I’ve started fixating on an attractive cashier at a local grocery store. He’s the first thing I look for when the doors whoosh open. My heart drops if I don’t see him, and it drops even further when I do.

I talk about A.C. often. I bring him up with my roommates, and I mention him to other friends. Practically the only person I don’t talk to about A.C. is, well, A.C. himself.

In fact, I’ve never spoken a word to him.

I look at him from afar, I admire his new haircut, I melt under his smile and kind eyes. When I’ve gathered all my groceries and proceed to checkout, I enter the aisle at least three down from him.

He’s an attractive cashier, but he’s more than just an attractive cashier. More than just any ole guy I could “crush” on.

This attractive cashier personifies much of my life struggle for the past two-plus decades.

~ ~ ~

When I was a kid, I fixated on a couple other boys in my class: the nice, popular, attractive ones who weren’t quite my friends. Especially one in particular.

Childhood Fixation was by far the nicest, most popular, and most attractive of all. In addition to being my classmate, C.F. also attended my church. We graduated together from our church’s father-son program, and his dad and my dad had a chummy friendship.

We practically saw each other every day, week in and week out. We should have been good friends. Best friends. Friends of some sort.

We weren’t.

C.F. always had his friends around him. The rare times when it was just him and me, I didn’t know how to connect with him. He was super athletic and hilarious and everything I wanted to be, and I was just okay. I was twelve, I had acne, I was quiet, I didn’t know how to talk to other boys in general, let alone him.

When I moved away as a kid, we lost touch. Were we ever “in touch”?

And yet as years passed, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I even dreamt about him — every other week or month. I journaled these dreams the first few times, and then they just kept happening to the point that I stopped.

Years later, my obsession reached the point of my reaching out to him via AOL Instant Messenger. I still remembered his screen name from middle school, and I sent him a big long letter while his away message was up.

He later responded with excitement. He said it was so good to hear from me again. To which I responded with even more excitement.

To which I haven’t heard a word from him since.

C.F is married now with a couple kids. I still stalk him online; I can’t help it. Much like A.C. in the grocery store, I peer at him from metaphorical aisles and Internet wires away.

I still dream about him, too. His figure always so far away and foggy. Unreachable. I’m always trying to “reach” him in these dreams, falling just short as I awaken. I dreamt about him in my teenage years, I dreamt about him in my twenties, and I recently experienced my first dream of him in my thirties.

I can’t lose this guy. No matter how many years or miles separate us.

No matter how much I wish I could.

~ ~ ~

Attractive Cashier and Childhood Fixation are one in the same. They’re the guy I hugged in a city park, and the same one who ran away. They’re people I’ve known my whole life, and they’re strangers on the street. They follow me from chapter to chapter and era to era, and I cannot lose them.

Whenever I mention Attractive Cashier, people tell me to “just talk to him” like any other human being. To demystify the relationship. To stop being so dramatic.

But three decades of residue does not easily disappear. Not even after all these victories in recent years. Of conquering counseling at boys camps and living with other men. Attractive popular men aplenty.

Call it envy, call it inferiority, call it lust, even. Call it whatever you like.

I call this feeling loss.

I look at the attractive cashier from three aisles over as loss throbs in my gut. Loss of friendship, loss of masculinity, loss of another life that could have been lived.

Loss that’s always been.

Loss that never leaves.

Do attractive bystanders trigger emotions or insecurities in you? What do you define as lack or loss in your life? How do you process loss?

About the Author

  • I’m so glad it’s not just me! I have done this as well with various people, and in examining those relationships, it’s mourning the missed opportunities and parts of life that didn’t go my way. I still feel that sometimes when I read here of guys living together and growing together. I wish I could have had that. Anyways, Thanks for describing that feeling so well Tom.

  • You can’t help…orientation doesn’t change my friend.
    And love is a very strong thing.

      • Your statement is piercing, and think I’ve come to grips finally with SSA. I thought that meant sex, and sadly, succumbed, but better to heal now than never. I’ve realized I just wanted to be one of the guys, be like the A.C., and to feel manly. Keep preaching the message, Tom. I wanted to BE the A.C.–the man’s man–the head turner–that all around Mr. Awesome, both physically and personally.

  • Oh man, That Guy. . . the guy in school, the guy on the team, the frat brother. That Guy always shows up when I’m remembering all the things that could’ve been. So many things that didn’t go as I wanted or should have or could have been, That Guy was someone who rescued my longings that life be ok. Now that life is ok and God has blessed me in more ways than I could have hoped or imagined, That Guy shows up only to get me looking back and torment me. He is a lie, he always was, I just didn’t see it when I had pinned my longing for better on him. I don’t know why I have this stupid unspoken thought that all straight guys have only great memories growing up. That’s not true either.
    Processing loss? Loss is hard cause it’s painful. But following Jesus, I’ve learned to embrace loss. He said the goal of following him is to lose my self and find life in his. Paul said he suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ and be found in him. It’s good and it’s hope but it’s still hard, there is suffering. That Guy still shows up if I’m looking back remembering what might have been. But if I’m looking ahead, if my head and heart and eyes are right, Jesus is that guy who redeems all the losses. Looking back is still painful, knowing Jesus now doesn’t change the past, but he breaks limits that come with it and he dispels the illusion of hope That Guy promises.

      • Good that the gains way outweigh the losses. Church does a disservice saying or implying that everything is better following Jesus.It’s a narrow road, the things that are real are often hard too and come at a cost. Hey Tom, I only know you from the good stuff coming out from you here but did it ever occur to you that you’re the Attractive Cashier for someone else.

  • Working in a restaurant one comes across a lot of attractive customers. It makes waiting on that particular table at least a bit more enjoyable. Finding people attractive in every day life is something that I’ve been trying to figure out the moral implications of since I was a teenager. Something that didn’t happen very often back then and I was almost proud of it thinking that guys were seldom capable of having that effect on me, but now that I’m older and understand my attractions a bit more I realize it happens and happened a lot more than I would be willing to admit. Fixating makes it worse – worse as in it makes me think about it more. Straight people don’t overthink simple things like this and I don’t think we should either. God made beautiful creatures in both sexes of our species and our ability to appreciate that comes from Him in some sort of way as well. We just have to learn to really appreciate and not lust after. I hope I’m making sense. Before, for example, when I dreaded finding someone attractive and thought it was because there was a hole in my spiritual ozone layer it made me more prone to allow my thoughts to wander when it came to attractive people. My thinking being, “something must already be wrong for me to be noticing someone,” but now that I realize that I’m just human and people are attractive I can see that in them and move on. I’m not saying I got this 100% figured out, but this is kind of where I’m at with it and it works for me. This thought process has allowed me to struggle less.

  • I think the loss, as you call it, is something I’ve come to accept. The very attractive guys in high school, college, grad school, monastery, and at work, are mostly out of my life, except for a few from high school and college. I’m in touch with the high school guy on Facebook, and I see the college guy at reunions. I no longer have the strong feelings for them that I did back then. Perhaps one reason that my feelings haven’t persisted like your is that I was friendly with both of them back then. The loss isn’t quite as absolute.
    After college, I didn’t really get friendly with those I admired from afar, but the attraction may not have been as strong as yours for C.F. and A.C. At any rate, in a couple of years they were gone, and my feelings soon faded as a new attractive guy appeared. Then Mike befriended me. So that wasn’t admiring from afar but being in love close up. It took several years to get over the loss when he broke off the friendship There was nothing I did about it, but time slowly diminished the pain.
    In general, it seems to me that when I fixate on someone, being able to interact casually helps prevent the sense of loss when he’s no longer around. I think it maybe that the longing is satisfied when I can say hello to the attractive cashier or usher etc., and he says hello to me. There was a song a couple of decades ago which included the words, “I just want you to know who I am.” That wish is satisfied when I say hello, or good evening, or how’s it going and he responds similarly.
    So I think your friends are right: you’ll be happier if you go to A.C.’s aisle when it’s short and interact with them the way you would with any other cashier — or, if you’re as nonverbal with cashiers as I was at 30, then force yourself to make a casual greeting and respond appropriately to whatever he says.

  • Alas, Mike; my sadness remains. Can’t just will it away. Pretending my melancholy doesn’t exist is what I did for the first 21 years of my life. It’s a badge of honor now. I see it as a way to connect with others’ sadness; in essence, this brings me joy.

  • Great post Tom. It’s great because it describes my experience too. There’s always an AC. Everywhere I go. Each store has one, oh and there’s the guy down the street and regretfully in each of the Bible studies I attend.
    They follow me too, distracting me, trying to pull me away, to get me to give up and give in. Their pursuit is unrelenting no matter where I go or what I do or how much I see thru their ruse!
    I think its envy. They’re better looking, better built, more outgoing or more confident. All the things I wish I was and feel I lack.
    I feel the loss as well because I will never be “with” them. I foolishly believe by being “with” them, some of their magic will rub off on me. I’ll be a real man then! By getting their acceptance I’ll be accepted and acceptable by the male gender.
    All lies of course by the same one who said…..”did God really say”?
    Easy to see it in your mind, but not so easy in your heart.

  • This is another excellent and touching chapter of your compelling story, Tom. It seems unfathomable to some in the church that you can have victory in Christ and yet still experience such a great, enduring sadness. But it doesn’t deny or diminish the truth of Christ’s work. We do have those times when we can focus on the hope of eternity and the assurance that these insecurities and losses will never trouble us again. But they are a reality of the present, and I love that you have used it to connect with others in a common sadness. That is one of the few redemptive features of this SSA plight for me, but it is a strong one.

    • Thanks, MI. Beyond spreading awareness of SSA in Christianity, it remains a high goal of mine to spread awareness of sadness and melancholy in Christianity. Of course I’m “happy” and “joyful” in Christ and my ultimate future with Him and His bride — but that doesn’t erase those lingering feelings for today. Joyful to know I’m not alone.

  • It sounds like your placing blame on yourself for wanting to connect with the attractive guy, for experiencing that loss.
    Like what you’re doing is somehow wrong.
    But there are two sides to that coin- it could just as easily be that the world is broken, that you long for the connection that you’re “supposed” to have. You’re longing for a world that isn’t broken.
    I know, easy to say. Hard to live out. It takes courage to live who you are supposed to be.

  • Alas, I think any guy who experiences SSA goes through the loved-and-lost phase around the same age. I remember being enamoured with several friends at that age–and I remember the intimate touch I shared with a couple of them: C–who’s still an enduring “if only”–with whom I used to play around in spandex bike-shorts and wife-beater tank-tops (the usual gear for boys at that time, in my area), and have sleepovers in the backyard. Rumours erupted about his being gay, and he disappeared for a number of years, living on the streets for a long time–and a drug-addict. He’s still gorgeous (still looks and sounds like I remember him), as I discovered, when my sister directed me to a Youtube channel he runs, though still a “statistic” of street-life. Of every crush and relationship over the years, he’s “the one that got away.”
    D was another gorgeous friend of mine, blue-eyed, with buck-teeth and freckles, topped-off with wavy golden locks cut in the under-cut style of the early 90s. He was wiry and reserved, but not shy. I remember the day he changed out of his t-shirt to put on a Y-back purple tank, while I watched, admiring his figure as he changed. He let me explore his bare arms, shoulders, and back… I wish I’d been bolder about putting the moves on him, but I was 13, and he was also friends with my sister’s boyfriend. After high-school, I lost touch with him, but he’s a cop, nowadays.
    Nowadays, whether because of age, or general shyness, the crushes I have now are mostly in TV and films, of guys living a primitive or backwoods lifestyle–yet I’m likewise hopeful of a relationship with a woman, and a few kids, with whom I can share an off-grid lifestyle.

  • Oh, this is good. I have, and have had so many CF’s and AC’s in my life that I have lost track. And I was pretty good friends with a couple of the CF’s. They were friends in high school. One was physically attractive; the other, not so much, but we were just good personality fits. I just wanted to cuddle up with him and go to sleep…or whatever.
    I still have a cashier problem. I tend to chat them up, and even get a bit flirty, if I suspect there might be some SSA there. I like making them blush. Since they’re at work, they are restrained in what they can say and it makes it even more fun. The same goes for cute waiters in restaurants.
    I try to make what could otherwise be a miserable experience for me and make it good and enjoyable without crossing any lines. I suppose it could be a dangerous game, but most of these guys just see me as a harmless old guy and really, that’s the truth of it.
    I enjoy the company of men and since I can’t take one home, like everything else at the grocery store, I try to have some fun with it.
    Tom, I think you can have your grocery store ‘friends’. You just need some confidence. You will probably blush, but get in AC’s line next time anyway. Smile at him. Make a few subtle jokes. If he has a brain, he will engage you in brief conversation. Don’t expect anything deep and meaningful. Just enjoy his beauty and his smile and know inside that you can’t take him home with you.
    You might find this takes all the angst out of going to the grocery store making it an enjoyable experience. The obsessive nature of it should disappear.

  • Reading about this sense of loss (and recalling it in my life) reminds me of the Beatitudes: “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I’m not sure WHEN we’re supposed to be comforted–it’s probably one of those “now and not yet” things–but it’s been incredibly liberating for me to realize that mourning is normative for followers of Christ, at least for today. If we follow the Man of Sorrows we, too, will become men and women of sorrows. Thanks for working to keep alive the important but lost, and almost dead, [1] art of lament!
    [1] I guess I can only speak knowledgeably about our culture. Probably there’s other cultures that do this better.

  • I have a guy at my local coffee shop. His name is C.J. I have had a crush on him for over 10 years now. He knows about it. I know about it. It has been discussed at length among mutual friends.We do nothing about it. I knew the instant I saw him that I was drawn to him in so many ways. We enjoy looking at each other and being seen. There are many times we might catch each other watching and wondering about who that other guy is and what is this magnetic pull towards each other that seems to be greater than the sum of its parts. I will never do anything about it, because in the not knowing, in the overneath of the innertween, I enjoy the invisible pull towards the almost. Breaking that connection with direct communication after so many years of non-verbal conversation would completely ruin the precious thing that it is.
    There are so many different blends and mixes of emotions that we experience as humans that we tend to either mislabel or ignore. We are taught by others around us that certain ones are to be enjoyed, others to be disdained and avoided. Sadly, they are wrong. Experience and enjoy them all. The bitter makes the sweet. You haven’t lost anything at all. You are gaining what you are now. Don’t ascribe some negative connotation or feeling to this attraction due to your belief system about God or about yourself. Enjoy that feeling for whatever it might be, however it might make you feel. It is called being alive. You still seem to have no idea who you are, and that is okay. Keep looking.

    • With all due respect, I’ve come to understand myself quite a bit in recent years. I do take offense at that closing statement without your ever having met me. But thanks for sharing some of your story.

      • I did not intend to offend and for that I am sorry. I simply meant that in your short years you still seem to have a lot of questions about who you are and where you fit in to this world with your own unique perspective and grasp of things. That angst, wondering and yearning certainly comes across in your writing. Always learning is always a good posture to approach life. We discover more of ourselves with each passing year. My apologies if my statement seemed insulting or off putting. As someone with almost twice your years in life, I still am uncovering and unpacking even who I am and that picture changes more with each passing year.

  • Back in January '16 here on the YOB blog, I wrote about a guy whom I had what I call a "big brother crush" on back in the late 70s. I was 4-5 years old and he was 18-20. Bobby was at the time my model of manhood and my first "childhood fixation" (CF). But our time together was only brief and we parted ways. My life was enough of a distraction to quell any sense of loss from our encounter. And after Bobby there were other big brothers (Will, Wayne, Tony, David, Chris and Rick) although our times were also brief never taking root over the long term. I guess I got use to loss. I never fully enjoyed the relationships because I guess it was doomed to end. A part of me suffered the Peter Pan syndrome of not wanting to grow up and be the little brother to my current big.
    Today I do come across attractive bystanders both at work and at church. I watch them from a distance and find some masculine physical quality that draws my attention towards them. Is he well dressed, well groomed, physically fit or simply taller than me? I know these are superficial features and doesn't delve into this guy's personality, morals, values or character. I feel I'm on the outside looking in wishing for an opportunity or excuse to start up a conversation that wouldn't come across as weird or unsettling. From my perspective, I guess I look to them as the big brothers I never fully had growing up. For very selfish and now futile reasons, I want to interact with them and tell me their secrets to being the man they are. How I process this loss is I was forced to grow up and live my life in my own respect. In living I try to make connections with people despite being an introvert. Rarely it is funny how some guys can be intimidated by me because I have some quality they lack.

  • Agreed. I feel that same or a similar loss deep inside me when plans fall through with a friend or when I hang out with an aquaintance/friend and I don’t know how to connect. This very thing happened to me last night and this morning. I met a guy who I would say is attractive and loves Jesus. He actually texted me back and asked if I wanted to hang out with him and his family. I agreed, we all hung out, it was fun. The only issue is that I felt like I didn’t know how to connect with him. I felt loss afterward. Deep loss. Then he and his family asked me to go to the lake with them the next day, today. I was thrilled, but because of other commitments I couldn’t go. Deep loss. Depression tried to settle on me today. It’s a good thing God is so much greater. We will see if we hang out again. I really want to, but it never seems to end that way for me.

    • Alex – I hate how quickly that progression happens. The brief recognition of an attractive guy then makes me wonder if I could ever connect with somebody like him and then I wallow in that loss/shame and suddenly feel depressed – yikes! But sounds like you understand that in those moments that returning to God is where we can be renewed. It’s not easy (at least not for me), but turning towards hope – in God and the possibility of hanging out with “that” guy is the best place to go.

    • Ugh, I resonate so much Alex. So many mental games of self-worth and measuring up that I can’t completely ignore. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but that sense of inferiority is still very much there.

    • I can relate to this. I’ve always had trouble keeping friends. I have a couple guys I consider my “best” friends, and hanging out with them is awesome-but they never call, never set anything up, so the only time I see them is when I initiate. My previous best friend just kind of stopped returning my phone calls. Makes for a lot of loneliness and insecurity. Been praying for a good long-term friend in my life, and I pray the same for all you reading this.

  • Once again, I truly afmire the example of your openness, honesty and extreme vulnerability in sharing, brother. Several aspects of my own journey come to mind here, Tom.
    Questioning the motives of my being attracted to a guy:
    I don’t like to over-analyze myself. I’m often way too critical of myself as it is. But I do believe that Biblical Scripture mandates us to maintain a habit of sober self-examination, as a healthy practice of keeping our hearts free of worldly lusts and coveting.
    If we observe people closely enough, I believe we’d find that human attraction works through the same basic steps, wether that attraction is toward a person of the same gender, or of the opposite gender. And that is regardless of any heterosexual or homosexual “orientation” that may be present within the person who senses the attraction to the other person. Sexual “orientation” may have a lot to do with the “end-game,” as it were. But it has little to do with our initial attractions to people.
    1. Initial Attraction. Nothing to over-analyze here. There are quirks, traits, and certain types of physical features in other people, both males and females, that will capture our own initial, individual interest in them.
    2. Further Evaluation and Interest

  • I used to feel a bit of anger rise up in me when I saw attractive men because I knew I couldn’t have them and most of all because they would never want me as I wanted them. I felt angry also because I felt like life wasn’t fair. That even if one of them did desire me, even if I did apply my knowledge of nutrition and exercise to make my body the best version of itself so that they might like me, I couldn’t allow myself to form any relationship with them like a couple. but now after working a lot on myself, I look at attractive men differently. I look at them and know that I want them, but it would be better that I don’t have them. When Christ returns, I don’t want to look back and see that I dissobeyed and had a boyfriend or husband. I want to be able to know that I did my very best in this life at following His law.

      • But now since I’m able to communicate with guys like you for the first time who understand me, a considerable amount of that anger and pain is gone!

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