We were both nontraditional students in our early 30s who had both decided that it was time to finish our degrees after partying like rock stars and drinking like fish for the better half of a decade. I was in my final year of college when I met Sam in one of my classes.
Sam and I chatted before class and shared a cigarette after class for the entire semester. He listened as I talked about my young daughter and my decision to leave her father. I listened as he talked about his work and travel experiences. Sometimes, we would have a drink or two between classes. As I look back, I cannot see how I missed it, but it took me almost two months to figure out that Sam was gay. I was devastated. It would be my luck to have such a great connection with a guy and then find out he was gay. I felt like I should have been in an Alanis Morissette song. Oh, the irony.
I graduated a semester before Sam. We made an effort to get together on occasion. Pretty soon, we did everything together. He was my plus-one for weddings, my dinner date, my confidante and a large part of my support system. We studied for the LSAT and GRE together. My family, including my daughter, welcomed Sam with open arms. One day, some random person asked, “Where is your gay husband?”
From then on, Sam and I have affectionately referred to each other as “gay husband” and “straight wife.”
After a year, I packed up my daughter and moved 1,500 miles away to enter a master’s program. Sam and I talked regularly and spent as much time together as we could whenever I returned to visit. After my master’s program, I returned to the Midwest to enter a Ph.D. program about eight hours from home. We continue to be fixtures in each other’s lives. He stays at my house; I stay at his. When I ask him, “Do I look fat in this?” he knows to answer, “No.” I nag him for being late for dinner. When we visit one another, we sit in the living room with our laptops and watch television like an old married couple.
Over the years, Sam has been a shoulder to cry on over failed relationships and someone to commiserate with about bad dates. He has been a loving male role model to my daughter and a friend to my mom and dad. He has been as generous with his wallet as his time and heart. He loaned me money to buy a used bedroom set for my daughter when her father would not contribute. A month later, he forgave the debt as a birthday present to me. He takes me out to dinner, he takes me out for drinks, he gives me thoughtful gifts, he cooks meals for me and with me, he helps me think through major decisions, and he calls me out when I’m being a bitch. Sam is everything I want and hope to have in a partner, minus the sex.
I once subscribed to the stereotypical idea that every woman has a gay man who fills the role of another girlfriend, but he will probably give her better fashion advice and be able to cut her hair. After all, I have had these friends through the years. Although the roles may overlap on occasion, male friends and female friends play different roles for me now that I am older. I can talk about parenting with both, but I save the irregular period, hemorrhoid flare-up, daughter peed the bed, Macy’s has a sale stuff for my time with my girlfriends.
Through my relationship with Sam, I have learned that a gay male friend is not like a girlfriend; he holds his own special place in my friendship circle and heart. The physical chemistry does not exist, allowing me to accept his gifts, both emotional and financial, and reciprocate in a nonsexual manner. Sam’s intelligence, sense of humor, empathy and generosity are traits I hope to find in a partner someday, but an exceptional gay husband and a vibrator may just be a good substitute.