This piece originally appeared in the first issue of Hello Mr., an Australian magazine about men who date men.
Every morning, I spray on the cologne my ex-boyfriend gave to me. Every morning, I have a half-moment of stabbey heart pain (similar to heartburn, sometimes I’m unsure) and I sigh.
Most people would get rid of the cologne, or at least box it up. I guess I’ve kept it for two reasons: I’m cheap as fuck, and I feel that I deserve a small reminder each day of what that relationship was to me. It’s a reminder that, Wisconsin-born lad that I am, a long-term, long-distance, monogamous and “love”-uttering relationship is a possibility for me.
See, I’m kind of an ass. Not in the “trip you down a flight of stairs” sort of way. More so in a “I’m not good at social or emotional cues so I’m just going to awkwardly stand here while you cry on my shoulder” sort of way. They may very well been what attracted Michael to me in the first place. It’s cute, at first. I have this endearing social awkwardness that is somehow innocent, confident and open all at the same time.
It appears, though, that it doesn’t work well for relationships. When your boyfriend cries, you’re supposed to coo gentle things. Or “actively listen,” with a look of empathetic love and concern on your face. As a last resource, an awkward shoulder rub could also work. Asking, in a robotic tone, “Are you sure you’re in a place to be in a relationship right now?” and claiming that the boyfriend isn’t being solution-based enough isn’t where it’s at.
When he tells you his aspirations, you’re supposed to be supportive, or at the very least, optimistic. Claiming that med school is a terrible option with little evidence, alas, isn’t the best idea.
During my quotidian cologne-spraying/reflection time, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people must be born with this intuition. I envy them. These are things that my family simply never taught me. That, or I didn’t pay mind.
After all, when horrible things happen in my family, we do one of two things: laugh our asses off, or talk about it loudly and with limited empathy. Everyone’s aspirations are treated as a dangerous bug that must be quickly killed. I just thought that’s what people do. That emotions bullshit? That’s for girls, movies and Lifetime.
Still, though. There must be something more to it. As every morning, I briefly ponder if there was a “winner” and a “loser” in the relationship. Did I dodge a thin-skinned guy with too many emotions, or did Michael dodge a heartless bastard? Or, thought of thoughts, did we both gain something? I quickly spray away this silly notion with a burst of L’Homme for men and run to work.
Either way, I leave the house smelling pretty.