I am a man who yearns for men. Usually, I use “gay” as an imperfect but sufficiently legible shorthand. Every once in a while a situation has arisen where I decided “same-sex attracted” was the right description — the language that would get across the meaning, as good language does.

But “man who yearns for men” is a description that is as arresting to me as eye contact with my reflection in a mirror. I suspect that most of the men in our little community will resonate with this description.

We yearn for men. We yearn for specific men. We yearn for abstract, unspecified men. We yearn for men in general. We yearn for men to yearn for other men.

Sometimes we yearn for men’s bodies, sometimes for their hearts, sometimes for their souls. We yearn for brothers. We yearn for boyfriends or husbands. Some of us yearn for fathers, some of us yearn for sons.

We yearn to encounter, to access, and to drink deeply of the raw, earthy-sweet, intoxicating, powerful substance of masculinity. To be welcomed into it, to be wanted into it.

Yearning is a kind of longing. I’ve always thought of it as a deeper, sharper, longer-lasting version of longing. Yearning endures daily ups and downs; it can last seasons.

It is not fun, but I am (slowly!) learning not to experience yearning, in and of itself, as bad.

Yes, there’s an aching tension to this yearning. Some religions say that desire, being a source of pain, is evil, and should therefore be shed. I have often wanted to turn off my longings. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” the Teacher observes.

On the other hand, Paul writes that longing points to a future reaching fruition:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God … For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:19, 22-23

It seems that Paul would say longing is the right feeling for our time and place. And yet even if I can call it a correct response to the promises of God and the state of the world, I could not face an eternity of this feeling.

The only real comfort I find in the midst of yearning is knowing it will come to an end.

Though, what would it feel like to be burdened no longer with longing? Is that even a human way to live? Is love still love, without yearning?

~ ~ ~

In C.S. Lewis’s 1945 novel, The Great Divorce, an exalted Spirit of Heaven confronts her former lover from her previous life on Earth, referred to here as the Tragedian. The Tragedian is a dim and contorted Ghost whom she is trying to tempt away from the stygian Grey City to the vibrant wilds of glory.

He feels betrayed when she will not admit to missing him in the afterlife. If she was not miserable without him, he reasons, she must not have loved him. He accuses her thusly, and she responds:

“You don’t want me to have been miserable for misery’s sake. You only think I must have been if I loved you. But if you’ll only wait you’ll see that isn’t so.”

“Love!” said the Tragedian striking his forehead with his hand: then, a few notes deeper, “Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?”

“How should I not?” said the Lady. “I am in love. In love, do you understand? Yes, now I love truly.”

“You mean,” said the Tragedian, “you mean — you did not love me truly in the old days.”

“Only in a poor sort of way,” she answered. “I have asked you to forgive me. There was little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you.”

“And now!” said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. “Now, you need me no more?”

“But of course not!” said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out in joy.

“What needs could I have,” she said, “now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly.”

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

(I will not spoil the Ghost’s decision regarding the Lady’s urging.)

I have often hated this passage, because it thrusts an uncomfortable truth in my face: what I call love, that longing ache, might not be as noble as it feels, after all. What if it indicates not emotional magnanimity but emotional poverty?

The most disturbing part is the thought that I’m not capable of loving truly and rightly — not on this side of glory.

~ ~ ~

It was 2009, and I was in the home stretch of undergrad. I lived in a five-bedroom duplex with four other guys. This place hadn’t been vacated in years as college-aged tenants moved in and out piecemeal, with a lease like the Ship of Theseus.

Everyone who moved out left some junk they were either too lazy or too forgetful to move, which then became nobody’s responsibility and everybody’s problem.

The place had two refrigerators, which nobody ever cleaned out. One of them was spraypainted with a camo pattern.

We called it The Dump.

I, a young gay man with nice German saucepans and extremely developed opinions on the best way to load the dishwasher, did not fit in. However, the duplex was close to campus and rent was just $290.

My room was adjacent to my friend Jordan’s room. Between our rooms was a Jack-and-Jill shared bathroom, accessible only through either of our rooms. My bed was next to the bathroom door on my side of the bathroom.

Jordan usually went to bed much later than me, but his bedtime routine rarely woke me up. He’d been a close friend for a few years. Things got complicated, but by the time we moved into The Dump together, my feelings were more stable and easier to handle.

One night I woke up as Jordan was brushing his teeth before bed. He hadn’t closed the door to my room all the way, and golden light was streaming around the frame. I could barely see his familiar movements in the incandescent warmth of the bathroom.

I cannot explain what happened, but I can describe it.

I was filled with love like I had never felt, not even for him. In my half-wakefulness, somehow momentarily blessed with complete self-forgetfulness, I loved my friend truly, deeply, gratefully, peacefully.

The feeling was expansive and timeless, almost overwhelming.

I didn’t wonder what he thought of me or our friendship.

I didn’t wonder whether I should say anything to him, or what.

I felt no regret or shame about where our friendship had been.

I felt no fear of growing apart eventually (though it would have been justified; we did).

I felt no sadness that he was only some straight guy who wouldn’t give me what I yearned for.

I didn’t yearn for him, not in that moment. But I loved him more and better than I ever had before.

I smiled, contented.

Soon, he turned off the light and went to bed. I quickly fell back to sleep in the happy afterglow of that ephemeral feeling, wondering if it was a little like how God feels toward us all the time.

I have never had an experience like it since.

How have you yearned for other men? Have you experienced moments of contentment or insight in your yearning, or only a perpetual longing?

  • As you can probably imagine from my past posts Ryan, I totally relate to this. I’ve often said that my longing has pointed to something deeper in wanting connection with men that goes beyond just mere sexual attraction. I’ve said this is like a universal feeling to connect with the same sex intimately that I think all men and women experience regardless of orientation. I feel like I’ve had fleeting moments of contentment, usually after really good get togethers with friends. Although I will say I probably feel longing and yearning more often than not. Especially after this year of isolation with the pandemic.

    • I always enjoy your posts, brother. This time of isolation has been hard, hasn’t it. Just this afternoon, I was at the grocery store and I’ve seen a car there recently with New York State license plates – my home state, but i have no idea who the car belonged to. Today, I saw the guy getting out of the car and I stopped him and we talked for a couple of minutes (he recently moved here and works at the store). The blessed relief of having someone to talk with – even if it was for a couple of minutes. Perhaps we can talk again. My mother said to me when I told her, “maybe you can be friends.”

  • Such a cinematic post with that ethereal glow of the bathroom door. One of my favorites from you, Ryan. Thanks for sharing your heart with us. What a blessing.

    My relational longings or yearnings always feel perpetual, no matter the momentary reprieves, and to an extent that’s a good thing; I rarely forget the concept of Eternity and where this story is going. Where true rest resides. But that means life here on the other side of Eternity can be brutal.

    Ugh. Yearn. What a great word.

    • Life this side of Eternity can sure be brutal, brother. Can I just say how much I appreciate all you do and your ministry to us Your Other Brothers. zIt is deeply appreciated…more than I can express adequately.

  • Ryan, you have a gift. You were an answer to my prayers today. I understand this yearning very much as well as the beautiful feeling of “love” you described in your half wakefulness. Both are so powerful, but I must admit, the real love truly does fill me up more than anything else ever has. I think it’s the real love God has for all of us. I hope to have that for everyone someday, but perhaps I’ll have to wait for the next life. I won’t stop trying though!

    Thank you for taking the time to do this. It truly is the work of God you’re doing and I couldn’t be more grateful. Also, I LOVE the great divorce :).

    Have a great one, brother, thank you for being a disciple of Christ.

  • Ryan, you have a gift. You were an answer to my prayers today. I understand this yearning very much as well as the beautiful feeling of “love” you described in your half wakefulness. Both are so powerful, but I must admit, the real love truly does fill me up more than anything else ever has. I think it’s the real love God has for all of us. I hope to have that for everyone someday, but perhaps I’ll have to wait for the next life. I won’t stop trying though!

    Thank you for taking the time to do this. It truly is the work of God you’re doing and I couldn’t be more grateful. Also, I LOVE the great divorce :).

    Have a great one, brother, thank you for being a disciple of Christ.

  • Yes, I had a similar experience.
    In secondary school I got a classmate I had had as a classmate in music school when we were both maybe 6, 7 years old at most.
    Of course at that age I did not know I was gay but I remember feeling something special for him.
    And then, suddenly years later he was in my class in secondary school!
    I hadn’t come out yet, but that same year I came out. Not long before we would have a sleepover, he and I. We were 15 back then.
    I supposed he wouldn’t come to my house anymore for the sleepover and I was sure he certainly would not sleep in the same bedroom as mine.
    But BIG surprise, it was no problem for him at all. He was straight, but it did not bother him. Next morning, when we woke up, I said jokingly that I -as he was straight- regretted not being able to see him fully naked. During one second he dropped his pants but the other second it was up again.
    Later, during the summer holidays, we had a very lovely time together, travelling by train and visiting cities.
    And one day, he wanted a Playboy magazine…but he did not have the courage to go and buy it. So I did for him. I can’t believe they even sold it to me, a 15-year-old boy. Maybe now that would be impossible, but in the nineties in the Netherlands, it was possible.
    Never everything happened between him and me, but how happy I felt knowing him and being with him, even while he was straight. And like the author, I never felt sad because never anything would happen. The pure love was all fulfilling.

  • Hey Ryan, it’s Mack again. Long time, no see. I enjoyed reading your post and can certainly relate to a yearning for men. If you ever heard the condensed version of my childhood, I would tell you about the many older men that came into my life only briefly. I believe I came to realize early on my father was not going to be involved with my upbringing as I hoped. He tended to focus his attention on being a family provider. This caused me to seek out other males to help mold me into manhood. Sadly, if a older male, whether he was an older teenager or a full grown man, did come into my life, he didn’t stay long enough to make a positive impact with me. Now that I’m older, a male role model is no longer desired. Although, I guess a life coach would still be welcomed. Alternatively, I would prefer a social circle of men to be a part of as a means of emotional support and socializing. My former guy friends have either moved away from me or have gotten married. While everyone else is just way too physically distant. If circumstances were better I would feel more whole, but this is my reality.

  • 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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