Considering the chronically crappy state of my love life — what exists of it, anyway — it’s a wonder that anyone gives a damn what I have to say about love. It’s a wonder that I still have anything to say at all. I’m told that I actually give very sound romantic advice. Why it doesn’t seem to work for me will continue to be one of the great mysteries of my life. Perhaps it’s a simple case of do as I say, not as I do: I can dish it out (the good advice), but I can’t take it.
The other day I ran into a friend who was in romantic crisis. I can’t recall the precise details of what went down between him and his BF, but like most of their previous spats that he’d told me about, it was pretty petty. That was almost a given before my friend even opened his mouth to bare his heart, soul and anger. I’d told him before, in my normal straight-shooter way, that the relationship was not long for Bangkok, a city with too many sexual options for couples to waste time fighting incessantly. I didn’t have to analyze the details of this latest blowout to know that for sure. I’d figured it out from the first time I’d ever seen them together.
Opposites attract, they say, but then what? There’s something to be said for hooking up with someone with whom we share a lot of common ground. I don’t know if I’d ever want to fall for a guy who finishes my sentences or knows what I’m thinking before I think it, but romantic bliss is a guy who accepts me because he gets me. He’s not only taken a short walk in my shoes; he’s lived in them, occasionally slept in them, too.
That said, there’s just as much to be said for unlikely matches, or the sum of unequal parts. What any relationship that involves me (or my friend, for that matter) does not need is another flower. In a 1998 first-season episode of Will & Grace, Grace, quoting Will, said it best: Relationships (ones that last) have a flower and a gardener. One person tends to the buds while the other blooms. Yes, it sounds a bit arrogant, but I’ve always been a flower in love. I’m not saying that I need to be watered and tended to by my significant other. I am perfectly capable of blooming on my own.
The point is that I’ll never be the wind beneath anyone’s wings. Since I’m something of a born performer in my own right, I don’t do well smiling approvingly in the background. That’s why I’ve always shied away from the life of the party, the guy who had to be the center of attention. Two flowers might look gorgeous hanging on the vine, but they don’t necessarily fit together so well in life, or in bed.
Watching my friend and his boyfriend whenever they were out together was like watching two peacocks flaunting their gorgeous plumage, both angling for the spotlight. It’s a lovely sight for onlookers, but after a while, it must be exhausting for the peacocks. I knew it wouldn’t last.
This is one of the key things that separates gay male relationships from those between a man and a woman. The flower-gardener dynamic is preferable in both but probably easier to negotiate in the heterosexual playing field because right or wrong, there are built-in gender-based roles. Women, born nurturers, are expected to be the gardeners, the happy housewife waiting in the wings. If she happens to be a flower, she’s probably better off with another one, preferably with equal purchasing power or more. Male and female peacocks play nicer with each other, too. With a guy and a girl peacock in the ring, feathers might get ruffled, but it’s less likely to be bloodbath because they’re playing to different audiences.
“What do you expect me to do, go after an ugly guy?” My friend asked after I made my long-winded analogy. “I can’t help it if I fell for a good-looking guy.”
I tried to explain to him that not every good-looking guy has to be the flower in a relationship, or a peacock, which I find to be kind of grotesque. Gardeners can be hot. And plants can be lovely without flowers. They don’t flaunt their beauty, and they don’t need as much attention. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was something an ex-boyfriend said on the night we met. “You don’t have any idea how good-looking you are,” he said to me. “There’s nothing sexier than that.”
I could tell he wasn’t just trying to pluck the black rose. He meant what he was saying: He thought I was hot because I wasn’t trying to be. Despite my previously acknowledged floral tendencies, I’m probably more like a flowerless plant, maybe a cactus. I’m prickly, I require minimal TLC, and I’m more or less oblivious to whatever physical appeal I might have. I’ve never looked in the mirror and been particularly impressed by what I’ve seen looking back at me. That doesn’t mean I’ll ever pass one without stopping (so typical of flowers and plants, and one of the main things separating us from gardeners).
Once during an interview with Amy Grant, I asked the singer for her beauty secret, and she told me it was doing what I’ve never been able to (except for that day last summer that I spent hiking in the rainforest of Koh Chang, Thailand). She revealed that from the moment after she gets dressed in the morning to when she prepares for bed at night, she avoids looking in the mirror. And she still looks so gorgeous anyway, I remember thinking. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a photo of her that wasn’t almost perfect, and she looked just as good without any make-up in her hotel suite. Modesty and beauty — what a winning combination.
That’s what my ex was talking about. However, isn’t modesty as much about being unconcerned with the way you look as it is about not loving it? Clearly he was overestimating me. By the time we broke up, I’m pretty sure he’d been pricked by quite a few of my thorns, and his had drawn blood from me, too. Turns out he wasn’t much of a gardener, which is probably what he thought he was getting. In the end, we were just two flowers in the dirt.