Welcome to The DM That Changed My Life, a new column where we reflect on the WhatsApps, Insta DMs, work emails and Facebook messages that shook us to our core.
The message was sent to me by Luke*, a man I was seeing, on the day that he ended it. He was responding to a rather baroque nude I’d sent him. Reclined on my bed, I resembled, both in posture and atmosphere, the iconic life drawing scene in Titanic. I put a lot of effort into the photo. I’m talking numerous outtakes, then lengthy consultations with the group chat. When you send someone a picture of yourself with no clothes on – something you hope will arouse them – the crying-with-laughter emoji is not an ideal response. Five of them is just a kick in the teeth.
Did this DM change my life? Not really. But it took on a disproportionate amount of significance due to insecurities I already had, and things I was already feeling.
The week before, I’d felt that Luke was distancing himself from me. I quickly concluded that this must be because I wasn’t masculine enough for him. He was, I maintain, one of the most exquisitely handsome men I have ever met. I’ve always been attracted to stillness above all other qualities, and he was at ease in his own body. He wore a thick gold signet ring on his right hand, which I once kissed and he joked that I was like a medieval serf paying tribute to a lord. If only he’d known how comfortable I was with that dynamic.
Luke was also largely indifferent to me and, in that respect, resembled the men I’d been begging for approval from my entire life. The first time we went to a gay club together, the bouncer refused to let him in because he simply couldn’t believe that he was gay. This made me proud to be with him. I’m ashamed of this, and understand the self-loathing it speaks to. For a long time, the most flattering compliment I could receive was, “I would never have thought you were gay” (the second being, “Is everything OK? You look thin”).
There was a moment the first night we met: we were on our second or third pill in the basement at Metropolis, an east London strip club that transforms into a gay club at the weekend. A very beautiful and very sad house song was playing. He had me pressed tight against the bar. I could feel the whole weight of his body against mine, soft and hard, and he was looking into my eyes. I was lashing my tongue against his, my vision blurring, and I went into a kind of trance. It was every transcendent, euphoric cliche about what being in a club can be like. I remember feeling a sense of arrival. This is it, I thought. This is what life is going to be like from now on.
Which is obviously fucking stupid. Life can’t always be 4AM in a strip club in Cambridge Heath. But I convinced myself that I’d fallen in love with him and, even now, I’m not sure that I hadn’t. It takes hindsight so say, “It was only infatuation” because as you’re experiencing it, what’s the difference? Maybe being on MDMA – maybe that’s the difference. Luke once said to me, “Sleeping around isn’t really for me. There’s only so long you can deny the human impulse to take care of someone.” I looked into his eyes and smiled and nodded and imagined he was speaking about me.
I find it embarrassing to be attracted to masculine men. This is partly because it’s problematic, based on a value system handed down by a society that hates us, but mostly because it’s so obvious. Recently, by bulking up a little and shaving my head, I have become able, for the first time, to attract men who like masculine men. But every time, it feels as though I’ve played a trick. My own masculinity, insofar as it exists, is a performance in the most literal sense. It’s a persona I slip into, albeit that of a boyish scamp rather than a scowling alpha male. The problem is, I may want to be desired by masculine men but I don’t want to be desired as masculine. I want to be vulnerable, fragile, a Lana del Rey-esque waif, and have these qualities be thought of as attractive. For the most part, I’ve found this trade-off to be impossible.
But, really, all of this has very little to do with Luke or the message he sent me. The only crime he committed was not liking me as much as I liked him. The narrative I chose to believe was that he rejected me because I was too feminine. I wouldn’t say that this is a narrative I find pleasing, or that it represents an attempt to console myself, but it was clearly a projection. Sometimes, you just don’t fancy someone. Based on scant evidence, I chose to believe the explanation I would find the most wounding.
When Luke ended it, I lost the embodiment of an ideal, and it hurt me beyond all reason. It took me a while to realise that the ideal was flawed to begin with. This didn’t change my life but it did change my thinking. If you want something you can’t have, the only thing you can do is try to change what it is that you want.
*Name has been changed.