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The air was cold on my skin as I took my nightly walk, replying to a friend’s voice message. Suddenly I was overcome with an emotional sucker punch that doubled me over. My mind blanked reliving a series of memories I thought I’d long moved past. My soul and voice raw from screaming and crying at the top of my lungs. Hot tears burned my eyes as I flushed, shaking. I swallowed the feeling of needing to vomit breathing in the cold California air until my mind cleared again.

Unable to look at it directly I spoke to the surface level of feeling I was having. Trying to come to grips with new knowledge and an old pain that made sense and apparently was still haunting me to this day.

What does he have that I don’t?!

It’s the third quarter of my first year of university. I’d had a lot of different crushes over the year but wasn’t dating much. It seemed like somehow I was always barking up the wrong tree. I was confused by all the people around me and just trying to stay afloat in a social environment. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Yet I found myself drawn over and over to one guy in particular.

He was only around sometimes but it always felt like he really saw me. Still, early in my trauma recovery, I was struggling to show up as myself. I’d been so contorted to feel and keep myself safe that I didn’t really remember how to open up except with this one guy.

I loved to give this guy shit. He teased me back. (one of the few people not treating me like a delicate flower) We threw snark back and forth while often working in the same groups. He was funny. I didn’t need to code switch with him so much. He travelled and importantly… He seemed to move slower than everyone else. Less caught up in trying to fit in and the nonsense of college. But still fun to be around.

We chatted a lot while he smoked. My memory is fuzzy but what was most important was how I felt with him. I felt… alive. Seen. Heard. A deep comfort even as there was also a lot of excitement as well. My first consensual kiss. The first one to hold me. My first dates, all with this man, despite the protests of my friends.

He was too old for me. More importantly, everyone was concerned about his sexuality. “Did you know? There is something you should know about him” They said in the most hush hush midwestern way.

I remember walking with him and in my blunt ass way saying. “So I have been hearing things about you…”

“Oh really?” He says “What sort of things”

“… that you are gay”

I don’t remember him answering for a bit. Maybe even leaving me hanging.

Eventually, he told me that, no he wasn’t gay. He was bi and had come out incorrectly last year. He asked me why I cared, and asked why he thought I was asking about it? I gestured to us being on yet another night walk after I called him because of the nightmares.

Eventually, we decide to date. He made me nervous and I constantly was unsure why I both wanted to date him and something felt… off. Wrong. But he didn’t care that I likely was unable to have kids, he spent time with me when I couldn’t sleep and was sweet to me. I took a jacket of his and slept in it deciding to embrace this good thing in my life.

Then he broke up with me.

He came by my place and told me he was gay. I was confused. He’d said he realised was gay not long ago but I tried to roll with it. I cared for this guy and didn’t want him to feel any shame over this. There was nothing wrong with being gay. But… it didn’t lessen my attraction to him, or what I thought I felt from him.

He ghosted me. Confused and upset I reached out to a friend and he just kept telling me it wasn’t about me. That he knew he was gay and I needed to just move on. We hadn’t been dating long after all.

My world was spinning and nothing was making sense. I got increasingly upset. Why did my friend know more about what was happening with my ex than I did? My friend told me has was happy and doing well. So, why wouldn’t he talk to me? Why did I lose my friend as well? Did I do something wrong?

Eventually, my friend couldn’t see me so confused anymore and mentioned that my ex has started to see someone. This brings up more questions and I realised I’d clearly been being cheated on at worst and lead on at best. I asked if it was another man, and my friend said yes. It was at that moment something broke in me. And a whispering, a murmuring started.

What does he have that I don’t?

My friend tried to assure me it wasn’t about me. That as a woman it wasn’t personal, I just wasn’t my Ex’s type. What does he have that I don’t? I became inconsolable. Was every moment a lie? Was every kindness false? Was this a big trick on me, a cruelty? Had I been used? Why when he told me he was gay hadn’t he just said? *What does he have that I don’t?* Why did something feel absolutely terrible in a way that was bigger than me?

I knew the new couple and tried to hide from them as much as possible. The new guy tried to reach out and I don’t recall how I responded. I just remember that my soul hurt and the tears didn’t stop. What does he have that I don’t?

Was I homophobic? No. Was I mad he was dating someone else? No, not really. Although I didn’t know about being non-monogamous yet, I didn’t understand why that relationship had to impact mine. Why did he have to choose? More importantly why he didn’t choose me?

What does he have that I don’t?

I kept telling myself it wasn’t personal. It was because I wasn’t a man. So, naturally, a gay man wouldn’t be into me no matter how good, cool, or attractive I possibly was. Just as determination can not hold back the ocean, neither could a woman win in a battle for the heart of a gay man vs a guy. It just was. There was nothing I could do and it wasn’t really about me. What does he have that I don’t?

What does he have that I don’t?
What does he have that I don’t?
What does he have that I don’t?

It echoed in my mind over and over. My rage and nausea building over the days. Was I not good enough because I didn’t have a penis? What was wrong with me? What does he have that I don’t? How was HE any different from me?!

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

He made a choice to pick another man over me, acting like he was breaking up with me because he was gay but really he was afraid. I hated his cowardice in not telling me that I wasn’t who he wanted. But I knew he did. What does he have that I don’t?!

He knew he did. I was sure. What does he have that I don’t?!

Eventually, I was done crying over it. Done being confused. Done trying to answer the question What does he have that I don’t?! when logically I “knew” the answer. It’s the answer everyone kept saying. I… was a woman. What does he have that I don’t?!

Miserable and desperate to feel anything, I went with a friend to the swing dance club for dance lessons. Anything to stop the question. What does he have that I don’t?!
I had panic attacks every Monday after attending those lessons for dancing. But it meant I felt something and that was enough to draw me back.

Not long later I found that they had broken up. A camping trip in the woods later and we found ourselves staring at the stars. A connection still remained under a mountain of hurt, a meteor of resentment and a rage that was directed… nowhere. We talked. About what happened and how we ended up here. That… He wanted me back. I… refused. My trust had been broken and I couldn’t handle the idea that maybe one day, again he would break up with me. Deciding that thing I “didn’t have” / what I “wasn’t” would matter more than what we did have.

Afraid I would be again blindsided by what didn’t make sense I couldn’t have him lying to himself again. He was Gay. That was obvious. Even if he was telling the truth, that he did love me, that he regretted it, I… would always be missing that thing that he had that I didn’t. A thing I wasn’t sure love could really overcome. So it couldn’t be. It made no sense but it also was, what it was.

It hurt. To my soul, it hurt. I questioned if I was doing the right thing every day. If this was right, why did it hurt so bad? I turned it over in my mind again and again. Trying to make sense of what seemed like had no answer. There was something different about me and the man he left me for. I didn’t know what and it hurt.

What does he have that I don’t?

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

It’s been a long eleven years since this and I’m overcome with such emotion I keep having to stop. To breathe. I see the scars this left. The wounds of circumstance. I don’t blame him nor am I angry. Just deeply deeply sad for the impressionable person who has since struggled to believe that anyone would want him. That people were playing tricks on him. That… there would always be something he has that I don’t and through no fault of my own would continue to be alone.

Which I wasn’t even aware I was carrying with me all these years later. Why didn’t anyone understand what I was trying to say? Why did everyone keep acting like this was straightforward when it clearly wasn’t? Why did everyone keep saying it wasn’t personal when it clearly was! Why couldn’t his being gay and dating me be compatible in the way that it also so clearly was? Why wasn’t I good enough? What does he have that I don’t?

It’s only now, so many years later, that I finally know why it happened this way. Why I was right and how I was wrong. Why representation matters and why I found it all so unfathomably distressing and horrifically painful.

The world was perceiving me one way, and I was unaware that I was seeing something else. I saw my boyfriend choose another man over me, another man. Not, my boyfriend is gay and I am a woman.

I was right, he was gay and dating me as he perceived me would have been wrong. For both of us. I kept telling myself that I, a woman, would never be enough for a gay man. Repeating it over and over as it burned like shards of hot metal in my throat. But it also still never sank in. As if I were trying to, desperately begging myself to, stop seeing a blue sky and see a yellow one instead. It didn’t add up.

… I was wrong. It does all add up…

If only everyone knew I was a man.