Jared’s profile read 34 years old, six foot one and muscular. As he opened the door, I saw an honest person.
I didn’t fall in love with him immediately, but every visual detail indicated that I could. He looked beautiful in the most masculine ways: broad shoulders, full hair, a confident presence, immaculate posture and a seductive half-smile. At 19, I didn’t understand love—I usually hid from it—but I could still pick it out of a lineup. “He’s the one,” I thought immediately.
Many years ago, when dating apps evoked thrills instead of déjà vu, encounters still happened with mystery. Jared was one of the first men I engaged with sexually, all facilitated by secretly downloading Grindr during my first year of college in New York City.
“Want to come over, watch a movie, and cuddle, lol?” he messaged after our torsos exchanged photos.
“Sure,” I replied instantly.
He lived in a high-rise luxury building a couple of blocks from Washington Square Park. When I told the doorman “apartment 7J,” I awkwardly had to open the app to remember his name. Now that Jared stood before me, it felt like my first encounter with desire.
His place was a studio, the size of a two-bedroom apartment but without any walls. Each area was delineated by furniture, including an office. I needed to confirm the closet space but it already seemed more promising than my dorm.
“So, you’re in school?” he asked as I sat at the edge of the sofa.
I looked at Jared nervously, as if he knew too much, unaware of my apparent youth.
“Yeah,” I said. “My friends don’t really know I’m here.”
“Neither do mine,” he joked, his arms drawing me closer, eventually moving me to his bed. As promised, he put on a movie, keeping his arm around me.
I experienced “Netflix and chill” with more girls than I could count, but it never felt so intimate. I focused on his every breath, sneakily concealing my upward boner beneath my pants’ waistband under the covers.
“I don’t have sex the first time meeting a guy,” he said. I nodded, not yet experienced enough to know what I did or didn’t do with a man.
By the time the movie ended, there was no penetration, but I came on his face, literally. “Where do you like to shoot?” he asked during a blowjob, and I shrugged, as the answer was typically inside the vagina. When I started to gather my clothes, he countered with spending the night, and my lust abruptly felt like love.
“Did you call?” he messaged the next day.
“No, I didn’t. Miss me already?”
“Maybe, but who is Leena? It popped up in my caller ID.”
I wanted to dive into traffic. I had accidentally called him. Being caught in a lie wasn’t the worst part. I then had to explain that Leena is my mother and that I am still under her family plan.
“Would you want to come over again tonight?” he asked.
I can’t remember what I ate for dinner yesterday, but I still remember that he served grilled chicken with red sauce on our second date seven years ago. He talked about his career in real estate, his family and understanding what it’s like being closeted in college. I refrained from blurting out “in Penn State,” which I had learned after stalking him for hours online the night before.
Despite being far from a virgin, that night was the first time I wouldn’t have cringed at the cliché “making love.”
I met Jared late in May, right before I returned home to Miami for the summer. I had a weekend trip scheduled in Georgia with my friends Emily and Bella. As adult teenagers do, we snuck into the pool lounge after closing time, and Bella jumped over the bar and stole a handle of Jack Daniels. I jumped into the pool, and Bella followed, to my surprise, topless. As Bella pressed her bare breasts against my chest, long legs enveloping me like a snake, it was the first time I didn’t just feel indifferent, but unhappy.
“I can’t stop thinking about you,” I texted Jared later that night.
“But you’re so young,” he replied. I didn’t quite process what he meant at the time.
When I returned to New York in the fall, I messaged him to hang out. He didn’t respond, so naturally, I tried again the next night.
“Oh hey,” he said as if bumping into me accidentally. “I’m actually only looking for a serious relationship right now….”
That made me smile, and I told him I was okay with it. It would take a few unanswered messages and drunk voicemails before I painfully understood that he meant with someone else. I ignored his rejections for the remainder of the year as he dodged my intoxicated sporadic calls and messaging. Occasionally, I deleted our message thread to stop being discouraged by so much blue. If only I could have explained that I wasn’t insane or delusional. Perhaps a borderline alcoholic instead? But as Jared should’ve understood, any 20-year-old closeted gay in college would be. And isn’t it every drunk’s vendetta to message the person they love?
When I came out to my brothers a few months later, they all asked in unison if I had ever been with a man before. I pulled up Jared’s LinkedIn and labelled him my first boyfriend. “It had to be a secret,” I said, “You understand….”
“Is that why it didn’t work?” one of them asked.
“Yes,” I decided.
No longer in the closet, I was free to roam every gay bar in town hoping to be seen—hell, to be picked up. By 23, I became acquainted with the power of sexual attraction, and being gay offered an entirely different playground. But my encounters involved lust at best and a regrettable amount of vodka at worst.
If I didn’t want to go home alone, I’d wield enough confidence after last call to stand outside and chain smoke, knowing someone would eventually pick me up. One night, that someone was Jared. It took a few seconds to recognize him, to realize it wasn’t wishful thinking. I froze.
“Hey,” he repeated as I stared at him like a beautiful plane crash. I might as well have lost my voice.
We stood there in silence, and all I could do was inhale more smoke to fill up the space where my flirtation would usually be.
“Are you here with anybody?” he asked. If my heart answered, it would have confessed no, that I had been waiting for him ever since we last saw each other. To my horror, a man came questioning the location of their mutual friend. “Let’s go,” the stranger said as my insides cursed his cock-blocking soul to hell for eternity. He pulled Jared out of sight, and my paralysis was gone with him. Still, I had nothing to say, so I messaged him instead with the obvious: “Was that you?” He never responded.
I woke up the following day feeling like someone who had won the lotto but lost the ticket.
I spent years considering Jared the one who got away, and found it debilitating that I could’ve ceased to exist in his mind altogether. I couldn’t remember if the “hey” was introductory or more of a “funny to see you here” comment.
“Maybe he got a new number,” I declared, deleting his contact like it would increase the likelihood of that being true. At the very least, it was my way of breaking up with any false hope for a future together.
Two years later, I entered my first serious relationship with a man—though I suppose not serious enough to delete Grindr. (That was less about casual hookups and more about the potential of meeting somebody better. Call it modern dating.) One day, I found him again. The profile showed only his torso, but I recognized it instantly. I immediately starred the profile. If anything, I had the fallback excuse of pretending his chest was anonymous.
Later, I checked Jared’s Instagram to see if he had broken up with his boyfriend—thankfully not the same person who ruined our 4 a.m. reunion. Regardless, there this new undeserving man was, visibly older than me, taking up space in Jared’s most recent posts. It satisfied me that we were both actively seeking stimulation outside of our relationships.
By Sunday, he was in my inbox. Handsome as ever, he sent a few photos that I forced myself not to save. I couldn’t believe this was happening, that the torso was him. But then it struck me—I didn’t have my face in my profile, either. My body had gained significant muscle since college. I messaged him, committed to starting a life with him as a new, more mature person. I had to serve myself a glass of wine before I could check his response, but there wasn’t one. His profile disappeared, and so I finished the bottle, then another.
Reflecting on this post-hangover, I realized that if he blocked me, he must have remembered me. Our past wasn’t mine alone but still ours, and I could live with that.
A few months later, while entering a subway car, I caught a glimpse of Jared sitting diagonally across from me. I didn’t believe in soulmates, especially not after living in New York, but we were the exception in a city of millions. My initial attachment to Jared could’ve been explained with the same rationale of why virgins fall in love with their “first.” But after all these years, I failed to wash off the pheromones that ached for him.
Thanking whatever God was listening for inspiring me to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day, I stayed facing forward, my eyes cornered on him like a sniper. I recognized Jared’s boyfriend next to him. My heart sank. Would Jared reveal our history, summing up our memories together like the punchline to a joke?
Instead, he sat silent, his gaze pinned in my direction. I stood still, squeezing the subway pole with the firmness of a nervous toddler holding on to his mother. I refused to let him notice that I noticed, but I caught every time he stole a glance. It might have started with the awkwardness of someone who wanted to avoid me, but then, with each additional look, it became the gaze of a man who still desired me. And that’s a foundation I could rebuild upon.
I suppressed every urge to stay on the train and get off at his station. You can’t force someone to be with you, I reminded myself, without fully believing it. As the doors opened to Times Square 42 ST, I exited visibly aloof and conscious of my posture.
I like to think he watched me leave—older, wiser and more experienced at playing the game.