The night I met my ex, I was all but stranded at a foreign bar. My very drunk, very British friend had pulled a tall stranger into a red-lit bathroom, leaving me trapped at the bar to make small talk with his friend. The small talk turned into kissing outside the club at 4am in the rain, until we sobered up enough to realize that it doesn’t rain in the Middle East and this was dirty runoff from the overhang above.
I was new to the country, barely spoke the language, and was suffering bowel irregularity from the foreign spices. He was a couple of kilometers from his childhood home, every cousin and childhood friend in arm’s reach.
A punch-drunk-new-boo-sex-hazed month later, he said he had something to tell me: “I’m not sexually confident.” His English wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t whole. The sex had been rampant and fantastic up until now, so I wasn’t sure if he meant identity or performance. Guessing felt like choosing between cutting the red or black wire. Regardless, my response was the same. “I want to know everything you want me to know, but you don’t owe me an explanation.” He didn’t offer up any details; I respected that and didn’t ask. We went to the bar around the corner and drank aniseed liquor with smoked rosemary. I fell harder for him.
Over the next year, we learned all about each other. He gave me his grandmother’s old toaster oven, I shared my skateboard with him. Marathon weekends of Discovery channel, sex, takeout Chinese, repeat. He translated between my landlord and I when we fucked the counter top off my kitchen peninsula. I taught him that, strangely, “It’s the shit” is a term of endearment and “It’s shit” is not. When I met his parents, I brought my people’s traditional dish of PB&J. He gave mine reassurance their daughter wasn’t in the dust alone.
As we morphed into partnership, part of me was curious about what he mumbled in the beginning. But it was a general curiousness into the ex-files, gender-non-specific. You always kinda want a list of every ex, first date, position fucked, fight, inevitable downfall. The insatiable curiosity of staring down the barrel of a gun at the things you don’t want to know, itching for the cold of the trigger.
The insatiable curiosity of staring down the barrel of a gun at the things you don’t want to know, itching for the cold of the trigger.
Laying in bed one morning, the question came out before I could think twice. “What did you mean about sexual confidence on one of those first nights…?”
“I buried that part of me so that I could be with you.” He froze, looking up to examine the words that now hung above us in bed. I constricted under their band. He tried earnestly to tell me something coherent. I felt like an ass, not wanting to interrogate, but honestly wanting to know. Do you want to date men? Do you think about this often? Am I your beard? Is us real? I had inadvertently pulled the trigger and now a semi-automatic was spitting rounds across the duvet.
The more questions I had, the more we both realized he didn’t have answers. It’s not my story to explain someone else’s sexual identity; suffice to say his, like many, is not clean cut, concrete, or linear.
I brought up trying an open relationship so he could explore, but he quickly shut it down. That setup wasn’t right for what we had, and silently I was grateful. After hours of confessions, long pause, tip toe, repeat, we came up for air. The whole storm had rolled in quickly and he didn’t have answers. We tabled it. Nothing had to be decided right now. We cleared the air and went for a walk, ate fish’n’chips on the port of the Mediterranean, watched trashy Euro-reality television, fell asleep salty and reeking of the docks in each other’s arms.
Do you want to date men? Do you think about this often? Am I your beard? Is us real?
But it didn’t feel like we were sleeping together. In the morning, we knew we were done; he needed time to figure out what he wanted.
That week was terrible, more so because I didn’t know how to handle it. When I’ve been dumped before I would lean on my girlfriends, spit rage, and buy new lingerie. But now I was heartbroken by my best friend who was going through something so real that I couldn’t be angry at him.
I was heartbroken by my best friend who was going through something so real that I couldn’t be angry at him.
I wouldn’t out him to my friends and family, but I hadn’t thought of an alibi for why we broke up. I mumbled vague answers — breakups happen, and this is personal. Turns out no one really cares why you broke up unless it’s juicy gossip. If anything, people really don’t want to hear about your breakup and are just asking you to be polite. Noted for next time around.
I confided the truth to a couple close girlfriends who were firmly outside his social circle. They did what any good friends do after a breakup, saying I was better off without him anyway, he wasn’t that special, fuck him onto the next. They meant well, but it wasn’t right for this. I was protective over him, and the comments felt like kicking him while he was down.
I turned to the internet, googling “partner comes out”. A glittery Cosmo article said a straight boyfriend lost is a shopping buddy gained. I dry heaved. Of the limited content out there, all by women whose male partners came out, the vibe was chirpy and elated that they could still cuddle without fear of waking up with a boner in their back. But I love a boner in the back. Their responses made me feel like I was homophobic for not baking a coming out cake.
A glittery Cosmo article said a straight boyfriend lost is a shopping buddy gained. I dry heaved.
We met up to return keys. I cried, he cried, I blew snot bubbles and wiped them on his shirt. Small revenge, but gratifying. He told me he missed me. When we hugged his arms slowly slipped lower on my waist, ending up back in bed. We parted that day saying we’d be friends again soon, but for now I needed space.
A couple weeks later, I texted him that my citizenship papers came through. He was with me throughout the process and the only one I wanted to share it with. His response was that he was ready to start dating men. Even though I had started seeing someone, I didn’t want to think about him with someone else.
Rebound aside, I was spiraling for guidance. I reached out to a close gay friend who now lives in San Francisco, but originates from the Middle East. I needed the support of someone who could empathize with the scenario. His advice was simple, really obvious now that I think about it: dealing with a breakup is universal, regardless of sexuality. There isn’t a straight way to break up and a gay way to break up, and a cocktail of the two has the same bitter taste.
There isn’t a straight way to break up and a gay way to break up. A cocktail of the two has the same bitter taste.
It was the splash of cold water I needed to crawl out of the empty boxed wine cartons. This breakup didn’t suck because he’s dating men, it simply sucks because it was a breakup. Often I wondered if the past year was a lie, but I now realize in any relationship you look back and wonder if it was all a lie. That’s simply because last Tuesday you were on top of the world together, and this Tuesday you’re huffing Funfetti in ripped underwear and a stained Batman t-shirt. There was a time we were into each other; now we aren’t. That doesn’t make it any less real, it just makes us humans who grow and change.
Sometimes you will be friends with an ex, sometimes you won’t. Both options are valid, but your only obligation is what nourishes you. If an ex is sending “miss you” texts and initiating breakup sex without wanting to get back together, that’s bogus and friendship doesn’t sound like it’s in the cards.
If you don’t want to be a cheerleader post-breakup, don’t be. Vibe with the blues until it naturally peels off. If you are at a place where you can support your partner’s coming out, I’m sure they’d appreciate it — but it’s not your obligation to play a matriarchal selfless nurturer when you are hurting. The fact is the stuff that gets us off in bed might wildly differ, but the emotional turbulence of a breakup is stably unstable. And with any breakup, the responsibility is self-care first.