Monday, September 12, 2011

Friends and Lovers

Though I know next to nothing about how heterosexual men and women interrelate, I'm quite sure it is--or was--greatly different than that of gay men.

When I was living in Los Angeles and very active in the gay "scene," many of my friendships stemmed from having met someone in a bar, going home with them, and our then deciding--either before, during, or after our time in bed--that we would like to get to know each other better. Usually, the element of sex dropped totally out of the equation. This was simply the way gay culture at the time worked and I suspect still does. It's not coincidental that in my Dick Hardesty mystery series, many of Dick's closest friendships began with sex.

As a minor digression, I find it fascinating that the gay lexicon has changed dramatically when it comes to the description of long-term relationships. The word "lover," which was used for most of my adult life, has been replaced by "partner," which I personally prefer, and "lover" is almost never used.

Of all the relationships I've had in my long and checkered career, only two stand out as having a major impact on my life: Norm, who was my first real relationship, lasting six years, and Ray, which lasted nine years, on and off--mostly off due to the alcoholism which inevitably destroyed him. After our breakup, Norm and I segued from partners to loving friends until his death last year. I realize that I have largely fantasized my relationship with Ray, who I did indeed deeply love--seeing only the incredibly sweet, kind, loving young man he was when sober and ignoring the monster he became when drunk. For those of you who follow my books, Ray was the inspiration for Dick's partner, Jonathan--which is hardly surprising since I, in my fantasy world, am Dick.

In our lives, if we are lucky, we have many friends of both genders and a variety of sexual orientations. If we're very lucky, some of them remain friends or a lifetime.

The word "friend" covers a broad spectrum of, for want of a better word, "intensities." Simply put, some friends are closer than others. Friends tend to come and go. A mark of a true friend is one who may have drifted away for whatever reason but who, when re-meeting after many years, can pick up a conversation in mid-sentence as though the intervening years never existed. I've been blessed to have several of those, and the re-establishment of the friendship is a joy hard to describe.

But throughout life there are relatively few we consider true "best friends." I've had three in my life--and I hasten to add that the term does not apply to lovers/partners, who are in a special category of their own.

When I was in high school, my best friend was Lief Ayen, who looked like a young Charles Laughton, if any of you are old enough to remember him. We were both outsiders who knew we did not belong, and this awareness and our shared sense of offbeat humor was the glue that bound us for many years.

Russ Hogan was my best friend in college and for 40 years thereafter. We drifted apart for reasons I've never fully understood, but for which I always felt oddly guilty, and I only learned of his death through a mutual friend.

My current best friend is Gary Brown, who is also my webmaster, my designated listener-to-my-real-and-imagined woes, and my run-to-every-time-I-have-a-problem-with-my-computer (which is at least several times a week) guy. He is infinitely patient with me, and we both understand that should either of us ever need anything, the other will be there.

The one element which separates partners/lovers from best friends is sexual attraction/romantic love. Gary is the brother I never had. I love him as I assume brothers love brothers, but as with real brothers, there is no romance. (When we checked into our hotel in Paris this past March, they mistakenly gave us a room with only one double bed. We were both mutually horrified at the thought and had to wait four hours for them to find us a room with two double beds. Same room, fine. Same bed...uh, no way in hell.)

I hope you are blessed with many friends and at least one "best friend." They brighten and ease our lives and, should you doubt their value, try to imagine your lie without them.

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Kage Alan said...

Lovely post, D. I think, at least for the folks far younger than myself, "lover" has been replaced with "boyfriend" if it refers to the uncertain or short-term. "Partner" is for something a bit longer.

I'm out of the loop as far as knowing if friendships/relationships begin with sex, though. I imagine they do, but I also suspect those mirror heterosexual relationships, too.

Dorien/Roger said...

Good point on the "boyfriend"/"partner" difference. And while as I say, I know nothing at all about heterosexual courting/dating/relationships, I don't think men tend to have all that many female friends on their own, and whether any of those friendships began with sex, I haven't a clue.

Odd to live in a heterosexual world and yet know almost nothing about it.