Opinion
3 min

Folsom soul searching (Part 1)

How much would I have to compromise to make a relationship work?

We decided it would be best if I went to the Folsom Street Fair — alone. Credit: N Maxwell Lander

I was alone on a plane headed to the Folsom Street Fair. Somewhere between Toronto and San Francisco, I was watching a 9am sky roll backward to six in the morning, and could only see clouds and sunrays through the window. I wondered what Ernan really thought about me taking this trip alone. He was supposed to come along for the trip, but we’d been having serious arguments lately about our relationship. I needed autonomy and no expectations, and to exist as I always have but with him as my partner. I don’t think that was enough for him; we even took a break at one point because we couldn’t agree. My original plan was to go to Folsom with him, but we ultimately decided it was best if I go alone. The time away would give us some perspective.

Being in this new relationship, I felt obligated to be more social than I’ve been used to: attending dinners, cottage weekends and nights out. “I’m a loner,” I finally explained to Ernan one evening. “I like my own company.” Anybody will tell you that relationships only work with compromises. I was willing to compromise a lot of myself, but was I also expected to give up a core part of my personality to make this relationship work? Do I want that sort of relationship? It doesn’t seem like it should be necessary, but having a string of failed relationships in my wake was starting to make me believe that my lack of compromise made me an unsuitable partner.

When I landed at San Francisco International Airport, my friend Clive was waiting for me at the gate. It turned out he was leaving San Francisco the very same hour I was arriving, so we agreed to have lunch at the airport. I always forgot how handsome he was in person. I grabbed his hip and gave him a kiss on the lips; his beard tickled my nose. There was always something comforting about his presence, and he understood far too much about life to have any pretenses, which is what I loved most about him. We didn’t know each other all that well, but I always felt I could be myself around him. “Is that all you brought?” he asked, looking at my small carry-on bag.

“I travel light.”

“I guess all you need is a jockstrap and toothbrush, if that.”

I thought that his husband, Blair, would be with him, but Clive told me they were going to meet up in Italy once his conference was over. Clive was autonomous, and had the freedom to explore everything life had to offer as an individual. He loved Blair a lot — you could see it in his eyes when he spoke about him. But seeing Clive today made me realize that he found that balance I was looking for. Maybe I’m not unfit for a relationship.

We picked a Mexican restaurant at the terminal for lunch. After we ate, he gave me advice about Folsom and looked up different events that he thought I’d be interested in. Folsom wasn’t as good as Dore Alley, he explained, but it can be interesting. “Although if at any point you think to yourself that you’re not having fun, it’s probably because you aren’t,” he said. I laughed, but he just stared back at me — he was serious.

I appreciated spending time with him, even if it was just for an hour. There were no expectations or preconceived notions about how we should be; I felt comfortable to say anything I was thinking. I was thinking that it’s a shame I don’t get to see him more often, and before I knew it, he had to catch his flight. I wished him a safe trip, kissed him again and he was gone.

I took the BART from the airport, and it took me through the Californian suburbs that were nestled amongst the hills. It finally hit me that I was in San Francisco, and I was excited for this trip; I needed the time away. I got out at Montgomery Street station where my brother said he’d meet me. He’d been living in San Francisco for three years now, and when he found out I’d be visiting, he offered to let me stay at his place. When he arrived, I could see the Northern California lifestyle was suiting him well — he showed up wearing a striped linen shirt and had a scooter under his arm. He hugged me and gave me that child-like smile that he used to give as a kid when he was happy. He knew I was here for the Folsom Fair, and while that wasn’t his cup of tea, he offered to tag along with me. “I’ll be back at my place by nine,” he said, handing me the key to his place before getting back to work.

I walked through the crowds of Union Square toward my brother’s place. I felt lonely. It would’ve been nice to have Ernan with me, but I was eager to have some time to myself in a new city . . .  

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