Do you ever wish stories would end at the right moment, right as it gets good? Not stories in books or stories on the screen, but the very stories of your life.

You get the job promotion or academic honor and everyone cheers for you, and you never feel more accomplished.

You go with loved ones on the best vacation ever, and you’re never as close as you are on the beach or in the cabin with them.

You make a breakthrough in male friendship and connection after being an outcast among your gender your whole life.

If that last one sounds oddly specific, well, welcome to Your Other Brothers. We do have plenty of triumphant stories here. Lots of heartbreaking ones, too.

And sometimes those stories are one in the same.

~ ~ ~

His prayer over me is one I can never un-hear, intonations and truths forever settled in my marrow. I still feel his hand on my shoulder as he pronounces every word:

You’re a warrior, Tom. The armor you’re wearing is too big and too heavy for you, but you’re doing it, you’re putting it on, you’re going into battle, and you’re a warrior.

Chase would go on to walk me through some of my darkest, yet most formative days as a young adult. He regularly spoke truth into my life — you’re capable, you’re hilarious, you’re good — and touched me with regular nudges and hugs. I’m convinced I wouldn’t have survived the start of a new life and a new season without Chase walking and talking and prophesying me through it.

It was intoxicating at first. His reassurance. His sturdy, masculine frame. His wisdom. His very presence.

Indeed, I felt I was being spoken to and touched by the very mouth and hands of Christ — a feeling rarely ever felt among other men my age.

If only the story had ended there.

My friendship with Chase turned obsessive, addictive. Like a drug I could never stop craving. His wraparound hugs. His unafraid look into my eyes. His willingness to stand with me when no one else would.

I needed it, all of it, and when I didn’t get it, I was lost. Soon, I started fantasizing over him.

His affirming touch, perverted.

His brotherhood, sexualized.

His worth as a man of God, mattering nothing if he wasn’t my own.

Weeks and months passed between texts and hanging out. His restoring voice of yester-season vanished, replaced by voices of old.

You’re not a warrior.

You’re not a man.

Why would a man want to be your friend?

When I heard he moved away without telling me, I knew then what I’d already known to be true for months but could never quite admit:

Our friendship — this brotherhood that broke two decades of shackles — was over.

~ ~ ~

Another friend similarly spoke truth and love into my life like no other. His was a more affectionate love, and he was never shy to hug or hold or otherwise caress me in the presence of others or alone in his living room.

Adam loved me and loved others more than anyone I’d ever met to this point. He couldn’t stand to see anyone on the sidelines, couldn’t bear to see me do life alone. He challenged me to go deep, to share vulnerably with him and with others. He ran on city streets and nature trails with me, worked out at the gym with me, and made me feel more like a man in the smallest yet most momentous of ways.

He played such a pivotal role in my emotional, physical, and spiritual development as a man. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without him.

When Adam hit a rough patch in his life, maybe I couldn’t be there for him the way he needed me to. Maybe he was too overwhelmed to deal with me anymore. Maybe I failed him.

Nonetheless, he decided he didn’t want to be my friend anymore.

I’m not entirely sure who was more to blame, and this not knowing still plagues me.

~ ~ ~

I’ve since forgiven both guys for whatever faults they played in our broken friendships. I’m not entirely sure I’ve forgiven myself for my own roles, whatever they are, but that’s for another post or therapist.

Time heals all wounds, I hear. I’m much better now. But time is slow.

Because of these two broken friendships — life-giving though each most certainly was — I now look at all friendships through a hyper-critical lens.

He’ll never last, I say about this one.

He’d bail on me much quicker than Chase or Adam, I say as I refrain from texting or calling or doing anything to push the friendship forward.

If he really wants my friendship, he needs to pursue me harder, I demand of him without his even knowing.

I hesitate to reach out because, well, I’m convinced my initiative won’t be reciprocated. That’s what history has shown. How can you rewrite history?

But I am a miracle, honestly. As the kid who always pined after the other boys in the locker room and on the football field and across the classroom, I was never “supposed” to have another man be my friend. I was too messed up, and they were too put together.

And then it happened.

It happened multiple times.

And it was so, so good each time.

And then it was so, so not.

But male friendship did happen when I never dreamt it would. I hope this leaves me more with the confidence for the potential of brotherhood rather than damnation to cycles of brokenness — though I’m not entirely sure where I stand right now.

Hope is hard.

I want to believe in redemption for my masculine anxieties, inferiority, and shortcomings. Forget the same-sex attraction; that’s hardly the biggest piece of my puzzle.

But how hard it is to believe when what I’m left with are these shadows of faces and echoes of words and the warmth of a hug long removed and now grown cold.

Have you experienced the loss of a pivotal male friendship? How did you cope and move past it? Do you struggle to open yourself up in friendship with other men?

* Photo courtesy elBidule, Creative Commons.

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