Just as I still thought of Sam at every turn, I also kept Jack top of mind—which is why my heart was guarded. My former lover had left two major impressions on me: first, he proved what I could feel toward another human being. He unlocked in me that standard of passion I had read about or seen in films, and which I now expected my next significant mate to exceed. As such, he also gave me a fear of committing myself to anyone who could raise the bar as high or higher, because what a letdown it was to have such a large space evacuated and hollowed. That void would be hard to replace with one person, so in theory it seemed safer—for the heart and mind—to replace with quantity.
Since meeting Omar, I had been with three other men. There was Simon, of course, with his cautionary tales despite still inviting me over. I averaged one night a week with him, even updating him routinely on my relationship with Omar. We were both fully aware that our shacking would stop at any exclusivity agreement with O. Then there were two others—via Tinder and Scruff—which I justified as “contrast to Omar” just to assure myself that I found my steadiest man most attractive. I proceeded this way fully assuming Omar was doing the same. I had evidence, after all, and most curious to me was that I wasn’t jealous of his outside pursuits; I knew I liked him more than anyone else—far more—but it felt really empowering that we kept coming back to one another after each and every distraction. To me, that felt like the healthiest foundation for eventual exclusivity.
I had a difficult time articulating the benefits of my situation to everyone, even Bart and Peter. My friends all seemed pro-Omar (Bart even called himself “promar”), and I gathered that they all felt like I was stuck in some repressed sexual state, that I had intimacy issues carrying over from my distrust of Jack. My Skype catch-up with Talia went down this path: her perspective was tainted by the fact that she was now in a very serious relationship in Kansas, inching daily toward the life her parents always imagined for her. She even sounded more like her mother each day, practically quoting the words she used to hate hearing: “You’re almost 30, Eric. So why are you acting like you’re 22? Do you want a life alone or not? Stop thinking with your penis.” Though, to be fair, Talia’s mother never once accused Talia of thinking with her penis.
This whole situation did have me wondering what lasting effects Jack might have on me. Could Omar—or anyone else, really—still sneak in, help me turn off distractions, and build something significant? Or was this the beginning of my permanent self expectations for dating? I Carrie Bradshawed on the idea for a few weeks, landing on the fact that this was all circumstantial to the recent events in my life. Each meeting with Omar was, effectively, just as passionate as any I had had with Jack. The void was filling, and I suspected our exclusivity discussion was somewhat near. I would happily commit myself to him, too. However, since that discussion had yet to occur, I wanted to fit in as many extracurricular pursuits as I could in the meantime.
I opened Scruff one night while walking home from Fort Greene. There, a message from a cute 30-something couple: “Hey stud. Hosting here. Unlocked our photos for you.” I thumbed through their album, excited at the idea of being with both handsome men. I took the bait, and rerouted myself to their place. They had a cute brownstone apartment, though I’d have expected the double income to permit slightly nicer bedsheets and curtains. I realized quickly that one of them wanted me there more than the other. During our post-coital tea dialogue, I asked how long they had been open. “About seven years now, out of our eight together,” said the taller one, Miguel (who had been less interested in me). “But we only play together,” said Alan, the shorter and beefier. “That way we’re always on the same page.” It hadn’t seemed that way.
Omar texted me that night, asking me to stay over. I showered very thoroughly to remove any remnants of Miguel and Alan. I felt cheap and dishonest as I trekked to his apartment, knowing he would want intimacy and I had just expended it all onto two strangers. I covered by ordering Indian food and picking it up en route. “I’m starving,” I told him as I settled in. “Let’s eat now. Oh, but should we fool around before we get full—or maybe we do it in the morning?” Omar smiled: “Food now, sex tomorrow,” he said. I thought to myself “You’re such a genius” as he grabbed plates and silverware. I stepped into the restroom to wash up, looking at my reflection as I finished. That’s when reality sank in: I really hated myself in that moment.