“There’s something on your pants,” Colin told me. I was in front of him as we climbed the winding staircase of his new workplace. I had taken him up on his offer to give me a private tour of the former mansion. Without a second thought, he rubbed away the aberrant dust mark on the back of my leg.
Later on, in the evening, he accompanied me back to his place where I would be staying for the night. He asked me if I was thirsty and grabbed us both a glass of water, placing mine on the window ledge beside me. He sat across from me on the other side of the room as we talked… and talked. We talked about children. We talked about relationships. When I thought I had misplaced my glass, without skipping a beat he walked across the room and handed it to me again. We reminisced on our law school days, and I couldn’t help but think of how far we had come — first as friends struggling through school, now each serving as directors at our respective non-profits, me still single, he now engaged.
Being in Colin’s presence always reminded me of what love and mutual respect felt like. Like a reassuring hug, I needed the reminder. I lived a life where men said one thing but their actions said another, a life where I would try to cobble together enough hints to prove to myself that some random guy was interested in me. I was always guessing about someone’s intentions, accepting the bare bones I was thrown and calling it a meal, chalking it up to there being a dearth of good men out there, aimlessly flapping around in the cesspool of dating and a broader culture of coupledom.
But Colin always stood in direct opposition to these “truths,” his friendship always challenging me to never proverbially “lower my standards.”
I’ve always wanted to know what it would be like to be loved and wanted by a man. I couldn’t figure out, for the life of me, why I only seemed to attract gay ones.
To my credit (and in my defence) it was not for lack of effort. I didn’t seem to catch the eye of anyone at church (and, to be fair, no one there was of interest to me), and every so often I would lift my head above the parapet of my books during my undergraduate studies to cast a cursory glance on the (albeit limited) prospects around me. I’m happy to report that I graduated with my B.A (with distinction!). While it was not the goal, I wasn’t successful in obtaining my M.R.S., however.
I was sure that I would meet somebody (or anybody at this point) when I moved from Toronto to attend law school at McGill University. McGill, after all, was considered the “Harvard of the North” and the holy grail of Canadian post-secondary education, and I secretly hoped that Montreal would prove to be the holy Mecca of men for which I aimlessly searched.
To my delight, I was right(ish). During my time in Montreal, I met Colin.
It was our first day of law school during the Dean’s welcome address. I sat beside him. He was tall and handsome with brown hair — and, as I later found out, extremely friendly. But I was tired and my head started to droop (sorry… it wasn’t the speech. I promise…) and so I got up to get a drink at the water fountain in the hopes that hydration would keep me awake.
When I returned to my seat, I found that this stranger had taken it upon himself to collect all of the handouts that I had missed and explain to me what was going on.
I left the moot court wondering if this was it… if he was “it” — if he was secretly interested or inadvertently flirting with me. And so I did what I do with every man who piques my interest — I Googled him. He was single (praise God!) but we both had the same gay friend in common…
I don’t remember when Colin told me he was gay, but yes, he was… gay. My hopes for a romantic “I met him on the first day of law school” love story were dashed and I had to “settle” for his friendship.
Perhaps “settle” isn’t the right word to use here. To be clear, after our first meeting, I never secretly pined after his affection. I had just been hopeful. As a single woman, I can’t help but be hopeful. I guess I’m always a little hopeful with any man I meet. I soon realized, however, that this one was not attracted to me. But I liked him, so we became good friends.
I know — this friendship made me look like some kind of “fag hag” (a “fag hag” is a slang word used in LGBT circles to describe a woman who associates mostly with gay men). But I don’t think that was it at all. My friendships transcended age, gender and yes, sexuality. Besides, Colin wasn’t my “gay friend.” He was simply my friend who just so happened to be gay. He wasn’t my prop, my accessory, something to prove to the world (or myself) that I wasn’t like those other close-minded religious people. He was (just) my friend. His gayness was incidental. I cared more about his personality than his sexuality, and if anything, his sexuality revealed the authenticity of his affection towards me. My friendship with Colin challenged me. It challenged what I knew about gay men. But more importantly, it taught me less about what it meant to be a gay man and more of what it meant to be a good man.
When I went vegan in law school he was right there with me. He’d come over to my place for my vegan brunches. Whenever I arrived to class or if I had a new hairstyle he’d often greet me with a “Hey beautiful!” He once told me, “Speaking of good looking, you are looking more and more amazing by the day…should make every woman want to become vegetarian in an instant.”
Being the gregarious person that he is, he met someone and eventually got engaged soon after law school. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that it’s always hard to see another one of your friends pair off because you know that the nature of your friendship with them may change. That said, Colin never made me feel like a third wheel. He, his new boyfriend and I would often hang out together.
On one occasion at a restaurant, after we had all placed our order, I was sitting beside him and he absentmindedly draped his arm around my shoulders as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I would be lying if I did not admit that I quietly wondered, “Is this what it feels like? To be claimed. To belong to someone. To belong.” But then he quickly had a moment of cognition: “Ooops. This is the guy who I should be putting my arm around” as he immediately dropped his arm and embraced his partner. My shoulders never felt so bare.
My friendship with Colin challenged me. It challenged what I knew about gay men. But more importantly, it taught me less about what it meant to be a gay man and more of what it meant to be a good man.
No, I don’t know what it feels like to nestle my head in the warm embrace of a lover as my senses are arrested by his scent, but I did sit shoulder to shoulder with Colin during Advanced Civil Law Obligations. I don’t remember much from that class except how lost we were in the subject matter. Colin would look up at me from across the moot court, and we’d exchange quizzical glances until ultimately he would seek me out during our class break. We’d then try to make sense of what we had just “learned” during the lecture. To this day, I’m not sure if I can properly explain the notion of “subrogation.” But in many ways, Colin felt like a subrogated companion.
I’ve never had any love interest text me and ask, “How’d it go?” after a challenging exam or job interview. But sometimes, when I would check my phone after an exam, I’d have a Facebook message waiting for me from Colin:
“Hey! Don’t feel down, that was a super hard exam… I’m hoping the [bell] curve will work some magic!”
And on “call back day” when I was waiting beside my phone for firms to “call me back” and offer me a summer position, Colin messaged me:
“I wanted to tell you: Regardless of what happens today, it is important to keep perspective. This is but one job among many other professional opportunities open to us in the future. Also, we should be proud of the accomplishments we have, to already be where we are studying law at McGill! The future is bright and you will go far!”
There was never any boyfriend conspiring to surprise me for any of my birthdays. But I do distinctly remember, one cold, wintry Montreal evening, standing in the aisle of the grocery store, calling Colin and asking him if he wouldn’t mind purchasing a “2” and a “5” candle to put on my birthday cake on his way over to my place that evening. It was a mid-week birthday in the middle of winter. Colin was the only one who showed up.
There was never any guy waiting up for me, ready to greet me upon my return to the empty apartment, which I rented alone. But I do remember one night, after we had had dinner at the house of a mutual friend from law school, Colin sat with me, bike in tow, and waited for the bus with me. He could have easily sped off into the night and left me behind — I didn’t live very far away anyhow, and downtown Montreal was definitely not a ghost-town on a Saturday night. Instead, as the bus pulled up, he waved and said, “Text me so I know you got home safe.”
No man has ever bought me flowers. But I do recall one Friday when I was sick and had to skip our Family Law class. I texted Colin to say that I would be missing class and I asked if he would be so kind as to share his notes with me. I had stepped out to buy something — cough syrup perhaps? — and when I came back I saw a crate of clementines and a carton of raspberries sitting in front of my apartment door. I checked my phone and Colin had texted me: “Hey! Open your door, surprise waiting for you outside. 😊 Get well soon! Colin.” On his way home from class, Colin had stopped off at the grocery store and bought me a shot of vitamin C in the form of fruits — and, of course, he promptly sent me the notes that I had missed without missing a beat.
During one evening in July, a group of us — Colin, his boyfriend and a few other of his friends — walked down to the Papineau Bridge to watch the firework festival. As the dazzling sparklers perforated and punctuated the celestial brushstroke of the night sky, I couldn’t help but think that this was a moment best shared hand-in-hand with a partner as the perfect finale of a mid-summer date night. And yet the irony was that I shared no romantic connection with the man standing right beside me.
No man has ever professed his love for me. But after a night of playing laser tag with a bunch of friends, one of my friends later confessed, “I was watching the way Colin interacts with you. That man loves you.”
Here was a man who wasn’t actively trying to get into my pants, and yet he treated me so well. How then could I accept any less from men who were trying to bed me? His friendship soon became the gold standard by which I evaluated all of my other interactions with men — platonic and otherwise.
And yet, I was still single. And the man who apparently loved me was not attracted to me.
Why didn’t anyone want me? As one of my few male friends, I’d often ask Colin for his insight:
Me: “I’ve been single for my whole entire life and from time to time I hate it. Sometimes I wonder if there’s anything wrong with me. And the men who are interested in me are…well…weird. Am I approachable? I’m definitely not where I want to be at this point in my life.
“And then I stepped on the scale this morning, only to realize I gained 10lbs.
“And everything compounded ma[kes] me feel like crap.. lol… just dealing with girl stuff!”
He: “let me say, you are such an amazing and exceptional person that any man would be extremely lucky to be with you. I really honestly think whatever man captures you will be a very lucky man. Are you approachable…are you kidding. Definitely. Also you have a combo going on of great looks, amazing smile, smarts and big dreams. But I think if you are seeking a stable relationship with love and commitment you will find it with the help of God. [sic]
“I can’t tell you there are things you should work on…besides your Vegan cookbook which I look forward to buying one day”
Me: “Thanks for your honesty.”
He: “of course. thanks for your friendship.”
I’ve long known the love of a man, as it turns out. Colin has always loved me in the ways that truly matter.