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On a Walk in Spring, 2020

Doug is one of my best friends. Our relationship has been… complicated. Dare I say, needlessly complicated? No, probably not. Because I think what happened needed to happen. It was just complicated, like many beautiful things are.

You know how there’s friends that you like, and then there are friends that you like-like? Well, Doug is a friend that I like-like, that I like-love.

To say that Myles was the love of my life, or at least the love of my twenties, is a bit of a misnomer because of Doug. Polyamory is about loving in multiple directions, but it wasn’t a word that I was familiar with when I was 21. I knew the phrase, “open relationship,” but polyamory? Not so much. Not yet, anyway. Like Myles, Doug and I met on OKCupid in 2013. In fact, I messaged him before I messaged Myles. He didn’t message me back, however, until after Myles and I had already started dating. Still, Doug seemed nice. I wanted to meet him because he was cute and nerdy. He had a picture on his profile where he was trembling in front of the Incredible Hulk, a giant plastic sculpture, apparently from the movie theatre. Doug and I decided to meet up at Security Square Mall.

I invited Myles to come with me. Initially, he agreed, but when the day came, he wanted to back out. He wanted me to back out too. We spent some time going back and forth about it in my car, outside the diner where we just ate. I wouldn’t budge. I was going whether he wanted me to or not. Eventually, Myles conceded, and we made the drive to Security Square. This was a time when my stubbornness paid off. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we didn’t meet Doug, but it’s safe to say that all of our lives would have been very different.

We went to a billiards hall. We talked about Disney movies and Game of Thrones. We played a few games of pool and laughed a lot. Myles and I were both happy that we met him. Doug became our first gay friend, and the beginning of our queer family. We kept in touch with Doug and started watching Game of Thrones every week with his best friend, Samantha.

Doug is a few years older than me and a few years wiser too. Time and again, it worked in my favor to have a friend who had been around the block, especially that one block: the gayborhood in Mount Vernon, where all the girls would hang out. Yes, Doug took me to my first gay bar. Actually, he took me to my first three: Grand Central, The Hippo, and Leon’s – all in the same night. I was 21 and it was my first-time clubbing. It was my first-time dancing in a queer space too.

That night, I remember feeling like every stereotype about my community was true. There were shirtless hunky bartenders with six packs. There were queens, femmes, and fag-hags. There were older men in leather vests, sporting kilts and biker gear. One such man hit on me while I was racking the pool table. He made a joke about balls, and I rolled my eyes.

Sassily he responded, “What? It is a gay bar after all?” and sashayed away.

Another man hit on me too. He was from Germany and very, very drunk. He kept hovering, while throwing shade at Doug. He was howling about how beautiful I was. When I needed to get by him, I said, “Excuse me, sorry.” He replied, “Don’t apologize. You’re beautiful. NEVER APOLOGIZE WHEN YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL! at the top of his lungs. He started to feel belligerent. Despite the noise from the club, he was making quite the scene. I walked up to him and said, “I want you to leave me alone. I do not like you and I do not think you are beautiful.” I could see that I hurt his feelings. Ah, well, he left us alone.

The point that I am trying to make is that my first time out was legendary. It was like something from the movies. Every type of person, queer coded or not, was there that night and I was there with Doug. He was the third person to hit on me, and I hit on him. We drank. We danced. We kissed.

What attracted me to Doug, at first, was the fact that he was so confident. He was bisexual. He was masculine, but goofy. For a long time, I was unattracted to femininity in men. At the same time, I could not relate to men without a feminine side. (At this point in my life, there was a lot of internalized bullshit that I had yet to unpack.) All of this is to say, Doug was my type. He fell into that magic middle between rugged and sensitive, and it worked me. Most importantly though, he was fun and incredibly empathic. Less importantly, but still worth mentioning, he had tattoos, he was a fighter, and his ears were pierced.

I hate the phrase “emotional cheating.” Emotional cheating is when a partner has feelings of intimacy for someone outside the relationship. Today, I do not believe in it. It’s just another way our thoughts are policed. But, back then, I thought it was valid, so I felt like I cheated emotionally on Myles with Doug. I wondered what would have happened if he had messaged me sooner on OKCupid. Embarrassed by my fantasy, I decided that it was irrelevant because I had already fallen in love with Myles. Myles and I had opened our relationship. Doug became a part of it. It seemed like a good fit, for the three of us, and I didn’t have to worry about what-if. I could have my cake and eat it too (pun intended).

In 2015, Myles and I moved into an apartment with Doug and Sam. It felt exciting to be living with three friends and, for the first time, other queer people. There was lots of laughter, food, parties, and Game of Thrones nights were still a thing. We went camping, we traveled, and things were good. Over time, though, things got complicated.

Feelings ran deep between me and Myles, me and Doug, Doug and Myles, and the three of us, but we never talked about it -- neither did Sam, not with me anyway. We also had our own struggles, many of which we took on in silence (or so discreetly that it might as well have been in silence). We all lacked some emotional maturity in those days and didn’t communicate as openly as we should have.

One time, I told Doug and Myles that I loved them both. It took them off guard, and there wasn’t much of a response. The sentiment was not reciprocated, and I felt disappointed. Sometimes we triangulated through each other, and through our friends. Of course, the three of us remained friends. That was never the issue. It was honesty and not knowing how to talk about it.

In 2016, after I moved out and broke up with Myles, Doug was there for me. He was the only one there for me, and I know he was there for Myles too. In 2018, when Myles and I broke up for a second time, Doug was there for me a second time. This marked a major shift in our dynamic.

Doug became my best friend. We would hang out all the time. We would watch movies and he would stay over. We would talk on the phone. We became gym rats. We would cook together and go out a lot. We were both back in school, and on Spring break we took a trip to Nashville.

Something that Doug and I were always able to do was talk soulfully. We spent many hours talking about art, politics, and spirituality in a way that was soulful and fun. I don’t know how better to describe it. We were always engaged, two Virgos dancing around each other’s ideas.

I had feelings for Doug. That wasn’t new. What was new? We spent so much time together. I loved it, but sometimes my feelings were conflicted because I missed Myles and didn’t know how to hold both of those truths.

In 2019, Myles and I reconnected in a meaningful way, but we had not gotten back together. By the time Pride month came around, I realized that I could no longer hide how I felt about either of them. I told Doug that I loved him. I told Myles that I loved him as well. We were all friends, and I was in love with both. Doug felt the same way, but Myles’ feelings were more ambiguous. Nonetheless, a triangle had appeared, and I was very happy that summer. However, in September, things changed.

Doug didn’t like feeling in the middle. He never did. He started voicing that more clearly and assertively. We stayed friends, but we didn’t see each other as often. Then, in 2020, Myles and I split, yet again.

I wasn’t doing well when the pandemic started, and Doug came to live with me for the first few weeks. Initially, I was joyful and relieved, but I was still healing from past wounds. Living together became unsustainable, not because we didn’t care for each other, but because our feelings were too hurt and tied up in one another. We needed boundaries, so Doug moved out.

When movements for racial justice swept across the country, I got involved, and I got hurt along the way. In my solitude, I began unpacking my traumas. After emerging from my isolation, I felt that I had a spiritual awakening. I felt wiser, happier, and wanting to reconnect. I felt clear about my purpose: to heal and love honestly.

I poured my heart out to Doug. I told him all the things. I told him the things that I had struggled to voice, not to just to other people, but to myself. I felt love beyond labels. I started imagining a life together. I imagined one with Myles too, but for the first time I imagined one without him, one with just me and Doug. That was a dream that stayed in the clouds, though, because I also spoke with Myles. I told him much of the same and a spark reignited between us. For a moment, I thought that the triangle would reappear. I thought our poly-friendship might become permanent. But when the three of us met to talk, the triangle vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared.

I felt like I was at a crossroads. The scales of love were balanced for the first time. At least, they felt that way to me. I had been radically honest with both Doug and Myles about how I felt, and about what happened between us. But now, I needed to make a choice because throuple was no longer an option.

Myles was open to giving our relationship another shot. After seven years of believing that he was the one for me, I chose him. To say I had no regrets would be dishonest. I just had faith in what was most familiar. My faith was stronger than my doubt. I had faith in love, and that thing they say about “time healing all wounds.”

Doug did not champion me and Myles’ reunion this time. He was supportive and respectful, but quiet. Not long after, he and Myles had a falling out. Doug took space from me too. It felt very confusing.

Those first few months, Doug was on my mind a lot, despite the distance. Eventually, we re-established our friendship, but he and Myles did not. I was upset that they were no longer friends, but I didn’t give voice to that feeling. I simply felt uncompromising about what was in my heart. I was cautiously hopeful that Doug and Myles would work things out. I was cautiously hopeful that there was a future where the three of us would be friends again. That never happened, though. Sometimes, hope is misplaced.

In 2021, Myles and I ended our relationship for the last time. Again, Doug was there for me. It wasn’t easy though. Our friendship is a beautiful thing but challenging in moments like this. It’s easy to feel frustration and guilt when your heart runs in two directions. It shouldn’t be surprising when I say polyamory is wicked hard, especially when one relationship ends and friendships change, yet I still feel surprised by the complexity of it all.

Not long after the breakup, Doug confided in me his opinion about me and Myles. Namely, he didn’t believe that Myles and I were going to make it. He said it so matter-of-fact, and I was taken off guard. It took me a while to process. This was the same guy who once claimed that Myles and I were the best couple that he ever met. He was the one who helped inspire me to get back with Myles the first two times. The next time I saw Doug, I said some regretful things, speaking from a place of hurt and fear. He was angry. I was angry. We didn’t speak for a few weeks.

During those weeks, I thought for a long time about what I said; about what he said; about what happened. I realized that my reaction was selfish. I just wished that he had told me. Would it have been difficult to hear? Yeah. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know. Probably, but I don’t know how. It was a road not traveled; a reality not realized. Maybe it would have hurt our relationship. Maybe it would have stopped me and Myles from getting back together or ended our relationship sooner. Maybe a butterfly effect would have occurred and… I wouldn’t be feeling so miserable. How would you react if your best friend told you that they didn’t believe in your relationship? It’s not an easy answer. Perhaps it is unanswerable unless it happens to you.

The multi-verse never felt so real, and I found myself in a timeline that I wanted to escape. Taking accountability for my choices seemed too difficult.

I spoke with my friend Blue on the phone, begrudging everything that happened. Blue said, “you know why he didn’t tell you.” She also said that I had unreasonable expectations. I began preaching about radical honesty before admitting to myself that my expectations, indeed, were unreasonable and they lacked empathy too. Maybe I wasn’t being honest with myself.

I wrote Doug a letter. I apologized for how I acted and re-affirmed what he meant to me. We talked for a long time. Both of us cried, and we agreed to be platonic friends.

That’s what we did.

At first, things seemed okay, but as the year continued, I acknowledged that I still had feelings for him. Really deep feelings, buried beneath a mountain of grief from the year’s struggle. They were entangled, but they were there, waiting to be unearthed. Once I realized that, I couldn’t ignore them.

Polyamory is the worst. I’m sorry poly people, it is. Sometimes I wonder, “Was I ever really poly or was I just a horny person with a big heart who wasn’t ready for a relationship?” Sometimes I would feel guilty. “Was I greedy? Was I selfish? Was I fair in these relationships?” I realized that, while I had taken a long time to unpack my internalized homophobia, I never stopped to unpack my feelings around polyamory in the same way. For many years, I have loved in multiple directions, not just Doug and Myles, but I was never as close with anyone as I was with them.

I don’t know if I have the capacity to be poly anymore. Do you choose to be poly? Is non-monogamy, like sexual identity, not a choice? I honestly don’t know, but my desires have changed greatly over the past ten years. When I wanted an open relationship, it was because I wanted to be sexually adventurous. Now, I feel like I’ve done it all, and I’m thankful, but sex doesn’t have the same magnetism and urgency that it once had for me. Now, I know what I want, at least, I think I do. I guess it’s what I’ve been chasing for the past six years, ever since starting therapy: happiness and a stable partnership. I don’t need the accoutrement, just someone who believes in me the way that I believe in them. I thought that could be Myles, and I thought that could be Doug. Now, it was neither.

When Myles and I ended things, I thought of Doug immediately, and immediately felt remorseful, and buried that feeling. When Myles let go of me, I did not have it in me to jump ship. I felt like The USS Douglass had already left the port. I didn’t get on when I had chance. My ticket became a message in a bottle on a shelf. Not that it mattered. I was too devastated anyway. My Titanic had sunk.

After a few months of treading water, I found the courage to tell Doug how I felt, but he had already moved on. At first, I thought, “Maybe I can win him back,” but I’ve been adrift on that ocean before and I didn’t like how it made me feel. Scheming for love swallowed me once, and I was too tired to lose myself again. I’d much rather float. I’d much rather believe that I had nothing to prove to nobody.

Eventually, I had to admit to myself that Doug didn’t want me back. Not right now anyway. It made me angry: angry at myself, angry at him, angry at Myles. It made me angry at my circumstance. My inner critic spoke. “Why didn’t I see it coming? Why do I hope for things? I’ve been a wreck this past year. Who would want to be in a relationship with me anyway?” The most important question, though, and the one that made me the angriest, “Why can’t I love myself? Why can’t I love myself the way I love other people?”

Sharing self-pity is difficult. It’s embarrassing, it’s emasculating; it feels disempowering, but it also feels honest. In those moments, that’s how I felt: helpless and hopeless. Even though my choices brought me to where I was, and where I am, none of how-I-felt felt like a choice.

This summer, I decided to take space from Doug. He wanted to stay friends with me, even after I told him how I felt. It only re-affirmed my feelings for him. And I tried to be friends. I wanted to stay friends, but it’s hard to be around a friend that you wish was holding you. I was done crying. I was sick of feeling the frustration of regret, yearning, and anxiety. Doug didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t do anything to make me feel that way, but in recognizing that I wanted to be with him, I felt that way all the same.

It was a stalemate. I wasn’t trying to give Doug an ultimatum, but I guess I did. As it turned out, I gave myself one too, by accident (and it wasn’t the first time). As relativistic and nonbinary as I love to be, I often succumb to this-or-that thinking. I don’t want to, but I can’t fight how I feel. So where am I now? Where are we now? I don’t know. New territory colored by old feelings. We’re estranged, but the feelings are still there, and, more than anything, I am thankful.

As with Myles, there is nothing I want more than for Doug to be happy. I know our friendship will not fade, and I so look forward to the day when a healed heart grieves not for the fractured things. As I wrote previously, gratitude feels like the road home, so here it goes:

Doug, I love you. Since meeting you, my world has opened up and so has my heart. I always needed a friend like you. We both believe that everything happens in divine order, and I am holding onto that.

As I turn 30 and look back on my twenties, I must say thank you for nerding out with me. Thank you for dancing, for gaming, for laughing, and causing trouble. Thank you for always listening, authentically, to whatever I had to say and being generous with your response. Thank you for gassing me up when I felt low. Thank you for bringing a smile whenever you appeared. Thank you for touching the earth with me whenever I felt lost, and helping me heal whenever I felt hurt. Thank you for aligning my charkas and being a part of my first moon ritual, the new moon in Virgo, which happens to be this Saturday and on the eve of my solar return. Thank you for encouraging me to do and say what’s on my mind. You’ve taught me so many life lessons, too many to name, and I always trust you to enlighten me with your beautiful mind.

Of course, thank you for inviting me and Myles to play pool, for introducing us to Sam and Ash, and being at the heart of our friend group for those first years living in the city. Thank you for being with me and Myles, in all the ways that you were, and for navigating that complexity with grace and heart. Thank you for being with me, specifically, in all the ways that you were. I couldn’t imagine a Baltimore without you, and without you my heart would not be nearly as full, my mind not nearly as wise, and my spirit not so soulful and sweet.

Thank you for being my best friend. I want it in writing, and I want it in context, that I love you. I always will. It’s always been deep, and it always will be. ­­

This post is part of a series called "A Month of Gratitude," about the people, places, and things that I am grateful for on the precipice of 30. You can read the first post here and all other posts here.

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