I’m really glad I didn’t have sex with Hotman. We rolled around on my bed and made out a bit, but didn’t sleep together. If Hotman is my mirror, and I believe every person we’re attracted to reflects back aspects of ourselves we need to see (and often don’t like to see), then what I felt between Hotman and I was almost asexual in nature – a performance of sexual attraction rather than the real thing. I know this because I was informed of his un-date-ability before I even knew he was in love with his very own unavailable woman. Clearly my unconscious has its own agenda and part of why I pushed myself on him came from the central drive to “be” with someone who wasn’t open to be with anyone. Maybe Hotman and I simply stood before one another to be seen for a moment then continue down our separate paths. This is the essence of why I continue dating despite its hurtful messiness: to see someone, and be seen in return, in the hopes that the next mirror will be the good one, the right one, the one.
A few days ago, Hotman texted me about what I’d written about us. Surprisingly, he didn’t have much to say about how I had described him or our time together, but did worry about the transparency of the story details and the chance that his married girlfriend would somehow find out. I admittedly love the irony of a cheating woman finding out that her lover is "cheating" on her, but what I love even more about our exchanges is that we’re actually having them. I haven’t cut myself off from Hotman or become angry at him, nor him at me. I haven’t rejected him, my usual MO when things don’t work out. I’d even venture to say that Hotman and I are kind of, like, friends.
When I was 24, I carried a flame for a hot boy. Sandro was a cool musician who played at cool shows and had a cool style. He was brooding and difficult in the way most 20-something artist dudes are, writing dark but hopeful lyrics into his black notebooks, and impressing insecure 20-something chicks like me with his encyclopedic musical knowledge. I met him during a summer in Edmonton between long stints in France and Japan. I was going out a lot to “shows”, code for club nights featuring visiting DJs. These shows always had a contingent of hot, cool people but also tribal ravers with hula hoops and bar regulars and everything in between. A sense of togetherness and beauty was woven into these nights and though the drugs helped induce that sensation, nothing came close to the high of sharing giant swells of emotion a DJ washed over a crowd in chorus, bodies rising and falling unselfconsciously, shoulders shrugging, heads bobbing, hips twisting, everyone gyrating and sweating, even those Alberta men with their steam tickets, leaving the dark basements for hardhats and shit talk, lost themselves in the heat.
Sandro often performed as an opener at these shows and along with all the other girls in the room, I’d stare up at him in awe, proud to know that he was my friend and that we’d be coming down together at sunrise. Sandro had a pretty musician girlfriend so we were just friends at the beginning of the summer, but months later, just days before I left for Japan, they broke up and we hooked up. I left for Japan carrying a giant, burning flame for him, writing letters and sending music and writing brooding but hopeful poems into my own notebooks. My first six months in Japan were wholly surreal so my feelings were amplified by the need to fixate on something real back home. When I came back to visit, I lavished him with specially chosen gifts, hoping he shared my romantic feelings. But sitting in that Boston Pizza booth drinking fountain Diet Coke, I could tell right away that he hadn’t kept the same flame burning for me.
“Yeah, um, Laura and I are back together,” he said after I’d proudly handed over and explained each of the gifts. My stomach turned and my face got really hot. I was humiliated but I’d also had a hunch that it was one-sided because this was typically the case with every man I liked a little too much. He was gracious but noticeably guilty and we said an awkward goodbye. In the years following the Japanese gift debacle, we’d periodically write to each other. He went on to tour the world and open for huge musical acts and last year, when he was in Montreal with his band, he invited me to come watch. Seeing him on stage brought back a flood of old feelings, both lustful and painful, and I was surprised how my body remembered. Our conversation after the show was revelatory because we had both grown and changed so much. He was just as cool and hot as I remembered, but he’d also become more sensitive and disciplined and kind. When I told him about getting sober, he voiced how he’d been concerned about me during a particularly drug- and alcohol-fuelled period when our paths briefly crossed. To this day, he’s the only person from my past alcoholic past that voiced concern about it. That meant a lot to me, so much so that I cried when he said it.
About a month after we saw each other, we were texting about the infamous Japanese gift incident and he asked if he could call me.
“Carmen, I’m really sorry about what happened. I wasn’t clear with you and I’ve realized in the years since that what I did to you was really wrong. I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me.” I felt a deep, full unlifting of something that had been lodged in my body, not just from Sandro, but from a long trail of men. I had no idea how much a “sorry” would unburden the residual shame of rejection.
He lives across the country but in the last year, Sandro and I have corresponded a lot by text and over the phone. This is really special to me because I’ve cut off so many men from my past and have missed the benefits of long-term friendship with people who know me intimately through different phases of life. Our conversations are interesting portals into our shared past, our present romantic realities (getting a guy’s perspective on dating is endlessly fascinating), and also our hopeful futures.
Today, the mirror that Sandro offers is one of self-awareness, sensitivity, and even love. He is my friend.