SEASON 4, EPISODE 42

Once or twice a year, I get into a very introspective state—far more than the usual overprocessing—and render myself sexless, unattractive, repulsed, all of it. The idea of pursuing anyone gives me a headache, as I think of all the wasted hours I spent chasing, being chased, rejecting, being rejected…only to end up back where I started. These decompressing periods are never planned, but they naturally arise, and it’s a good time to wipe clean any slate and remind myself that I have very important pursuits independent of my libido. The funny thing is that I still think about sex and relationships constantly, but in a more reflective way: why do I base my own self-worth on how successful I’m interacting with other ambitious, liberated, vapid men? And why, when these social cocoons arise each year, do I feel most fulfilled? There is such satisfaction in getting off alone—so I suppose I’m never totally sexless—, then going to sleep, and worrying not one bit about how I will catalog the experience, nor how I will be cataloged by the beating heart asleep beside me.

“How’s dating yourself going?” Bart asked snarkily over lunch. “It’s kind of the gay dream, isn’t it?” Luckily, I had darling sulky Peter on my side of the table: “Don’t get all holier-than-thou, Bart,” he said. “How many times did you claim to be done dating and totally celibate? Nothing about this game has changed since you got in a relationship.” “I’m only off the radar for the time being,” I told them both. “You know how it goes. Calibrating. Preparing for the next round of batterings.” Bart chimed in, done with his banter: “I know, I know. Whenever my self-confidence was lower than usual, I had to protect myself from the constant judgment.” “I never said my self-confidence was low,” I said defensively. Bart stared at Peter and me silently from across the table. “Oh, my bad,” he said. “I guess I mistook your empowerment exercise for pouting. Promise this has nothing to do with Omar and Joanie?” He saw right through me.

Peter stayed late at my apartment that night; I was sending work emails and he lounged about, not wanting to go home. “How’s Grindr, my dear?” I asked, assuming that’s what had his attention as he stared into his phone. “It’s annoying,” he responded. “So is Tinder. And Hinge. And Scruff.” “You’re hitting it hard, huh? Weren’t you the one feeling undateable as an unemployed person?” “Well, I’m not looking for dates right now,” he replied. “Though I can’t say much for my luck getting laid.” I saddled up next to him, scanning the Grindr crowd. “Wait, why are you a torso?” I asked, pointing out his headless, shirtless profile photo. “If someone says hello to me and I don’t think he’s cute, I feel less guilty about rejecting him, since I’m faceless,” Peter said. “He can’t assign any hatred to me.” “How thoughtful of you,” I replied. “That way, he can just hate himself a little more.” We both chuckled, having been there too many times.

Dad called me on Wednesday for our routine checkin. He had just finished a solo camping trip to New Mexico and gave me all the highlights. Then, he asked about Joanie: “I hope you don’t hate her. Do you?” “Not at all,” I said. “She’s growing too fast, and I don’t know enough about music to help her. But I’m disappointed that there was no conversation leading up to it. The way she handled it kind of sacrificed our friendship. I just hope she’ll be her usual self when we finally come back around.” “If you would have held her back, then she probably made the right decision,” Dad said. “And I’m guessing she’s not proud of how she handled things, either. I bet she’s thinking she burned this bridge. Don’t forget what you told me just now, kiddo. I know you think you’re all hard and selfish these days, but you aren’t letting the bridge burn, and most people would be too proud to ever let her back in—most people would happily let it go down in flames.”

Before he hung up, Dad’s tone got very serious: “Eric, do you think you should see someone? A professional. You’ve really been through it this year. First Sam, now this with Joanie. Maybe you could try to sort it all out, prevent yourself a breakdown maybe. Or at least get a highly certified neutral opinion on what’s good for you.” Admittedly, I had considered it before, mostly as a casual ongoing thing since a few friends spoke highly of their own therapists. Peter had been seeing one primarily to make sense of his professional identity, trying to figure out his purpose, or to be content with not figuring out a purpose. “She’s great,” he said of his. “What seemed like a dead end feels open now. I can ask her to recommend someone for you… what should I tell her is your main problem?” I didn’t know I needed a “main problem,” and I really didn’t want someone else to diagnose one for me.

“It just seems silly that you don’t think therapy would be useful given all the shit you’ve endured,” Bart said. “Honestly, I’ve worried about you a lot this year. We all have. Why are you too proud to ask for help after these things? I mean, you just ran away to Chicago to live a pretend life after Sam died.” I didn’t understand his concern; to me, coping with loss on my own was a greater victory than relying on other people—much less paying a stranger—to help me through it. Bart, whom I met at rock bottom, recalled a certain 25-year-old version of me, though, and he dialed in a favor. I got a call later that day from someone I hadn’t spoken to in nearly two years: my AA sponsor.

“E, you’re being a little short-sighted here,” Bart laid out. “You didn’t cope with your mom’s death alone. You postponed it an entire year by falling into addiction, and then you joined AA. AA is where you started accepting the loss. You needed other people, just like I did, and just like everyone in that group did. It’s community, man. Support.” Then, a proposal: “Look, I’m sorry I asked Greg to call you, but I think you would be a great example for some of those new guys in AA, like for how they can turn their life around. And being vulnerable with them would probably give you the outlet you need. Let’s start going back. Together.” I didn’t have a rebuttal; it kind of made sense. “Why would you need to go with me, Bart?” “Because I’m your best goddamn friend, you idiot. Again with the short-sightedness. Plus, I kind of miss that crew, and I owe them a lot. Hell, maybe you’ll meet a hot sober guy who can get you out of your stupid, self-imposed chastity shroud.” That remark got him a playful smack across his rosy, beardless cheek.

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