Well, apparently he's applied his hiking motto to finding new friends. Instead of forgetting about people who don't seem promising, he's decided to give them (and specifically, me) a chance to prove their worth by spending more time with them.
Such a noble guy!
The truth is, his comment hurt me much more than it should have - and that made me realize I'd let my infatuation with him go too far. But strangely, I became *more* obsessed the angrier I got. Eventually I reached the point where I couldn't think about anything other than him, so I knew I had to take action. One way or another, I had to get him out of my head.
The best way to stop obsessing, I decided, was to confess that I had a crush on him. It actually didn't matter how he responded because either way I'd be dealing with reality and not idealized fantasy.
I was determined to make the confession the next time I saw him, during our ninth hike. As was typical, we spent more than seven hours together that day, but as the hours ticked away I grew increasingly worried I was going to lose my nerve. Then, somehow, in our final minutes together, I got a burst of determination and perfectly executed a monotone, matter-of-fact, "Well, since I have a bit of a crush on you, of course I'd like to hike again as soon as possible."
His response? Big eyes and silence. Then, "We can go to 'X' park in two days."
As frustrated as I was with his vague response, revealing my attraction turned out to be a smart move for my mental health. Although I still thought about him a lot, I felt more and more at peace with the idea that nothing would ever happen between us, and achieving that state of mind was definitely a step in the right direction. It was also awesome to learn how helpful confessing a crush could be. (No doubt I'll need to use that tactic again in the future.)
On our tenth hike I expected *some* kind of reaction to my confession, but the day passed and Cooper said nothing. In our last few minutes together I decided to put him on the spot and call his bluff about an overnight trip he'd been begging me to take him on, to a national park about five hours away. What was significant about the trip was not the drive, or the park, but the overnight stay in a motel. Believe me, I spent many hours imagining what the sleeping arrangements might be.
Just as I was about to drop him off I said, "Oh - I wanted to tell you that I can do the overnight trip on Labor Day weekend. Finally you'll be able to do your dream hike."
"OK.... Um, well, I actually prefer to do a different hike that weekend."
"What?!! You've been talking about this dream hike for months and now you don't want to go? Why not?"
For the first time ever he seemed to be at a loss for words. "I'm not comfortable with the overnight stay."
"Uh huh," I replied - and let the topic drop. I felt like making a big deal about it would be a mistake. And also, I didn't want to end an otherwise good day with a fight. Since we planned to hike again in two days, I could follow up then.
Hike eleven went well. He seemed to be more at ease and trusting of me, while I was more willing to focus on the moment and not on whether I might be allowed to touch him some day.
Once again, in the final minutes of the day, we had a significant conversation. Unlike the usual pattern, however, he initiated it. After we sat in silence for a good ten minutes, he said, "Two cents...(well, one cent really - if I pay what it's worth) ...for your thoughts?"
"Since you asked - and to be honest - I was just thinking about how I cancelled two meetings with a guy who seems to really like me in order to be with you. I'm concerned that my attraction to you is unhealthy."
That statement led to a short conversation where Cooper, finally, after 11 hikes averaging 7 hours each, told me where I stood with him: "You're a terrific friend but we have no sexual chemistry."
I was not surprised by that information but I was both disappointed and thankful to hear it. The disappointment lasted about two days and the thankfulness continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. Truly, it was better to have my fantasies obliterated rather than to continue to wonder and hope.
You might think this is the end of the story but it isn't.
As I picked Cooper up for our twelfth hike I was nervous about how our dynamic might be different now that I knew how he felt. Would it be awkward? Would I regret seeing him again? Would my futile fantasies be reignited? It turned out that none of those things happened. Instead I felt surprisingly comfortable thinking of Cooper as just a friend and nothing more. I even returned one of his impatient snaps at me, which was something I'd never done before. (And it definitely surprised him.)
All in all, it was a good day. Other than his small jab and my volley, which had to do with where to park the car, there were no awkward, contentious, annoying or unpleasant moments. The only weird thing was when he made a point of telling me, "There are two types of listeners. The first type is 'present' and listens actively without interruption or imposing their own agenda. The second type jumps in with questions and can't resist pouncing on the slightest provocative statement." Translated from Cooperspeak that means, "I want to tell you something but I only want you to listen. Don't ask any questions, just let me talk."
I responded with a simple "OK" thinking that would be his cue to share whatever was on his mind, but he didn't. Rather than badger or beg him to talk, I said nothing.
On our thirteenth hike, as had been gradually happening more and more, I noticed early in the day that we seemed to be very much in sync. We knew what to expect from each other and we were increasingly comfortable with it. While I wouldn't say we shared an unspoken bond, we definitely had an unspoken connection - and that made me happy. Even if we weren't going to date, the growth of our connection was very satisfying for me.
Somewhere between our fourth and fifth hour together, Cooper said something odd, even for him. Out of the blue he said, "I'm feeling very emotional today." With the 'two kinds of listeners' lecture still very much in my head, I responded by looking at him expectantly.
And then it happened...
On the day I met Cooper three months ago, I greatly angered him by asking about his family. Clearly I'd stumbled onto a sensitive topic. He gave me a two sentence answer to my question - which was exactly enough information to make me regret I'd ever asked. If you're guessing he was rejected by his family because he is gay, that's not it. That would be a relatively minor problem compared to the truth.
Because of what he told me I've always been empathetic to his strange behavior. Given what happened, he's still a remarkably well adjusted total pain-in-the-ass. It's clear to me that 80% of his weirdness can be attributed to essential self-protection measures, while the other 20% is just who he is. Knowing that, I've found it relatively easy (and even entertaining) to be patient with him.
What I've never understood is his strong interest in me. If we were dating, why was I strictly forbidden from touching him, even accidentally? If we were friends, why didn't we ever talk about anything personal or important? On so many occasions he'd say he wanted to go hiking with me "as soon as possible," as if hiking together was an urgent mission. I could never understand the disconnect between wanting to spend time with me and how we actually interacted.
Well now, at long last, I understand. On the thirteenth hike Cooper magically opened up.
I can't say what he shared but I will say that I was both very sad for him and deeply touched. I always knew he kept his tender inner soul barricaded behind a thick wall of intellect and anti-social behavior, but I really didn't know the full extent of it. I still don't; he gave me just a taste. Listening to him share was actually one of the most intimate moments I've ever experienced with a man. I'm grateful that his persistence and my patience made it possible for us to be friends.
It's probably anti-climactic for me to say I experienced "one of the most intimate moments I've ever shared with a man" and not give details. The best explanation I can provide is that it was sort of like someone sharing the biggest secret of their life with you and it turns out the secret really was big. I felt honored and humbled and touched all at the same time.
I also had a highly inappropriate (but involuntary) reaction that Cooper doesn't know about. Listening to him share something very personal was extremely erotic for me. I practically fainted as the blood quickly drained out of my big head and into my little one as he spoke. I really wanted to rip his clothes off right there, even as he poured his heart out to me. The *idea* of masculine emotional intimacy has always been very appealing to me but this is the first time I've ever experienced such a rush from it when interacting with a gay guy. I wonder if this will become my 'yardstick experience;' the significant measure by which future potential partners will be compared?
Now that the mystery of what-the-fuck-does-this-highly-intelligent-totally-weird-guy-want-from-me? has been solved, I don't expect to be writing any more about Cooper. I am, however, looking forward to seeing him again soon.
I think my next post will be about the guy I blew off twice to see Cooper. I've seen him now seven or eight times and he's another interesting situation.
Thanks for reading and commenting!