Neurotic Dope is a monthly column.
By Joshua Byron
In January, I saw Call Me By Your Name and cried while in Union Square. By then, the film had been out for a long time; I’d waited because I knew this would happen. I was balling. I had to stand against the brick-wall near the McDonald’s to feel something, to ground myself. I felt like I wouldn’t feel anything as grand or as potent as Elio ever again. It wasn’t that I have never been in love. I have. I know those feelings and their emotional topographies. Sometimes I’m glad I haven’t felt that in a long time. And sometimes, I feel like a fool.
I recently put on a composition by Ravel (one used in the film) and I felt the tears welling up. I’ve found myself choosing to stay indoors lately. I’ve tried really hard to get out there and see the world. And I have, to some extent; last week I went to the opening of Drip, a new tool for artists similar to Patreon, as my friend was one of the featured installation artists. It was undoubtedly one of those New York events. I chatted up new people and felt the force of newness.
I stared at the Manhattan skyline while chatting up a boy. He was, it turns out, straight. But it felt nice for a time to feel like someone was interested in my own vibe, or story. Whatever that story is. The next night, I went to a poetry reading and told the story I use to ward off intimacy: “I’m just really busy right now.” I crack jokes about coming to meet men. It’s the story I have been telling myself to understand where I’m at. It’s true, sure, but it’s also a cop-out. I’ve been afraid to listen to my feelings. I called my friends who wouldn’t bullshit me and they told me I was overworking myself. I needed to feel human. But feeling human is often choosing to feel the hurt. It can be easier to tell stories.
When I encounter men, I tell them an abbreviated story.
A few weeks ago, I met a man who kept asking me about sensitive topics. My past, my trauma, my fears. He kept telling me I seemed nervous, so I became nervous. I told him that I was an overworked, underappreciated person. That’s the basic story I usually tell, it’s an easy shortcut and an archetype that most people know. It gets at some of the truth. I play coy. These stories involve not being too much, not telling secrets, not giving too much away. They involve seeming “mysterious.” They involve not giving away too much of a personality to mirror what any given man may want. I don’t give myself over easily to men, not in the same way I do to the woman and nonbinary folks in my life. My “too much” is usually reserved for texting them after we’ve been seeing each other for a week.
I warn the next man I see I will not be divulging these secrets. I tell him about the previous man who wanted to know everything about me. He agrees with me, says, “you can’t just try and shortcut to intimacy.” This second man intrigues me due to his kindness. He follows the societal conventions of courtship in an unconventional way. He intellectualizes the whole dating experience and enjoys dissecting it as we talk. It’s sweet and ripe for writing about.
This intellectual and I joke on a variety of topics as the entire second season of Planet Earth plays on Netflix. We talk about linguistics, France, and loop joke to joke in lacy patterns recalling early slip-ups and mispronounced words. I thought he was French, he is not. He says he should have concocted an elaborate lie in order to appear French. I laugh softly.
Maybe these touch and go encounters with intimacy are part of a larger narrative. Even if we don’t see the same person over and over, for single people, these people become part of our story. Even if these men don’t recur, they inform our ideas of romance and love and hope. They shape the shadows we see our friendships in. Our friendships are our soulmates, as Charlotte says in Sex and the City. I return to that scene over and over again. These men, on the other hand, may become the flowers we peel at in times of trouble, wishing for more. They come and go, sometimes the same ones over and over, sometimes entirely new ones every week. Lovers aren’t the same as husbands. They aren’t stable. They are their own genre of romance.
I have not given up on marriage. I have a vision, a story I want to unfold, but I’d be a fool to press a timeline to it. I just think that sometimes, our dates are their own story worth following up on.
For now, the men in my life lay in between casual friends and something more romantic. I let them hang there, suspended. I wouldn’t have dreamed of it earlier in life, but then again, I’ve rarely been this busy.
Joshua Byron is a nonbinary storyteller based in Bushwick. They have produced over nineteen film works including, most recently, Idle Cosmopolitan. Their films have screened at Sarah Lawrence, Bennington, Indiana University, the Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, Life Hack, the Wrong Biennial, and Forge Mag Presents. Their writing has appeared in Glo Worm Press, Bushwick Daily, Water Soup Press, and The Body Is Not An Apology. They love Oprah, rose soap, and melodramas.