This is a story about love. About the kind of connection most people seem to be looking for, found in a place where I definitely didn’t expect it and certainly wasn’t looking for it. It is a tale about intimacy between two people, but it’s not a story about romance. It is the story of a straight guy’s and a bi guy’s love for each other.
Max and I have known each other for nine years now, but for the first couple of years we were just acquaintances. We would occasionally see each other through mutual friends, but our friendship didn’t really start to take off until 2007. And once the ball started rolling, it accelerated quickly.
Some friends of mine were working at the same institute as Max, and since I had once been a student there, I often went in to spend time with everyone. We would occasionally go out for drinks after they all got off work, or Max’s band would be playing and we would all go support, or we would just sit in the reception at the office and play games and chat. At this point, it was still a pretty low-key friendship.
But then I started working at the institute. Suddenly, Max and I were spending a lot of time together at work and at work-related events, and right away that bled over into time outside of work. At the time he was starting a t-shirt printing business with some friends and asked me to join in. Or we would chill at his place all night or hit up the dance floor in a club till the early hours of the morning, or I would go watch his football team play on the weekends. In no time at all, we were spending 20+ hours together at work and who knows how many hours together outside of work.
And then one of my flatmates moved out. Max had been toying around with the idea of finding either another flat for himself or moving into a flat with someone. So I told him I had a room opening up, and he decided to take it. We lived in the flat with a third guy for about two months, but then that guy had a few things change in his life and he too moved out, leaving the huge flat for just Max and me. That was three-and-a-half years ago, and it’s still just the two of us living here. In that time it’s gone from feeling like a shared flat to feeling like home.
I don’t work at the institute anymore, but we still live together, still go on holiday together, still have a lot of the same mutual friends and still always bring each other along or at least invite each other whenever we go anywhere. Despite all the time we spend together, we continue spending shit tons of time with each other because we feel comfortable with each other, because we enjoy each other’s company, and because we are free to be ourselves without fearing what the other will think: even when we see things differently, there is a huge amount of mutual respect for and acceptance of the person we, well, love.
Throughout all of this, we’ve never had sex. Max is straight, and even though I’m bi, that isn’t what I’m looking for from him. It’s just two dudes who enjoy each other’s company living life together. But just because there is no sex doesn’t mean there isn’t a physical aspect to our relationship.
Right after Max moved in we bought a humongous couch for the living room, big enough for the two of us to stretch out fully on the couch without coming into contact—and both of us are over 190cm. We were watching a lot of films and TV series at the time, and often enough we would both fall asleep on the couch. A few times while we were sleeping we moved into a semi-cuddle position, but neither of us thought much of it and it never came up as a topic of discussion. Eventually we got busy with other things and spent less time chilling on the couch, so the quasi-cuddling stopped.
But there were other moments as well. The first time we were on summer holiday in Bali we spent our last night in the same bed having an emotional conversation that involved expressing how much we cared about each other, crying, and some cuddling. Then we were in Mexico for a month that following Christmas, and one night we had some drinks and ended up cuddling in his bed.
And then there was a long gap of about two years when nothing happened physically. In fact, we started to drift apart because Max was in a relationship at the time and shifted his entire emotional focus to her. In the second year of their two year-relationship things were starkly different between us: where I once had known all about what was going on in his life, where others had once come to me to find out what was going on with Max, where we once could sit for hours and talk about all sorts of things, now I was only really seeing him if we happened to be going to the same party that night or occasionally we would have a drink at our house bar, talking superficially about superficial topics rather than the more vulnerable and intimate conversations we had once had, and I heard more about what was going on in his life from other people than from him. Even though we still lived together, we had lost a large part of our togetherness.
Those were dark days for me. I communicated several times what I was feeling, trying to get him to see that while I understood that we were going to be spending less time together because he had a girlfriend, I didn’t understand why our level of emotional and intellectual closeness had suffered so much. I was happy for him being happy in his relationship, but the near-death of ours was heart-wrenching.
Then about a year ago Max and his girlfriend broke up. I had pretty much given up on resuscitating our relationship, but prior to the break up I could tell he wasn’t in a good place—in spite of the distance that had grown between us, I could still feel what was happening with him.
Even though I knew he needed someone, I wanted to stay away, mostly to protect myself. But a friend of mine convinced me that if I could see he was hurting, I should at least let him know that I would be there for him. Eventually I relented and told him just that, and he opened up to me.
But in the meantime I had put walls back up that he and I had once torn down together. I didn’t want to tear them down again – at least not all of them – yet slowly but surely I found myself opening up again. And then we finally had a long conversation and I let him have it. Everything came tumbling out, and I told him he would have to work for it if he wanted that same level of closeness again, that I wasn’t willing to put in the effort or tear down a single wall unless I felt I could trust what was happening.
And for a while I left some of the walls up. But I couldn’t help myself; there really is quite a connection between us and he really did do his part in reconnecting, and at some point it became too much effort to try to maintain walls against someone who means much more than a lot to me. I felt the walls crumbling, and it simultaneously scared the shit out of me and superbly pleased me.
Fast-forward a few months to the end of this past winter, and we’ve not only reached our former level of closeness, we’ve surpassed it. And that’s when the cuddling started again.
It was a long night of drinking out of the clubs followed by a couple nightcaps at the house bar. Given our state of inebriation, it should come as no surprise that neither of us can quite remember everything we said, but we ended up in my bed, cuddling.
Over the next couple of weeks we cuddled more and talked more, slowly working out our ground rules and rehashing sober (or slightly intoxicated) the conversations we had had drunk (or completely shitfaced). It was terrifying because here I was letting this guy in even further than before even though I still feared he would pull away again the next time he had a girlfriend. But it was beautiful because here were two people who cared deeply about one another, who loved each other sincerely and found a way to express that love emotionally and physically without having intercourse.
And in truth, we do actually use the word ‘love’ with each other. Sometimes he says “I love you” first, sometimes I say it, but the words are definitely present in our relationship. But here’s the thing: this is not a love based on romance. Neither of us is romantically interested in the other, and yet in many ways I can’t fault the friends who don’t know what’s going on and still teasingly talk about Max and Omni “the old married couple”. Somehow we developed a loving non-sexual and non-romantic relationship that nevertheless has many aspects that people look for in a traditional sexual and romantic relationship. If I’m honest, it’s confusing as fuck. And it’s challenging as fuck. Extremely challenging, but not quite overwhelming.
There are still things we’re working out—which I think one would expect in a relationship between a straight guy and a bi guy that doesn’t involve sex yet still has a strong emotional and physical component. And we both have different things that challenge us. For me a big issue is my general aversion to supposed storybook relationships. But then I see how we interact, see the things that normally drive me crazy about romantic relationships happening between us. A huge part of me wants to run because if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. But then I think, what if it’s just a swan everyone mistakes for an ugly duckling?
Another big issue for me is my desire to explore this new side of our relationship, this new closeness we have, contrasted against my general inability to show my emotions or be affectionate in public. Part of this is because I’m generally that way, but part of it is because I remember what it was like to come out of the closet, how it felt to at times be worried what others would think if they saw me with a guy. And even though Max and I aren’t fucking, I fear that people will see us being affectionate and close and assume that Max is now gay (since no one seems to leap to the assumption that a guy could be bi), and I don’t want him to have to deal with everything such an assumption entails.
Ironically, the public affection with me doesn’t seem to be a problem at all for Max. One night we left a club, and neither of us knows how it happened, but we were walking down the street holding hands—something else that I’m usually averse to. And then we heard a guy calling to Max from a bench, and I shat myself worrying about what us holding hands must look like to the acquaintance. But the next day when we went out for breakfast after a night and morning of cuddling, Max told me not to worry about it, pulled me over to him and ran his fingers through my afro while other people were standing around us in line at the café. He thought it was cute that I was so worried.
But part of me wonders: he may be okay with the public affection, but is he really okay with the fact that I have a dick when we’re alone in bed?
Like me, Max is a whore, but around the time we started cuddling, a couple friends (who were not privy to what was going on in mine and Max’s relationship) pointed out that Max seemed to be shagging a lot more girls than normal, which made me start thinking maybe he was subconsciously worried. One girl friend who knew a little of what was up also hypothesized that the increase was perhaps a way for Max to prove to himself that he was straight despite what was going on with me. There might be some truth to that, or it could have just been a coincidence.
But what is for sure an issue for Max is what happens from time to time when I’m drunk and we go to bed to cuddle. I think we’re just cuddling, but in that passed out state where I’m not aware of what’s going on, I sometimes fondle Max’s dick and balls while we’re cuddling.
I’m really not trying to get it on with Max. But when we’re passed out, sometimes we do things we don’t realize we’re doing. It’s not me trying to hook up with Max, it’s my body wanting to have fun with the body lying next to it. We’ve talked about it, and talking about it sober has got it so that when we’re drunk my body at least checks that it’s Max and leaves it at cuddling—most of the time. There is still a random slip from time to time, but the slips are farther and fewer between, and ultimately Max knows that when it happens I’m not aware of what’s going on.
And despite the slips, we still cuddle, usually in underwear but sometimes also naked. What would scare other people off is for Max just a slight annoyance, something the two of us can work on so that eventually it stops altogether. And when we’re not wasted, it doesn’t happen at all, so he’s understanding enough to be patient when it does happen on a night of tons of drinking.
Plus, he knows he’s had a couple slip ups too. One night when he first moved in we went out to a club and had waaaaay too much to drink. Who knows how we got home, but at some point in my little black out I popped back in to consciousness for a sec and realized he was standing on his bed fucking my face, with me pressed back against the wall. And then I blacked out again. The next morning I knew I hadn’t imagined it because his bed was broken and my throat was sore.
A couple times when he’s the big spoon I’ve felt his drunk passed out hard on. Recently when I was the big spoon he drunkenly took my hand and moved it down to his cock and balls even though that was off the table. He’s also drunkenly fondled mine while we were cuddling in bed. Like me when I’m passed out, he doesn’t know he’s doing things, but we always talk about it just to make sure we’re both on the same page.
So even though neither of us really wants to have sex with the other, sometimes things happen because lots of alcohol is involved. And while that may bring up some issues for him (particularly when he’s the drunk groper), he at least knows that in those moments when he’s the one whose body is just doing shit, I’m equally taking steps to make sure nothing happens. That probably makes it easier to deal with it when it’s my body doing shit and he has to make sure nothing happens.
In other posts I’ve mentioned that I don’t really see sex as the most important part of a relationship. But lately I can’t help but wonder if it even needs to be a part of my relationship with a partner. If I look at the things that I consider important in any type of long-term relationship, the top spots go to trust, intimacy, comfort, safety, humor, intelligence, security, etc. When I’m 35, 40, 50, 60, 90, 100 years old, those are the things I want to have in my life. And before I’ve always thought sex would at least rank last on the list of top things I want, but I can’t help but consider that if all that other stuff is there in such abundance, maybe sex doesn’t have to be a component at all. I mean, no matter what my relationships look like, monogamy isn’t in the picture. If I’m already alright with “sex also with other people”, is it really that big of a step to switch to “sex only with other people”? If I find someone that makes me happy as shit without sex, should I pass them by for someone with whom sex is on the table and who might make me happy too?
And then I start to think about romantic love versus other types of love. Society drills it into our heads that we’re supposed to look for that one romantic partner whom we love deeply, and that such a relationship is the ultimate relationship. But what makes that type of love superior to any other? Is not love in all of its forms to be cherished? And if love is love no matter what type it is, should not any sort of deep, loving relationship be praised, even if it doesn’t involve romance or sex?
The fact that I’m having these thoughts petrifies me because though I wasn’t looking for one, I find myself in a non-romantic relationship that has me asking these and other questions that are in some ways similar to those one asks in a romantic relationship. What the fuck is going on, and how did I get here? And how do I get past the feeling that society won’t accept me finding these things in a non-romantic relationship when love and sex are supposedly so exclusively intertwined in the Disney-style romantic relationship we’re all taught to seek?
On the other hand, I also know that Max wants a romantic sexual relationship. Which seems to logically dictate that Max isn’t wondering the same things I am, that no matter how close we get, he’s always going to be looking for the girl he can be closer with. And note that my fear here is not that he’ll get close to someone else, but rather that in getting close to someone else he’ll push me out of the picture again, like the last time he was invested in a romantic relationship. I’m cool with sharing; I’m not cool with being thrown under the bus.
I should add as an aside that I often have to speculate what’s going through Max’s head in this regard because though we talk about a hell of a lot of things, sometimes it’s hard to get him to talk about emotions and shit. It’s funny because Ramiro, the guy I dated four years ago, used to chastise me because I wouldn’t talk about my feelings and it frustrated him that he would open up and I couldn’t, and now I find myself understanding how he must have felt. What’s not all that funny is the holding pattern that speculation forced me into for a spell.
I mentioned earlier my concern that Max could have a repeat performance and shit on our closeness the next time he has a girlfriend. Well, after tearing down the walls and letting him back in to a depth we had previously not explored, I couldn’t help but worry about what I was getting myself into. Is it not asking for trouble to get emotionally and physically close to someone who will leave you behind when he’s working on a relationship with a girl and you know she’ll come out on top for the pure fact that she has a pussy? I had fallen out of the window once already, so to speak, and knew the fall would hurt. So why set myself up for another fall? Part of me wanted to stop the cuddling, set up a perimeter, and not let things progress so that I’d be protected once Max gets in a relationship.
But things aren’t what they were between us back then when he got together with his last girlfriend; we’re closer and have both talked about how important that closeness is to us. So then I think, well, if this is good now, why put a stop to it just because something might happen in the future? I know he cares about me immensely and I know he also enjoys cuddling with me. Is it not better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all? Except the kind of loss meant here is the kind you can’t really anticipate. But I struggle not to expect the same thing to happen the next time Max is in a romantic relationship. It’s like sitting on a time bomb that you know will blow, you just don’t know when.
Back and forth I went between “run for cover” and “enjoy it while it lasts”; unable to make a decision on whether or not to pull away or run with it, I thought myself in circles and maintained my emotional holding pattern. Which naturally caused some problems since life marches on, holding patterns or no holding patterns.
One night in NYC we were out drinking, when something triggered a reaction inside me. I wanted to leave, I wanted to stay, I didn’t know what to do, and was a hot mess. Eventually I decided I needed to just go home and sleep. Max and I were sharing a bed, and that’s where I went to lie down. But apparently at some point I decided to move over to the couch to give Max space. He came home and was worried because he didn’t see me in bed, texted me to see where I was (which I didn’t get till the next morning when I woke up), and then finally he found me on the couch in the living room. He could have just left me there, but instead he pulled me over to bed to sleep with him.
Something like that shows he cares, as did him pulling me into a hug and squeezing me long and tight in the bar in front of everyone to help me chill the fuck out before I took off to go home. With someone who has a difficult time expressing emotions with words, those are the kind of non-verbal cues I have to go by. But that just sends me back into a repeated circle of thoughts: I know he cares, but I still know I’m sitting on a time bomb, so what do I do?
A huge problem for me was that I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone about anything that was going on. This was supposed to be our secret, which meant I could discuss things with myself and with Max. The cuddling had moved from something we did drunk to something we also did sober, more evidence that he cares yet more reason to fear the ticking bomb. I desperately needed to talk to a friend and get another perspective, because just talking about it with Max wasn’t helping me get out of the holding pattern that was starting to shatter me, and I just don’t hear or read about this type of relationship between one guy who sleeps with guys and one who doesn’t, so I had no other reference points to use.
And so I talked to a friend, someone I know and trust and who works as a sex educator in the States, someone I knew would tell me honestly what she thought and who likes to talk about sex and relationships as much as I do. We’ve actually talked about it extensively while she’s been visiting, and from that point of view, her trip couldn’t have come at a better time.
One interesting comment she made came after a night out dancing, and though it confirmed the correctness of fearing him pulling away, it was also a relief because it proved that it wasn’t all in my head. Four of us were out, with a bunch of other friends coming and going in the club. And for the most part we danced together. But at some point Max started chatting with two girls and left the three of us to dance, and Mya told me that it shocked her how quickly his energy just shifted. One second he was there with us, the next he was gone, not even remotely connected to our small group. “If he disappears like that with two bar flies,” she said, “I can definitely understand your fear of him disappearing like that when he has a girlfriend.”
But she has also been helpful in making me see the different ways he shows he loves me, and in seeing where I need to work on things and where I rightly expect Max to supply information. I still don’t quite know what the fuck I’m doing or where things are going or how we even got where we are, but I’ve broken the merciless circle of repeat thoughts.
Any meaningful relationship is going to have rough patches and growing pains. And this is something Max and I have also talked about. The good things and good times far outnumber the rough times, yet the rough times can break one or both people. But you know, he’s not running either. Neither of us are quitting because even without sex and romance, we both know what we have is something to be cherished and that the kinks can be smoothed out.
I can’t ignore how comfortable I feel with him (despite and to some extent as a result of the rough patches), or how much we support each other, how much we make each other laugh and challenge each other to be better people. I can’t shut my eyes to the fact that even at my weakest he loves me for who I am, and vice versa. I can’t pretend I don’t see how much we can communicate with a simple glance, or how nice it is to feel so intimately close. I can’t block out the annoying habits we both have and which we can also laugh about together, or the stories one of us starts and the other finishes. I can’t evade the sense of warmth and safety we give each other. For better or for worse, we both let ourselves get where we are, and I can’t be chicken shit and let fear force my head into the sand.
If I’m not going to run away, then damn it, I need to just go with it and see what happens. Even in the most “normal” relationship there is never any guarantee, and if I’m going to go through the trouble of tearing down walls and letting someone in, then it would be kinda idiotic to turn around and not let that person in. Fuck the holding pattern; I’m going to take a leap of faith. And if I end up falling out the window and breaking again? Well, at least then I can say I overcame my fear, ran with it and gave it my all. Maybe the time bomb will blow and prove what an idiot I am; maybe it’s not actually a bomb at all.
A leap of faith. Into terrifyingly unknown waters. And maybe, just maybe, it will turn out that I didn’t leap alone.