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.

Crisis averted.

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?

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    14 Comments
    • Reply Ashley

      27 January 2022, 6:57 pm

      As Ive been reading these I remember all the shame filled talks from youth groups about purity and crossing lines and generic lists of things you should never do without ever being taught to use actual discernment. As queer people we internalize that we should just probably never touch anyone. And because all those talks are so related to them shame they produced in us in feel like in the sexuality conversation we have avoided the topic as a whole. What should we do? What should we not? How do we apply “do unto others” in this situation? How and when should we communicate where we are with a certain situation in our minds and emotions? Being brought on this journey has been beautiful and even healing in a way. It also shows that shedding shame does not mean that you will be okay with everything either or that you should be and I think thats important

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        28 January 2022, 2:28 pm

        Oof, I feel the weight of that statement growing up: never feeling like I should touch another boy, ever. Thank you for putting words to it. Appreciate the love for these stories, Ashley! It’s been tough at times, but ultimately a positive experience for me too. I’ve been clutching these stories tightly for many years now, and it’s been freeing to let them go as they hopefully resonate with others too.

    • Reply Joel

      28 January 2022, 11:04 am

      I agree that cuddling can be dangerous, but also seeing it as shameful is what makes it seem like a sin. Cuddling is very normal, and I know Tom believes this as well, and I think gay/bi guys shouldn’t be afraid of it. It’s a beautiful act that can be perfectly platonic. I mean, didn’t Jesus cuddle with John?

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        28 January 2022, 2:26 pm

        He did indeed! I can’t wait to see how the show The Chosen covers that scene at the Last Supper when they get there haha. They’ve not been afraid to “go there” in many other scenes thus far. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joel. Can definitely resonate with that shame vs. sin tension in cuddling.

    • Reply Mark

      28 January 2022, 3:48 pm

      Thank you for your post TMZ. I appreciate your vulnerability here. Curious if you bless these desires and view them as a need for human connection instead of a sin/shame if that changes things for you? Does it make them less sexual and more just part of being a human with normal needs? I have a good friend that told me his young brother struggles with anxiety. His brother doesn’t experience SSA, but sleeping next to his older brother helped him as a kid to sleep and be more calm. He continues to call his older brother on the phone when he feels anxious and it calms him.

      Also do you ever imagine cuddling with a previous wound (either from a lost of unfilled relationship)? For example, do you imagine in your mind you are cuddling a childhood friend or parent that you feel a loss from? I find myself doing that all the time.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        31 January 2022, 2:26 pm

        Good questions, Mark. I definitely don’t view the need for male touch and emotional closeness as sinful/shameful; however, I have been on a journey these last few years in channeling those needs in appropriate ways. Not necessarily saying that all of these cuddling experiences were the “wrong” way, but it helps having distance to ponder that. I’ve never imagined another person from my life whenever I’ve touched someone else, but I could see how other people might do that.

        • Reply Mark

          31 January 2022, 2:43 pm

          I like your thoughts there. You are a good man and I admire the way you have been mindful of looking into your feelings and allowing space for them. Curious, can you explain how you do that in appropriate ways?

    • Reply Victor

      30 January 2022, 9:22 pm

      Thanks for your vulnerability and honesty.

    • Reply Kaleb

      4 February 2022, 6:21 pm

      Had a similar experience one night while watching a movie with college friends and sitting next to my best friend. I was taken by surprise, but decided not to get awkward and just relax and enjoy the affection I was receiving. Instead, for me it was healing to get that kind of attention. But sometimes his actions did leave me scratching my head. Years later he hinted that he felt he went too far, though in general I never felt that way.

      I have experienced it go too far, though, with a different friend, when it became more than just brotherly affection and crossed over into the danger zone. I initiated it and felt victorious, because when we’d first met he was pretty cold to me and barely talked. That in a few years time we were now at the level of PDA made me feel like a miracle worker! But I was also objectifying and manipulating him. He had a huge argument with his girlfriend and I seized the opportunity to take it to a new level. Very selfish of me. When he came to his senses he pushed me away and it almost destroyed everything. Somehow the friendship was salvaged and we are still close, but the boundaries have been established which should have been there before.

      Drawing from these experiences, I think cuddling can be a totally pure and healing experience which should probably happen more. But you have to be aware of each other’s vulnerabilities and make sure you establish what is going too far.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        7 February 2022, 5:00 pm

        Thanks for sharing a cuddling story of your own, Kaleb. Can relate with much of it with one of my friendships, crossing into that “danger zone” and having the friendship survive or even thrive (at least for a while, until it fell apart). Part of me looks back on most, if not all of my “cuddle chronicles” wishing I’d never even tasted or dabbled in it. And yet I also know I’ve learned a lot about myself through these experiences. You learn by doing, and I’d like to think it sets up any future friendships well, having been through some hard experiences with touch.

    • Reply Adam

      25 March 2022, 4:45 am

      Tom,

      It makes me happy to know that you are getting to experience some affection with other guys. For me its been several months. You are right that cuddling can be truly healing.

      I do think of cuddling in some different ways, and perhaps letting you know what goes through my head in some actual physically affectionate situations. First though, It’s only right that I mention that NOONE, and I do mean NOONE local to me has any clue about my SSA. That is a one way trip I’m not willing to take. People assume I’m straight. I have had girlfriends, but I wish I had more attraction to girls. Maybe I just need to meet the right one. It’s funny, this default assumption of others that I’m completely straight somehow allows me to have more boldness in my interactions with other guys. But lets be honest – most guys are not all that open to touch. This is unfortunate for both them and others.

      I have some physical interaction with some guys because of my University, and part time job. Bittersweet story about to follow. Lets start with Hugh. Hugh is this buff freshman, did sports in HS. A man’s man. And he’s not the most intelligent. And he’s rough around the edges. Me? I’m a smart yet humble beanpole, but still masculine. I do need to put on more muscle, but it doesn’t come easily for me. I’d call myself fit.

      I’d watched Hugh at a distance for a few months at a meeting. The slightly inappropriate things he’d say, the juxtaposition between his physical strength, yet slight lack of confidence that he did his best to hide. Hugh’s faults somehow just made me love him. He was tolerated, and did funny things to lighten the mood at times, but it didn’t seem he was close to others. And I decided to befriend him. I loved him despite the rough edges. But at this point in the story, he barely knew of my existence – might not have even known my name.

      After a meeting had finished, Hugh is on his way out, and in my very nonverbal way get his attention… with a punch to Hugh’s shoulder. When he turns around to see who punched him (It wasn’t that hard, couldn’t have been seen as aggressive), I smile, and say Hey. Hugh smiled back. I introduce myself, and we start to get to know each other.

      No guys, a punch is not the best strategy to make friends with every guy, but it was totally speaking Hugh’s language. We hang out every now and then. a friendship starts to build. I help him with some homework. Over time, we start horsing around, putting each other in headlocks and stuff. And guys, if you don’t see another guy trying to put you in a headlock or trying to wrestle you as LOVE, think about it for a minute: that guy is comfortable enough with you to A, touch you, and B, probably hopes for you to horse around with him too. And if you do, you may just make a very masculine friend.

      Horseplay was how Hugh and I expressed our love for each other. We’d do this in the lobby, and at times we’d be just sitting on the couch and one of us would put our arm around the other’s shoulder. Just because. Cause we’re friends, and we care about each other. And Tom, we’d do this in PUBLIC. Other people in the lobby. And I don’t think many would dare accuse Hugh of being gay. There wasn’t anything gay going on at all. PDA it was. I felt so loved by Hugh when he’d do this sort of physical stuff with me. Sometimes even during a meeting or event, if I was sitting next to Hugh, I’d just put my arm around him. Not that many in our circles did stuff like this either.

      But all good things often come to an end. At some point when Hugh was spending some time with me, he eventually saw some of my flaws. Saw me at low points. In short, he judged me. Judged where I am in life, and kinda judged my career plans. I am NOT my career. I’m a child of God. Hugh still believes in the American Dream. I desire the Kingdom of God most of the time except when I get hurt. Hugh stopped being very affectionate with me, and it still hurts quite a bit. Yeah it’s him being immature. And Hugh has his own share of insecurities and personal problems, some that at times get him into trouble. He needs to be vulnerable with people. And still be loved by them. I’m still willing to love him despite his flaws, but his current strategy is to just try to be “extra tough” and kinda suppress emotions. Hugh probably would heal some of his inner wounds if he’d cry on my shoulder, (or any guys). But he won’t right now.

      Not sure how to proceed. Hugh in some ways sees me as a friend, but not intimate like we used to be. Is our friendship redeemable? He doesn’t have much empathy for me anymore. I couldn’t shut off empathy if I tried. What will happen with our friendship? I don’t know, but I lift it up in prayer, that it one day be restored.

      Maybe it’s a little selfish of me to desire restoration of this friendship. Now I actually care about him, and do want good for him. He’s currently kinda apathetic about me right now. But what I desire of Hugh is the healing, the joy, the love experienced by both of us in the earlier days of our friendship. I’m still willing to fight for Hugh, he’s just not willing to fight for me right now. It’s like he treats me as defective. He doesn’t realize that we all affect each other, and apathy is perhaps worse than hatred. I think apathy might be the opposite of love rather than hate.

      Right now guys, I’m not doing all that great. I don’t have anyone in my life that puts their arm around me with any consistence or frequency. I’m in a dry season. I do have male friends, but they aren’t that close. My prayers for healing don’t seem like they are being answered, and recently my mood has been low. I at times crave physical touch. And though I experience SSA, I have ZERO desire to have sex with a guy (seems like the grossest thing I could ever imagine). But it would heal me in an incredible way for a masculine guy to hold me in his arms until pent up tears start falling, and embrace me until there are no more tears.

      I’d totally do this for a good friend, and perhaps even a new friend too, granted mutual empathy and respect are present and nothing inappropriate/sinful is going on. And Tom, I know it sounds crazy, but platonic, non-romantic affection in public allowed me to give and receive love without shame. I want you to experience this bro. And not just Tom either, but every guy who reads this. I got love for yall. -Adam

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        25 March 2022, 4:06 pm

        Thanks for sharing this personal story, Adam. I’ve felt the ebb and flow of friendship, close and distant and close again, healthier, but different. “Navigating relationships” might as well be another element of our site tagline. It can be challenging, even daunting since they’re always in flux. But this is the nature of relationship, for better or worse. May we always strive to pursue healthy relationships, with men or women, through all of life’s seasons, shared or otherwise.

    • Reply Mac

      22 May 2022, 9:33 pm

      I wouldn’t call it shame, but insecurity is more accurate. In 2018, I traveled out of state for a family reunion. I took a different flight than my parents as I was hoping to do a meetup with another SSA friend who lived locally in the surrounding area. Though text messages, I managed to let him know when my flight landed and what hotel I was staying at. Despite certain reservations (the insecurity) on my part, we opted for him to come by my hotel for a cuddling session. He did and brought some shorts along to change into instead of wearing long pants. He wanted to be comfortable and I understood. When we got into bed, the experience was awkward as this was my first cuddling experience with another guy. Long story short, we twisted, turned and contorted all these angles trying to meld our bodies together. In retrospect, I was wishing Eugene Heffron was there to give us some cuddling coaching tips. Where my personal insecurity came from was whether I was undermining his marriage. Yes, my cuddling buddy was married to a woman and I could recall the guilt 😔 I had for this alleged transgression. Fortunately, we weren’t meeting in secret behind the wife’s back. She was fully aware of where and with whom her husband was with. This helped matters a good deal. I made a subconscious choice and value judgment that I would only be intimately involved with just single guys. The last thing want to find myself as some sort of emotional adulterer who only is looking for some platonic intimacy. But circumstances just didn’t play out like that. Presently, I am still on good terms with this cuddling companion and his wife. I hope to revisit them some day soon.

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