This continues my “Cuddle Chronicles” series. Check out Part 1, “The First Guy I Ever Cuddled With”, Part 2, “The First Guy I Ever Slept With” and Part 3, “The First Guy I Ever Crossed Physical Boundaries With.” This story reverses the roles from Part 3 as I found myself getting taken advantage of and struggling to say no. Possible content warning for abuse.

I’ve been blessed in many ways with my sexuality. I resonate with many of the blessings that Eugene has written about, and Dean, too.

But to make things a bit more specific to me, as someone who’s never had sex, someone not wired to want sex, and someone who simply doesn’t have the same level of sexual temptation that other guys have — gay or straight — I feel like my particular sexuality has protected me from significant pitfalls over the years.

Despite how “different” this makes me feel within the YOB community or greater “Side B” circles, I’m deeply grateful for my sexuality in this regard. But while I’ve felt fairly “protected” against the act of gay sex, that doesn’t mean other pitfalls haven’t been waiting for me. Gotten me.

Whenever you enter into relationships, you must also welcome the risk of being hurt — somehow. This is unavoidable; this is the nature of any relationship.

The nature of friendship. The nature of dating. The nature of marriage. The nature of love.

Without the risk of pain, there is no love.

I met Brett during a season in which I was especially desperate for friends. Male friends, any friends. I was about ready to give up and self-isolate for the foreseeable future. I’m not exaggerating when I say he truly waltzed into my life at the 11th hour. We hit it off pretty quickly.

Brett was also attracted to men, also a Jesus-follower, and this duality made it so much easier to relate with him than most. I’m sure many folks reading can relate. When you combine your greatest joy with your greatest struggle, you can get an explosive cocktail for intimacy. Never mind our complementary Enneagram profiles which also lent to a fiery combination.

He was an extrovert, myself an introvert. When we got along good, we got along great. And when we didn’t get along good, we really didn’t get along great.

Brett was already building a strong friendship with another person while just starting to build one with me, and as I took baby steps in friendship with this other person, the three of us started talking about getting a house together. I felt like a third wheel, of sorts, but also honored to be included in those late night coffee shop conversations.

What a potent thing, even to sniff the faint scents of belonging wherever belonging manifests. To follow that trail until the scent dies.

Things with the three of us felt like they could indeed be progressing toward that shared living space — until it became blazingly clear that reality wasn’t to be.

Brett and his friend started arguing about everything: relationships with other friends, expressions of platonic love, identity, the past, the present, the future. Brett shared some things with me at first, but then he stopped sharing. And I didn’t dare ask. I could sense the tenseness in the air, and I just kept burying my head in the sand, hoping for the gusts to finish blowing.

I still remember this scene so clearly: the three of us in my living room putting up Christmas decorations. Music playing, conversation happening, bonding like old times. Everything seemed fine. Like the breeze had finally passed.

But then everything wasn’t fine. The two of them started arguing again, and I dangled an ornament from the miniature fake tree with held breath.

“I’m going to be sick,” the other friend said, storming from the house.

Brett pursued. I slowly let out my breath as I finished the decorations and retreated to my room. My window overlooked the street, and I could see the two of them on the sidewalk, their voices escalating.

I was curious what was happening again, but I also wasn’t. I’m a passive person; when it comes to other people’s conflict, I just don’t want to get involved.

Ten, twenty minutes passed. I took off my shirt and crashed onto my bed to read, my usual bedtime ritual. Eventually, I couldn’t hear my friends through the window anymore. I assumed both had walked down the street to their respective cars and gone home.

Until I heard the front door open. Brett staggered into my room, obliterated. His face — I’d never seen him so beaten down.

I wanted to say “how are you doing?” but he fell onto my bed before I could even say anything. He settled his head on my bare chest and wrapped his arms around me.

“Relationships are hard,” he said with a laugh — one of those forced laughs that you laugh rather than let the tremors in your throat lead you to cry and cry and cry.

I held my friend in my bed for a few minutes, and it was a moving moment in our friendship. I told him I was sorry things were so hard. I didn’t know what else to say, so I just said nothing. Sometimes I think silence is good.

But then the silence continued, and continued. And sometimes silence isn’t good.

It was getting late. Well after midnight. I kept glancing at the clock but kept holding Brett as long as he wanted — needed — to be held. It was a mirror image of my post-midnight desperate hug with Brandon, only the roles reversed this time. And with the added twist of a bed instead of a couch.

Then Brett shifted on top of me, and without warning pulled off his shirt, too. “You’re gonna be my cuddle buddy tonight,” he said.

Not, “I could really use a cuddle buddy tonight.”

Not, “Will you be my cuddle buddy tonight?”

Not, “Could you please be my cuddle buddy tonight, please?”

But, “You’re gonna be my cuddle buddy tonight.”

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. Everything went into high speed, my friend’s shirt coming off, the lights going off, and sliding over on my mattress to make room for my friend.

I’d already shared a bed in cuddling with another friend to this point, so on the one hand it wasn’t so far “out there” that I would now share one with Brett. Had this been the first time to share a bed with another gay/SSA guy, perhaps I’d have resisted more. Said something, done something.

Instead, I just let it happen. My friend was hurting, after all. And we’d just shared our most beautiful intimate moment of friendship in the aftermath of a horrible fight. I couldn’t just tell him to get off me, go away, go home, and sleep in his own lonely miserable bed.

I’d never slept shirtless with my other friend Cody, though. We’d cuddled through the night, fully clothed, never touching one another in obviously inappropriate places or ways.

In my bed beside Brett, shirtless, I found it impossible to fall asleep. The physical proximity was intoxicating, the skin-on-skin radiance electrifying my heart and brain like a steady caffeine drip through the night. Sharing such bodily warmth for hours, I didn’t want to miss a second of it to sleep.

Somewhere in the night, the role reversal from cuddling with Brandon completed itself. Lines got blurred and then definitively crossed.

It wasn’t sexual touch, but it was inappropriate touch. It wasn’t welcomed or invited. Brett didn’t ask; he just did. He took.

Just as I took from Brandon, Brett took from me.

And passive, conflict-avoidant me felt crippled to say a word against it.

Brett left early for work the next morning, and I lay there in the gray of my bedroom wondering what had just happened. Physical lines, emotional ones. A mess that didn’t use to occupy this friendship. A beautiful moment that wasn’t beautiful anymore.

It was the first time I’d ever experienced unwanted touch. And to be honest it’s touch that still messes with me to this day. Especially when the topic of cuddling arises. Especially cuddling in the same bed. After dark. After midnight.

Like all the other friends I’ve cuddled with in this blogging series . . . Brett and I are no longer friends. And this fateful cuddling trend would only continue.

Have you experienced unwanted physical touch with someone, even to the point of abuse? How did you recover, or did you? For the benefit of anyone reading, please don’t share graphic specifics; comments are moderated.

  • I’ve so loved hearing your stories and seeing the growth that comes from experience. I’ve had similar experiences growing up and am so glad I’ve found a healthy place for me, where touch is healing and makes me feel more whole and grounded. For me, that’s come with rules and boundaries I’ve set up, as well as learning to become self aware and check in with myself to see how I’m feeling.
    I actually remember a moment with a friend that seemed to blur the boundaries. While nothing actually happened, I remember leaving feeling like I’d done something wrong because I knew it could have happened and I wasn’t in a place to stop it. It was a good lesson for me to make sure I checked in with myself and stayed true to my own boundaries.

    • Rules and boundaries are so, so important. I’ve taken them for granted over the years. Verbalizing what’s okay and what’s not can seem uncomfortable at the time, but that groundwork goes a long way between good friends. Thank you for sharing some of your own story, Garrett. Appreciate the boldness!

  • Tom, thank you for being so vulnerable with these stories you’ve been sharing lately. I feel like they are even more raw than the stories you guys told way back in the beginning with shock value titles. This feels very real and I really appreciate it and I’m positive sooo many side B people have so much they can learn from it

    • Thanks so much, Ashley. I appreciate the love. I hope these uncomfortable stories from personal experience can help someone else who’s either gone through something similar or may one day face something akin to this.

  • Thank you brother. I love how you tell the stories of where I’d someday like to get myself and how once getting there, would need to backtrack and rethink the whole thing. Are there boundaries in love? It all depends what you mean by love. Jesus obviously had loving boundaries. He knew human nature well. It wasn’t always easy to access Jesus in the crowd. But on the day of his greatest love, Good Friday, he was totally naked, totally available.
    And he didn’t demand a payback. Just an acceptance.
    I keep forgetting that love is not just an emotion but a decision. And a decision that counts all the costs. Not one that is sprung on top of you without being able to legitimately say yes or no.

  • 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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