This continues my “Cuddle Chronicles” series, featuring insights gained and lessons learned from certain 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,” Part 4, “The First Guy Who Ever Crossed Physical Boundaries With Me,” and Part 5, “The First Time I Downloaded a Gay Dating App.”
After years of yearning for male touch, I had found ample outlets for it and grown quite comfortable with it: hugs, shoulder rubs, even cuddling. To a degree.
I met another gay/SSA guy, Steven, and we hit it off pretty quickly. I also started befriending his straight roommate, Sean. The three of us shared meals, played board games, and watched movies together.
I always looked forward to hanging out at Steven and Sean’s house, enjoying time spent with both guys. Sometimes I’d spend the night or even an entire weekend over there.
Steven was my dominant friendship in the house. I’d have never gone there just to hang out with Sean. Even though Steven and I were quite comfortable with touch, whenever the three of us hung out I was always mindful not to be too touchy-feely with Steven.
He was far less mindful, though.
Sean knew about his roommate’s sexuality, and by extension knew about mine too. He seemed totally cool with everything, and I actually envied their roommateship.
I couldn’t imagine such a bond with any straight guy, let alone one who sleeps down the hall from me and shares the same bathroom and accepts my gay friends coming over any time.
The three of us watched a movie in their living room one night, Steven and I on the couch and Sean in a chair facing the TV away from the couch. Early into the movie, Steven scooted closer to me and even leaned his head on my shoulder.
My inner alarms started whirring, whistling, whatever else alarms do. My thoughts raged:
What was Steven doing?!
How could he touch me like this with his roommate in the room?
What would Sean say if he just turned his head fifteen degrees our direction?
I greatly enjoyed hugs and other touch privately exchanged with Steven, but this “couch incident” first made me realize that PDA (public displays of affection) freaks me out, makes me grossly uncomfortable, whether I’m witnessing it in other people — straight or gay, romantic or platonic — or participating in it myself.
Physical intimacy felt reserved for two people and two people alone — be it sex, kissing, or cuddling. Through trial-and-error, I’d learned to enjoy cuddling with another guy on a couch — but never for any sort of audience. Even for a straight guy who seemed completely accepting of our friendship.
My hyperactive brain just couldn’t shake this question of how I’d be perceived if I touched another guy a certain way. Looking back, I wonder how much of this worry was warranted — wise, mature — and how much was needless.
I hated the thought of being seen as a sort of cuddling deviant, someone who recklessly “pushed the line” of physical boundaries as far as he could. I’d already gone over the edge once. I didn’t want anyone on the outside assuming the worst in my actions.
I also hated being seen as a sort of cuddling czar, a guy who cuddled with this guy on a couch, but not that one over there. This czar perception became especially problematic in later years whenever I’d gather in groups of gay/SSA guys, each with varying levels of closeness with one another. I figured if I touched one man a certain way, wouldn’t others in the room expect me to touch them that way too, assuming they also enjoyed physical touch? (Which, way more often than not, they did.)
To be frank, though, I didn’t want certain guys touching me. And I didn’t want to put the expectation out there that because I liked physical touch, because I liked cuddling, I’d touch or cuddle with any man in the room.
Instead, I’d rather touch or cuddle with nobody in the room.
In one such group setting, a couple guys were cuddling apart from the others, the PDA raging, and I got so annoyed. It felt like they were flaunting. Like they were blind to anyone else even existing in the universe or the neighboring room.
But if I’m honest? I felt jealous, too. Jealous of not receiving such touch from one of those guys, and jealous of their shared . . . self-confidence? Unashamedness?
If PDA could just stay behind closed doors, all those paralyzing questions of perception would disappear. Everything would just be less awkward.
Or, again, maybe my brain just overthinks these things. Or maybe I’m just insecure.
Getting back to the couch incident — I shied away from Steven’s touch during that movie with Sean. I shifted positions on the couch, even got up to use the bathroom when I didn’t have to go, coming back to sit six inches further from his body.
Another night, Steven and I were alone in the living room, sitting on that same couch with the lights off — a detail that now presents an obvious red flag, but something I just didn’t have the experience for at the time.
As touchy-feely as he was and we were, Steven and I had never been inappropriate. Even with the lights off, I felt confident that boundaries wouldn’t ever be crossed. But something about cuddling in the dark presents this needless veil, this perception of impropriety. Particularly if someone else is in the house.
If we were gonna cuddle safely in the dark, why not just cuddle safely in the light? Open the veil, so to speak?
We were lying down next to each other, my head on his chest, or his head on mine, I forget. Everything was quiet. Nobody else was in the room. But it wouldn’t stay that way.
Sean’s door clicked open down the hall, and my heart dropped. I thought he’d gone to bed. There was no time to sit up, change positions, anything. Even if I were to scramble or jolt upward, Sean would notice and most certainly assume something illicit had been happening, even though nothing was.
Everything happened in slow and fast motion as Sean entered the kitchen and opened the fridge, light streaming into the living room. I lay still with Steven, waiting; he didn’t flinch. Wasn’t he dying with stress too? My heart pounded. Sean clearly saw us; even in the dark, we’d be hard to miss. The fridge light certainly didn’t help.
But Sean never said a word. Just grabbed his drink and returned to his bedroom, his door clicking shut down the hall. My heart settled back into my chest. For now.
I’m sure Steven could have kept cuddling all night, but after that little “episode” I was done, ready for him to get off me, ready to go to bed, ready to go home. Ready to turn off my always on and overthinking brain.
The next morning I said goodbye to both Steven and Sean. I shook Sean’s hand and turned my gaze away; to his credit, he acted totally normal with me. I was the awkward one assuming he’d be awkward the next morning. Or maybe he put on a good performance? (Look, there I am overthinking again.)
I couldn’t shake this new, gnawing feeling that all this touch, this cuddling — something that used to fill the lonely chasms in me was now being more and more shrouded in a darkness that sapped me of the life it once gave.
Cuddling was intense. Rushes of energy to the brain and heart and crotch, all at once and in constant waves. Endorphins overload, like an overcharged battery. I used to never dream of such physical intimacy with another man, platonic or otherwise, and now it was happening over and over with multiple men.
My heart kept hungering for this touch, my soul obsessing evermore for it. And then whenever I did get it, I wanted even more of it.
There was never enough touch. Never enough cuddling. The bucket was either empty or overflowing into the moldy floorboards.
This obsession would eventually reach its fever pitch with another friend: the first guy I ever fell in love with.
Have you experienced shame or insecurity cuddling with another guy or sharing in another form of touch? Have you ever been caught in a compromising situation?