This is definitely an odd and awkward post to follow my previous post detailing all my same-sex romances (which totaled one and a quarter). It’s been a few years since I’ve had a real crush on someone. I mean, I’ve had plenty of little crushes, but not like a real crush. Until last month. His name is Mark.
When I was 23 and in the closet I read dozens of blogs written by gay Latter-day Saints. One was written by Mark and it ended up being my favorite. I’ve even been sharing a screenshot from a post he wrote in my fireside presentations for years. He really helped me through a tough time. Then he stopped posting, seven years passed, and suddenly I was 30.
In August 2014 things with Jordan had just ended and I was an emotional mess. I was playing volleyball at the Tucson Institute on a Tuesday night and stayed after to chat with a new guy who had just moved to town. As we chatted in the parking lot I came out to him which felt like a huge deal because he was the first person I casually came out to. I was not prepared for his response, “I’ve got a gay friend back in Florida that I’d like to set you up with.” I politely declined telling him that I wasn’t looking to date. Then he showed me his friend’s picture and it was Mark! I said, “I don’t want to date him, but I do want to meet him.” He gave me Mark’s number.
I don't of a picture of us from that
trip, but I do have a picture of Mark
standing in fun Laura's shower
Mark and I texted a bit and then talked on the phone once. He told me he was going to be in Phoenix for work in a few weeks and offered to come down to Tucson for the weekend. I was thrilled. Mark stayed at my house for three days. He goes to bed way earlier than I do, which meant he wanted to get up far too early to go on adventures. One evening I lied and told him that an attraction he wanted to see opened later than it actually did so I could sleep in. He was understandably annoyed when he found out–and has never let me forget it.
Mark was the first gay member of the Church I’d really talked to about being gay aside from Jordan. It was nice to share my feelings with someone who understood what it was like to be me. It was really nice actually. But we didn’t click romantically. I misinterpreted his jokes as rudeness. My love language is words of affirmation and his love language appeared to be pushing all my buttons. And then he left. And I didn’t miss him. But that visit changed me. Mark inspired me to walk away from shame and self doubt and toward honesty and productivity. I came out publicly a few months later.
Over the next seven years we’d occasionally text, but we weren’t really present in each other’s lives. Then he started listening to “Questions from the Closet,” and would text me about episodes he liked (like I said, my love language is words of affirmation). In one episode I mentioned how I covered all the podcast expenses myself. He messaged and said that if I needed any money for the podcast to let him know. I told him we were planning a live event and asked if he’d pitch in to help cover the cost. He asked how much I needed. I said $20-$50, not wanting to ask for too much, but told him how much I had paid for the event. Mark then Venmo’d me $1 because he thinks he’s funny. A minute later he sent me all the money for the event. It felt like a miracle.
At the live event I told this story. I told how Mark had helped me with his blog back in the day and how now my podcast was helping him. I testified that God brings people into our lives for a reason and it was the best part of the event for me. The moment was completely spontaneous and Spirit-driven. I remember Sarah the moderator shouting “Yeah, Mark!” and then everyone applauding this person that they didn’t know. And I felt grateful that our paths had crossed again.
Then at the end of 2021 we were planning our next live event and I told Mark he should fly out to be there in person. And he came. This was only the second time we’d seen each other. The day of the live event I was super stressed. He ran errands for me to lighten my load. He walked to my office and walked me home after work and told me I would do great. On the car ride to the live event he put on music he knew I would like and we belted the lyrics to calm my nerves. Although I offered to give him a shoutout at the event, he declined and sat in the back by himself. And then after the event he waited more than an hour for me while I talked to people and signed books and then he helped me carry stuff to the car.
|Me and Mark on the bridge|
That weekend was a confusing mess of emotions for me. When I invited Mark to visit I had zero romantic feelings for him. And I assumed he felt the same way. And then I kind of liked him, but I wasn’t sure. And he seemed to maybe like me, too? But he was hard to read and I didn’t know what he was feeling or what I was feeling. He kept joking about us getting married, but he was surely kidding, right?
The night before he left I wrote this in my journal: “When Mark has his walls down he’s pretty reMARKable (I’m even punny in my journal). I asked him if he really wanted to marry me, or if he was just joking. He said, ‘I’d like to get to know you better.’ I feel the same way. And it sucks that we live in a world where us dating isn’t even an option for me. I super wanted to kiss him tonight, but I didn’t. Mark and I definitely need to learn to communicate better. But I think if we worked on things we could have a really lovely relationship. But we won’t get to know. So Mark is leaving tomorrow and I have a crush on him and he might have a crush on me. And I also think he’s super rude and annoying from time to time. Is that what love is?”
Mark and I texted after he left and I just kept liking him more and more. And then that Friday I drove to St. George and we talked for an hour and a half on the drive down. I wished we could’ve talked the entire drive. And then I realized what was happening. I was treating Mark like a boy I wanted to date.
Two days later I drove back the three and half hours to Provo and called Mark again. After we chatted about our days and joked about dumb stuff and teased each other in ways that I imagine people who like each other do, I abruptly changed the subject. I told him I wanted to be his friend, but that I couldn’t let anything romantic happen between us. I jabbered for a bit and apologized profusely, but definitely not enough. I then said, “Okay, those are all my feelings. What are your feelings about my feelings?” He said that his feelings are usually just a jumble and are hard to put into words. I asked him to try. “I’m sad,” he said.
When I got home I pulled out a copy of my book and reread the chapter I’d written about Jordan. I noticed so many similarities between what happened with Jordan and what was beginning to happen with Mark. And I was kicking myself for hurting another person. I hadn’t meant to, but I had. It had just happened. I had let it happen. I had allowed myself to open up my heart to liking someone again, and I let him like me, too. And now we were both sad.
It’s hard to explain what happened in the week following this, but I spiraled. All the insecurities, frustrations, shame, questions, anger, longing, and sadness that I’ve felt in the past bubbled up inside of me again. I really love my life, but suddenly wishing things were different brought up all these feelings that I don’t usually feel anymore. And it crushed me.
Mark shared with me the imagery in Exodus 17 when Moses struck a rock and it broke open and water flowed out. I felt a bit like that rock. Violently struck so that water could flow out. And what was that water for me? It was remembering what it was like to yearn for a partner. It was remembering what it was like to want to kiss someone. My goodness, it had been so long since I’d actually wanted to kiss someone. Somehow in all the years since I’d really liked someone, I’d forgotten what all of that felt like. And I realized how dismissive I’d been of Charlie when he started dating Ryan. I had forgotten what it was like to have to make that choice between following rules and building a romantic relationship. A little extra bit of compassion flowed out of me because of this crushing experience.
I’m sharing all of this just to let people into my life a bit. I want people to see what wrestling with all this complexity is like for me. And I imagine after reading all this you might be having some reactions. Can I guess how you’re reacting so that you don’t have to write it in a comment or email it to me later? Does this sound accurate: “Ben, this is so tragic and ridiculous. Mark is so cute and so cool and he obviously likes you. Just leave BYU and date him. You deserve that.” I tried to write that in a nice way, but you might be feeling angry, or hurt, or frustrated with my choices. Okay, here’s another reaction: “Ben, you are a child of God and He loves you! Don’t let Satan distract you from staying on the covenant path. He’s got you. Stay close to Him. I’m rooting for you.” Aww! Thank you! That is super kind!
I share these imagined reactions because I realize that my life sits precariously in the middle ground between very strongly held beliefs and that few people are pleased with my life choices. But I’m just doing my best to live my values and follow the guidance I receive from God. And although life is usually beautiful and wonderful, it’s also sometimes sad and messy. Thank you for allowing me the space to share those four adjectives with you in this post.
I don’t envision a future in which I would make choices that would separate me from the Church or BYU. I really do love the path my life is on. But man, sometimes that path is rocky and making choices can really suck. And sometimes I wish I didn’t have to choose between the things I want. A recent episode of “Questions from the Closet” was titled, “What happens when you fall in love?” In the episode Charlie talked about the two of us giving a fireside and being asked that exact question. It threw him off and he didn’t know what to say. But I remember exactly what I said: “When you fall in love you have to make a choice.” I’d forgotten how hard that choice can be. And now that the number of same-sex romances I've had has gone from one and quarter to one and a half, I remember a little bit better.
As I write this it’s the Saturday before Easter. Today I was reminded of a passage in Jacob: A Brief Theological Introduction by Deidre Green: “Some Christian theologians assert that believers often move too quickly from the crucifixion to the resurrection, without adequately appreciating all that can be gleaned by reflecting upon the absence and uncertainty of what lies between Good Friday and Easter Sunday: the in-between symbolized by Holy Saturday. By viewing the duration of Christ’s death, we witness and embrace loss that has not yet found resolution” (p. 24). Absence, uncertainty, and loss describe pretty well how I’ve been feeling. But as I sit in this space between two things, my own Holy Saturday, I am gleaning. And trusting in resolution.
|My church building on Easter Sunday|