Four Years With Alan

Alan lived in the Binghamton area and was only two years younger than me. We met through one of the online personal sites I was subscribed to, though I don't recall which of us made the initial contact. We spent a couple of weeks talking online and eventually agreed that it would be nice to meet face to face. So in May of 2001, we made plans to meet in Binghamton. Alan originally offered to meet me halfway (it was an hour drive), but I convinced him that it made more sense for me to go there, as there was a lot more to do in Binghamton than in any other meeting place. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to meet halfway, as this set a pattern of me always doing the driving and generally making things convenient for him.

When I first met him, I originally figured this would be our only date. Alan was nice enough, but he just didn't impress me right away. I suppose it's fair to say that I was still expecting some spectacular fantasy and he didn't measure up. However, that changed completely about halfway through that first date. In fact, I can safely say that I fell in love with him that same day while sitting across the table from him at the restaurant we went to.

What sold me on Alan was that he was a truly passionate man. I mean that in more than a sexual sense - in fact, I never got the chance to find out if his passionate side carried over to sex. When he talked about something he truly cared about, his eyes will fill with a fiery light and his face would just glow. He got talking about such a topic while we waited for our food to arrive, and when I looked into those spirited eyes, I was enchanted.

Alan started out as an extremely attentive, if somewhat neurotic, boyfriend. He constantly worried about whether I was having a good time when I came to see him and if I felt it was worth my time and energy. I was never able to convince him to accept the reality that I would not have continued to make the trip if I didn't consider it worth my time.

Alan also had a tendency to pay for everything we did together. In the four years that we were together, I might have paid for four meals and one movie. This was actually a nice change of pace for me, as I was the one who constantly paid for everything when I dated Chris. Alan gave me a chance to appreciate the fact that someone else could spend money on me for a change. It was a new experience that I came to enjoy.

Unfortunately, that tendency also got in the way at times. Alan did not have much disposable cash, which means he didn't have much to spend on dates. This was not a problem for me, as I figured there were plenty of things to do together that cost little or no money. To me, the important thing was that we spent time together. Unfortunately, Alan did not share my vision. To him, a date only seemed to be worthwhile if it involved him spending money, so our dates were few and far between.

As I implied earlier, Alan and I never had sex despite being together for four years. To me, this wasn't entirely a bad thing. The nonsexual relationship gave me an opportunity to explore nonsexual aspects of a relationship that I was not familiar with. As Chris would only allow sexual intimacy when we were together, I had become used to conflating love with sex. Having a nonsexual relationship with Chris for an extended period of time gave me an opportunity to find other means of expressing my feelings and affections. Also, it encouraged me to look for and notice how a man can express his love and affection for me in non-sexual ways. I became able to understand Alan's constant fretting over my happiness as an expression of love. The net result was that I achieved a healthier understanding of love and sex.

Our relationship also gave me a chance to do a lot of emotional healing. Spending four years with the same man allowed me to address some of my self-doubt issues. I was able to go through my bouts of panics over what could go wrong, step back, see the situation for what it really was like, and dispel the falsehood that was at the root of my fears. It was an extremely emotional experience for me at times, but I was able to manage. And fortunately, I was able to endure most of it without burdening Alan with it, or even making him aware of what was going on.

One of the areas I worked particularly hard on was identifying the wounds that my experience with Chris had left. Alan would sometimes do something that reminded me in some way of how Chris handled our relationship. My initial impulse would be to replay the reaction I had when originally faced with the situation from my previous relationship. With practice, I learned to identify this impulse and hold off on acting on them until I fully explored the present situation. More often than not, I would conclude that the current situation with Alan was not similar to the memory that surfaced. As a result, I was able to respond to the current situation more appropriately while exploring the past emotional pain that had surfaced.

Towards the end of our relationship, Alan taught me to stand up for myself, too. As the years went by, we began to see each other less and less. This was due to many reasons. One of the major contributing factors, however, was that Alan was not out to him family, with whom he was extremely close. As a result, he often didn't feel we could get together because he had obligations with his family. He might have been able to get out of some of those obligations, but he would have had to explain why he needed to, which he was completely opposed to doing. This was particularly tricky during the holidays.

On my thirtieth birthday, I told him that he needed to find a way to spend an extended period of time with me sometime. This was because six months prior to that weekend, I had arranged to get a hotel suite with a Jacuzzi for my birthday. When I originally made the plans, I ran the dates by Alan and told him I'd like him to spend the weekend with me. He agreed, forgetting that the dates I mentioned happened to also be the weekend of his parents' wedding anniversary. As a result, he had family commitments and could only spend a couple hours with me the entire weekend. I made it perfectly clear how wronged I felt about it. As a result, about a month later, he did plan a prolonged outing to Syracuse for the two of us. Unfortunately, it was one of the few such outings we had left.

A little less than a year later, I decided to end the relationship. I still wasn't seeing Alan very much, and I started to realize the relationship hadn't gone anywhere in the last four years. This was particularly important to me, as I had recently found out I was being laid off at my job. I was planning to look for a new job, and I realized that staying for Alan meant limiting my search to the Binghamton area. While there are a few software engineering jobs in the area, they weren't as numerous as the opportunities I could find in Rochester. I also began to realize that Rochester would offer more social and spiritual opportunities for me too.

I realized that I was prepared to give all of that up and stick to the Binghamton area to be with Alan, but only if he was prepared to make a serious commitment and start building a future together. After all, this kind of sacrifice deserved to be rewarded. As a result of this realization, I wrote Alan a letter telling him I felt the relationship was in limbo and asking him to set aside time to talk with me and start making tentative plans for the future. I told him I didn't expect everything to change at once, but that we needed to at least start.

Alan took over two weeks to respond, and only did so after I pressured him a second time. His response was to tell me that he wasn't ready to take our relationship any further despite the fact that we'd been together for four years. In fact, he said he was quite happy with the way things were. When I told him that I wasn't sure I could go on being in a relationship under those conditions, he told me that I "meant the world to him" and hoped I'd stay with him, but he'd understand if I decided to see other people. He'd be happy as long as we remained friends. I was incensed at his thoughtlessness. I could not believe anyone would tell me that I meant the world to them and yet give so little concern for my own needs. At this point, I realized that he despite his constant complaints about his life and proclamations of guilt over our relationship situation, he was simply too comfortable and too lazy to do anything about it. So I told him to go to hell.

It felt good and empowering. Unlike when Chris left me, I realized that I was making the choice in this relationship. And while it was a painful choice to make, it was empowering. It put me fully in control of my life and my search for happiness. And that's exactly what I needed.