We had not seen each other for many weeks, which was unusual for us, as we would normally hang out most weekends. I had been the one to initiate recent telephone contact, during which I felt the intimacy gone from our conversations.
I felt something was amiss and did not know what to say or do. I wanted to address it, but deep in my heart I knew I was not ready to hear those words ‘It’s over!’ All I did was cling, afraid that letting go meant abandonment, an old childhood wound which had been reactivated, during those many weeks of not seeing each other.
We got to know each other in 1989, during my second year at University. Like me, ‘Susan’ was also studying Law. We became fast friends, I guess because we had loads in common. We lived near each other, were both of Nigerian heritage, both had jobs in the Civil Service and were studying part-time. We would travel back from lectures together, study together over the weekend and as time progressed we would hang out socially.
As the years passed and we made our way through university, our families and friends got to know each other. We were pretty inseparable, and one of the first things friends and family would often ask was ‘how is Susan?’. My mother took a shine to Susan and as time unfolded, I came to learn that she hoped Susan would one-day become her daughter-in-law.
Even though we were simply friends, in my mind Susan was also a potential girlfriend, a potential life partner. During the course of 1992, I decided that I was going to explore and see whether Susan and I had a chance as a couple. We arranged to go to the movies – in my mind ‘on a date’; I arrived with a cuddly toy for her and off with went. As we made our way back home later that night, I trembled as I planned in my mind how to approach the conversation. We arrived back at her place; I had not brought up the subject. As I left a few hours later, I kicked myself for not being courageous enough.
When I made it home that night, I decided to summon up some courage and try again. I rang Susan and told her that I thought I had dropped my keys in her flat. She looked around for the keys and when she eventually said she could not find them, I owned up and said I had not lost them and that I had wanted to ask her something. I proceeded to say something along the lines ‘I like you and wondered whether you would consider dating me’. Susan said no, that she liked me and considered me a brother. I was actually okay and it was quite a relief to get the conversation out of the way. Our friendship continued as normal, and it was like nothing happened.
Susan came to my graduation party in autumn ‘92, she was practically family and knew most people at the party; with the exception of a few friends. In one of the pictures from that party, she is dancing with me and right behind her is another close friend from University (‘Martin’) holding his daughter and talking to his spouse. Even though Susan did not know Martin at this time, and they did not speak to each other during the party, roll forward a few years and Susan is mother to his 2 kids (maybe more by now)…. But hey, I am ahead of myself, that bit to come later.
In my fantasy, Susan was my girlfriend and I carried on as such. I remember in 1993 when a work colleague had asked whether I was gay. I said no, telling her that I had a girlfriend, proceeding to tell her all about Susan. I remember seeing a therapist regarding my alopecia in 1994 and during each session going on about my ‘girlfriend’ – gosh, I shudder with shame as I recollect the lies I told.
I went off to Law School in 1993/94, during this period Susan and I would meet at weekends to play tennis and catch up during the weekend. Susan was also at Law School. As it so happened, she was in the same class as my friend from the graduation party, Martin. For some reason Susan could not stand him and I would encourage her to at least get to know him, as he was also a close friend.
I remember getting back from Italy in summer ‘94, after a short vacation. Susan told me that while I was away, She had hung out with Martin, they had gone away together for the weekend. I remember asking whether they had shared a room, they had…. I was hurt, betrayed by my fantasy life partner!
As the weeks unfolded it became obvious that Susan and Martin were an item. I was going through my own process of accepting myself as a gay man – more about that here. Martin joined in our games of tennis and all was fine on the surface.
Over the coming weeks, I began to notice that we were not seeing each other as much. At a certain point, I noticed that we had not seen each other for many weeks, which was unusual for us, as we would normally hang out most weekends. I had been the one to initiate recent telephone contact, during which I felt the intimacy gone from our conversations…
Susan moved house, to live with Martin. I moved house in Spring ’95 and coincidentally my new place was down the road from Susan. I remember calling her excitedly when I discovered the coincidence, inviting them both round. The visit never happened. I think that was the last telephone conversation we had.
I could not understand it. At that point in my life, I had not had a friendship simply come to a halt. Friendships had ended for explainable reasons – we’d had a fallout or one of us had moved house/country/job. As the months unfolded and calls were not being returned I came to learn that ‘if someone does not want to be part of your life, there is very little that can be done to get them to stay’. The lack of contact went from months to years, friends and family would ask about Susan and I’d say we no longer saw each other. They’d ask why and I’d say ‘I don’t know’. I’d feel sadness and shame; that I had somehow done something wrong to mess up the friendship.
Many years down the line, I bumped into Susan on my way home. She was with her kids, Martin’s kids. We talked for awhile, about nothing. It was like two High Schools friends meeting up and both discovering that they no longer had anything in common. As we parted, I felt sad for the young man that I once was, who so desperately longed for a fantasy that was not to be.
As I reflect now on that period of my life, I am grateful for a number of things – I came to learn that letting go does not mean death. As the years have unfolded, I have found myself in situations where I needed to let go of someone; and I have also been let go of. Life simply continued. And with time, the pain or hurt softened.
I also came to learn – in wise words of Joseph Campbell – that “we must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us”. Letting go of my fantasy, allowed me to gradually start to step into my life as a gay man, step into being my authentic self; and for that I am forever grateful to Susan.
Copyright © 2011 OutTales.