Some years ago, shortly after Chris and I moved in together, we spent time with one of his colleagues, whom I'll call Peter, outside of work. We were invited over to each other's apartments, we had dinner together, and we went out to movies. Peter was in his late forties at the time. He was gay too, but, to my knowledge, he'd always spent his life alone. He had his interests outside of work, but they seldom included other people. I felt sorry for Peter. While Chris's and my relationship wasn't all perfect then, I was thrilled to have met someone like him a couple of years earlier, and I saw the potential in what we had between us. I guess I thought everyone, including Peter, should know how great it felt to be in love with another human being.
I don't know how it happened--possibly because Chris and I recommended that he try it, or possibly because we had set a good example--but Peter started to look through the personal ads in "The WestEnder." I considered this a breakthrough for him. Knowing Peter as I did, I couldn't imagine him taking an interest in personal ads to find someone to spend time with, let alone to fall in love with. I was encouraged that Peter just might open up himself to the possibly of being in a relationship at his age, that he might find himself a lot happier as a result, and that he might be a little kinder and gentler in his interactions with people, specifically his coworkers. A bachelor for many years, Peter was set in his ways, and I was convinced that if he met the right person, he might loosen up a bit and realize there were more important things than living life to satisfy yourself all the time.
Incredibly, Peter found an ad that interested him, and he responded to it. I'm not clear on all of the details, but, before long, Chris told me that Peter and the fellow who'd placed the ad met, and they'd hit it off. In fact, over little more than a few weeks, Peter's life turned upside down. They seemed compatible, they enjoyed each other's company, and they spent a lot of time together. Chris told me that, as a result, Peter was a different person at work. He was friendlier, easier to get along with, and happier than his colleagues had ever seen him. Every time I asked Chris about how things were going for Peter, he had more good news to share. Peter seemed to have found himself the ideal man and the ideal relationship. I was thrilled for him, but more than a little skeptical too.
It didn't make sense to me that, first time out, Peter had found the perfect man for him. After coming out in 1986 at the age of 26, I had spent time with several young men, both in Kelowna and later in Vancouver, and I'd learned firsthand how truly challenging it is for two people to find each other, let alone be compatible enough to build a life together. Most of my "affairs" had lasted a few days, a few several weeks, but all had broken up for a myriad of reasons, teaching me about myself along the way and preparing me for when the real thing came along. And, between those affairs, I'd subsisted for very long periods in the desert of aloneness and loneliness, finding myself increasingly wondering if there was indeed the right person for everyone. By the time I turned thirty-two, ancient by gay men's standards, I was doubtful the man for me was out there, and I began to accept the possibility that I would be alone for the rest of my life. Then along came Chris, and I won't bother repeating all of the details about our early relationship that I've written about in multiple posts here already.
Every time Chris told me yet more good news about how well Peter's relationship was going, I grew increasingly disgruntled. I wanted the best for Peter, don't get me wrong, but I wondered why I'd had so much difficulty finding Chris when Peter had apparently found his version of Chris on the first attempt. That didn't seem right to me, or fair. Perhaps the universe had been on Peter's side, recognizing he was already in his late 40s, in need of human companionship, and deserving of good things. I couldn't begrudge him his good fortune. That's the way circumstances turned out sometimes. There was no accounting for why some people seemed to be luckier than others in the arena of finding love, but, if that was the case, then it was meant to be. I had nothing to complain about. I already had Chris, and I loved him very much.
One day after work, Chris returned home and announced that Peter and his partner were moving in together. I stopped what I was doing and stared at him. How long had they been seeing each other? A month? Two at most? And they were moving in together? Chris and I had waited ten months before we decided to move in together, a length of time that seems hasty to me now but that, at the time, felt right because I knew how much I loved Chris and how eager I was to get on with living as a real gay couple. I'd wanted cohabitation, and everything that went along with it, ever since my early twenties and long before I came out as a gay man. It just seemed like the ideal living arrangement for me. I'd been single and lived on my own long enough. I knew what being alone was all about, and I didn't like it. I didn't understand other single people who said they preferred living alone. What was so great about it? When I was alone, I always felt like something was missing, like my life and my heart could be fuller.
For the next several weeks, Chris provided occasional updates on what Peter and his partner were doing to get ready to move in together. As arrangements continued to be made, I had to concede that maybe, just maybe, this was really going to happen. Perhaps it was time to drop the cynicism, even the negativity, that Peter and his lover were moving a little too fast, that they hadn't known each other long enough, really, to take such a big step, that both of them could potentially regret not taking enough time to ensure cohabiting was the right thing to do. Perhaps I just had to accept that when some people know, they know, and it wasn't for me to judge whether something that wasn't right for me shouldn't be right for them. Besides, I wasn't directly involved. What did I care? I didn't want Peter to get hurt, but neither Chris nor I was in a position to talk to him about the breakneck speed at which his personal life seemed to be moving along. Besides, Peter was old enough to make his own decisions and, if things didn't work out, old enough to handle it.
Well, a few days later, Chris told me that Peter had told him he and his partner weren't moving in together after all. In fact, not only were they not moving in together, they had decided to break up. After everything between Peter and his partner had been so hot and heavy since they'd met, I was taken aback by this news but not surprised. What the hell had happened, I asked Chris. Peter and his lover had decided things were moving way too fast. Apparently, in the heat of all the arrangements they were making, they'd discovered things about each other that they hadn't known and that had surprised them. Perhaps they didn't have as much in common as they had originally thought. Perhaps the two of them had jumped too quickly to the falling head-over-heels stage without knowing each other as human beings and individuals. Perhaps they'd both been alone for too long, were too eager to be with someone else, and had been blind to some of the realities of living with another person.
To go from the exhilaration of moving in together one minute to breaking up the next must have made Peter's head spin, never mind what it did to his heart. Over the next number of weeks, Peter withdrew from the rest of the people in the office. Where they had seen a difference in him before, kinder, friendlier, and more personable to interact with, he became the exact opposite. Peter didn't say much to anyone about how he was hurting--in fact, other than Chris, I don't think anyone else in the office even knew what had happened to him over the previous months. Chris knew that Peter was gay, but none of the other people knew, although I'm sure they had their suspicions. Peter didn't think they had any business knowing about his personal life, and he seemed to prefer being aloof, even gruff, with his colleagues rather than show warmth and vulnerability. Before long, Peter was back to his old self, and his coworkers were left wondering what had overcome him and been just as quickly withdrawn.
Peter's tale is a sad one that affects me every time I think of it. In the intervening years, he's opened up his life and his heart to no one else. He responded to no more personal ads, and he made no efforts to meet anyone new. Just as his life was before responding to the personal ad and his whirlwind romance, so it became afterward, and, to this day, Peter lives alone. He's in his sixties now, retired, and he moved out of the West End to a small community in the Fraser Valley. His mother died of cancer a while back, and he himself had a bout of cancer a number of years ago, which he's still recovering from. With his mother gone and no true friends that I'm aware of, I imagine Peter went through his cancer ordeal by himself. I have to wonder how tough that was for him. During the warm months, Peter spends time in his garden, and he likes to go on hikes, spending a lot of time outdoors. During the cold months, he shares his life with his cats, and he keeps to himself. At the end of the day, he's alone. He eats his meals alone, he watches TV alone, and he goes to bed alone. I can't help but feel sorry for him, especially since I know there is so much more out there for people who are willing to take the risk to open their lives and their hearts to it.