I was told by a friend that I need to start looking for trees. She meant that I need to find real men to spend my time with. The guys I have been interested in were not trees, they may have been branches at best.
I tried to go out on a date this semester. I don’t know it was a date, it was more of a hang-out session. I still have a habit of asking guys to “hang out,” instead of directly asking them on a date. Many people my age of varying sexual orientations and gender expressions do that. But for me, it was my way of figuring out if a guy was “queer” or not, because if they weren’t and I asked them out on a date, I would have to deal with a “straight” guy awkwardly tell me that he wasn’t gay and that we could still be friends, even though we were never friends beforehand. I didn’t know if it was a date or a hang-out session, but I was not impressed, so I moved on. Some time later, I pointed out the guy to my friend who talks about trees while we were all in a dining hall. She said that he looked “timid.” “Look at that boy, ” she said, “he’s afraid of his salad. You need a tree!”
I’m usually the tree, in my opinion. If a tree is someone who is sturdy and solid and reliable, then I have tried my best to be a tree and have been doing that for a long time. I don’t know what it would be like to have a tree for myself. I’ve dated twice so far. I’ve hooked up many times. I don’t know if any of them were “trees,” necessarily. Maybe it would take time for me to figure that out. It’s usually not worth it.
I accepted a long time ago that it was possible that I could be single for the rest of my life. I’m deeply aware of the fact that there was a completely different path I could have been on where my mom was still alive and I ended up going to a conservative Christian college and remained closeted, spending my future loving in the shadows and never really living life for myself but for others. That was the path I thought I was going to be on until my mom died and everything changed for me. Suddenly my life fell apart in many ways, and there was an opening, and I realized that the “path” of “good, straight, Christian boy” that I was supposed to be on was no longer applicable. I could make my own path, my own journey, my own story.
Here I am at Oberlin. And sometimes I wonder if part of why I don’t have the chance to get with “trees” is because I’m surrounded by people (not just guys) who still need to grow into trees. I’ve had to grow up pretty quickly, be an adult at a really young age, but a lot of my peers are still figuring out exactly how privileged they are in terms of class or family or education or all the identities that everyone loves talking about but very rarely with nuance. It’s been stifling to deal with all of that for the past four years.
I value the development of my peers, for the most part. But in my experiences, my peers literally don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to value mine. So maybe I will never find a tree here. Two years ago I was getting over a guy I liked who told me that he was gonna start a relationship with his friend, and in a self-pitying moment I asked my friend Nathan if I would ever find love. And he simply said, “Probably not.” It helped me to hear that, because it forced me to confront my romantic nature and how that conflicts with the reality around me. I decided then that I was gonna be free to do what I want, hook up with who I want, have no strings attached relationships. Didn’t really work though. There’s a limited pool here, and I’m not everyone’s type for a plethora of reasons.
I’ve hooked up outside of Oberlin in saunas and bathhouses. I’ve been with guys who were triple my age. They weren’t trees either. Sometimes they were worse than the Obies, some really repressed guys, maybe the guy I would have been if my life didn’t “work out” the way it did. At that point, I’m too frustrated to ever believe that I will find someone that’s good for me. Then I have to remember that I have until I get to be the average age of a guy I hook-up with (at this point around 55) before I can say something like that. I’m only 21. I just never feel like it, and I’m around people who really act like their age or younger.
I could diagnose every romantic problem I have, and one day I will for the sake of a memoir or something. But when all is said and done, when my tree-friend tells me to look for a tree, the advice forces me to realize that I don’t know what that would mean for me. It’s getting harder for me to imagine going on a good date with a nice person who can be a partner that is dependable. It’s getting harder for me to imagine spending a huge chunk of my life with a person and feel like I can be secure with them. Maybe I’ll never find a tree. I’m starting to actually accept that. Maybe I’ll find a plethora of trees after Oberlin and I won’t know what to do. I can’t even think of that. Let’s just wait and see…