I was all nerves as I rode the elevator down to greet Buckminster for our workday lunch. We met outside my building, and he looked every bit the charming architect I had dated a year and some change prior: smart specs, clean beard, white button-down shirt, pop-color socks (my favorite). We hugged awkwardly; I kissed his cheek in that polite way, but he refrained—though he seemed plenty happy to see me. We turned toward Park Avenue and he stopped to look up at the high-rise building that had been under construction for a couple years. He spouted some knowledge about the project, as well as his opinion of the finished structure, and I sunk into a familiar, relaxed place. Once we were seated at the cafe with our food, we started where we left off: He outlined a big road trip from the summer before, then talked about the various highlights from school, as well as updates on his family and friends. My highlights weren’t as highlighty—benchmarks, more than anything—but I was lighthearted as I told him about my nine-month moving saga. I never brought up Strings, despite the hundred questions I could have asked—Did Buckminster know we overlapped? Were they still dating? Who made the first move? Do you know this is killing me?—and we stayed clear of any mention of our dating lives. We sandwiched 16 months into one hour, keeping affectionate smiles—no, appreciative ones—all the while. I felt the closure I had wanted, knowing we could sit here like this and resume our candor—perhaps with guards up ever so slightly—and I was proud of this person I had loved, was grateful for our history, and was excited for his future, regardless of who it included. I hope, very sincerely, that those feelings were and are requited.
In September, the South Dakota Advertising Federation invited me to Sioux Falls to speak about how my team planned and created content at Birchbox. While it was great being flown home just to talk about my job with a couple hundred people, it was even better that I would get to see Mom and Dad again, and so soon after my May visit. Usually, I only get home once a year, and sometimes not even that. Once there, I realized that this was the first time in my life I had the two of them alone for more than a few hours. As the second child of four, I always had to share their attention, and with Keith so freshly out the door to college (just a few weeks prior), I was the first to witness them as empty nesters. There was a certain lightness to them now, a tinge of relief and maybe some confusion, but it felt like they were ten years younger than the pair I had visited just four months earlier. Dad grilled steaks for dinner that first night—the “Adam is home” meal—and Mom prepared some vegetables and a pasta salad. We sat down together, occupying one half of the 6-person table that hosted twenty five years of family meals. We said the usual “Bless us, oh Lord” prayer, then clinked our beer bottles—my kind of ritual—and I felt very lucky to be there with them, very proud to see my parents start this new phase together, 31 years after the last one began. It’s a level of commitment and sacrifice that seems impossible, a selflessness that humbles me.
A few minutes into dinner, Mom asked about Strings: Was he still in the picture? I felt a little humiliated, telling her no, and that he had left the picture promptly after she learned of him. I thanked her for asking, because I didn’t want that to go unnoticed. “You know, I’ve joined a men’s group,” Dad said to break the silence that followed. “I meet with a few guys every week for coffee. They’re old like me, conservative, family men. It’s nice because I can bicker with them and spare your mom the noise. They see the world same as me. And well…I told them recently that I have a gay son. And that he’s doing cool things with his life. And I just don’t care anymore what people think about it. It shouldn’t matter. And you know what else? They all think it’s pretty cool, too. And some of them have gay sons also.” That was Dad’s way of holding the door open; this was the same man who preferred not to discuss my sexuality just five years earlier, when I came out. I don’t know if being childless at home changed anything, like maybe he realized it makes more sense to prop the door wide inside making me knock. “Thanks, Dad,” was all I could muster. This small thing was huge for him, and huge for us. He got more beers, and then started asking me bigger questions: Have I ever had any boyfriends? Is it normal for gay men to be friends with their exes? So, what happened with Strings?—and this waterfall of information poured out of me all night. We very naturally navigated from Strings to Buckminster, then from Romeo into Tolliver. We talked about smoking pot—Dad thought he was pretty badass for doing it in the 70s—and I confessed to my own share of “tried its”. We talked about how I almost disappeared in 2009, and how long I had been seeing men before I came out of the closet, and that I had a secret boyfriend when I lived at home in 2010, and that I still wanted to get married and maybe still wanted children. (“I keep thinking it’d be neat if you got to have kids,” Dad told me. “You’d be a good dad.”) Mom stayed mostly quiet, beaming behind a smile as I, for the first time in 29 years, introduced myself to them.
My post-Strings recoil is the longest I’ve had. I haven’t spent a night with anyone since then, nor have I carried on dating anyone more than a couple times. Gradually—since September or October, I’d say—I’ve grown accustomed to just being alone, and the idea of sharing my bed (or anyone else’s) seems inconvenient and bothersome. I don’t know what that represents on a grander scale; metaphorically I guess I’ve built up a wall. I’ve been here before, but not with such persistence, such insistence, such indifference. I’m not as good at dating anymore; I’m tougher to crack, to impress, to keep entertained, and I certainly care less to attempt those acts on anyone else. Or maybe I know when I’m wasting my time, which is almost always. If I had found Romeo after Strings, I’d have publicly announced our togetherness immediately, because I would have understood the value of our connection. Same with Buckminster. However, to counter that notion, I might now filter out anyone like them—an ex of an ex, or someone who was moving—without even giving them a chance. My whole practice is limiting, is jaded, is defeated. The good news, though, is that I feel less disappointed in myself, and more disappointed in others. I can thank Strings for that—for being the careless one here, for saying something and not standing behind it. If my new practice is preventing me from meeting more Buckminsters and Romeos, at least it is also filtering the thread-thin Stringses.
The two of them were in San Francisco at the same time, or so Instagram told me. Both for a wedding. Whose wedding, I don’t know. Were they together, I don’t know. I just as well assumed it. This was maybe September. It didn’t sting as much, but it felt really fucking annoying, like everything else that had happened in the last year. I couldn’t even try to keep them cordially in my life without feeling some sense of frustration or bitterness or minor rage. … At our July lunch, I got Buckminster’s blessing to write about him in this story. He didn’t know the full extent, but he happily said yes, that this was my own perspective for the telling, and that I should absolutely do it. He texted me in October when Chapter 3 went up—it’s the illustration of him and me—and gave me another indication of approval, of support. It felt like I should properly tell him where the story was going, that I’d eventually address this strange love triangle we were in. I got him on the phone and told him about everything, and it turns out he had not known of our overlap. But then I had to ask—if only because there would be no other appropriate time—if they were together. “First of all, no, we are not. Nothing really happened after we hooked up. We went on one date in New York, which was an overlap of you guys I guess…but the SF weddings were a coincidence. We didn’t even cross paths while there,” he said. “Second, I’m very sorry you had to deal with this. That was probably pretty straining. I don’t apologize for what I did because there was no bad intent…” I agreed with him there; he owed no such apology. “Third, and I say this in all seriousness: Maybe you shouldn’t give so much attention to Instagram. You really read into it, don’t you? Obviously it helped you learn that he and I met, but it seems like it’s adding some unnecessary stress to your life.” I laughed a “yeah, yeah, yeah…”, agreeing with him again.
Zach (@zachames) and I went to Denver in October, to visit Ben (@benjaminnyc) and Justin (@justinhsmith), to check on their life and see their new apartment (as in, actually brand new, paint just dried), and to go hiking and meet their friends and try their favorite restaurants and feel a sense of relief that everything was good. And it was. After each activity, Ben would confirm with us that “Denver is awesome, right?”, which was adorable and unnecessary, because we were having a great time and were thrilled for the happiness they were exuding. They had a new pair of best friends, this lovely female couple who had also just moved from New York, and their three-legged dog Cheyenne (@cheyenne_i_am), who spends many hours each week with Ben while he works from home. (Funny enough, all of his contracted clients are based in New York.) We tried some hip restaurants and dipped our toes in the Denver gay nightlife. New York has the obvious advantage there, though we all agreed that none of us would really pick a city for its nightlife anymore. Regardless, it’s inconsequential when you’re dancing with your best friends, when you’re happy and they’re happy and you can put to rest any worries that they moved too quickly. We’re all moving too quickly, really; I envied that they found a way to slow it all down, to focus on one another, and to try something new. I returned to New York wishing I felt as confident about any one thing as Ben did about his life. Denver was a good fit, or at least he knew how to make it look and feel snug, to hide any trace of missing New York, if he even missed it at all.
Until things got disrupted at work in late January, I found myself in this seven-month window of lacking any real life updates. There were a lots of trips in there, to South Dakota, Denver, Boston, Mexico, Vermont, Spain. Like the weather, that became my fallback topic, because there were no changes at work, no health scares, no financial upheavals, no romantic pursuits, no changing apartments, nothing that felt worthy of much dialogue…and thank God for that. I count that period of time as one of my biggest victories in adulthood; the prolonged stasis, until it becomes complacency, feels like a long weekend of lounging in the sun. Most people wanted the assurance that my home life was finally settled. And yes, of course it was: Crown Heights was bringing me as much satisfaction as Prospect Heights had, and now without radiators, with triple the space and for less money; it’s one of the few rat races in my recent New York City life that I have without question “won”. “Everything’s good,” I would say to anyone who asked. “It’s good. It’s all fine, really. I…I don’t know what’s new. Nothing much. I’m just…I’m doing really well, I suppose. I guess I’m trying to stay focused on that.”