In early June, I was house-sitting for my pals Taylor (@tpg_) and Audrey (@4udr3y_) in Bed Stuy—a free crash pad while I watched his cat for the week. I was just three weeks away from moving into my Crown Heights apartment, and ever appreciative of the shelter provided all month by friends. It was fun seeing a new angle on my New York City routine every few days. Also fun was seeing a new grid of handsome guys in each neighborhood; I was in no position to go on dates, much less hook up, but it always made for a good 20-minute distraction each evening as I flirted with strangers before bed. I love the scenery changes in each place: affluent braggadocios in West Village, bare-chested 30-somethings in Chelsea, bare-chested 20-somethings in Hell’s Kitchen, awkwardly stale lawyers in Upper East Side, furry 30-somethings in Williamsburg, furry 20-somethings in Bed Stuy, grab-bag everything in Lefferts Gardens. I particularly liked the scene in Bed Stuy, because it most resembled Prospect Heights and my soon-to-be-home Crown Heights. On one weekend night, I got a hello from a handsome, bearded guy my age. He was 100 feet away, having a drink at @cmoneverybodybk before heading home to Park Slope. The attraction was evident, even through the app, and even more so through our let’s-switch-to-texting-here’s-my-number conversation that immediately lit up. He was a violinist at a very prestigious orchestra in town; for that, let’s call him Strings. He admitted to already following me on Instagram—which gave me the ammo to “stalk” his account, to see this attractive life, his charming friends, and to learn that many of his pals were also my own…how did I not know that Strings existed? For the next two days before our first date, he was the only thing that existed—and the feeling went both ways.
When I met Strings in a Park Slope bar that next Sunday, the attraction was confirmed. It felt lasting. He was holding court with the other “events”—my first boyfriend in Sioux Falls, Dan in San Francisco, Buckminster and Romeo and Cold Hands in New York. Our bevy of mutual friends gave us conversation fodder, as did the fact that he was from Berkeley—where I had twice lived and where I still secretly dream of settling down—and he had also been to my South Dakota hometown on an orchestra tour (and even ate at the restaurant I worked at throughout high school). He was my age, he was professionally actualized, and he was obviously intelligent, which told me he would have a promising future should the music career ever end. (I find myself more and more attracted to people whose overall aura says “I’ll be stable my whole life regardless of what I pursue.”) I liked his raspy voice, his bushy beard, his broad smile, his dark eyes. We polished off two rounds of beer, and left the bar as the sky cracked and a downpour fell through. Sans umbrella, my trek to the G-train seemed impossible now. However, he confessed that he lived two doors down—he had picked a bar just below his apartment, the rascal—and so I accepted the invitation upstairs. We sprinted to the door, with little care or need for our wet clothes once inside, soundtracked by the rainfall and lit by the neon signs of commercial Park Slope.
It’s a risky move, going to bed after one perfect date. I caught a cab home that night, and Strings and I were back to texting non-stop the next day. We made plans for a second date—a concert at Barclays, to which I had an extra ticket—after he returned from a week of performances in New Haven and Boston. He texted me photos from the road, and I checked in every night to see how the shows went. We were just two weeks into knowing each other, but it felt like two months given that there were no “Does he like me? Should I text him?” woes, no push-and-pull, no power play. Then I became unrecognizable: I told every friend about him when prompted with “What’s new?” I lost interest in pursuing anyone else and knew not to gamble him away. It was a second chance at Cold Hands, only he would stay. A second chance at Buckminster, only I would stay. Strings would fit seamlessly into my life, and I into his. He wasn’t running me in circles; he thought of me at 8 in the morning and at 4 p.m. and at midnight, and in between. My friends predicted that Strings would last, given my rare behavior. I was one week away from moving into my apartment (at last!), and from turning 29: Everything was looking up, a perfect benchmark to a desperately needed new year. Two nights before our second date—a few weeks into our courtship, though—I opened Instagram and saw that he had just posted a photo. There was one “like” already: from Buckminster. What. No way. Strings and I had already done the “audit” of our friends…surely I would have noticed that he knew Buckminster too? Then, I poked around, desperate for an answer: They both sat atop one another’s “Followers” lists, indicating that they had only just met. Strings had performed two nights in New Haven right after our first date…and Buckminster lives in New Haven. I met them both on Scruff, a dating and hookup app. I knew enough about them to know that they would be attracted to each other, should the option present itself. My head filled in all the blanks. My heart sunk. My stomach turned. No. No no no. NO.
I didn’t know what to do. What does one do when his current lover goes to bed with his ex lover—unbeknownst to either of them, no maliciousness intended? I don’t have lingering feelings for most exes, but I do for Buckminster, because we never used up our potential; it was hardly put to the test before I let it burn away. I couldn’t be mad at them, but I was very upset that this unlikely thing had probably happened. This was all still a presumption, but it made perfect sense to me: The app that united me with both of them also united them. If I was attracted to both of them, why wouldn’t they be attracted to one another? The worst part was that I knew Buckminster would be back in the city in a few days, per his texts with me a couple months prior: “I’ll be back in the city in July for work. Let’s grab coffee and catch up.” If they had hooked up in New Haven, why wouldn’t it continue in New York? And now I was feeling bitter toward Buckminster, unsure if I could handle seeing him at all, should he reach out as planned. That was for the better, perhaps, but I had looked forward to that day for a year, if only to remember what I felt for him, to be proud of him and to remind myself not to let the next one go. But Strings felt like the next one. I was psychologically dismantling myself, and nearly sabotaging my attraction to Strings at the same time. The fact was, he and I weren’t exclusive, and—silly me—we had only been on one date in our weeks of steamy flirtation. I asked a dozen friends how to handle the situation, whether or not to bring it up. In a normal scenario—one where I don’t know who my potential suitor is sleeping with, nor does he know my own pursuits—I would say it’s all fair game until a mutual, vocal commitment. But this—my discovery—wasn’t normal, especially given the history at play. Worse yet, I saw Strings texting someone with Buckminster’s actual first name throughout our concert date a couple nights later, as we gushed and kissed and held hands and locked arms and made eyes. I essentially had my answer.
“This is karma for dating Romeo,” a few friends were kind to point out, seeing as I had knowingly dated (for 7 months!) the ex of my ex—surreptitiously meddling in our shared histories. “Now you know how Tolliver would feel if he found out you two had dated.” I wasn’t sure it was a comparable situation (I was an ass hole, these guys weren’t), but the karma part rang true. Worst of all, after the next date with Strings—the one where I saw him texting Buckminster all evening—he said: “I like you a lot. Like. A lot, a lot. I’m so excited to see where this goes.” He didn’t want to go home together that night, “So that we can do this properly. So that we can make it more than just about hooking up.” Yes. Yes yes yes. YES. But also. Please stop texting my ex? And stop sleeping with him? Imagine, for the following couple days, before our next date (and my final ones as a roving gypsy), me losing my mind on the matter every minute, and losing sleep at night. It was partially because of my feelings for both of them, but it was also partially me thinking I deserved it for tampering with the emotional equilibrium of my own dating history. “Somewhere, Tolliver is laughing to himself,” I would think to myself. As soon as I moved into my new apartment and helped Ben and Justin move out, Strings texted me, asking for a photo of the new space: “Can’t wait to see it, congrats on the move. Big day!” He was still thinking of me all day, at least, but I could only focus on the fact that it was now July, which meant Buckminster was back in town. A few times, I wondered how I allowed myself to become so unraveled in such a short period of time. I sulked to myself as I unpacked a couple bins—the ones I felt comfortable unpacking. On this eve of my 29th birthday, I was half-expecting the bed bugs to come back—convinced I would unravel further—especially as I lifted the first lid and found the wooden-gypsy Heather smiling back at me.
That night, Kieran (@kierandallison) came over to see my new space, and to ring in my birthday. It had been a long day of moving what few belongings remained, receiving the bed delivery, helping Justin move out, and straining over the love-triangle thing. But mostly, this day was a relief, because the hellacious few months were behind me, perfectly benchmarked by a new year, a clean start at 29. We toasted beers on the roof, and he brought up Strings, to see how I was feeling. “I think I’m going to ask him point blank, right now, if it happened,” I said. “He deserves to know that he’s entering awkward territory, and I should give him the chance to shut it down.” “Just stay calm about it,” Kieran advised. “It’ll be easy to sound like a crazy person, for finding it out.” “It was placed in front of me,” I said, though I agreed with him. “And it’s making me a crazy person as I worry about it. I just…need to know. I need an answer. I like him too much. If this ends us, then I can move on sooner.” I was glad Kieran was there with me, as I had seen him transition away from the perils of dating, and into a healthy, lasting relationship. He and his boyfriend took their time to fit the pieces together, and he was right that this was one small piece, one very fragile thing that needed proper caution. I wasn’t asking Strings to commit to me, but I did need to be intentional in order to clear this hurdle. I started with a text, explaining that I learned on Instagram, and that Buckminster and I had history. “Oh boy,” he wrote back, confirming my concerns. “We hooked up once—and we had a date last night, too. I really hope this can be not-awkward…” My first response: “New Haven…?” / “Yeah…” / “Listen. Don’t worry about it,” I said back. “Let’s talk though. Definitely a weird overlap. And it’s fine—he’s amazing! But, a continued overlap would be not very good.” At that point, we got on the phone, ironed it out, laughed it out, and both admitted that we saw serious potential in each other. He agreed he couldn’t date both of us simultaneously. We hung up, and I felt a foreign confidence. It was trusting. Intentional. Shared. Happy birthday to me.
On July 3, 2015, I woke with an unfamiliar sense of security—one too good for me to deserve. This was my first time waking in my new abode, in this huge bedroom with a fireplace and a sitting nook and wall-to-wall oak closets. It was a Friday, but I took off work to settle in, and to honest-to-God appreciate my new reality: I had a home again—a really fucking charming one—in a neighborhood I love, and for little rent. And, I had requited feelings for someone—actual articulated and sensible feelings for a guy whose life could easily synchronize with mine. I met Strings for midday birthday drinks in Prospect Heights after he finished a music lesson. I couldn’t believe that this extremely fickle part of my life was possibly firming up. I got “Happy Birthday” texts from loved ones all day, and when my parents and siblings each called, I seized the opportunity to tell them about Strings. I wasn’t planning on it, but with this surge of optimism going through me, it made sense to relay that I had met somebody I adored, especially considering the cleared hurdle from the night before. This, to me, was a bigger victory than having a new apartment: I could finally communicate to my parents openly about my little gay life, as if to welcome them in, if not a bit forcefully. Relationships are something they could relate to—the security of commitment, of investing trust in someone—and I deemed Strings the person who could help me show my parents that I would, after all, find these securities for myself, that I was tired of withholding this important facet of my life from them. In that moment, a milestone: My parents seemed interested. Excited for me. Excited to meet him. He and I were just one month in, and though I would caution anyone else with such little history, I cherished having someone who made all of that meandering—hundreds of dates with hundreds of men, some princes, some toads, some bringing out my best, and some my worst—feel worthwhile. This man was the contrast, a renewed sense of worth, a second chance, or 200th, really, to do it right.