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It’s All Greek to Me photo

I met Tyler the first weekend of college. Of course, that’s not his actual name, just one that could’ve been picked out from the same bag of generic white guy names that his parents chose for him. We met on the tail-end of Welcome Weekend, the hedonistic weekend where all the first years go nuts and several of them end up at the hospital getting their stomachs pumped. It felt like summer camp with no counselors, no rules, and, at this point, no classes. Classes would heat up as summer cooled. Tyler hadn’t yet acclimatized to Michigan’s falls and met me for our walk dressed in a red fleece jacket.

“Nice jacket,” I said, “I have the same one.”

We were so alike I thought. We exchanged similarities like currency. We both liked Mexican food, lived by bodies of water as kids, and grew up Catholic. How uncanny, I thought, not aware of how generic it would all later sound when I wasn’t consumed with falling in love with a boy for the first time. How generic all first loves are. Tyler said he was interested in a relationship, a secretive one of course, given neither of us were out. Sure, he planned to come out at some point but didn’t want to be known solely for his sexuality. Totally, I said. Being gay isn’t a personality trait, I thought. Even closeted, I was a pick-me gay, believing that just because I was gay didn’t mean I had to be a “flamer”. I lowered my voice, hiding any hints of queerness under the pretense of liking football (or pretending to.)  I had come out to my parents in high school but for some reason decided to play the Reverse Uno card and go back inside, why not try that whole fun process again.

My friends from home also saw college as a chance to start fresh. My friend Ellie dropped the I from her name to become Elle. It was like a dramatic haircut, a renewed self-defined persona. I idealized college as the place I would find myself. I watched A Cinderella Story with Hillary Duff when I was 11 and decided I would do that at Princeton. I thankfully forgot about my dream school being the most conservative ivy, and besides, any ivy school would’ve rejected me. I would find my independence at the public in-state school with 25,000 other kids.

The plans for my independence crumbled quickly when Tyler kissed me on a bench in the park that was labeled “Poet’s Bench”.  How romantic, I thought. Perhaps it did precipitate that I would write thousands of poems about him, most of them shit. When we opened our eyes again, he flashed a toothless grin, all James Dean California Cool, a tan blonde blue-eyed surfer type. I imagined him as the boys Lana sang about. I loved when he said “good looks” or “beat” as the ultimate judgment on whether things were cool or not. Which was I? I would beg him to teach me something new each time we met, eager to distance myself from my pedestrian Midwest lingo and the way I say melk and bayyyg.

Of course, I knew we couldn’t be perfectly aligned. One late-night texting conversation turned to the subject of rushing fraternities. I hadn’t even considered Greek life as anything more than a trope in movies about college. Tyler told me he had accepted a bid for one. I was excited for him, romanticizing what it would mean for us. I felt slick by proxy, committed to standing by my man like a mobster’s wife.

“Well, I’m assuming I can still come hangout with you there?” I asked.

“Of course. I’ll let you into all the parties,” he responded.

Greek life might’ve been a fraction of the population, but they dominated the social scene, a microcosm of how the real world would work. They were an absolute bro-fest, tinged with hazing and binge drinking, and trying to hook up with more and more girls. My initial excitement faded once I realized that fraternities weren’t exactly flying pride flags. Fine, I thought. Tyler wouldn’t come out, but our secret relationship could remain sacred. I’d just have to wait out four years for him to come around.

“I like dating, but I really do believe that relationships can start from hooking up,” he texted me one day.

Totally, I said. He had been texting me less these days, hazing, he said. I hoped that physical intimacy could translate into an increase in emotional intimacy. And so, after we both attended different parties one Halloween night, we fucked in the dorm’s basement, neither of us wanting to be found out by our roommates. He sat on the bathroom sink, his pledging-required costume of a cow bundled up in the corner, and me, always feigning our similarities, pretending to be a California surfer, my groin wrapped in a swimsuit bearing his flag.  “Slow, slow, slow” he would say as I entered him, and when I forget his voice this is how I remember it, how he would say “slow, slow, slow” at the start of every encounter. But I didn’t need to be told, I would always be gentle with him.

It was the exact kind of story frat boys loved to share with their friends, except that it was with another man. I wanted some sort of back-slapping for it if I wasn’t going to get any more affection out of it. Our hangouts increasingly happened at night. He would come over after sorority mixers. I would wait up for him, even leaving my phone on in case I fell asleep. Just call, I would say. Wake me up, please.

We only actually slept together once. Tyler invited me to come over because his roommate had already left for Christmas break. I asked (begged) to spend the night there. Fine, he said. But you need to leave early. Before going to bed, we wandered to the communal bathroom together, and I wore his camo crocs. I looked at myself in the mirror and I felt like we were together. We were playing house in our strange new home. He fell asleep while I combed my fingers through his hair, his breath warm on my chest. The next day I woke up with the sun, fog still settled on the field outside our dorms to walk home.

My friends and I would make fun of the stories of sorority girls we had heard about, the ones trying to “shack up.” One of these girls was my friend Julia, who would be invited to a fraternity house by Eric. Once there, Eric ignored her to flirt with other girls. After Julia would leave, Eric would text her, having failed to get anywhere with the other girls. She had just spent 20 bucks to Uber home. She would spend 20 more going back to him.

Those that were trying to shack up often stole t-shirts with Greek letters on them or other articles of clothing, which we joked were “shack shirts”. The next morning as I walked home with Tyler’s hat on, I thought of myself on a stride of pride rather than a walk of shame. In actuality, these claimed objects were physical representations of how we tried to convince ourselves that these connections meant something to our partners too. I would even take screenshots of texts in which Tyler showed a glimpse of affection, as a source of affirmation when I second-guessed how he felt about me. I looked at them even when I no longer received those kinds of texts. I kept an empty plastic Diet Coke bottle he gave me for four years, the only gift he ever got me.

I needed to be more realistic, I knew. I was tired of being the only guy on my floor not in a frat. I was tired of hearing Tyler’s stories and trying to relate. I didn’t want to be so available to him when he stumbled home drunk, gulping down bars of Xanax, slurring his words but remarkably incorrigibly horny. I would rush a fraternity too, I thought. This would be the perfect way to prove myself as his equal. I studied basketball and football, even learning about NBA and NFL teams. I asked my parents to buy me Southern Tide and Vineyard Vines clothing for Christmas. It was the greatest accomplishment of my life when I got a bid early, before anyone else, to join the frat I wanted to. It wasn’t Tyler’s of course, but one at a similar “tier” to his in the rankings people would post of fraternities on online forums. That was enough for me to feel like I was worthy of him.

I wish I could say that something else made me as exuberantly proud. I wish I could say that something has come to rival that feeling of being accepted by my fellow man, of being accepted as a man. For a gay man to say that the moment he felt the most “pride” was when he was hiding as a straight man feels like a betrayal, if only to myself. During our rush, everyone asked who our dream girls were, “Margot Robbie” was my default answer. Since it wasn’t exactly a lie, I didn’t register the cost of that hiding on my psyche.

What I forgot about was how shitty hazing was as Tyler described it. I felt like the only real person living in a simulation. Am I seriously going to go unclog a toilet at 3 AM? Do I have to give my prescribed Xanax to my pledgemaster while he promised he would someday get me a job at Goldman Sachs? He wouldn’t even end up getting a job there, so when I did, I went and looked at his LinkedIn so he could see. Fucker. We carried cheap vodka in our mouths up four flights of stairs until our gums bled. We would do planks on the concrete, which had been covered with salt, causing us to slip and cut ourselves, the salt burning our wounds. But we had to keep it up for ten minutes. During that time someone would yell at us, “I have a feeling some of you are sodomites.” Sodomites was the actual word they used, which made it somewhat funny. If you’re going to be a stereotype, might as well just call us faggots.

I was trying to wean myself from Tyler, but my mental health tailspin accelerated with hazing, and meant I needed even more of him. I told Tyler my mom was sick, something with her kidneys. He finally responded, and met me in his stairwell while I cried. I tried to sleep with him that night and he said, don’t be that desperate. I did make it seem like she had cancer. It ended up being nothing. Tyler went back up the stairs, and I knew our meetings were going to become less frequent. I came out to my new best friend, a girl named Erin whom I met after sleeping with one of her friends, another woman. Erin tried to help me process it, but I was unwilling to listen to her advice. I was only willing to wait around for Tyler, at any time of night.

On the last night of our first year, he came to say goodbye. He didn’t sleep over, but got high, watched Portlandia, and then fucked on my futon. When I moved out of my dorm my dad took one look at that futon and said it needed to be thrown out.

Abruptly, he told me that “this” couldn’t happen next year. I didn’t even know what “this” was.

He called it an unhealthy relationship. I was just thrilled to hear him call it a relationship.

Throughout this whole time, I would stalk the women he would take to date parties. Through the remarkably intertwined Greek life grapevine, I would find out which girls he hooked up with at parties. Some of them I would go and hook up with too, just to prove that I could. I never stopped to think about the impact it had on the women we pursued, only thinking of proving myself to myself. I could care as little as he did, I thought. I couldn’t, of course.

“Are you upset?” he asked.

“You can’t pretend this meant nothing to you.”

He admitted to reciprocating feelings at one point. But he stood firm that we couldn’t keep “this” up given that he was living in the fraternity house next year. Once again, Greek letters became a boundary line that separated us. I couldn’t help but blame Greek life for a share in our closing chapter. As he left my room that night, I asked him if he would miss me— a question he said I already knew the answer to.

One night during our hazing the pledgemaster threw a gallon of chocolate milk at me, straight at my head. We were being quizzed on fraternity history and my dumbass cohort of pledges didn’t remember any of it, something we were all supposed to memorize. Instead of being valorized for my efforts, he was pissed at me for straying from the pack. I think he wanted the gallon to break over my head, spilling the milk all over me like a broken yolk. Instead, it left a welt on my forehead and bounced to the ground. Everyone kept doing the burpees we were being asked to do, with no clear goalpost in sight. Are we in the fucking Sims? I thought. Chocolate milk. Who the fuck even drinks that. I couldn’t stop laughing. It hurt a bit, but it was just so fucking funny. Chocolate milk. I walked out. I didn’t come back. I walked to the house of my older sister, who was two years above me at school. Later at a party, she would cuss out some random older guy in the frat who wasn’t even involved at a random party, “A fucking milk gallon?” she said.

My intended big, a more senior brother, would text me after I left the fraternity and said he should’ve been around more, and supported me. This was part of what I was seeking from the fraternity, an uncomplicated male bond, strictly platonic, someone whom I could eventually come out to and be accepted by. But by this time, it was too late. I may have lacked the self-respect to end things with Tyler, but I did have enough to not put myself through another milk gallon to the head. Chocolate milk, no less.

Tyler and I didn’t talk over the summer. I did my best to move on, even tried fucking his new “brother," another closeted, faceless torso I met on Grindr. I only knew it was his brother because the house I snuck into that night was known to be his fraternity’s senior house. They probably weren’t even aware of each other’s existence, or at least their existence as closeted gay men. His brother was aggressive, trying to choke me while we were making out. On the way out that night, while he was in the bathroom, I stole a green tank with their fraternity’s letters on it. I finally got my shack shirt, even if it wasn’t from Tyler.

Tyler and I ignored each other on campus. I made makeshift closure. Then, on midnight, New Year’s Eve, he added me on Snapchat. I would confront him and tell him off, I thought. I fucked him, of course. Then he ghosted me again. Then we went on like this the next year, a full junior year without him. I moved to NYC for the summer and saw I would have other options. Still when I came back to campus I caved so easily, and we hooked up again. He joked about what life would be like if I married him, me, Mr. Successful Career Guy. He had gotten rejected from the business school when we were freshmen, the school which I got into early. He had struggled with the economics prerequisite. You wouldn’t get it, you don’t have to try, he once told me. But I did try in econ. I was a wasp’s nest of trying, frenetically working to fold myself up in adherence to the zero-sum theorem. I would have given everything to him if it meant remaining part of the same pie.

The day after he joked about getting married, he blocked my number, blocked my Snapchat, blocked my Instagram.

No one got inside my head the way he did. The way he does. I saw him last summer at a pride event in NYC and thought, all my hard work going wasted on that boring-looking twink he’s talking to? Seriously, him over me? This, after four years, a global pandemic, and meeting my now boyfriend. Too bad my hot new boyfriend was in the bathroom when he saw me. See how good I’m doing!

In college, my friend Katherine dated a guy who dumped her because she wasn’t Jewish. A few months later he dated some other Christian girl. That’s what seeing Tyler out with another guy feels like. What wasn’t good enough? Why can’t I be good enough?

Some things are worth waiting for, stories tell us. I saw these breadcrumbs that Tyler left behind as real sustenance worth holding onto. Still today, I know a part of me automatically thinks of him and then feels bad when I have a loose eyelash or see a shooting star. We’d need a lot more than luck.

One night I get so high on an edible that I throw up. How do you get over a bad high, I text Tyler. Time, he said. I never asked how much.