Even at the time, I realised I was too old for this nonsense. I was in my 30s – a successful career, own home, you know, an adult – but I’d fallen in love like a teenager and was having a very dramatic teenage time of it now I’d been dumped. No disrespect to teenagers and their very real feelings, it’s just that, well, you expect to grow out of that.
When I met him in a bar, I wasn’t sure I even liked him. He was making no bones about being up for it and my friends were all telling me he was gorgeous and I should go for it, but by the morning (don’t judge!) I was in over my head.
Losing my confidence
I don’t actually like myself very much when I’m in love. What I think of as my strong points – confidence, independence, comedy – melt away until I’m a sap, a yes-man and a bore. And maybe that’s what it was. I was no longer the man he saw larging it in that bar. After six months of longing for calls, micro-analysing texts, reading anything into everything he said or did or wore, he finally called time. Nicely.
I took it like a man, said I understood and left with dignity. Then I did something I’ve never done after a break-up: I cut him out of my life.
"How are you feeling?" he asked after a big night out. And I knew exactly what was coming. No Doubt’s 'Don’t speak, I know what you’re thinking, I don’t need your reasons, don’t tell me 'cause it hurts' came straight into my head. Teenage or what? But I took it like a man, said I understood and left with dignity. Then I did something I’ve never done after a break-up: I cut him out of my life.
Ignoring his calls
For some reason, I think gay men seem particularly good at recycling lovers into friends. In fact, most of my best friends are exes... but that wasn’t going to happen in this case. I wouldn’t take calls, answer texts and told people at work that if he phoned – and he did – I was out. Forever.
And then there was the drinking. Excessive and angry. Arguing with anyone about anything, throwing drinks in people’s faces...
All this time I was boring anyone who would sit still long enough with every last detail of the relationship, of the break-up, of what he said, of what he didn’t say, of what I could have done differently and would carry on long after the glaze had come over their eyes.
And then there was the drinking. Excessive and angry. Arguing with anyone about anything, throwing drinks in people’s faces, storming out on the slightest pretext. Until one brave friend out with me while I was in full rant mode simply said, "Get help."
An unexpected friendship
I’ll give myself credit for not going crazy on him and for actually just taking the advice and finding a therapist (that’s how serious this was) – and it worked! It also meant I was paying someone to listen to the outpourings my friends could no bear.
One of the things we discussed was my shame at feeling so teenage about a simple break-up with a boyfriend – we’d never even said the word 'boyfriend' – of just six months.
My therapist mentioned that for gay men my age who grew up in the 1970s, the first 20 years of our lives were spent deep undercover.
My therapist mentioned that for gay men my age who grew up in the 1970s, the first 20 years of our lives were spent deep undercover. While our straight schoolmates were spending their teenage years flirting, snogging after class, cheating, being cheated on, breaking up, rebounding, we were isolated, waiting for real life to start – if we were lucky – when we left school, maybe even home.
You can’t skip the learning process, even if you start it really late. It made perfect sense and I started to snap out of it.
I’m now good friends with my ex and have been for years. As the grown-up in the relationship, he didn’t give up and wrote me a long letter at work saying – firmly, but not unfairly – that even though it didn’t work out romantically, he still wanted me in his life. Even if I was the oldest teenager in town.