I was 32 years old when I met the Beloved in the flesh of a man old enough to be my father. It was December 2015 and I did know it yet, at least consciously, that our bodies were made for each other, but I recall experiencing our encounter--which took place near midnight, after a friend's office Christmas party--as an inkling of something, a kernel of "ancient recognition" that was just beginning to gestate after having been planted in some previous lifetime. I drove away from him after he walked me to the car I was driving at the time (my father’s black 1999 Honda Accord with a sun roof top) and did not return because I was committed to recovering the emotional and sexual sobriety I thought I had lost in bending my body over his bed that night.
It was a slip in step work that I permitted on account of the loneliness and longing that my 10-month stint in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.) could not sublimate. I had worked through eight of the twelve steps of that program under the guidance of a diligent sponsor, a man in his late twenties, and had done a thorough job of it, accounting for all of my emotional and sexual transgressions in the pages of a black Moleskin journal that I filled with personal inventory. Even with all of that work, however, I found myself tired of walking uphill, so to speak. My midnight rendez-vous with this stranger, mediated by a dating website for “mature men” and their “admirers," shifted my focus, turned my attention toward my desires and what they might unlock were I to let them roam free from the treadmill on which I felt locked in place emotionally and sexually.
I told my sponsor about the slip--one among a few that had happened in the course of my work in program--and he came down firmly. I was to do a 90 x 90: attend ninety meetings in ninety days. I was to become a sponsor, myself. I was to repeat, as I had done in the past when I failed sobriety, steps one through eight. I was not to date until after completing the ninth step--the condition on which this young man’s sponsorship of me depended from the outset when we started our working relationship that previous Spring.
I did not feel inspired to renew my sobriety under these terms and conditions. I was exhausted of the work and felt infantilized by the mandates imposed upon me. I had left the Roman Catholic Church of my childhood precisely because of its stultifying demands on the homosexual person. I had no plans of entering back into such a repressive paradigm for living, which is not real living. It was not until a few days later that I expressed my unwillingness to stay in S.L.A.A. with my sponsor. It was my intention to take a break from regular attendance at meetings and permit myself the satisfaction of responding to my loneliness and longing with the tools I had picked up from program, free to act on my desires under no one else’s authority but my own. Only my conscience at the time did not permit me another visit to the midnight stranger’s house. He had e-mailed me the day after we met, saying that he wanted to see me again. I e-mailed back, playing along, even though I knew that it was not the time to return. I still had work to do.
Not only that, the sex we had alarmed me. We engaged in role play--a first for me. He called me “son"; I called him “dad.” I had never done that in the physical presence of another man. It was an act of sexual drama I had only ever restricted to the realm of private fantasy. It was safer there, where it remained simply a kink, a fetish, a phase out of which I would somehow grow by way of psychotherapy and the inner work it required of me--work that I had taken up in Twelve Step program with the expectation, or hope, rather, that it would shift me out of the pre-Oedipal stage in which I thought I was caught because of this seeming perversion: my sexual preference for older men, for "daddy."
Indeed, my entire self-understanding as a homosexual person has revolved around a sense of myself as flawed—not because I am gay (I had reconciled with that at 23, when I came out in the company of a friend who taught me how “normal” it is to be homosexual), but because the nature of my attraction to other men is peculiar enough to be labeled a “complex” (at least in my own mind).
“Rob, you should be careful,” my Jungian therapist told me in conversation a few days after the midnight encounter. “That kind of role play is safe only with someone who you know well enough to trust.”
She is right. But I liked it with this stranger, who did not feel like a stranger. His touch, firm yet tender. His body, warm; his hands, paws; his hirsute face and chest, white fur, warming me into submission under the weight of his full-bodied, 300 lb., 6’ 4” frame.
After sex, we talked. I learned that he is a retired big-rig driver for the United Parcel Service (UPS) who he spent four years in the Orange, California Police Department before, I would learn much later, he was kicked out for being gay. (A lesbian partner outed him to the police chief.) He has a fancy for old cars, two of which are housed in his garage under canvas cover, taken out for joy rides or a show with a gay car club: a 1960 baby blue T-bird with a soon roof top and a sleek, red T-bird convertible, also 1960.
He asked what I do for a living. I spoke briefly of my work as a doctoral student, which I was at the time, noting its emphasis on the issue of race and racism as if calling his resume with the police department to task. As I was putting back on the clothes I had thrown off upon arrival to his 50s-era, one-story Orange, California, house with grey-blue siding and a shingled roof, he asked me if I was single. I hesitated.
“Oh,” he grumbled, “You have someone already.”
“No,” I told him hesitantly, uncertain in my words, "Just not sure I’m available for a relationship.”
He seemed disappointed, but still comfortable enough to show me around his home as if I was a long-awaited house guest, someone familiar, with whom he was expecting to pick back up after a long separation. I looked at how he walked—graceful on his feet, thighs thick, legs apart and in a slight boxing stance, as if ready to spar. His back, muscled from years of package pick-up and delivery, was broad at the shoulders, sloping inward to form a deep crevice that curved back outward at his coccyx. He had what his dating profile on the aforementioned website called a “linebacker’s build.”
Indeed, I was drawn to his body first. I have always been drawn to big men. Especially if they have facial hair—a mustache, a beard, a goatee (or at least one that suits them). Perhaps it’s because I was socialized in a circle of men who had the look and feel of what the gay male community, never at a loss for labels, calls “bears.” Between my father and his two living brothers, as well as my uncle on my mother’s side, I was raised by a sleuth of them. And before I could figure out a category for it, my attraction to their kind of body was as natural to me as taking a piss.
This "midnight man" with whom I found myself suddenly in bed, struck me as masculine, taciturn, a gruff demeanor betraying a sweetness revealed in his hospitality. He had an unwitting self-presentation as “momma’s boy," illustrated in framed photographs of his mother that lined one wall of his TV room. Passing through it on the way to his newly remodeled kitchen with beige-colored cabinetry and tiled flooring, a white, subway tile backsplash above a light granite counter top, and two windows--one on each side of the sink, which stood at the far-left corner of the kitchen--I noticed a copy of the film Milk in his extensive DVD library, one that I would later learn consists almost entirely of gay films.
Wow, I thought to myself, I guess this guy is out. He did not present himself as the stereotype of the effete gay man. He presented an image of himself as gender-conforming to a performance of heterosexual masculinity that could find itself well-suited in a baseball uniform—quite literally, in fact, as he played first baseman in junior high, I learned much later. I would also learn that growing up, in the privacy of his childhood bedroom, he danced, lip-synching the words to “Stoned Love” in front of his mirror as if he was a fourth member of The Supremes, his favorite singing group.
Following his unsolicited and unexpected tour of the house he walked me to my father’s car and then asked if I ever wanted to go out to grab a bite to eat, see a movie, or go to the theater for a show. It was an invitation to friendship that exceeded my expectations for the night (as if his hospitality wasn’t enough already). I said yes, even though I knew that was a lie: I didn’t trust myself, for one, given my past patterns of approach and retreat in relationship, patterns that had led me into S.L.A.A. in the first place. Secondly, in the back of my mind, playing over images of prescription pill bottles I saw in his bathroom, that damn voice: He's too old... .
I wanted to go back to his bedroom, though, and flirted with the idea, flirted with him—by e-mail and telephone—more than once. In one e-mail he noted how special I was to him, even though we had only met once. But I did not know how to respond in a healthy way. I would approach and then withdraw, quite literally, doing what we in recovery circles call a “drive-by,” parking outside of his house one night (or was it more than one?), stalking his living room window from the dark space of that Honda Accord with the intention of knocking on his door to let myself in. I never let it go that far, however, always catching myself in the midst of my own absurdity, and eventually sent a message to him a few months later--after some back and forth about meeting up again—telling him that my heart did not feel in the right place. This was true. I had no idea where it was. I could not allow it this particular outlet for intimacy because it was caught in a tangle of confusion around what constitutes healthy relational behavior. I still thought I was sick and in need of remedy--one that would reorient me sexually so that I could relinquish the habit of chasing after “daddy” and enter freely into relationship with someone who is “age appropriate.” My message was received with willing acceptance in three short words: “U got it.”
I have never understood my sexual attraction to older men. I do not feign to ever understand it, nor do I wish to try anymore. It is a matter I have long diagnosed as a spiritual pathology deserving of exorcism, and my attempts to cure it through celibacy, as well as sexual promiscuity, have repeatedly failed. Truth is, until my last long-term relationship, which transpired with another man months after meeting this stranger--who felt, inexplicably like a long-lost friend--I had never really given myself the chance to explore gay partnership. The longest relationships I had lasted no more than three months and if I wasn't in a short-term romantic stint I was either prowling online for a fleeting encounter or relinquishing both sex and committed relationship altogether. I just did not know how to direct my desire toward anything lasting and life-giving in the context of commitment. I had no models for so doing.
Under the auspices of Pope John Paul II, The Roman Catholic Church of my childhood upbringing, as distilled through the Baltimore Catechism on which I was reared, taught me to articulate my desire as disordered. The tenets of natural law, revised by medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, confirmed this. The rules of biological complementarity between the male and female of the species excluded me from participation in the law of nature. The sex act, reduced to its utility as a rite of reproduction within the divinely sanctioned realm of heterosexual marriage, was not meant for me--which is to say that my body was not meant for it.
This is to say nothing of love. For what is love between two people whose biology does not allow for reproduction? There can be no sanction for marriage when there is no complementary. And if there can be no sanction for marriage, there can be no sanction for eros, restricted to the confines of the marital bed chamber and reduced to the biological act of heterosexual reproduction for which the marriage bed is reserved. The joy of sex itself, even in the divinely-sanctioned context of heterosexual marriage, is an afterthought--especially for the pre-Vatican II Catholics who raised me.
As of this writing, I am now ten months into a relationship with a man on whom I had ghosted for two years--perhaps because I was so afraid of what he had awakened in me that night in December three years ago. I can only say that I have found in him who is nearly twice my age what I could only ever imagine as a child. He is the answer to the loneliness which I spoke to, played with, learned to befriend in moments of solitude inside my childhood home, where, living in a family as the youngest of five, it was easy to go unnoticed. It was not until I returned to his house on a whim, just about two years to the day of that midnight meeting and a failed long-term relationship later, that I realized how lonely life would be without him.
I went back to him because I felt as if there was unfinished business. It was as if the two years of separation was preparing me for the man with whom I feel am meant to be. I contacted him again through the same website as before, if only to reconnect on a bodily level during a time in which I was allowing myself to explore sex with multiple partners, free of obligation and commitment. Little did I realize that what felt right in body would feel right in soul. I have found my mate, someone to whom I am intrinsically motivated to commit. It took a failed relationship and a brief time of sexual experimentation following that for me to realize what love really feels like when it happens. It takes one by surprise. Or at least that is how I experienced it with this man I call Beloved--as an unanticipated gift, freely given and without force or coercion. There is no way of explaining it, try as I might. To explain love would be to explain it away, to lose its mystery. It simply is.
When my Beloved agreed to meet again We had sex for a second time on my return visit in December of 2017 and we protracted that time together with a cuddle. He wrapped his arm around me in a post-coital embrace and I felt warm, protected, taken care of. He felt the same way. This second time around I let myself take up his initial invitation to friendship that he had offered so willingly that night in December three years ago and which he offered again. I accepted gladly. As if putting on an old shirt, it felt like a good fit.
After the holidays he called me to see if I wanted to meet up for dinner and an episode of one of his favorite TV shows: The Amazing Race. I agreed, because and in spite of my disdain for "reality" television. There was something about his company that felt like home, drawing me to his extra TV room recliner, empty before I came along. We have been inseparable since--still exchanging greeting cards, still offering each other small tokens of appreciation, still going on joy rides and hikes, still sharing solitude (he works on his yard while I read and write), still making meals for each other as we did in the beginning (now 10 months ago). In the process I am learning that real love is easy, even with its hardships, when we let it happen. It comes as a stranger, unannounced, who never really was a stranger, but someone, something, for which we had been waiting all of our life.