped; I felt like I had been sucker punched.
I looked at Nate and asked, "Where did you get the idea that I was desperate?"
"Well," he said, "You told us -- two weeks ago at the party." (He was referring to a cruise planning party our group had held).
At that party, several people told me about a couple who had met on the previous year's cruise. They fell in love and one of them moved cross-country to be with the other. Upon hearing the story, I said (with humor), "Pray for me, y'all."
I said more than that, but don't remember specifics. I'm sure I expressed something along the lines of desiring a similar experience. I'd just come through a year of tremendous self-exploration, spiritual work and growth, and felt ready to love and be loved in a greater way.
Whatever I said, I certainly didn't feel it was an expression of desperation. Nate clearly disagreed, and I was angry about it. I was surrounded by people out to have a good time and kept my cool as best I could, but said to Nate through somewhat gritted teeth, "That is not what I said."
That word -- desperate -- it struck quite a nerve.
Beyond that rather lousy moment, the cruise was life-changing. The experience did wonders in terms of how I felt as a man; especially as a gay man. I gained insights that made me feel more alive than ever. No love connection happened, but it didn't matter. I was certain that with all of my shifts and changes, love was on its way to me back home.
To my surprise, the difficulty of dating, let alone meeting anyone special, remained a huge source of confusion over the next couple of years. I had done even more spiritual and emotional work. I felt better and better about myself with each passing day and felt successful in so many ways.
So, why wasn't a loving connection happening for me?
Through my study and work, I'd proven the theory that what I think and believe about myself can be reflected in life's situations. I figured there must be something I'd missed or hadn't dealt with. However, given the intensity of my work, I couldn't imagine what that could possibly be.
In March of 2013, I had a particularly dark evening where I made some choices, sexually speaking, that were not healthy. I've never done drugs or alcohol. My judgment was not impaired. I knew better than to engage in this behavior, but did it anyway. I wrote it off as "mere horny-ness."
At one point during the sex, my sex partner and I looked into each other's eyes. It was a look that felt more appropriate for authentic lovers than two people who didn't know each other. Here I was doing this incredibly intimate thing, and I didn't know who I was looking at. I wished I did.
A "voice in my head" said, "Put the STD risks aside for a second. What are you doing to your heart?"
Suddenly, the sex was no longer sexy. I finished to get it over with, but my sex partner wasn't done. I didn't stop him from getting himself off, and he didn't seem to care that I'd "checked out."
Shortly after this experience, I signed on to Facebook and the first image I saw was a picture of a gay friend cheek to cheek with a man. Both of them were smiling and above the picture read the words, "It's official!"
I wept instantaneously. Not cried; wept. The weeping was continuous and didn't stop for 45 minutes; floods and floods of tears.
I thought, "There's my friend announcing what looks like a healthy, loving, vibrant new relationship and here's me, having impersonal sex and making questionable decisions because I don't have a love life."
The weeping continued until I slept.
Three months later. I awoke one morning to the sounds of cheering relatively close to where I live in West Hollywood. I went to my computer to see if I could figure out what it was about.
I signed into Facebook and through an explosion of status updates and images expressing joy and love, learned that the Defense of Marriage Act had been struck down. It was June 26th, 2013.
My gay friends were excited that they could finally marry their partners; everyone else was excited for their gay friends. June 26th also happens to be my parents' wedding anniversary. Within the course of a few moments, all of my "hot buttons" about marriage, love, sex, partnership, weddings and anniversaries were pushed.
Usually when these buttons were pushed, I would get a stomach pang or heart ache fueled by jealousy or envy. On this morning, I could not feel anything. I couldn't relate. Even the historic implications of the gay marriage ruling were completely lost on me. I just didn't care.
The fact that I couldn't put aside my sense of loneliness in order to be or feel happy for others scared the crap out of me. That is not who I am or who I want to be. In those moments, despite all my work, I didn't know what to do. No matter how sweet and nice and kind and spiritual I believed I was, it troubled me deeply that jealousy, envy and unhappiness were in my heart.
A few months before, I'd had a conversation with a "life coach" of sorts. I said to her, "I get on Facebook and see people expressing how happy they are when they're in love and this jealous, envious side of me comes out. Then I say to myself, "Well, that's why you don't have a relationship -- because you have jealousy and envy. Get rid of that, and you'll have a relationship!"
She gasped and asked, "Do you hear the punishment in that?"
I said yes, but I really didn't hear the punishment. I didn't understand the ramifications of what she was pointing out to me or recognize how incredibly hard I can be on myself.
On the emotionally charged morning of June 26th, 2013, I "got" what she was saying. My inability to be happy meant I was still telling myself things like, 'I'm bad,' 'I'm wrong,' 'I shouldn't feel this way' and 'no wonder I'm still single.'
I was due to begin a new, deeper round of spiritual study in the fall of 2013. By the time that class was beginning, more events surrounding the issue of love had compounded to a point that I felt mentally exhausted. The class was going to require even more "soul-searching" and I didn't know if I had it in me to go through it. I almost dropped out.
In November, I had to do a term paper for class where I identified how my life got to be the way it is, based on my beliefs.
While writing that paper, the belief that I was "desperate" came up. The experience with Nate on the ship, settling for impersonal sex, seeing my friend announce his relationship, and June 26th, 2013 all figured in to my unconscious "desperation."
I realized that the only reason Nate's "desperate" tag bothered me so much was because I believed it. At the time, I wasn't conscious that I believed it -- but I did. After all, I've heard plenty of other opinions of me. When I know they're not true or when they don't resonate, I don't think anything of it. The opinions just roll off my back.
As crappy as the moment with Nate felt, he was only saying the truth as he saw it. A harsh truth, but the truth.
As I continued to write my paper, these words came through my fingers:
I want to "not be desperate" more than I want a partner.
The moment I understood that, my envy towards people screaming their love from the rooftops subsided. Now, whenever I feel the slightest tinge of that horrid sense of envy in my heart, my next thought is, "I've got more work to do. So let's take a big boy breath and move on."
Gay or straight, I believe people could use this kind of insight. If you want a relationship so badly -- I mean REALLY, REALLY badly - ask yourself why! If you see a friend around you flailing to be loved, ask them what that is about. Where does that come from? I feel that, for everyone, it's likely rooted in some sense... somewhere... of "not being enough." That is where desperation lives.
I'm much better than I was, but I still have my moments. Sometimes, when I see people announcing new relationships on Facebook, I tend to hit the "unfollow" button.
When that happens, I question if "unfollowing" and hiding their expressions of love is adding to the problem. So, before I "unfollow," I take a good look at the photos or the words expressing love.
Then I breathe and say, "I'm happy for them."