Personal Essays by Gay Dads

An Unreal Love: My Personal "Call Me By Your Name" Story

I read Call Me By Your Name on a snow day last week. It was a quick read, maybe eight hours, but it's taking me much longer to process its effect on me. The story was so much my own. I decided to go see the movie last night.


Call Me by Your Name is a story of first love. Elio, at 17, falls for the American student who comes to live with his parents one summer in Italy. Oliver and Elio have a too brief affair that ends when Oliver has to go home just six weeks later. The two share a few incredible weeks together, and then part ways. Nothing is ever the same for Elio or Oliver.

Their story is so profound, what they have is so special, that others can see it in them – without either of them ever admitting to their affair. Elio's father remarks, "You're too smart not to know how rare, how special, what you two had was." Elio reminisces in response, "he's more myself than I am."

I imagine that each of us has our "Oliver." That one person who moved into our life and changed everything.

My Oliver was a friend. We spent all of our time together. We would steal every moment that we could- running, working out, coffee, meeting for lunch in our park, happy hour after work, Saturday morning long runs. Then one day, riding in my car, he reached over to hold my hand. I had never held another man's hand, and when he touched me, it was electric. I'd never felt a connection like it. I'd never felt that kind of love.

He would often remark that what we had was "unreal." It was his word for what we shared. It was outside the realm of all we knew. Maybe his heart wouldn't let him believe it. Holding hands to drive to lunch, holding him on his sofa as we watched it rain, and in response to my gaze as I laid beside him, I often heard him quietly say, "unreal."

He asked me more than once, "Do you believe lightning strikes twice?" He was asking me if it would ever happen again that two men who shared so much would ever find each other. Could it happen that we would ever find what we had in another person? My answer was no. No one else could have what we had.

Our affair, like Elio and Oliver's, came to an end. He retreated into his normal life, leaving behind what we'd dubbed our "alternate reality." But I couldn't do that. Having finally been in a relationship where I could drop the mask – where I could be completely honest and vulnerable with another human being – no secrets and no lies – I couldn't go back to living the way I was. I wanted unreal love. And so, as spring gave way to summer in 2014, I came out. I owned my story.

Why do I give you all of these details? Because, in a nutshell, they tell you the story of Call Me by Your Name. It's a story of awakening, love, and heartbreak. If I could leave you with my favorite passage, it would be this:

'Look,' he interrupted. 'You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don't snuff it out, don't be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we'd want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!

After my affair ended, and I would pour my heart out to my therapist, he would remind me, "it hurts, because it was real." As unreal as it seemed to my Oliver, it was very real to me.

And so being reminded by Call Me By Your Name, I ask myself - what do I need to learn from this story? These are lessons for me, not necessarily for you. But I'll share them with you because they're important for me to speak to myself.

I don't want to settle for an ordinary love. I want the kind of love that feels unreal. That burns and aches with a life all its own.

Taking the risk of being vulnerable with another person is worth it. It's the only way to form a real connection. It's the only way to find unreal love.

Lightening doesn't strike twice, but it doesn't have to. Each of us has our Oliver. He can't be replaced, but he doesn't have to be. We have an incredible capacity to love. We have an incredible capacity to store up in our hearts the memories of the ones we've loved.

I have to let Oliver be Oliver.

And most importantly, I have to be me.

I hope for you, as I hope for myself, that you find an unreal love.

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