Jocelyn, walk away. The last thing you need is another lover. You already have three lovers, four if you count your husband. Yes, he counts. Okay, so I have four lovers and one more has presented himself when I wasn’t even looking for another. But this one. This one is different from the others because we have been friends for decades, but we’ve never had an intimate relationship. For the purpose of protecting identity, I’ll call him Pablo.
Pablo’s mother is Spanish, his father, American. And like Picasso, he is a renaissance man, gifted in many areas: a graphic/web designer/IT guy, musician, potter, gardener, chef, dog-lover, song writer, singer, music lover, traveler and DIYer. Did I mention he’s also incredibly good looking, has a happy disposition and is still single? From his mother’s side he inherited skin the color of caramel. He has almost-black, thick hair flecked with some gray, full lips, brown eyes and a friendly, warm smile. He’s taller than me by a few inches (I’m 5’9″) and has a nice, sturdy, strong body. Not too soft in the middle, but not overly ripped. Oh, and he has a serious girlfriend, so not exactly single, but, yeah, that’s what makes him kinda like Picasso: always room for more lovers. So what’s wrong with him? Why hasn’t he “settled down?” Why have I not known him to have long-term commitments or live with a partner before? Is he actually gay and in denial? Definitely things I’ve asked myself over the past 20 years with no conclusive answer. He might be a little OCD with cleanliness/neatness. He might also really enjoy his personal time, space and silence. Pablo is probably an ambivert: someone who is both introverted and extroverted depending on the situation and how they derive their energy. He loves going to big music festivals with friends, but he also really likes chilling at home with his dog and refueling. He’s quite a package. And although I am definitely not looking for “partner-material,” I’d love to have a guy like him as a lover. My current lovers are emotional and financial train wrecks. Having someone out there who is emotionally stable, can afford a nice dinner or even a nice weekend away (and still pay their bills) is very appealing!
Pablo and I met at a bar in college (we think). It’s all a little foggy and we continue to try and conjure the memory of how and where we met. We probably sort of knew each other before our official meeting due to proximity of classes on campus, the places we hung out and the parties we attended. He was an art major, I was a theater major. He was in a band and I went to a few of his shows long before he ever knew I existed. He was also in a fraternity and I remember seeing him at some parties, but thinking he would never be interested in someone like me: not a sorority girl, no long blonde straight hair, a little weird, not beautiful in a mainstream way. In my mind, we met at a bar one night seeing one of our favorite college bands: Catwampus Universe. We drank too much and I lured him home to my apartment. But, strangely, we just went to sleep when we got home and said a quick goodbye in the morning, still fully clothed from the night before. And when I say we just went home, I mean it. Not one kiss, nothing. From earlier posts, you’ll know that isn’t how I operate.
Despite our platonic night together, I wasn’t giving up. I specifically remember saying to my best friend, Emma, how incredibly excited I felt to have a new crush. An idea developed with this crush that has stayed with me all these twenty-something years: I was looking forward to heartbreak. Who the hell looks forward to heartbreak? Weird? It had been awhile since I’d had my heart smashed to pieces and I wanted to feel the extreme high of getting to know a new person as well as the extreme low of the let down when it doesn’t work out or isn’t reciprocated. Emma gave me her usual scrunched up face and said “you’re so weird.” My response was that for every heartbreak, there is something new waiting around the corner. Only recently have I begun to understand how valuable and profound heartbreak and loss can be. These soul-crushing moments allow us to grow. More importantly when we are vulnerable enough to experience heartbreak in the first place, we are actually showing strength. Vulnerability is a muscle that allows us to grow stronger each time we use it. When we take risks and put ourselves our there we evolve and come away with knowledge and understanding about ourselves and others. The process can be so painful, but it can also be beautiful and lead to incredible experiences and sometimes love (or at least pleasure!)!
My crush on Pablo probably only lasted a few weeks, but time has a way of blurring our memories. We continued to talk on the phone and meet up on campus. One Friday evening, Pablo invited me over to his place to cook dinner together. For me, this is a really important memory. I didn’t know any other guys who knew how to cook. I, myself, didn’t even know how to cook much besides ramen. Here’s where Pablo and I disagree: my memory is that he made roasted acorn squash stuffed with creamed spinach and maybe steak or chicken? . That’s definitely what we ate, but we don’t know who’s idea it was. The more I think about this I have to admit that I think Pablo is correct: I made the acorn squash stuffed with spinach But, at age 22, he was willing to eat it. That, my friends, is a beautiful thing. And he will be so happy that I’m admitting that I, not he, made it. Pablo was, officially, my first foodie friend. Memories related to food or sharing a meal are extremely vivid. For me it’s one of the lenses through which I see and remember my experiences. Also, I love food! Over the years I’ve discovered that Pablo loves food as much as I do. We love new tastes and textures and we both love presentation. Every meal should have a balance and variety of color and texture. From that night forward, I often think of Pablo when I’m at a new restaurant or cooking a new recipe. At the end of the evening we chatted, he played guitar and then he was ready to get to bed and that was it. No kiss. No nothing again. It wasn’t a “date.” It was friends hanging out (and that should have been okay with me, but I couldn’t get beyond the “why doesn’t he like me that way” feeling.) I was a little crushed, but still hopeful.
The final chapter in this ancient memory happened sometime within a 6 month period of that dinner-not-date night. I know it was 6 months because I remember shouting at Emma through tears “you KNOW i have liked him for SIX MONTHS!” Emma and I had gone to our usual campus bar, most likely to watch our favorite bluegrass band. I could always count on Pablo being around if good music was playing. My memory of this time is really fuzzy. Twentysomething-years-ago memories are difficult to replay accurately. As the night went on Pablo was giving Emma a lot of attention. My jealousy was starting to flare. I can still see Emma’s head thrown back, her short curls bouncing, mouth open wide in her signature laugh at something Pablo said. Eventually the two of them stumbled out of the bar arm in arm, laughing and flirting. Sad, angry and hurt, I followed shortly after. When I turned the corner to go home, Pablo and Emma were pressed up against the blue cinder block wall heavily making out. Together in front of me, my best friend and the guy who embodied the perfect package making out. Humiliating and gut wrenching.
I blew up at Emma when she got home, we didn’t speak for a few days. I shed a few tears and tore myself apart and wondered what was wrong with me. When we’re in the thick of pain and rejection we can never see that it isn’t about us at all. It never is, it never was. My next memory of Pablo doesn’t reappear until a few years later. I got over my crush or, more likely, moved on to a new one. We remained friendly. We both moved to the same city after college, so we were always running into each other at shows. Emma and I were still roommates and went to a party at his house. And at some point he and I and my parents went to see Patty Griffin together. There is always a tender place in my heart for any man willing to go see Patty Griffin and more tenderness if they are a fan. But there has never been another time in the past 22 years that I have considered him as anything other than a friend or even fantasized about him. For more than a decade I think we both thought fondly of each other, but categorized each other as a tertiary friend.
The turning point in our friendship happened a few years ago when Pablo turned 40 and decided to come to the PNW for his birthday trip. We had been in touch more via social media and I was more than happy to open my door to him and show him around the city. There’s almost nothing I love more than being a tour guide in my own city, especially to an old friend who loves food! His intentions were to stay with another friend of ours from college, but, God love her, she’s a total flake and she and her place-to-stay didn’t come through. So Pablo ended up at our insane asylum, I mean, home, for several days. We cooked and ate our way around the city. Pablo made bolognese sauce from scratch and I picked up some culinary skills that I didn’t even know I was lacking. The two of us went to my favorite Spanish restaurant for tapas. It was an indulgent meal and the chef sent out some complimentary dishes because a friend of mine happened to be working that night. And although we hand’t seen each other in awhile or even really ever spent this much time together, it was very comfortable and timeless. I remember standing in the doorway of our guest room, him shirtless and laying in bed with his arm behind his head chatting with me as if we’d always had this intimate relationship. Not sexual, but very comfortable. It struck me then and made me really happy to know that he felt so at ease in my house. Pablo also took the chaos of our loud, somewhat dysfunctional kids in stride. He never even flinched. We also gave him a stomach virus! I wasn’t sure I’d hear from him again after that fiasco. My husband is not a jealous person at all, and I must give him credit and appreciation for always allowing me space to hang out with male friends. That visit, I think, gave both Pablo and I a new appreciation for each other.
Over the last few years we’ve made efforts to keep in touch. I usually see him when I’m back in the SE city that we both call ‘home.’ In the last year I’ve been back to that area 3x and I’ve seen him each time. We either meet up at a show or for dinner. The last time I was in town was just a few weeks ago. And in the most brief interaction we’ve had over the past few years, everything changed. It only took a split second to change things, but, for me, standing there with one of my other lovers in a huge crowd of people at a music festival, I instinctively knew there was a shift in our friendship. So what cosmic event happened to create this change? A kiss on the lips. Pablo had found me in the crowd watching Fitz and the Tantrums. I squealed, jumped up and down and we embraced in a big sweaty hug. It was 95 humid degrees in the center of a thousand sweat drenched bodies in late September. We were at a music festival on a farm in the suburbs. Pablo and I hadn’t been in touch, so neither of us knew the other was going to the festival until the end of the first night when I saw his photos posted on social media. And even then, we hadn’t texted or talked about meeting up. I sincerely hoped we’d run into each other, but I was locked in the arms of my lover every spare second, so I hadn’t made much of an effort to make it happen. Turning to see that it was he who had tapped me on the shoulder was a great surprise. The three of us watched Fitz and the Tantrums for most of their set, chatting in between and dancing during songs. Pablo handed his phone to my lover, Tom, and asked him to take a photo of us. Tom said “Damn, you are the hottest “couple” here.” I don’t think he was wrong. At the end of their set Pablo said he had to get back to his friends. We leaned in for a hug goodbye and that’s when it happened: a kiss on the lips. I’m positive the internal questions scrolling through my brain were visible in a banner above my head. My lack of impulse control and filter couldn’t be quieted. As he turned to walk away I said, “is your girlfriend here?” I completely expected him to say they had broken up. That’s how cosmic the kiss felt. But, no, they are still together, she was just busy with something else that weekend. I know it’s corny but the phrase from the song Things that make you go hmmm? was on repeat in my mind. I turned to Tom and said, “hmmm, that was different. He has never ever kissed me on the lips before.” I almost immediately texted Emma and told her. Although I described it as “he kissed me like he would his mom or something.” In truth, that description was just to protect myself if I had completely misinterpreted it.
As the sun was going down, after Ryan Adams finished his set, I made my way over to the stage where Eddie Vedder would be playing soon. I had lost Tom when he went off to get me a drink. I figured we’d find each other eventually. At the edge of the crowd waiting for Eddie, there stood Pablo and his friends. He warmly welcomed me and introduced me to everyone. I was so tired from sweating and standing for the last 2 bands that I took a seat on the communal blanket. Pablo joined me after the first few songs. He asked if I was staying with my parents (as usual). I told him I was actually staying at an Airbnb. He flipped. “What?! No! You should stay with me! You can always stay with me!” When there was finally a pause I said that it might be kind of awkward since I’m actually here with Tom and that we had booked the Airbnb together. A little confusion spread across Pablo’s face, but he quickly processed it and understood. I shared a little of what was going on with Tom and I: he’s my good friend, I really care about him, he’s my lover, but he’s not my “forever person” and I’m still married. I’m not in an open relationship (although I’ve suggested it several times!) And I’m still figuring it all out. Tom had found me in the crowd. We all shared the blanket. Friends watching a show and singing along.
As we sat on the blanket I noted each little event that contributed to this sudden shift in our friendship:
1) Pablo really made an effort to see me in June during my last visit. I felt that he’d gone out of his way to make it work somehow to see each other. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but now I was adding things up. 2) He was very animated when he said that I should be staying with him. He’d never expressed such an interest in having me stay with him before although I’ve no doubt the invitation would have always been there. 3) He said that I looked really good. That wasn’t too out of the ordinary. He could say that to anyone, but I’m not sure he’d ever said it to me. 4) That kiss on the lips.
The show was over, his ride had arrived and it was time to say goodbye again. We stood up and had a long hug and there it was again: a kiss on the lips (only this time I turned my head a bit and he caught the corner of my mouth.) As our extended arms began to slip away and he was just about to turn, with one hand still holding my arm he sort of pointed with his free hand and looked me in the eyes and said “hey, I love you.”
There it was again. The shift. Never ever had he said “I love you.” There was no doubt he sincerely meant it. Not necessarily in a romantic way, but the timing, the place, the people around us said to me, he’s choosing this moment to say it because his heart needs to say it. I love you are big words. I have quite a few people in my life to which I say that, but all of it was earned and took time. For many of us, it’s not something we throw around. Of course, what can I do other than reciprocate with a big smile “I love you, too!” And then that stupid phrase enters my mind again, Things that make you go hmmm…
Tom and I went back to our Airbnb and made all the love we could handle. Okay, we fucked ourselves raw. True story. But that’s another whole post all together. The next day I flew back to the PNW and back into my regular wife-and-life-with-three-kids duties. But I could not shake those tiny little events that happened with Pablo. My third day back I decided, after waking up at 5am, that I needed to clarify the intent. Intent isn’t really the right word. I don’t think there was intent behind the kiss, just feelings. But I needed to know if it was in my head or if something, indeed, had shifted. I texted Pablo and told him that I sensed something different between us. I was so relieved when he messaged back quickly to say, yes, something is different. Despite acknowledging it, he was still very vague with me. I wasn’t sure if he felt that we’d grown close like extended family or was he feeling attracted to me? And I didn’t really have the guts to come straight out and ask. I felt content with validated vague. Another week or so went by and one late night we started a text conversation. He asked when I was coming back to visit? He’d really like me to stay with him. Hmmm. It was at that point that I thought, okay, once and for all I need to figure this out. What does he mean by that? So I suggested meeting in another city. I could more easily manage to visit San Francisco, where I have friends, than fly back to the SE for the 4th time in 6 months. And what better place to meet with my food-soulmate than SFO? Not to mention the idea of exploring that city with him and taking him to Heath Ceramics is pretty dreamy (as friends or lovers!) Finally, I got the answer, still vague, but enough info to solidify the intentions. Pablo really liked this idea and then, somewhat hesitantly (if you believe hesitation can be felt in a text), asked if I’d consider staying with him in San Fransisco? (As opposed to my friend’s home.) Of course! Relief!
Pablo knows I’ve been having a rough year in my marriage. He knows (almost) all about my mid-life crisis. He knows I have a lover or two. And I know he’s in a serious relationship with someone who he thinks he might like to have kids with. Despite all that or because of that, I’ve become attractive to him. He’s always been attractive to me. In full, painful truth, I really didn’t think I was “pretty enough,” “feminine enough,” or “something enough” for him to find me attractive. And somewhere along the line I stopped caring because I’m a grown woman now who doesn’t need validation. (Okay, let’s be honest, some validation that our 40-year-old bodies are still sexy, our minds still sharp and that we are as funny and fun to be around as we once thought we were, is really appreciated!) When I say I’ve always been attracted to him I’m referring to the the full-spectrum of attributes. Yes, Pablo is a good looking guy, but he is also someone with whom I share many common interests and he’s not a mess. He has a good job, he owns a home, takes care of a pet and garden (seriously, that takes some commitment), he is creative in every sense of the word, he has a reliable vehicle, he likes to travel and he values money in a healthy way. Pretty much an excellent recipe for a great lover! I want this experience! I can think of no better terms for a lover than someone who really cares about you, but doesn’t NEED you and vice versa. I’m excited to see if we are compatible sexually. SFO, here I come.