The immersive blandness of a Target on the Sunday morning of a long weekend – my church. The sheer acreage of the average store is enough to stagger me, although so long as I can find the frozen blueberries and a V-necked Mossimo tee I’m satisfied. Usually these grocery visits happen on Saturdays, followed by a movie, lunch, pool time now that it’s summer, and a restorative visit to the coffee shop around the corner, where I’ll punch away at a review of that morning’s film, work on a draft of an actual assignment, grade papers, read, or jot down that evening’s list. Often I will have made plans with friends for drinks and dinner in a couple of hours. Sometimes I won’t. Despite my age and habits, I still carry like the genetic code for diabetes or alcoholism the traces of my high school obsession with going out every Friday and Saturday; if I didn’t, I was a loser doomed to lose out on something I wasn’t told about. My students don’t give a damn, even the ones twenty-one and older, I’ve noticed. To make a broad generational claim, these young adults, brought up on video games and smartphones, lack the urge for going; the social imperative is tinged with ambivalence. I admire them.
The new queerness is bachelorhood. Over lunch yesterday a friend I haven’t seen since the Clinton years admitted she liked going to dinner alone. On its face this admission isn’t controversial. As I drove home, I reminded myself that the two of us, products of Cuban-born parents (two-parent homes, I must add, a rarity) grew up under the assumption if not the directive to emulate the example in front of us. A homosexual who came out rather late and having read enough about homosexuality to critique my moves and responses once I discovered that kissing men meant dealing with hair, I hooked up with lots of guys while only occasionally succumbing to that phenomenon, heady if you let it, whereby the guy with whom I’ve had a marvelous time might be the most marvelous guy I’ll ever meet. “I craved relationships that matched the tension and ardor in my favorite novels and poem,” I wrote last year. Often he politely backed away. More often I did. A handful of times the tryst deepened, hammered into A Relationship. Always in me, though, the instinct to recede. I’d think about the short story I wanted to finish or the couscous I had to buy, with the thought of the solitude or the drive to the store transforming into desires as acute as lust itself. I won’t share statistics, but I ended almost every relationship.
In a post-Obergefell landscape of routinized courtship, I’m slightly out of step with the times but reveling in the new liberty: how easier in 2017 to be the queer man or woman you want to be. Years of denial and familial contempt turn coupling – in every sense – into expiatory acts. I admire the rhetoric of Galway Kinnell’s “When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone,” his poetic account of how a person steps out of the shadows. We’re making up for lost time, compensating for the loneliness of the teen years – I understand.
Yet for me the aloneness is the expiation. Before I realized my sexual leanings, I accepted the essential fact of the aloneness. I know men and women older than I who can’t have a meal by themselves. A triumph for me then, an inessential one. Choices have consequences, though: being needed sometimes baffles me, and my central mainframe will malfunction around children; and old age in this country is cruel without savings or relatives. Aloneness isn’t hermitude, for I still require constant refreshment from friends whom I regard as extensions of myself (“Friends are fables of our loneliness,” J.D. McClatchy observed in his poem “An Essay on Friendship”). Besides, a network of bartenders depend on me.