Ryan Spahn is an actor, filmmaker and writer. He has been published by Rotten Tomatoes, Metro Weekly, USA Today, IntoMore, and American Theatre Magazine. As an actor, he can be seen in American Horror Story, Succession, The Bite, Chicago P.D., and Modern Love. Ryan is a graduate of Juilliard and is based in New York City. Go here for more info.
It was the fall of 2006 when my former high-school roommate, James Ginty, called and was like, “What did you think of that adorable charmer with the brunette curls crooning Manilow last night?”
“Doesn’t matter,” James insisted. “I’m setting you guys up!”
Apparently, James’ Juilliard classmate, Michael, had spotted me at the dimly lit Burbank karaoke bar the night before. I, however, did not notice Michael. Not because he wasn’t noticeable – he was – but because I was in a pretty dark place when it came to romance. I had one loving relationship a few years back with a guy named Matt Dallas, but since we’d mutually parted ways, the romances had been few and far between. I was convinced my love life would end like it did for those lovestruck cowboys in Ang Lee’s tragic movie. So, when James called, I was floored. The last three guys I had gone out with had been like, “Let’s just be friends,” after our first kiss, so I was resolved there was something deeply wrong with me.
“Give Michael my number,” I muttered with a tinge of trepidation.
The next morning, my flip phone rang. I nervously stared at it. I wanted a boyfriend. Badly. Playing it cool, I let the phone ring five or six times before answering.
“Ryan? It’s Michael. James’ friend.”
Michael’s voice was soothing, which caused me to stop pacing around my 300 square foot Los Feliz apartment. My heart rate slowed down; my armpits dried up. It all felt suddenly, well … easy. We proceeded to exchange typical pleasantries with effortless aplomb. He was from Texas, I was from Michigan. He was an actor, I was also an actor. He was queer, I was gay.
“Do you like Cherry Jones?” I blurted.
“Duh. Who doesn’t?”
“I have tickets to see her in Doubt at the Ahmanson tomorrow. Wanna go?”
Silence. Frantic heartbeat. Sweaty pits.
“Let’s do it!” Michael declared.
We confirmed plans, finished the call and went our merry ways. Later that night, I curled up alone in bed. My heart aflutter. Sensing something, my grey tabby leaped onto my chest.
“Dawson?” I clutched his fluffy face. “I met someone.”
“He’s really nice.”
“What if he’s the one?”
The next morning, my flip phone rang.
“Hey. It’s Michael,” he said in a delicate, somber tone, “Um … my friend died.”
“Oh, no. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you. I need to cancel. I just, yeah, I don’t think I’d be good company. I’ll call you in a few days. We can reschedule.”
My instinct was to immediately *69 him to see if he needed anything, but I figured we’d talk about it later. If he wanted to.
I never heard from Michael again.
Fast forward seven months to May of 2007. Attempting to redirect my dating woes into something productive, I joined a classical acting troupe in Studio City. One of my classmates, Brooke Bloom, had been cast as Ophelia in Hamlet, so a bunch of us carpooled to see her. As we crowded into the packed auditorium, I opened my program.
“Whoa,” I gasped.
“What?” My friend Simon Helberg inquired.
“It’s him.” I pointed to a small image in the program. “I was set up on a date with this guy seven months ago.”
“You went on a date with Michael Urie?”
As the theatre lights dimmed, my mind raced. We hadn’t actually gone on a date. I had sorta lied. But also, Michael had become this huge TV star since last we’d spoken. It’s why Simon knew his surname. Michael was now on billboards and in magazines. Surely that’s why I even remember who he was. Like, there’s no way he remembers me.
As Hamlet ended, we convened at the nearby pub to congratulate Brooke. I saddled up to her. “You’re such a star.”
“Thanks, hunzey,” she said. Brooke, a stand-in for Annie Hall, smirked as she nursed her vodka gimlet. “Don’t you know him?”
Brooke pointed across the bar: “Michael. He played Horatio. He said you two had met.”
“We never met,” I declared with authority.
“Oh,” Brooke laughed. “He said you two had.”
I suddenly felt uncomfortable. Hot. Sad, even. We actually, like, had not met and I didn’t want to have a forced conversation in a crowded bar to remind me that our first attempt at love had failed. Thankfully, we didn’t speak that night. We made eyes at one point – his were kind and warm – but that was it.
Fast forward a year to the fall of 2008. Taking our theatre careers by the reins, Brooke, Dawson and I moved to New York with dreams of having lavish Broadway careers. Well, Dawson didn’t have those dreams, but Brooke and I did. Not sure where to live, I crashed at my friend Billy Morrissette’s, until I could afford renting a room, while Brooke landed in Carroll Gardens.
One chilly Saturday night, Brooke called. “What are you doing?”
“Watching Top Design,” I said mindlessly.
“Wanna come out? I’m with Michael.”
“The guy who played Horatio. His TV show shoots in New York now.”
Silence. Frantic heartbeat. Sweaty pits.
Ugh, the last time a friend set me up with someone, we dated for a month, until one afternoon I knocked on his door and his half-naked ex-boyfriend answered. This just didn’t feel right.
“I’m gonna stay in,” I muttered.
“OK,” Brooke said. She then covered the phone and mumbled, “He doesn’t feel like coming out.” I heard Michael mumble something inaudible back; his voice as soothing now as it was then.
Ugh, maybe I should’ve met up, but I didn’t want to seem too available; too needy. No, no. I did the right thing. The whole point of me moving to New York was to make active changes in my life, and this was one of them. A few days pass and I get a phone call from an old boarding school buddy, Sadie Grossman.
“There’s a guy you should meet,” she said.
“Please don’t say Michael Urie.”
“No,” Sadie laughed. “His name is John Early. He reminds me of you.”
John takes me to this comedy show consisting of well-known actors ironically reading the memoirs of famous people. Kristen Johnston was finishing her chapter of Vanna White’s Vanna Speaks before screaming out, “Give it up for our next guest, Michael Urie!”
Michael takes to the stage and reads from Tommy Lee’s Tommyland. He’s excellent, funny and a true mensch. I can’t help but smile.
“I’m gonna use the bathroom,” I said as the show came to a close.
As I opened the bathroom door, Michael was suddenly walking out. We both stopped. Dead in our tracks.
Silence. Frantic heartbeat. Sweaty pits.
With that, Michael squeezed by. Our bodies softly touched; butterflies raced through my stomach. But that was it. The bathroom door shut behind him. The pressure to talk had bottlenecked, for both of us, rendering us speechless.
That night, I shamefully crawled into bed. I grabbed Dawson and buried my head under my pillow. Michael and I had this clear tension; a clear interest. Why was the timing always off? I was riddled with discomfort. What a horror show.
On October 21, 2008, Brooke texted, “Want to meet at the Emerald Inn in Lincoln Square?”
I had no plans that day. Any day, really. I was at an impasse with my life, my career. I was 28 and barely scraping by. I lived on my friend’s couch and was role-playing with student doctors at Mount Sinai in order to cobble together an income. Failure was baked into my soul. I felt vulnerable and exhausted, so this offering from Brooke came at the right juncture. I started walking north, arriving at the Emerald Inn an hour early.
“I’m sorry,” Brooke texted, “I will be late. My shoe broke. I’m stuck at a cobbler.”
“My friend is there. I was supposed to meet him earlier.”
As I approached the Emerald Inn, I saw a familiar face. It was Michael. He was standing under a lamp. His curls dangled into his charming eyes. He looked at me. I looked at him. A wave of relaxation shot up my spine. I didn’t have the energy to panic.
No silence. No frantic heartbeat. No sweaty pits.
“Wanna get a drink?”
Michael opened the bar door and we walked inside the Emerald Inn. Completely on our own terms; the timing just right, two years in the making. We hung out effortlessly that night. We then hung out the next night, totally without a hitch. And then the next night, which was our first kiss. And then the next night, which was our first …
And then the next 5,000-plus nights.