Once upon a time, I had a close guy friend that I talked to on the phone every night.
Well, close is relative.
I can’t remember us ever spending face-to-face time talking to one another in school. We didn’t eat lunch together. Didn’t chat in the hallway. Or hang out while waiting for the school to open up in the morning.
Instead, we stuck to our own respective groups of friends, connected however tenuously by one mutual friend, who only saw him in passing herself.
But I had his phone number, one that I had obtained through our one shared connection. Who, to her credit, never asked me why I wanted it.
I wasn’t frankly sure myself why I’d wanted it in the first place. He and I had been friendly enough in person after his mother had somehow mysteriously invited me to his birthday party. In all honesty, I think it was his mother who adored me. Who had spotted me at a distance and decided she wanted to ship us.
In reality, there were a ton of barriers to our dating one another — the least of which was the fact that we were both more than a little gay. I’d been primarily seeing other girls in secret for years. And he was even gayer, to the point where everything that would happen next between us would feel truly shocking in hindsight.
But we’d had some pleasant conversations that night over an ice cream cake that said Happy Birthday in that sad gel frosting that tastes all wrong.
An aspiring artist who dreamed of a career drawing animation cels for Disney, he later sketched a beautiful portrait of me at that same birthday party. A gorgeous likeness that shocked me when he showed me the final result.
Because I couldn’t believe that someone could look at me and see something like that. I didn’t see it when I looked in the mirror.
So I got his number. Called him. And we talked.
And we quickly went on to have some of the most amazing phone sex I’d ever had.
I Knew He Could Never Be My Boyfriend
This continued for the better part of a year. Discreet spicy sessions. And as we passed one another in the hallway, there might be a knowing look but one that was so brief that other people would certainly miss it.
The phone sex was a wonderful secret. And he became oddly important to me.
But I never for a second entertained the idea that he would become my boyfriend. And I suspect he felt the same way.
And not just because we were both a little too gay for this, homoflexible kids stranded at the tippy tails of one another’s Kinsey scores.
But also because of our respective social stations. We didn’t make sense as a couple. His friends would think I was tragically uncool, as would mine. Having a public relationship with one another would be akin to social suicide.
And we both knew it.
So we panted into phones we held with one sweaty hand, being taboo, sharing secrets, getting to know one another, and trading those odd fleeting glances in the hallway until over time, we got into exclusive relationships with other people and stopped the steamy calls.
As the years went by, we became closer friends in public. And while he never worked for Disney, he’s now a famous drag queen married to a wonderful man.
They Call It Relationship *Status* for a Reason, Don’t They?
When I was in high school, the difference between having an “official” public relationship and having a connection like the one we had was worlds apart.
Because an official partner would reflect upon me socially, they had to meet certain requirements beyond just being fun to be with, giving me sexual pleasure, or making me feel good about myself.
They also had to make me look good — or at least not make me look bad to others.
In high school a relationship didn’t just have to make me feel good; it had to make me look cool. They call it relationship status for a reason, don’t they?
Except… Now that I’m an adult, and a reasonably secure adult at that, one who has a lot of supportive people in my life, one who knows who I am, and who doesn’t necessarily care if I look cool to people who don’t really know me…
Well. It seems kinda silly.
And I’d suspect everyone makes this kind of transition. Going from considering it an important function of romantic partners to serve as status symbols — to just doing you and not caring what others might think of a partner so long as they make you happy.
But they don’t. Some people are still stuck in that high school mentality. And I’ll frequently talk with people who confess that they are attracted to people but feel conflicted that if they were to be open about their relationship that it might make them look uncool, which a lot of times causes them to treat those partners like absolute crap.
Because they’re attracted to heavier women but worry their friends will make fun of them if they openly date one.
Or there’s a large age difference involved, and they don’t want their friends to look down on them for it.
Whatever ridiculous thing they’re hung up on.
So they’ll hide these partners, keep them as dirty secrets, even as these same partners are pleading with them to step into the light. To have the kind of deep entanglements (living together, having children, legal marriage, etc.) that are only possible if you’re not being hidden.
I never personally had to deal with that crisis point, as my friend and I both wanted to keep things private. We simply drifted into a different form over time and then graduated high school.
But I’m starting to think it’s possible for other people to graduate high school but never really leave it.