I wear confidence like a perfume at work. I slip it on like a comfortable dress when I dine with close female friends. I don't know where to find it when I am trying to establish a close relationship with a male friend. That is, more than a friendship.
I am good at friendships. In my twenties, I was the group therapist for my little gang of music majors. I was hopelessly attracted to Bob, who was clearly and unalterably gay. It was easy for me to talk to him about problems he was dealing with. As the friend-therapist, I listened, I cared, I sought clues in his words and repeated them back to him. Because there was no way we could ever become lovers, I was "safe" loving him from a distance, pining for what could never be. I liked being valued this way. I did care about him.
Bob wasn't the only one I listened to. My music teacher called me "Biz", the enzymatic cleaner, because I rooted out problems like a laundry additive. He also accused me of falling in love with him, "Uncle Milty", the soulful Jewish 40-something piano teacher to whom our gang was all attached, one way or another. I denied it vehemently, but I knew it was true, or at least that I had some kind of crush on him. It was too embarrassing to acknowledge, that this more-than-chubby, intelligent but moody, gifted but awkward, monster of a student could be any kind of match for this super-teacher. But safe, once again.
For years I was attracted to the unattainable: married and gay men, men who lived ten thousand miles away, men too young or too old. I broke away from this in my early 50s so now I am attracted to a version of the unattainable that is actually more of an indictment of my ability to find love: I find those who idealize women, certain women. At first, gangbusters, I can do no wrong, say nothing wrong. Then the real me emerges and whoa! I'm not who they thought I was. There have been exceptions, of course.
I give Dwain credit for finding me sexy. He also cared for me, loved me, when I was at my very worst, my least sexy, when I was preparing for a sigmoidoscopy and cleaning out my system in the worst way. (I remember that as being the ultimate time in our relationship.) Did I leave that sexual being with him when he walked out of my life? It seems like this is what's missing, what I can't find, what I don't feel comfortable expressing, this sexual self. I feel like part of a person, not all there. I think it has, in part, something to do with seeing. I saw through his eyes, and what I saw was a woman capable of giving herself, capable of surrender. I am that woman, I think she's attractive, and I wonder why I hide her.
The first time I went out with my children's father, I didn't realize it was a "date". I thought we were co-workers having dinner together. I don't think I've changed much. I get clues more often but I am still, first and foremost, a "friend". I know this role. I knew the role I had with Dwain, too, a very different one, but where is it now?
I know it comes down to confidence. Do we need to have the experiences multiple times to build that confidence? I suspect not. I will be asking Jill about this Thursday, in my monthly therapy session, if I remember that long. I will make myself a note.