But here we were with a new crew. Our own Melrose Place for the 2010s, albeit with fewer chokers and more weed. Inevitably, crushes and hook-ups ensued between the groups. But nothing too serious and, happily, nothing that might have created a weird vibe among the group as a whole. We cooked for each other during the week, drank on Friday nights down the pub, and congregated for Sunday night films. It was all very pleasant.
As the months progressed, I began to spend more time with Dan alone. He was shy; really shy. Whereas, I’m a bit of a loudmouth and I normally tend to be attracted to similar. If you want to get my attention, just be the noisiest one at the table, telling the rudest jokes. For better or worse, I’ve never really gone for the quiet guy, but here was Dan, coming out of his shell, and becoming my favourite of the boys next door.
I’d want to sit next to him at dinner, and at parties we’d find ourselves having intense conversations in the corner. I was never worried about being vocal about my new-found admiration of Dan. I told everyone. Because I didn’t fancy Dan – that would be absurd. He was beautiful-looking but there was something inherently boyish about him. He was only two years younger than me but seemed a lot more. He hadn’t been to university, or travelled much. He didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life. He seemed a little lost, yes, but he also had this warmth and gentleness and sweetness that I was so unused to.
I didn’t fancy Dan; that would be absurd. He was beautiful-looking but there was something inherently boyish about him. He was only two years younger than me but seemed a lot more.
This went on for maybe another month. I would sleep in his bed, or he in mine. We would hold each other tightly. He would stroke my back. But we would never kiss. And by now I wanted to. I assumed that he must just like me as a friend and told myself to set some boundaries and stop sleeping in the same bed as it was confusing. Then, one night, we did finally kiss. I told him that it wasn’t friends for me anymore and he said he felt the same. For a moment I was overjoyed. I always rushed into things with men but here was someone who I’d taken the time to get to know, to get to know inside out, and fallen for slowly, telling me he liked me back. But then…
"This can't go anywhere though,” he said, shattering my brief moment of happiness. I questioned why but he was just evasive.
It sounds naïve now, but we carried on with this farce for a little while longer. We would fall into bed, kiss, then talk about why we couldn’t be together. One night I found myself – rather dramatic after too many wines – probing at his reasoning harder than ever before. It was a mostly-sleepless night. I woke up and he had left; a note from him was all that remained. It said that he had fallen for me and he was so sorry that he was hurting me and perhaps we shouldn’t see each other anymore.
Bottom line was: we couldn’t be together. Still no proper explanation.
I stopped calling him and emailing. I needed some time to get my head around things. After a week he messaged me. Was I OK? Where had I been? He said he couldn’t stand the thought of not knowing what I had been up to. I asked if things had changed. They hadn’t. I told him that he was confusing me and to leave me alone. And that’s when it came out. He messaged me and said that although he had deep feelings for me, he struggled with physically expressing those feelings – always had done, probably always would do. He was sorry. He said he was embarrassed.
I didn’t know what to reply, so I spoke to a friend about it who suggested Dan was asexual. It was a term I had heard before but I didn’t know a lot about it. His friends, as many twenty-something guys do, often talked and laughed about sex. Dan never joined in those conversations but he always kept his cards close to his chest about everything, let alone anything personal. It made sense.
Unable to quite untangle ourselves from each other, we continued to hang out. For much longer than we should have. I couldn’t help it, I had properly fallen for him by this point.
Unable to quite untangle ourselves from each other, we continued to hang out. I couldn’t help it, I had properly fallen for him by this point. One night we went to see a film at the cinema and – for the first time ever – held hands in public. He had his arm around me in the queue and I rested on his shoulder on the bus on the way home. It may not sound like much but it was such a breakthrough for us (well, for me).
We went back to mine for what I thought was going to be another sexless sleepover but he totally took me by surprise by making the first move and we ended up having sex. It wasn't passion-less, quite the opposite. But it was over quickly and he seemed embarrassed and awkward afterwards. I tried my best to reassure him everything was alright. After that night, he all but disappeared.
For me, sex is such an important part of a relationship. I would lie next to Dan sometimes and just want to jump on him; sometimes it was all I could think about. And I wasn’t just horny – I felt natural to me to physically express everything I was feeling. I was beyond frustrated. I tried to be sensitive to his needs but because asexuality (if indeed that was how he would formally identify – he never actually confirmed this) is not much covered in modern culture, it was also confusing. As far as I was concerned, there was no guidebook on how to make things work.
I still think of him now, years later, with such fondness – as well as a twinge of sadness. There is more to life than sex. But I couldn’t be with someone that I couldn’t express my feelings for.
I still think of him now, years later, with such fondness – as well as a twinge of sadness. I wish Dan hadn't felt sorry. There is more to life than sex. But I couldn’t be with someone that I couldn’t express my feelings for. I never thought I’d find myself in that situation and, looking back, I wonder why I didn’t leave it sooner. But I had fallen hard for him. If he could have been more upfront with me, it might have helped – but, then, he seemed to be in the midst of his own struggle.
It took me a while to realise he was not someone I could 'fix', nor indeed did he need to be. Yes, it didn't work out. But it also taught me to never dismiss anyone, to be more open to people. Because sometimes, when you least expect it, you'll fall for someone you never, ever thought you would. And even if it didn't have a happy ending, I find that possibility really kind of wonderful.
* Names have been changed