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Keith Bain on his habit of prematurely falling in love with unobtainable men.

I did not mean to fall in love with him, but how could I stop myself? These things – these descents into the heartache and near-madness of unrequited love – have nothing to do with rational behaviour, nor with any controllable impulse.

Still, I really shouldn’t have. I’d made that mistake before. Frequently. Falling for a straight man. Falling for a man who would become one of my nearest, dearest friends. Someone who was destined to have a permanent place in my heart and my life, but who could most definitely never find his way into my bed.

In those bare moments, I’d try to avert my eyes. I’d try not to stare at the soft skin that wrapped around his strong, muscular frame..

So, yes, he was a straight man, but by the time I had determined that for certain and dispelled any possibility that he might be bisexual, bi-curious, confused, or in denial, I had fallen so hard that recovery from the pain and ill-placed heartache would invariably be difficult and depressing. It was a path I’d travelled before, and despite knowing the deep unstoppable pain, I allowed myself to fall. Did I even have a choice?

It always happens this way. Someone catches my eye and then – in a fit of burgeoning friendship – I slip. Tumble. Fall. It is, after all, why they call it falling in love.

The fall began during moments of unexpected intimacy that swiftly transformed what had begun as casual friendship into an altogether more tender realm of closeness that felt to me like mutual attraction. We’d engage in conversations that touched a genuine nerve, that got into the cracks and crevices, and under the surface. These often started in the change rooms after training sessions, while towelling off after showers, but they weren’t the regular locker room chit-chat and banter, these were genuine conversations, ones that could easily have continued on and on. And in my head, they did. In my head, I’d fantasise about the full-blown romantic relationship that might blossom from these feel-good conversations. I imagined not just the first date, but the long and fruitful life we’d live together.

I guess I convinced myself that we were taking it slow. That we were feeling one another out, getting to know one another properly before broaching the subjects of lust, romantic love and sex. I’d fallen into bed with the wrong guy before, with the guy who was most certainly not straight but who I then discovered was constantly looking over his shoulder, afraid that the world would find out.

But with this guy, this straight guy whom I mistook for a love interest, it was different. He wasn’t looking over his shoulder, because he wore his heart on his sleeve. He got real with me and I mistook that openness and raw honesty for something else. I projected my fantasy of an ideal, perfect relationship, one in which great friends naturally become great lovers, onto him. It’s so seldom that I meet potentially compatible men who respond to me with such openhearted sincerity and who manage to crack open a space in my heart, that I found myself caught up in the possibility that he might be that one-in-a-million man who ticked all the boxes.

He made me gush, he brought a lightness to my step, he let me feel like I was being noticed and appreciated, heard and understood. He made me know that the time we spent together was as valuable to him as it was to me. It felt like a meeting of minds and a connection between two hearts. Except, as I finally discovered on the day we walked out of the change room to find his girlfriend waiting for us with a suspicious look on her face, he did not tick that most crucial box of all.

And so reality dawned and my heart shattered into a million stupid pieces as my rational brain screamed ‘I told you so!’ over and over again. Time passed. Our intimate moments happened less in the locker room and more often over coffee, fully clothed. His girlfriend had said something, no doubt. And I needed distance from his naked body to wean myself off the fantasy that had been built up in my head. All was not lost. We had shared a connection before, and now – long after I’ve recovered from my ridiculous, uncontrollable fall – it’s a connection that still exists, even if we’ve established unspoken boundaries. Having been through a certain amount of personal torment, I emerged knowing that our platonic connection, our no-strings-attached friendship, means a great deal more to me than a potentially short-lived sexual relationship might have meant.

He’s a soul mate of sorts who is comfortable with once in a while telling me he loves me, and allowing me to express my love back – genuinely and without the sad glimmer of dumb hope that underscores relationships based on desire and lust. It’s as though we have discovered something that’s never taught – that not everyone you fall in love with needs to be the person you go to bed with and spend the rest of your days with. Sometimes when you examine your heart, what you discover is that there is love for someone and that is enough. It’s enough to love someone and, in return, simply be loved.

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