This continues my “Cuddle Chronicles” series, featuring insights gained and lessons learned from forays into physical touch with other men. Check out Part 1, “The First Guy I Ever Cuddled With”, Part 2, “The First Guy I Ever Slept With,” Part 3, “The First Guy I Ever Crossed Physical Boundaries With,” and Part 4, “The First Guy Who Ever Crossed Physical Boundaries With Me.”

At first glance, this post feels out of place amongst all the others in this series: no footsie; no sharing beds; no physical touch that eeked beyond the boundaries of black-and-white into the lingering, questionable grey of previous installments.

But even though no actual touch occurs in this particular chapter of my life doesn’t mean my heart didn’t still hunger, even starve for it. How I attempted to satisfy my touch-starvation was more than a little illicit.

I had tasted all these new intense bursts of touch in recent years, perhaps some healthy and others not so much, and during one isolating season I was desperate to share the warmth of masculine flesh again. I was having trouble making friends with other men, though . . . so where did I turn?

To an app — yes, that one. We don’t like to name specific outlets for temptation on our blog, so let’s call this particular app Fluffy. Fluffy is a popular gay men’s dating app — or maybe “dating” is a more appropriate way to describe it?

To be clear, I wasn’t looking to start dating men. I had heard about Fluffy for years, with never so much a thought, let alone an inclination ever to download it.

But I was lonely. A loneliness unlike anything I’d felt in middle school or college. There’s a difference between feeling lonely before you ever experience intimacy with other men, and then the loneliness that follows.

I’d tasted of this new intimacy. And all I wanted was to keep tasting. Life felt meaningless without physical touch.

I felt like a body-turned-ghost floating from work to church to home life. Invisible to others’ sight, certainly to their touch. How I longed for deep friendship again. Someone with whom to talk (and touch) regularly. Ideally another Christian guy.

Surely some guys must use this particular dating app just to find friends?

I didn’t have any intention to meet up with anyone from Fluffy. That felt scary, a bit much. Conversations would be enough for now. A little spark to my days. I just wanted to connect with someone —

— and yeah, if I’m honest, maybe a little shared flirtation would feel nice too. As long as what happened on Fluffy stayed on Fluffy, of course.

I downloaded the app — I’d finally caved — but I didn’t fill out my profile right away. I scrolled around to get the lay of the land and saw so many guys searching for sexual encounters, digital or otherwise. I immediately felt the stab of disconnect. Didn’t anyone want to talk? Wasn’t anyone on this app normal?

I figured I needed a complete profile, including a picture, to attract anyone who wasn’t a sex-crazed torso’s attention. What was even the point of having the app if I didn’t fill out my profile?

So, I did. Sorta.

I said I was bi, even though I wasn’t; I didn’t want to come across as strictly “gay.”

I wanted to come across as someone attracted to both sexes, someone who enjoyed human connection beyond merely the sexual.

Oh, and another little lie: I uploaded someone else’s picture for my profile. Someone I deemed attractive. Someone I would want to connect with.

Looking back, I wince at what I did. It’s such a gross thing to do — using someone else’s face and body for my benefit. But I couldn’t bear to put my own face or body on that app. I felt I had no other choice if I wanted to “connect” on there.

It was the first time I wore a mask online; sadly, it wouldn’t be the last in my raving search for intimacy.

I started getting messages from other users, many of the stereotypically sexually charged variety. I had no interest; it was maybe the first time I realized I’m not “gay” like other guys are “gay.” I didn’t want sex with men, I’ve never wanted sex with men. Certainly not with a stranger.

I wanted to collide masculine hearts and souls infinitely more than sexual organs.

A couple guys started messaging me in the days to come, and I built a witty rapport with them. Finally, I thought. Guys on this app who actually have personalities and aren’t just faceless horndogs.

Ironic, since I was definitely just as faceless as those horndogs, only using another person’s face.

I talked often with my new “friends,” checking my phone constantly throughout the work day, eager to fill the silence and starvation with another man who could just be there for me. Someone to listen to me be bored at work, someone to respond back, someone to tell he looks cute, someone to hear I look cute too.

It was comforting. It was safe. Hiding behind my phone, hiding behind someone else’s cute face. No risk.

Until that one time I was at Starbucks. You see, Fluffy has a geolocation feature that alerts you how many miles — or less — you are currently away from another user. Every time I chatted with people, they were always ten or twenty or thirty miles away. They might as well have been on the other side of the world, far enough away to be a modern day pen pal.

But then someone I’d been talking with messaged me while I was at this Starbucks:

“Are you at the grocery store too??”

My heart dropped; the app said he was 300 yards away. I looked out the window to the grocery store across the parking lot.

I panicked. Logged out of the app and turned off my phone. Would that erase my location? Would I still show up that close to him? Would he find me? Could he, since I wasn’t even using my real picture?

I just pictured this guy coming into the Starbucks, holding out his phone like a gay metal detector as he stepped closer and closer toward me. The real me.

I deleted the app not too long after that. Those boredom-filling, often flirtatious conversations could never actually go anywhere — a gigantic relational nothingburger if ever there was one to be eaten. And my touch-starvation remained.

I’d bounced between two extremes in recent years: gorging on wildfires of touch with other male friends and then starving many long cold months without.

Friendships with men constantly felt like all or nothing: either I had a best friend with whom to cuddle on a couch, or hug for minutes at a time, or share a bed all night, or I had nothing — nobody — at all.

I had no relational contentment with any of my friends, close or casual, local or Internet-based, in between those rare romps.

Physical intimacy became my obsession, and I lived in search of the next fiery touch. Passing handshakes or fistbumps or half-second hugs weren’t nearly enough.

I wanted more. I needed more.

After too many years of isolation, I felt I deserved more.

Have you struggled with gay dating apps? How do you handle isolation or lack of physical touch? If you’re a physical touch person, do you struggle to find contentment in friendships void of much touch?

  • Thank you for sharing this Tom. I love hearing your stories. You are a talented writer.

    I’ve never downloaded a gay dating app but can definitely relate with the inner ache/desire/longing/emptiness/throb to be touched/held/understood/embraced/known/accepted/loved by another man and similarly have been tempted to move beyond physical touch boundaries I normally would uphold.

    For me after going on a walk with a friend and telling him everything on my mind and feeling understood and him giving me a hug afterwards – that feeling does go away. It also goes away after going mountain biking with a friend, going skiing, spending the weekend backpacking with a few other dads and our sons or a good talk on the phone. I guess what I’m trying to say is that for me the need can be satiated in healthy ways. I have found that I need to be proactive about it and also need to recognize there will be tough times when I can’t get it from others and need to have a plan for when it hits.

    Curious as you connect in genuine real ways with other guys, do you feel that need gets met and you don’t have the emptiness/longing for physical touch like you do at other times?

    There have been periods of time when I felt like I needed to connect daily with a friend either in person or on the phone to get me by and with time the need is getting better and not as strong. I can also see those periods of need parallel period of time when I had more anxiety, more turmoil in my marriage, trouble at work, or inner stress with who I am – it seems that need is greater depending on other things going on in my world. I’ve also noticed it is worse when I’m really tired or hungry.

    Jesus was physically close to other men in appropriate ways and I still believe there are things in our culture that need to change.

    My counselor wrote an essay for our church a few weeks ago about balancing the tension of love and truth in LGBTQ conversations and I especially appreciated a paragraph challenging the body of Christ to meet the needs of those who have deep and unmet needs. Your post reminds me of a line from it. He said: “I’ve had more than a handful of clients express some variation of the sentiment that it’s easier to connect sexually and anonymously with someone from an app than it is to get a real hug or any real understanding and connection from fellow believers.” As a man who has also experiences SSA, he goes on to say that, “This is at least as much our failure as it is theirs.”

    I don’t remember the statistics from your podcast on love languages. But it does seem like for a lot of guys with or without SSA, physical touch is high up there. Its part of being a guy but also part of being a human being.

    Here is a quote from David Richo I want to share with you:

    “Becoming an adult does not erase or cancel our fundamental needs. We all feel a need to be held at times, no matter what our age. This comes from an instinct for personal validation. We are always on the lookout for the mirroring and holding that may have been inadequate or missing in early life. When someone loves us, cares about us, and respects us, that person’s body becomes a resource for repair of the neglect or abuse in our past…If we can get past the inhibiting fear, we may open ourselves to the touch of others, however limited, and find it holds a healing power.”

    • Tom, I don’t know what to say. The fear associated with obsessing over male closeness has also paralyzed me and continues to. I keep thinking of Jesus as bridegroom and how we will end up ultimately in his arms. How he will do this when he’s got billions of us, I don’t know. But I do know it will be amazing and I long for that day.

      • Indeed, I share in that longing. Such a fine balance in navigating our need for same-sex connection and also the obsession over it all. That balance gets more and more intensified the deeper I get into this series.

    • What a wonderful post, Mark! So many great things shared and I have found myself reading it several times. You shared a lot of wisdom, brother! thank you.

    • Aw thanks for the kind words, Mark. Big fan of your name! I strongly resonate with your walk-with-a-friend story. I’ve had that exact scenario happen, and it’s one of life’s simplest, most profound treasures. I certainly feel less tempted or more “filled” whenever I spend meaningful time with other men; sometimes, though, I feel the despair of connections that don’t last, or don’t last as long as I’d like in an ideal world. So it can be a double-edged sword depending how I look at things.

  • Wow, such vulnerability! I’ve never downloaded an app like that myself, never have had any temptation to. I don’t know if going to nudist social network sites counts, but I guess its similar. They had similar problems too, just wanting intimacy and friendship but only finding sex crazed lunatics. It does strike me just how shallow and crude people are like that in such online spaces. It doesn’t even sexually tempt me, just makes me go “wow and I thought I was messed up.”

    It is funny how we live in a world where you can get sex any time you want and yet just a simple friendship, hugs, and intimacy are rarer than gold.

    • I know right? Sex ever at the ready but healthy intimacy, a rare jewel. Makes me grateful whenever I encounter the real deal, inside our community and out. Such a precious thing in this age!

  • I appreciated your post and being vulnerable, Tom! I don’t have a smartphone or anything like that, so downloading any kind of app is foreign to me.

    Since I grew up in a very formal home without physical touch, I guess for me it’s all I have ever known. And, quite frankly, in today’s world, it’s kinda scary for me…I wish it wasn’t such. I sometimes get a little jealous of a pet – they thrive on physical touch and can’t seem to get enough.

    At this point in life, I would just be happy to have a friend to talk with on the phone on a regular basis. That would mean so much, as I am not able to get out a lot. It’s been soooooooooo long since I had a meaningful conversation with anyone besides just a hello or talking about a subject like the weather.

    • Count yourself blessed to be in a world without smart phones! I have a feeling we may all “revert” to those simpler flip phone times in the years to come. I wonder how much “connection” we really need on our devices, and how much we’re actually sacrificing in the name of more of it.

  • 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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