Love takes courage. Choosing love takes courage. Choosing to love takes courage. Choosing to love completely takes courage.
Early on, before Chris and I had been a couple for two years, we moved in together. At the time we decided to sign the lease on a brand new apartment in Yaletown, I told Chris I had no intention of cohabiting with him if he thought we were roommates only. I wasn't looking for a roommate; I was looking for a life partner, a relationship, a commitment. I didn't want him thinking all we'd do is share the rent--so we could live in a nicer place than either of us could afford alone--and conduct our lives independent of each other, including romantic experiences with others. That was not acceptable to me. I would not have stood by and watched that happen.
Several months later, established in our beautiful apartment in the sky, with an unobstructed view of downtown Vancouver, I said something that would put a pall on our relationship, at least for me, for years to come. What I asked Chris freaked him out, and he said something to the effect that he didn't know if our relationship was "'til death do us part." Spooking him resulted in a long list of things coming from his mouth he'd never communicated to me before. Why hadn't he said them to me previously, before we'd moved in together, before I'd been allowed to think my relationship with him was on a solid foundation?
My heart shrivelled like a dying flower that night, closing itself up from everything I'd taken for granted about us, everything I'd thought to be true about the life Chris and I had made for ourselves. In our separate beds (we've had separate sleeping arrangements from the beginning--another reason why we've been together for so long), neither Chris nor I slept that night. As I lay there, eyes wide open, I thought that was it for us. The sense of panic Chris had expressed over taking our relationship to the next level--articulating how much we loved each other, how important our relationship was, how we wanted nothing else but to spend the rest of our lives together--had spread to me.
Envisioning the dissolution of our relationship, and the life we'd embarked on, I couldn't imagine not having that young man in my life. The thought of that was unfathomable. I couldn't imagine all of our things going down in the elevator and in different directions once they arrived at the bottom, just a few months after everything had gone up and been brought together in a symbolic gesture of our love for each other. I wished I hadn't pushed Chris. I wished I hadn't scared him. I wished I'd known just how frightened he was, the misgivings he still had that we might not be meant for each other after all.
The following morning, Chris and I stumbled into the kitchen, exhausted, bleary-eyed, and low-key. We mumbled a few words at the table as we went through the motions of breakfast. I expected him to tell me he didn't want to be together any longer. After all, he was just twenty-five years old. I was thirty-four. I was ready for a long-term, committed relationship, more than ready. But he was just twenty-three when we met, a young kid, who'd had almost no experience as an out gay man. He'd been with virtually no one other than me. He'd never had his fun, his playing around, sexually or otherwise. Would he hold that against me? If we didn't break up then, would we later on, because he didn't know what he wanted, but it wasn't what we had? Were we just putting off the inevitable? Should we cut our losses now rather than later, so I didn't spend any more time investing in us, in a future that would never be?
On the way to work that morning, Chris and I walked the few blocks together before he continued to his workplace downtown, and before I turned to climb the Seymour viaduct on the Granville bridge. Chris apologized for what he'd said the evening before, for upsetting me, for allowing me to think our relationship was in trouble. As he began to tell me he was going through a mid-life crisis of sorts and needed time to catch up to what was happening to us, he began to cry. What had gone on between us in the previous twenty-four hours had hurt him, too. He realized what he'd done with just a few words to upset the stability of nearly two years together. He assured me everything would be all right. He said we were back on track, as though nothing had transpired between us the previous night.
But we were anything but back on track, as far as I was concerned. I didn't buy it. I wanted to buy it--God knows I did--but I couldn't. Not when I knew how he really felt. Not when I knew he'd finally opened up another side of himself I'd never seen before, and what I'd seen had hurt me beyond description. If he didn't end things between us now, should I? I wanted to be married. I'd wanted to be married for years. Should I let him go, move on, keep up the effort to find someone I wanted to be with--and who wanted to be with me? Could I afford to invest anything more in Chris and in us when, at any time, he might tell me he wanted out? Could I take that risk? Did I want to wait until he figured out whether I was the one he wanted to be with? I'd be devastated if we broke up. But how much worse would I feel if I hung around, waited for him to make up his mind, then watched him walk out the door a month, six months, a year, later?
On the other hand, I acknowledged Chris's youth. I felt for him. I thought maybe I hadn't been fair to him. An older man putting his clutches on an innocent, a babe. Maybe he should be with someone his own age. Maybe he needed time to figure himself out. Maybe he needed to get clear in his mind what he really wanted. Maybe he needed more experience with other gay men, to see what was out there, what was available to him. After all, he'd only wanted a coffee buddy when we'd met, another gay fellow to socialize with, so he wasn't on his own all the time. What I'd offered him from the beginning was the chance to be in a settled relationship, but maybe he didn't want to be settled. Maybe it was too early for that. Had I pushed too hard? Did I give him a fair chance? Should I let him go and see what happened?
What I wasn't sure Chris saw was just how good we were together, how lucky we were to have found each other. I'd had a few relationships in the past--what I refer to now as affairs--and not one of them had been near as good as what Chris and I had. He was so different from all the rest. He was kind and sweet and gentle. He'd never smoked, done drugs, or slept around--all deal breakers for me. I'd been with the addicted smokers. I'd been with those who'd had sex with plenty of other men. I'd been with the jaded, the untrustworthy, and the messed up, in large part because that's all I thought I could get. Chris was none of that. He was a breath of fresh air. He was exactly what I needed, exactly who I imagined I'd need to meet for a relationship to work--someone who hadn't been eaten up and spit out by the gay life. He was open and honest and utterly beautiful in so many ways.
I made the decision to stay, to wait it out, to see what happened. For months, years even, I held back. I gave Chris space. I didn't crush him with my growing feelings for him. No more serious conversations about forever. I became focused on today. I knew I had him for today, for each and every moment we shared together. I knew that's all I really had, that's all any of us has, whatever's going on in our lives. Today we connected. Today we enjoyed each other's company. Today we experienced something new. Tomorrow was tomorrow. Tomorrow would take care of itself. If I was still with Chris tomorrow--if he chose to be with me--so much the better. I hoped he would. I hoped over time he'd realize how much I loved him, how love wasn't a scary place to be after all, how he could be everything he was meant to be within the context of our relationship. I would see to that.
The idea Chris could leave me at any time ran through my mind constantly, for years, often sending me into a panic. I was more reserved around him, so, in case he decided to leave, it wouldn't hurt as badly. But who was I kidding? Every day I spent with him made me love him even more, made the idea of no longer having him in my life unbearable. All I had was hope. Hope he'd come around. Hope he'd realize just how lucky we were. Hope he'd recognize in me what he'd always wanted in a partner but hadn't define for himself yet. Of course it was a waiting game. Of course there was risk. Of course everything could backfire on me, and I could find myself in a heap on the floor, wondering what had happened, wondering if I'd ever love the same way again. What choice did I have? I loved Chris with all my heart, and all I could do was hope he loved me too, and that he'd give us the chance we deserved.
How do two people, from two very different experiences of love, come together and make a relationship work? One from a broken home, his father leaving his mother when he was a young teenager, witnessing first-hand the devastation wreaked on the path of love lost? The other never seeing the nature of true love, not between his parents and not from them. How do two adults overcome the pain and the disappointment of love, find the strength to rise above what they know of it, believe the sum of what they've seen isn't all there is? How do they open their hearts to another human being, not tentatively, but fully, generously, and with abandon--the only way love should be, the only way it truly has a chance--recognizing at any time, love can end, turn on them, tear them apart?
The only answer I can come up with is this: We open our hearts wide to accept love because it's in our nature to do so. We were made for love. We were made to love. Because, aside from everything else that makes up our lives, love is all that matters. Because to not experience true love, at least once, is to live a life without meaning, without purpose--to merely exist. I can think of any other reason to draw breath than for love. To love someone else, and to be loved in return. Love must always be our starting point, our goal, our raison d'etre. We have nothing without love. Nothing matters without love. Love is all we need.