09/06/2012 07:37 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

How Things Like This Happen (Part 3): Societal Indictment

Continued from Part 2

Perhaps the only thing worse than struggling to come out as an adolescent is struggling to come out as an adult. There's the process, the mental incapacitation people go through living lives that simultaneously are and are not their own. There's what society does to its own members, and how far some are willing to go to avoid being exposed or even questioned. If sexual moralism were passé and had no religious or moral weight or relevancy, how free and liberated many would be. Many men would not cheat on their wives with men. Many women would not have to fear that they may enter into nuptials with a secretly gay man. American society has created this problem for itself, making many feel that they must bear the weight of a white picket fence.

Perhaps a far worse repercussion is the lost opportunities, the squandered chances at true love for those who are not true to themselves.

One night, before everything hit the fan between us, Matt and I found ourselves hanging out on his couch, listening to the latest Adele album, a veritable soundtrack to love lost, love found, and love unrequited.

"I love that CD! You have to put it on!" I'd demanded after spying it in his living room.

As "Lovesong" played, I lost myself in the strums of the guitar.

"Do you believe in true love?" he asked, seemingly out of thin air, catching me mildly off guard.

I knew the answer. I think most people do, but expressing it, verbalizing it, isn't something we practice. After a few seconds of thought and a half-attempt at stating that I had never given the question much thought, I retorted, "I must, because I feel like I am chasing it."

During the winter break before things took off with Matt, I went on holiday in South America. While there, I befriended a female lawyer from England, whom I have since grown closer to.

After a night out we came back to the pool house we were sharing and decided, at 3 a.m., that we weren't quite ready to go to bed. Under the moon and stars, next to a white-stoned pool reflecting water too blue to be real, we had a soul-searching conversation about the tenets of love and security.

"It's not easy to meet someone, and it gets fucking miserable sometimes," I began. "Some people just bounce from relationship to relationship and have no problem finding them. I don't get it, how even the most unattractive people, physically or personally, seem to be able to find someone."

"They're settling, love," she said. "Don't be so hard on yourself."

"I know, I shouldn't. I have standards. I know what I want and can't settle."

"That might change," she quipped. Ever the pessimistic English realist.

"No, it won't. I just know myself too well to ever let that happen. If it's not there, I'll cheat or seriously hurt someone. Why would anyone go into something knowing they'll ultimately destroy it?"

"You're 25 right now. When you're into your 30s a bit, you'll see. Everyone around you will begin to settle, and that pressure... That pressure's a bitch, I tell you."

"I can't ever do that. Love. Love is what matters. That feeling inside. When it's there, you know. It's the strongest emotion there is."

"Rubbish. I don't believe that for a second." Dismissive and cynical, she continued, "Too many people seek security. Too many people are settling for that to be true."

"So, wouldn't that make love paramount, if to settle is to give up on the ultimate emotion, making settling secondary?"

"No, settling trumps love, because the need for that security in the world takes over and makes love secondary."

I conceded just enough ground to attempt to bury her in her own argument. "Well, maybe people are conflating the two," I said. "Loving someone that provides the security. Willing to settle because they are in love with that feeling of security and loving someone because they can provide that. An unromantic nuance of love, but love nonetheless?"

"But wouldn't that make love the secondary emotion, finding the security and 'loving' its provider?" she pressed.

I'd begun to think I'd just given her a victory when a little lightbulb went off.

"No," I declared. "It makes security 'love-lite,' a lesser form, because if given the choice, you wouldn't choose to settle for security. To settle is to give up on love."

We went on and on at length, strengthening our points, using anecdotes, pulling out the nonfiction stops to prove the other's reasoning fallacious, a veteran lawyer and a potential novice going at it. As the sun rose, we agreed to disagree, but each of us knew our views had affected the other, at least a bit. There were certainly several grains of truth to both perspectives.

The summer prior to that trip to South America, I went to Europe, where I met a guy named Dan. A late-30s Oxford grad with a Ph.D., he stood slightly over 6-foot-2, with a toned body and a handsomely rugged face. After our first tryst in my microscopic studio apartment, which required a playlist of songs to mask sounds we didn't want penetrating the paper-thin walls, we decided to hit a bar for happy hour. When he checked his watch for what seemed like the 10th time, I playfully demanded to know what had him so on edge about the time. His girlfriend, he told me. With a familiar sigh, I began the interrogation: How long had they been together? (Seven years.) Did she know he was sleeping with men? Why was he sleeping with men? He told me he'd always had a inkling that he was attracted to men but hadn't felt that it was fair to explore it until his girlfriend cheated on him. His gay sexcapades were a perverse atonement to save their relationship, an eye for an eye to preserve a future they could see together. Some gay friends he'd confided in had told him that he should stick with what he had and hold on to that companionship, the security he had attained, and just have gay affairs on the side. Coming out and trying to find companionship and security would not be easy, he was told.

"But things in life aren't always easy, and you don't sacrifice happiness if you're not really in love just because it's easy," I reproached him. "That's a recipe for unhappiness." Then I asked, "Are you in love with her?"

"No." The reply was quick and assured.

I told him I thought he should leave her, that he needed to love himself and be who he really is. He thanked me for the advice and teased me about what he deemed "Oprahspeak."

It was not until I returned to the U.S. that he told me, in what would be his last email, that he'd left his wife (not a mere girlfriend after all) and was seeking split custody of their 5-year-old child. He also made it a point to tell me that he'd played his favorite song from our playlist, Robin Thicke's "Dreamworld," throughout his house, audible to his wife. She'd taken the news well and had pleaded for an open marriage. She'd been willing to look the other way to keep him, but he'd made his decision. He was going to do the "right" thing, even if it was years too late. I've since regretted having advised him to leave her, as I would have been far more cautious with that advice had I known that he was married with child and not just tied to a girlfriend.

Although Matt and Liz were not married, it was clear that they were on that path. But here he was, in this bar, drunkenly shouting at me, "I fucking love you." Wreck a home, or take the high road? Was this home inevitably doomed, regardless of my decision?

When I caught sight of him a few minutes after his drunken declaration, he was noticeably distraught. I quickly caught up to him and grabbed his arm.

"Hey, I don't want to keep arguing with you," I said. "I want us to be able to get along without yelling at each other like that."

He drunkenly leaned in for a hug, seemingly ignoring what I was saying. As he grabbed my side to pull me into him, I angrily whispered into his ear, "Don't touch me," and slapped his hand off my hip. He quickly let go. "Look," I said. "I'm just going to pretend that everything last summer never happened. I'll be at the bar with all our mutual friends. Go find Liz and come hang." It was my attempt at making amends, I suppose. I did not see either of them the rest of the night.

I wish I could say that I denied his advances that night out of respect for Liz, but that was not my motive. More than anything else, I did it for my own emotional protection. Matt is not a man who is ready to own up to who he is, and I would have been a fool to let him back in. I was too afraid of being hurt again, and I needed more security than a simple "I love you." That summer, I'd felt quite certain that our feelings had been mutual, and now he'd finally confirmed that he was in love with me, but sometimes love just is not enough.

Even with that wisdom, the next month was hellish, as that conversation in the bar, like so many conversations Matt and I had shared, induced rumination, playing over and over in my mind. I sensed myself giving in to old feelings and lost myself in the possibility of what could still be. But as each day went by, it also seemed clearer to me that if he'd meant a word of what he'd said in that bar, he would have contacted me. That realization made it easy to keep myself from giving much weight to his words. Matt had made his bed, and he seemed content to lie in it, and I would have to live with that decision.

But there was still one last thing I felt I needed to say to him before I could fully leave it all behind. I knew that when the time was right, I'd know it.

To be continued...

All names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.