We were like a married couple. No one tired of telling us that.
We saw things the same way. We saw each other day and night. When he mocked me I got mad and felt hurt. He cooked dinner to make up for it. We holidayed together. In Paris for the 1998 World Cup, our hand forced by a shortage of hotel rooms, we shared a bed for the first time.
“They definitely think we’re gay,” he said of the receptionists who checked us in.
I met Tim at university in Wales. It was 1995. We were naive and unsure and relied on irony to get us through. Tim was skinny, like me, and he had a long, friendly, almost goonish face. He also possessed a wit and warmth I had not experienced before. Girls found him endearing and funny, and I wanted to be involved.
We bonded over football and music. The pillars of ‘mateyness’. He abhorred stereotypes and phoniness. His voice did not queer. But this was the thing: with Tim there was no need for the forced masculinity that had made my other male friendships so tiresome.
Instead, there were what, in retrospect, everyone calls “signs”.
He had one girlfriend at college. They lasted a couple of weeks. After they had attempted, and apparently failed, to sleep together, she asked me what was wrong with him. I got defensive with her. After a game of cricket one afternoon, he said he regretted not taking a shower with me and the rest of the team. He said it light-heartedly. When we were living together in Manchester after university, he crashed on the sofa one night, and at four a.m. I was woken by Tim groaning my name. I listened with alarm and called out to him, but he continued sleeping. Later, when we were living in London, I came home early from work one day to find him pulling up his jeans in the lounge. A porn film was playing on the television, starring one woman and several men.
He apologised for that incident. It was awkward and we were both embarrassed. We went to the pub to watch football and did not talk any more about it. That evening I considered asking him about his feelings but demurred. We were friends, nothing more, and his inner life was just that.
The friendship, though, had become strained. He was cranky, less patient with me. He had started going out with people I didn’t know. I acted like I didn’t care. We had lived together for too long — the best part of seven years. I see now that the issue of sex had come between us. For Tim it was everywhere and nowhere. I still cannot imagine how it must feel to live in celibacy with someone you love.
Tim came out in November 2007. I was living overseas, so he sent me an email. “I’m gay,” he wrote. “Not a joke, it’s the truth I’m afraid. Clearly I would never have been able to say it out loud to you … I’m still the same person, haven’t become all camp. I’m still as cynical and ironic as ever.”
We exchanged several emails on the subject. I kept them all. At one point he said we were in danger of becoming “touchy-feeley”. His coming out was not a problem — I told him so, and he thanked me. But that was not the end of it. Since then I have been preoccupied by the thought he treated me as his de-facto husband. Was I the love of his life? Should I be flattered? Was he in torment? Did my presence prevent his coming out earlier? When he groaned my name in his dream, what were we doing? Did our closeness make other people assume I was gay? Was I ever my own man during the years we lived together?
We are still friends — good friends, though the intimacy is gone. He has become more confident, grown into his sexuality at a time when some real married couples are losing theirs. He does not miss me these days. He has told me about “gay world”, as he calls it, and has boasted at his tally of sexual partners (into triple figures at the last count). I am envious. He would deny it, possibly because it sounds trite, but his coming out has enabled him to realise his true character.
But about the questions that follow me, we cannot and shall not talk. Perhaps love between men is now more taboo than sex. Though it is also possible I don’t want to hear the answers. I have had to realise that, like all the women in my life, Tim no longer loves me. I am left looking back, on the best relationship I’ve ever known.
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