It was the first day of a weeklong program at Easton Mountain, the retreat center for gay men in Upstate New York, and I was sitting next to a handsome gray-haired man about my age. Connor (not his real name) had intense green eyes, a warm smile, and a cute Canadian accent, which sounded a bit like he was from Minnesota.
“Spirit Camp” is a low-key program offered by the center, one I’ve attended for the last five summers. Although I always keep my eye out for a possible connection, I’ve rarely met potential relationship partners at Easton. It seems that generally, the men I’m most attracted to aren’t interested in me, and are looking for someone younger, buffer, and “hotter.”
Beyond Easton, I invariably find the men I’m most attracted to aren’t available. Sometimes, they’re guilty of false advertising; they may claim to want a relationship in their on-line profiles or on a first date, but I quickly find they are not ready, willing, or really interested. Or the men are married, coupled, in primary relationships. Occasionally, those men are open to “dating” outside of their relationships, but I generally avoid those men, not wanting to be the ‘other woman’ in a domestic dispute, not wanting to get the leftover crumbs of intimacy they’re offering to someone like me.
Although Connor was nice-looking and age appropriate, (in his early 50’s), I wasn’t looking for a long-distance relationship. I knew of several couples, now married and/or living together, who met, overcame the logistical challenges of living in different cities (Boston and New York), and who eventually settled down in one place. But Toronto is a long way from Boston, and my life was complicated enough.
Here was a good-looking single man, who quickly told me he was attracted to me and wanted to get to know me better. At that point, we had about five days remaining, and I figured we could enjoy each other’s company. After a rough spring and early summer, in which I dealt with several family crises, (my mother had been ill back in Cleveland), I could have what a friend calls a “BFW” (boyfriend for the week), and enjoy a little companionship.
Initially, I was a little freaked out by Connor’s show of interest. I’m not used to attracting the attention of available men. And he quickly began talking about life beyond Easton, and how he wanted to stay connected, to see me once Spirit Camp was over. I wondered what was wrong with him. Was he too needy? Would I disappoint him once the week was over, when we inevitably parted ways?
Feeling confused, and not wanting to mess up a good thing, I sat down with a friend from Boston, who was also at Spirit Camp. I summed up the situation, and my fear of letting Connor down. (I tend to take way too much responsibility for the other person in relationship; my Jewish guilt kicking into high gear). This friend, who has been in a relationship for the past 20 years, looked at me, smiled, and said:
“I know Connor. He can take care of himself. You’re used to going after unavailable men. Here’s this single guy telling you he’s interested. You’re afraid. It’s OK, just tell him how you feel, and take things one step at a time.”
That evening, a group of us walked a giant labyrinth, a snaky circular path. The labyrinth was marked off with a series of candles. As I walked, I couldn’t see where I was ultimately going. Instead, I took one step at a time, looking only at the ground in front of me as I wove through the maze, eventually reaching the center, surrounded by candlelight in the darkness.
As I navigated the rest of my week at Easton, I kept both the labyrinth and my friend’s advice in mind. Instead of my usual struggle for control, I began to let go. Instead of looking for Connor’s flaws, I enjoyed spending time with him. We joked around, as I teased him about his Canadian accent, his funny pronunciation of words like ‘out’ and ‘about.’
As Spirit Camp drew to a close, I knew that I wanted to see him again. A few weeks later, he was here, visiting me in Boston. The logistics are complicated –- he has his life in Toronto, and I have mine here. But I’m walking the labyrinth one step at a time, the only way I can.