Caution: the following essay contains strong sexual themes that may be too personal for some readers.
When my partner, Luke, and I got comfortable with having an open relationship, we decided to experiment with getting on the gay apps. We still didn’t want to be the kind of couple who was banging everyone in town. Not that there’s anything wrong with banging everyone in town. Some of my best friends bang everyone in town. But we just wanted to make sure it didn’t become a runaway train - in a few different respects.
Luke got on first and his train certainly seemed to stay on the tracks (if you know what I mean… which, if you do, is good… cuz I don't). He was having fun talking with lots of guys and occasionally having his allotted hookup. I’m not sure why I waited to join the apps. But once Luke showed me the various men (and occasional friends) he chatted with, I instantly came down with a severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and had to join.
It quickly became clear why all of my friends had all been so addicted to these things. In a major city, your options quadruple and sometimes they can even be delivered to your door in thirty minutes or less - just like pizza. But also like pizza, I would just kind of be filled with regret afterwards, no matter how greasy and fun it got.
I don't find anything wrong with hooking up from apps. But the more I did it, the more I learned it wasn’t for me. It made sex feel like doing errands. First, I’m gonna go to the gym. Then I gotta pick up the dry-cleaning and then go fuck this guy. After that I’ll pick up the dog’s medicine, get some groceries and I’ll be home.
After a year’s time, I finally declared myself as one of THOSE guys who states, in their app profile, that they DON’T do hookups. This, of course, would annoy most people. However, when a guy struck up a decent conversation, I could tell it was genuine and that we could possibly bang on our own chemistry rather than just out of necessity.
This very thing happened with a guy named Craig, whose profile named also happened to be “Craig.” I wondered if this meant that he lacked any sense of creativity and therefore wouldn’t be all that interesting. But either way, this tall, hairy guy had a dashing mix of being an otter, nerdy cute, and classically handsome all at the same time. In all honesty, I probably would have foregone my need for a good conversation first.
Apparently, we had met once before. A mutual friend introduced us when we all accidentally ran into each other at the naked hiking spot I love so dearly. But somehow, I had no recollection of this. As much as I love it when guys don’t remember getting naked with me, I didn’t want to give Craig that same feeling, so I pretended to remember that moment too.
After a month or so of chatting, we finally met up at a sushi place near his house. Our conversations flowed effortlessly and we made each other laugh a ton. One of the sushi dishes came out with a strobe-light centerpiece and for the first time in my life, I took a picture (or a video rather) of food and posted it to social media. It would also be the last.
He invited me back to his place to keep hanging out. His dog absolutely hated me, but we had a shared love for music videos and, thus, we stayed up into the wee hours showing off our favorites. Finally, we capped off the evening with some banging sex.
At least I think it was banging. I couldn’t tell. I had been enjoying the night so much and he was so freakin’ cute that I suddenly got all self-conscious. Once I got inside my head, I started getting worried that I may not stay hard. I think this is what they meant by “twitterpated” in the classic children’s movie “Bambie.”
Craig and I continued to hang out and have sex, and while I successfully stayed hard each time, I continued to overthink it and would give slightly mediocre performances in the sack. It was then that I caught myself having a crush on Craig. It was more of a small, schoolboy crush really… like the time I had a crush on the gym teacher in middle school… or the time I had a crush on my high school science teacher… and then the time I had a crush on my first writing professor. OK. Apparently, I had a thing for teachers. But the point is that these were loose feelings based in fantasy - nothing concrete in reality.
So, no part of me wanted to suddenly leave Luke and run away with Craig. Luke was ultimately the only one I wanted to be with. So, nothing would ever happen with this little crush. And that was totally fine. As long as Craig and I could make a little bacon on the regular, I’d be more than happy with the situation.
But after a few weeks of our trademarked, slightly awkward action, the sexy part of our friendship quickly got canned by Craig. Without any real explanation, things felt more confusing than ever. A couple times, I tried bringing it up, but the vague answers wouldn’t clarify much of anything. Finally, I had come to the realization that I had been “friend zoned.”
This was kind of weird seeing as how we would have actually only ever remained friends anyway. Though it just goes to show that being friend zoned can come in many different forms. This was the version where we became friends who didn’t have sex and I felt rather disappointed about it for several months afterwards.
But in time, a new kind of friendship began to emerge between Craig and me. Sure, we didn’t get it on, but we started to confide in each other on some seriously deep levels. We told each other things that we admittedly didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone else. And we gave some of the best and most genuine critical feedback I ever had with anyone.
I helped walk Craig through the times when his new and exciting relationship got a little rocky. He helped me when my steady and long term relationship got a little frustrating. And it occurred to me that it was years since I had a good friend like this (probably because I kept having sex with them).
I realized that getting friend zoned by Craig was quite possibly the best thing that could have ever happened. He and I genuinely did fall in love with each other, but in the most non-romantic of ways. It was exactly the kind of friendship that could only be described by the intro song of “The Golden Girls.” And it was absolutely worth NOT having sex for.
More recently, Craig had his own experience with a friend-zoner. As usual, I had the pleasure of getting to be there for him and help him make sense of it - especially as a now experienced friend-zonee. Like mine, his disappointment would eventually turn into gratitude, and it had us both talking about this odd aspect of life.
As Craig put it, getting friend zoned feels like getting dumped by somebody you aren’t even dating. It’s a unique kind of heartbreak that causes a unique kind of anxiety. Who are we now that we aren’t fucking? Are we even still friends? As disheartening as getting friend zoned is, we’ve come to understand that it’s not necessarily a bad thing - especially when it paves the way for a better friendship.
“I think it’s just a nature of navigating relationships as gay men and finding our chosen families. We lead with our dicks and then either our brain or heart kicks in,“ Craig said. “When I think about it, nearly every single one of my closest gay friendships is with a guy I’ve either friend zoned or been friend zoned by.”
Even before I learned this value of getting friend zoned, I felt a similar sentiment. Some gay men act appalled at those who regularly start off friendships with sex. But when you think about it, it’s a luxury that straight people don’t get to so easily have.
When a straight friend of mine went through his divorce, he was having a legitimately tough time making friends. He said, “I don’t understand it. How are you so good at making friends?”
“Well, it’s different in Gay World,” I told him. “In Gay World, we all just wanna fuck each other.”
I meant it to be a crass joke. But, in all seriousness, it felt like a bit of truth sat in there. Even when things start out on a superficial level, it’s kind of cool that it can lend itself to something deeper that’s not necessarily romantic. Sure, there are those guys who then just end up with a group of friends who look like themselves (icky). But aside from that, is this really all that bad?
Not to get all meta about it, but if Craig hadn’t have friend zoned me, The Bare InkSlinger probably wouldn’t even exist. As it turned out, he does have a creative side that extends beyond his in inability to come up with a screen name other than just his first name. Because of his experience in branding and marketing (his website linked), he was able to help me take all my brain goo and create a truly interesting concept around my writing. He even pushed me to take the bold step of getting naked on here (feel free to send him thank you letters).
If we had kept fucking, we probably would have butterfly-effected our way into a situation where that wouldn't have been possible. So, while getting friend zoned felt like I was somehow falling short, it was actually because Craig sensed the opportunity for so much more. And in the end, that felt way better than sex.
To this day, Craig swears that our sex really wasn’t awkward and that I gave a fine performance in the sack. But like the best of friends sometimes do, he might just be telling me what I need to hear. None of that matters anyway. It’s truly in the past. All that matters now is the cool thing that came from it. So my dear Craig, as the classic song goes… “Thank you for being a friend (and not a friend with benefits).”
Edited by Glen Trupp
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