This continues my “Cuddle Chronicles” series. Check out Part 1, “The First Guy I Ever Cuddled With” and Part 2, “The First Guy I Ever Slept With.” This story unfolds my journey with same-sex physical touch as I experienced the crossing of physical boundaries for the first time . . .

After getting my feet wet in the proverbial waters of cuddling with other men, I started feeling more and more comfortable with it. More and more brave. This newfound cuddling felt like a long lost exhale after holding my breath for years without any touch whatsoever with a male friend.

There was still an element of riskiness in this cuddling, of bated breath and incidental arousal, but the last thing I wanted to do with any of my SSA (same-sex attracted) friends was ruin the friendship by crossing that line — whatever that line was.

I figured I’d know the line and avoid the line if I ever saw the line or came close to the line. It just felt so comforting to manifest emotional closeness with physical closeness.

After meeting a local SSA guy, Brandon, we quickly grew close, and I felt more emboldened to lean into more touch with him. Brandon was a phenomenal hugger (not everyone is as gifted, I’ve since learned), and after our first few hangouts I honestly started feeling addicted to his hugs.

I needed his touch every week, if not every day, or even multiple times a day, and I felt increasingly antsy without it. Away from him.

Late one night, I texted him amid my said antsiness and loneliness; to my surprise, he was still awake and even offered to meet up with me. This was well after midnight. I couldn’t believe his willingness, his generosity.

I don’t know that I’d drive across town to meet a friend in his midnight despair. But Brandon was a special kind of friend.

We met up in the dark, and hardly a word was exchanged. I think I may have squeaked out a “hey” before falling into his arms, sinking into them. It felt as if all our other hangouts and hugs were the preamble for this epic one to ensue.

He held me.

And he held me.

And he held me.

For five, ten, twenty minutes, I’d never felt anything like it: safe, secure, seen, and warm.

And I only wanted more of it.

“Wanna sit down?” he said, and then with a chuckle: “My legs are getting kinda tired.”

I agreed, and we sat down — our already long hug growing inconceivably longer. Our arms re-wrapped around each other as we exhaled into each other’s shoulders. As if we’d both found the elixir for our many shared years of loneliness.

Another twenty minutes into this hug that never ends, now seated, and I still needed more. We shifted positions several times, our bodies feeling the strain of our prolonged postures.

Amid all the shifting, I found myself moving my hands to various places on his body. Not to clearly inappropriate areas below the belt. But to “less clear” ones.

I say less clear, but they were also quite clear. My inner voices blared unlike anything I heard while playing footsie with Cody. I knew this was a clear boundary being crossed — a physical boundary, certainly, and undoubtably an emotional boundary the longer this cuddle session in the dark continued.

Unlike Cody’s initiation of footsie with me, I was the one initiating the touch this time. I was the one crossing boundaries. Clear boundaries.

I shouldn’t have touched my friend there. I know it now, and I knew it then. I knew it while it was happening, but I had never before entered that frontier. I couldn’t resist the new trail before me.

I wanted to explore, so I silenced the voices. Pressed forward down the trail.

Brandon didn’t resist or push me away. Our extended touch kept extending. Extending. And extending.

Eventually, at some god-forsaken hour of the night, our cuddling session ended. I went back to my home, and he to his. “Good night,” our simple parting words.

I went to bed feeling fulfilled and iffy.

Like I’d just done a noble thing by reaching out to someone in my loneliness rather than numb myself with porn or masturbation or some other vice.

But also like I’d done an ignoble thing by taking advantage of a friend in his generous offering of love.

Or maybe like I’d second-guessed myself with Cody’s touch . . . maybe the questioned morality of this exploration with Brandon was all just in my head again?

~ ~ ~

The next afternoon, I received a text from Brandon:

We crossed some lines last night. I’ve been crying about it all day. We can’t do that ever again.

My heart sunk. Imploded. A brokenness barreling into me beyond anything I’d ever felt.

I was out with other people when I got his text, and I couldn’t think of anything else the rest of the day. I struggled to put on a straight face with the others, my attention consumed by my friend’s words.

I pictured him crying in his bed when he woke up that morning, or even going to bed crying right after leaving me; knowing I’d hurt him, knowing I’d been the one to cross physical boundaries.

It destroyed me, if I’m honest.

The next day Brandon agreed to meet up with me to talk, and I don’t think a second passed with him before I started bursting with tears. He grabbed a nearby paper towel roll and handed me sheet after sheet as I cried tears and snot into it.

“I’m the worst friend,” I stammered, and he did what he always did best. Love me. Reassure me.

“No, you’re not,” he said. He sat across from me with empathy and patience while I worked every tear and gasp out of my system.

Eventually, the storm ceased. My inner waves settled.

“I’m in a much better place today,” he told me, forgiving me. “We just have to be more careful.”

I nodded. I never wanted anything like that to happen again. With Brandon, with anyone. What an awful feeling to treat another human as an object for my pleasure. To take what I wanted and leave him in ruins.

I wish I could say our friendship thrived beyond that brutally honest check-in. But it was forever altered. He grew more and more distant in the weeks and months that followed, those once frequent, addictive hugs nearly disappearing altogether.

While I was hurt at the time, I also couldn’t fault him for his new distance. I can’t imagine I’d have reacted any differently.

I messed up. Plain and simple. And there are consequences for our decisions. Especially when other people are involved. When physical boundaries and emotional boundaries are crossed and swirled into the tornado of two hearts.

I just wish I’d have learned from my mistake when it came to cuddling with other friends, too.

Have you ever crossed physical boundaries with a friend? Did your friendship survive the lapse in judgment? How do you uphold strong physical and emotional boundaries with your same-sex friends, SSA/gay or otherwise?

    Thomas Mark Zuniga

    I'm a storyteller and story-liver in Asheville, North Carolina - the Jewel of the Blue Ridge. I'm YOB's cofounder and editor, and I also host our bimonthly podcast. I've written a couple books, including a memoir in 2013 where I first came out to the world. Once upon another universe I anonymously blogged about my faith and sexuality under the Xanga username, "twoBeckonings." I'm an INFJ, an Enneagram 4w5, and my spirit animal is the buffalo. My favorite place in the world is the one where coffee and vulnerability meet.

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