First love

I'm a gay college student involved with an older man, and I'm afraid I'm going to get my heart broken.

Cary Tennis
April 2, 2004 1:07AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 21-year-old gay college senior. I've been out since 16 but have never had a serious boyfriend, having spent the past few years being focused on "enjoying my youth" (i.e., having lots of sex).

A few months ago I met a man online, 10 years older than me. He came over for a one-night stand, and we ended up getting along famously. When I suggested that we meet in a nonsexual way (coffee or something), he muttered something about going off on a month-long trip and "being married to his career," so I figured that was the end of it. However, a month later he contacted me and we began to meet each other weekly for sex and conversation. This soon developed into going out to movies, though I was never allowed to go over to his apartment to meet his roommates (he claimed he wanted to be "discreet").


Despite my better judgment, I soon developed strong feelings for him, which culminated in my telling him, "I'll miss you," before leaving for Christmas break. He responded awkwardly. We didn't speak until I returned to school from break. At that point, he informed me that he had a "friend" living in another country (a country where he had worked for three years) with whom he was "trying to make it work" and that they had an open relationship. I was totally heartbroken, but told him that I wanted to still be friends.

I assumed that he wouldn't want to maintain a friendship with me knowing how I felt about him, but he contacted me three weeks later. He told me that his "friend" (whom he only sees once a year and with whom he no longer has sexual relations) had gone back to his home country and that he "wanted to be there" for me as much as he possibly could. He also said that if he and his friend couldn't arrange being in the same country by next year that they'd probably break up. Since then, we've begun having sex again and are doing more "relationship"-type things -- we go out three times a week to dinner, movies, cuddle at home, etc. We have warm, wonderful, intimate conversations. However, I still haven't met his roommates (he's met mine), and he gets rather defensive when I make romantic-type comments like "You're so cute!"

I understand that we don't have a serious future -- he's 10 years older than I am, I'm moving five hours away to grad school in the fall, we're in very different places in our lives. Still, I'm head over heels for him -- think about him all the time, love having sex with him, love talking with him, love the way he holds me. I know I should stop seeing him, but I would absolutely fall apart if I couldn't see him anymore. He's made me realize that, rather than just sex, what I really want is true intimacy with another human being, which I get from him but in a very limited way. Is there a way I can see him and be intimate with him without getting my heart broken? Am I just a young idiot looking to have it all, or is there a way for me to stay in this and stay sane?


Confused Gay Student

Dear Confused,

Sometimes experience is the only thing that can teach you what you need to know. You are young, and there are nuances to relationships that you are going to have to learn through experience. My bet is that this man does have strong feelings for you, but he's also trying to conduct his life the best way he knows how, and that means keeping a certain part of himself in reserve. You will find, I think, as you go through your 20s, that you also need to keep part of yourself in reserve. So have some faith. You're not a young idiot; you're just young. You can stay in this relationship and stay sane if you remind yourself that intense emotions are normal. If you find yourself crying or kicking the walls, that's very human. It doesn't mean the world is ending. It just means you're learning how to love as an adult, in an adult world full of limits and compromises.


It might be that this is your first great love, a coming-of-age event, a rite of passage. That's often a painful and maddening experience, though essential to adulthood. I wish I could say more, but as I said, there are many things that only experience can teach.

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Cary Tennis

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