Amidst a crisis propagating shock into so many aspects of so many lives — public health, the economy, education — I know I’m supposed to be concerned primarily with caring for my neighbor. If I were more like Jesus, maybe the first thing on my mind would be how to provide for those in need: those who, unlike me, are gravely ill, immunocompromised, or suddenly unemployed.

If I were more like Jesus.

Do you think I eat His flesh and drink His blood because I’m a great person, though?

Instead, I’ve been stuck thinking about myself lately. I’ve been sick with a certain longing. Sometimes it feels like my whole emotional life revolves around this longing, but I’ve never been good at putting words to it.

I’ve felt this secret longing deep down for years. Maybe this pandemic is what it’s taken to dredge it up to the surface where I can face it, explore it, process it, and write about it.

I’m ashamed of this longing. Even if I weren’t ashamed of it, I’d still feel guilty for being so stuck on it right now. Of course, we humans are endlessly inept at teasing shame and guilt apart from one another. But I’m going to try my best.

Because I’m ashamed, writing this feels like a second coming out. I came out (whatever that means) years ago. But I’ve still been habitually, compulsively, desperately hiding an internal reality, and it’s wearing me out.

Okay, get on with it, Ryan.

Here’s what this secret longing is about:

I yearn to be held by a bigger, stronger man, to rest in his powerful arms, to lay my head on his chest. I ache for this; I dwell on this desire a lot.

I suppose, given the nature of this website, my admission surprises approximately nobody. Even people who know I’m gay but don’t know about this blog probably won’t find it shocking. But it’s hard to admit. Why is it hard to admit (you know, besides the normal, garden-variety internalized homophobia)?

Is it because this particular longing is such a concrete thing, but coming out was in the abstract? When I first came out, I declared I was attracted to men — but I didn’t fill in any of the sweaty, intimate details.

Having a sexuality (especially a queer one) is like having an erection: we can know intellectually that, yes, in some times and places, it is something experienced by some people, and if we’re all mature adults we can grant that, yes, it is something that might be experienced on occasion by the person in front of us.

Kept academic, these phenomena are relatively safe to discuss. But polite society has boundaries; they are unspoken, fluid, and situational, but they are very real.

This polite facade belies a tangle of complications in my heart, though. When it happens to me, who is allowed to know? Who is allowed to see the tangle? Who is it allowed to come into contact with? What space in the world is it allowed to take up?

So much of coming out is reestablishing what space in the world you’re going to allow your sexuality to take up.

Is this longing hard to admit because I can only see its admission doing damage? Anyone who can’t fulfill it will feel like I’ve judged him to be inferior, inadequate, I warn myself. And anyone who can fulfill it will feel put-upon, pressured to give me something he doesn’t feel comfortable giving me.

And of course it will be this way, because whenever someone wants something from me that I’m not excited to give, I feel put-upon, hunted, entrapped! (See above, re: not being a great person.)

Or maybe this longing is hard to admit because it’s difficult to categorize. I don’t really want sex with this hypothetical bigger, stronger man, if I’m honest.

But is this secret longing sexual? If not, why wouldn’t it be satisfied by a woman, or a man I’m not attracted to, or my father? Is this longing primarily for touch or relationship? Is it a want or a need? Am I idolizing it or am I just desperately hungry?

Couldn’t it be both? Couldn’t the starving man make an idol of food? If so, how do you explain to the starving man that he’s made an idol of food?

If I had answers to these questions, a category to sort this dream into, I could explain myself to you. But instead I have to hope you’ll accept me unexplained, perhaps unexplainable. Inscrutable. Intractable.

I’ve realized I can’t move on with my life while keeping this in the dark. As afraid as I am that this longing will come off as silly and trite, it has produced a hidden gravity bending the arc of my emotional health for the past year.

Last fall I went on an antidepressant for the first time in my life. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” warns Proverbs 13:12. I think not knowing how to deal with this yearning was at least 50% of what led me there (the other 50% is known as I deal with it, but that’s a different blog post).

I’ve spoken of my longing with friends in general terms — too abstract, again. “Physical touch is my love language,” I could say without stuttering.

When my friends and I started social distancing, I had no trouble telling them things like, “Feeling kind of touch-deprived. Looking forward to seeing everyone again!”

When a guy friend I’m particularly fond of asks how I’m doing, I try not to lie, but I have almost never told the full truth: “I wish I was resting in your arms right now.”

These half-truths haven’t been much help, externally or internally. Externally because they let my friends think maybe all I really want is just a hug every time I see them; internally because they let me believe my desire is simpler than it really is — that it’s just a matter of oxytocin, uncorrelated to specific people or specific kinds of touch.

These half-truths have also been obscuring a grating background thrum of despair. The “normal” to which everyone is anticipating returning is not the normal I want to reoccupy. For me, a return to normal is just a continuation of my secret longing, disappointment, and frustration.

What is the light at the end of the tunnel for me? I ask myself in a blur of quiet moments in my still house.
I keep telling people this feels like a season of deconstruction. Our lives have been simplified, disassembled.

Those of us without children sit through a blur of quiet moments. I make bread and do crosswords now.
Those of us with children persevere through a different kind of stripping away. Without the trappings of an elaborately regimented calendar, maybe the deeper currents of our lives are being made visible.

If we’re currently in a season of deconstruction, then eventually we’ll reach a season of reconstruction. If we’re wise, we’ll take what we’ve learned in this deconstruction and use it to rebuild not a return to the old normal, but to a new, better normal on the other side.

When I can see my friends again, we’ll have a chance to revisit the patterns and expectations around our interactions. Will this lead to the kind of radically different interactions I dream of? Most of me is cynical and doubtful. But the truth is I don’t know.

I don’t know what kind of conversations greater transparency will invoke, and — as I like to remind all my relationally forlorn friends — you never know who you’ll meet tomorrow.

For now, maybe my “second coming out” with this secret longing will give me some peace — enough to understand my heart better, or even to escape my head more and take care of the people around me.

Hardly anything feels hurried these days.It’s nice to feel like I have plenty of time to discover what it means to be kind to myself and what it means to

trust the One who made me and loves me dearly.

Do you have a secret longing? Why is it hard to “come out” to others in this way? Do you struggle to differentiate between wants/needs and idols?

  • Ryan…please don’t tell Tom, mostly because I’m sick of the word, but I…”resonate”… with this. Now that we’ve got that out of the way (second coming out), we can talk. For years I have gone out of my way to avoid the man hug – cuddle – etc, except for special occasions, because I knew how it made me feel and how badly I wanted it. My thought was that I can’t be doing this, especially with the beautiful, muscly guys because I will want it all the time. The current crisis has pretty much driven it out of me.
    My pastor, who is also my very good friend, is a big, beautiful man (former football player). He is younger than me, but he was the one that helped me out of the closet back in 2015 in front of the whole congregation (small church) and he knows all my other secrets as well. We are good friends…I know a few of his heterosecrets (new word alert). Anyway, we have not been able to see each other for a few weeks because of the current crisis, but last Sunday our church got together outdoors for the first time in awhile. Steve and I saw each other and a major hug was forthcoming. It lasted for a bit. I would not call it the best hug of my life, but it was close and we were both crying. I love him in a very non-sexual way. It felt so clean and so pure and natural. It was enough to make me think I’m not giving this up. I just felt so safe in his arms. I could have spent the evening there I suppose, but it probably would have bugged his wife whom I also love.
    So my advice to you is..find yourself a big lug of a man and enjoy. It is not something to feel shame about. Straight guys that understand us also understand what we need and we can return the favor by supplying something they need.

    • I wish I could get a hug from Steve too! I’m glad you and he have such a good relationship.

      Straight guys that understand us also understand what we need and we can return the favor by supplying something they need.

      Yeah, my hope and prayer is definitely that my friendships with my close straight guy friends would grow in this way. I think we all have a lot to learn about what we can provide each other.

  • I have honestly thought a great deal about this as of late. I can definitely say that American culture frowns upon this kind of fraternity between two men; however, it is permissible (even encouraged) between women. I have a friend who brought out these feelings in me. He will remain nameless for the purpose of this post. I believe the things that attracted me to him were his traits (forthrightness, honesty, integrity). I will not deny that a physical attraction was there as well. However, I have a theory that I was attracted to these things because I didn’t think I possessed them. All of your sentiments about trying to adequately describe the closeness of a stronger man resonate with me. I can hardly understand it myself; how in the world can I expect someone else to? Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on the subject.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Drew!

      However, I have a theory that I was attracted to these things because I didn’t think I possessed them.

      I think there’s something to that theory. On some level we are attracted to people we admire. But I think even the most self-actualized person will still be attracted to beauty for its own sake.

      I can hardly understand it myself; how in the world can I expect someone else to?

      You hit the nail on the head!

  • Ugh I feel this so much, Ryan. In fact, since the lockdown has started, I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster of questioning my theology of marriage, returning to a side b view, having moments of simply not caring and willing to give everything up for a relationship, and then returning to the Lord with the desire to truly follow Him. I read that Jesus said His yolk is easy and His burden is light. But honey, let me tell you, this ain’t easy and light.
    So, to lamenting in my journal it is. Lamenting the fact that I’ll never get to fall asleep while holding a husband’s hand. Lamenting that I’ll never get to lean on him while watching Netflix and Disney Plus. Lamenting that we’ll never get to worship alongside each other. God, this freaking sucks.
    But then every once in a great while the Holy Spirit gives me a small glimpse of what heaven will be like. There Christ is in all His beauty, standing before me, looking into my eyes. I am fully known, fully loved, fully safe. And as stupid as it sounds, He places a flower crown (I guess it’s the crown of life) on my head. Like Henri Nouwen preached all the time, He says, “You are my beloved. On you my favor rests.”
    Is all this anguish worth it? Are the angst and the pain of this side b life truly worth it? I want to believe that it is. But, deep down, I can’t yet claim as such with certainty. So, I keep praying. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

    • Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing, Reed. I’m glad you know how I feel!

      I read that Jesus said His yolk is easy and His burden is light. But honey, let me tell you, this ain’t easy and light.

      I FELT THIS. Real talk: “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” but also “take up your cross and follow me” So which is it?? Am I doing something wrong? All I know to do is keep breathing and keep praying and keep feeling loved by my Lover and to keep being patient with all that is unsolved in my heart. (Grateful to Rilke for that line.)

  • Love it Ryan! It resonates a lot with what I’ve been meaning to blog about lately. A lot of times when I see really fit guys who are probably straight working out at the gym, I actually feel more sad that aroused. I just sort of have that wish and longing to be accepted by men like them. And loved. None of it has anything to do with sex. This is something I will be blogging about soon. Don’t feel ashamed of this “second coming out.” You know you are not alone there.

    • I empathize with the emotional complexity of those moments. The feelings of alterity, longing, and some sort of loss, but also deep inside, a kernel of delight at witnessing the beauty of creation. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts!

  • Thanks for your boldness, Ryan. It means a lot for this community to continue practicing vulnerability, whether any one of us has been here a month or a decade.
    That phrase “second coming out” is one I’ve never quite articulated in my own life, but now I find myself thinking about all those deeper, more specific things that involve my attraction to men. The “sweaty, intimate details,” if you will. I suppose life is all about coming out, again and again, the more we live and learn and process and grow and share with one another.
    Much love, brother. Your post is refreshing and challenging all the same.

    • Vulnerability is such a journey. It’s kind of like exercise (for me at least). Slipping isn’t something to beat yourself up about, but you can get very behind before you know it, and throwing yourself back into it isn’t super comfortable. Thanks for the encouragement Tom!

  • Ryan,
    My desire has more often been that I want to hold a guy rather than to be held by a guy. Maybe it’s because I am an Enneagram 2, maybe because I am the firstborn child in my family, I’m not sure why.
    I love taking care of others, encouraging them, and making them feel good. Many times I find myself “rescuing” a needy guy in one way or another, showing him love in whatever appropriate way he needs. Often he will love me in return and at least let me hug him. Somehow that meets a need in me and helps me keep the love pure instead of sexual.

  • You did a great job Ryan, it’s hard finding words for those deep unfulfilled longings. They whisper of a reality we want to enter, not just see; and not just enter, but be received into and welcomed. I resist sharing those, saying them out loud is as much burden as it is hope, it’s admitting I’ve failed so far and may never get there. That’s not very brave, faith also is longing as well as assurance, but it’s where I find myself so often.
    With friends, I do bear hugs as greetings, usually from behind. Maybe it’s from growing up wrestling in school, but I’d rather hold than be held. They’re kinda flip sides of the same coin tho, sometimes I never want to let go. It’s enough tho, a taste of that time when holding on and being held is real and never ends. Till then, be kind to yourself, there’s grace in the longing.

    • Thanks, Alan. There’s so much in this comment that I love. Seeing is not enough, entering is not enough, what we want is to be received and welcomed into it–wanted. “Saying them out loud is as much burden as it is hope,” UGH. I was talking to a friend yesterday about how in our culture we know that transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability aren’t always easy, but we always imagine them somehow feeling good. However, they can be a huge burden! I’ve been sending this article to a bunch of my friends–which I’ve concluded is a wise move–but I’ve been so anxious about it over the past 36 hours. But even if it’s not fun and relaxing, I get it. Vulnerability isn’t really vulnerability if there’s no risk.

      • Being vulnerable means living with rejection, even if it never happens. Being ok with that means peace. You’ve already shown courage, for me that’s the hardest part. Live in the good of that.
        Edit: didn’t mean “living with rejection” to be negative, just seems like facing up to the possibility of being rejected isn’t all that different from dealing with the reality, in terms of the courage vulnerability calls for.

  • Thank you for sharing. I know just how you feel, I’m going through the same thing. It’s been difficult being home alone with no contact with any people for over a month. Made the desire even stronger. I keep saying I’m going to hug everyone for 15 minutes when it’s safe again.

    • Thanks for reading Brian! Yes I would very much like to organize hug parties once social distancing is no longer required. Frustratingly, though, it doesn’t feel like there’s going to be a single moment of “all clear” where everything can snap back to normal. Makes it hard to plan a party!

  • Thanks for sharing your experience, Mike. To be honest, I’m closer to what you suggest right now than I’ve ever been in my life. However, it seems wise to try leaning into my existing friendships one more time, this time being more forthcoming about what I want and/or need, to see if I can’t cultivate what I’m looking for from what God’s given me already. After all, “find a man” sounds simple, but the reality would be quite a process!

  • Great post Ryan! When I was much younger (like 40 years), I developed a crush on an older man in his early 20s while I was still a preteen. Like you, I wasn’t looking for a sexual relationship. I was much too young to grasp such an idea. However, I did want to be physical with him and let him hold me and give me some kind of masculine type love. I also hoped he would be a mentor for me in guiding me into masculinity. He would essentially teach me how to be a man as he exemplify manhood in my own eyes. Nowadays, I tend to look for bigger and stronger men to bond with and be physically, yet platonically intimate with them. My theory is having to deal with my own personal insecurity and lack of confidence. I need to feel I have some reinforcement in my life in terms of this bigger stronger (and likely older) man whom I can find consolation. This strongman would be my assurance that the choices I make in life are just and correct because he would be my guide and mentor. I haven’t found him yet, but I’m always looking.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Mac. Do you think if you felt more secure or confident in yourself you wouldn’t desire that kind of bond? For myself I think it’s more complicated than that, but it’s always interesting to hear other people’s experience.

      • I think it’s possible I wouldn’t have desired the bond *as much*. I still would desire male bonding nonetheless in line with a sense of camaraderie. My dad was very attentive to molding me as a male when I was younger. He simply thought being a provider was enough. That would have been enough IF I had another male role model involved in raising me and spending time with me in rearing me up as a man. A lack of self confidence has been a major obstacle in my life.

  • Hey Ryan. I’ve been wrestling with a man, desperately longing, unable to get a hold of him, to keep him down, to even understand what he’s about…and that man is me and I’m thirsty and hungry with longing and I’m desperate to break loose and love Jesus with ALL my heart…but my longing seems too great a match for me and like you, I feel I must talk, come out to someone, or something… But what?
    Would you mind terribly if I emailed you at your YOB address; if I tried to put words to my giant which sounds so much like your own, in the hope of another perspective, a handhold to find my way out of this Slough of despond?
    Yours in Christ
    Brian

  • I’m sure it took a lot to write this so good on ya! I’ve been working with other, similar desires. I would encourage you to also pray in a specific manner about this. I sometimes feel ashamed to speak the words of what I’ve done or want to do, but when I do it takes away some of its power. I would also encourage you to focus on being willing to receive or not to receive. I’ve had times where I was afraid to ask God to provide, or where I told myself I was okay with being denied – but wasn’t. Once I truly let go of my will, I could see more clearly. Obviously, quite simplistic, but its the best I’ve got.
    The other thing I would point out is that you may find success in offering what you desire. Reversing the experience might root out what is at its core. Seeking the discomfort of becoming what you desire might separate what is your expectation versus reality.
    In any case, may God’s light shine upon you; that you might have ears to hear His Spirit’s calling and eyes to see through deception. May His healing hands apply a balm to your heart; that it might be filled with a zeal for His service. In all days, may He bless you with His courage to carry on, His mercy in your weakness, and His grace to overcome. Peace and God’s Speed.

  • Ryan, this was good and I relate full well. As a boy and teen I desperately wanted to be held and loved by my Dad. Not to be. He did not hug me, kiss me, love on me. We did work hard together at his business, but that is the closest we ever “came together”. He said he loved me one time-at 33 on his death bed. I still hear those words from him. I am 63 with a 33 year old son (and 2 daughters, 2 son-in-laws, and 6 grandchildren). I have been very intentional with all to hold and kiss them. I don’t want them to have to long for touch as I did. At this age, I am a seriously and madly in love married man but still think about what you expressed. Yes, definitely. I want to be held in those strong arms and I want to hold hurting men. I don’t think that desire will ever go away, not because I’m SSA, but I think it is deep in the heart of every man, they will just not admit it. My desires will never be fully fulfilled, but I do hug extraneously and lingeringly on my Son and my son-in-laws. They need it too. That’s as close as I will ever get to being held by a man. And, that’s ok, my wife and I snuggle constantly, I get touched, but I long for strong hairy arms to enfold me because of the hole in heart that my Dad left. But, amazingly, Jesus comes on walks with me and in our privacy, my worship and praise to Him, He puts His strong hairy arm around my neck as we walk together. You know, just like you would walk together with your friend in second grade? I feel His muscles, his strong arm, He loves and affirms me. I go home full and satisfied. I got to be in His presence and I got His man touch.

    • Michael, this last part of your comment about walking with Jesus made me tear up. I have not yet experienced such a walk with Him but desire so much to have that. I like how you described feeling his physicality. My touch deprivation would not be so bad, I feel, if I could have a similar walk with Jesus as you have.

  • Ryan, thanks so much for this transparent and vulnerable post. I cannot tell you how much I resonate with this. Reading it made me tear up because I no longer felt alone. I felt a sense of belonging and it made me feel like I am ok, and I will continue to be ok. Your willingness to share undoubtedly helps more people in more ways than you can even know. Thank you!

  • This article gives a voice to my innermost thoughts and desires. I long to be in a man’s embrace, to know that he will not leave me. I know: major trust issues. Thank you, Ryan, for feeling comfortable enough around your brothers. Eternally grateful.

  • Hi and thanks for the transparency. Apreciated this window into your life and to see that Im not alone in my view of things. Regarding poets maybe you could check Puskin the great Russian poet.

  • Ryan Burger

    Reporting LIVE from the tension between hope and reality, between longing and obedience: inveterate single, complete cheeseball, total nerd, bewildered homeowner, serial relaxer, and long-time Jesus-needer. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I am a software developer by trade. My passion is helping non-straight followers of Jesus discover their place in the body of Christ. All my "comfort music" is about being far from home and/or returning home. I'm an Enneagram 9 if you're into that sort of thing. I have recently started reading poetry for fun; please send me your recommendations!

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