The dilemma I am a 30-year-old man and I had, until last year, identified as a straight man. One night, after an office dinner party, I went to my colleague’s flat. We were good mates then, but nothing more. We are both architects and I went to see some of his latest work. He offered me a drink and we ended up getting drunk. He is slightly older and also identifies as heterosexual. (He is really good looking but, mysteriously, has been single for many years.) We drank too much and kissed. We were embarrassed, but for the past year we have regularly met and kissed, but he doesn’t go beyond a certain point physically. I know I love him dearly. He loves me, too, he says, but as a brother/best friend, not as a partner. Recently, he has stopped kissing me on the lips, but we sleep in the same bed and cuddle. I am confused. Is he straight, is he gay/bisexual and, more importantly, should I have any hope of finding romantic love with him? It’s frustrating and confusing. I don’t want to beg him to do more if he doesn’t feel comfortable and at the same time it would hurt to walk away from this man (and hurt my career if I left my job).
Mariella replies What a conundrum. Whether you two are gay or straight, bi or just having fun, you should probably stop kissing for long enough to have a conversation about what’s happening between you. I don’t often look to Meat Loaf for inspiration, but “you took the words right out of my mouth, it must have been while you were kissing me,” strikes a chord here. You really need to talk!
A surprise encounter appears to have evolved into a regular habit, but with so much secrecy, embarrassment and confusion it’s impossible to gauge what the relationship is all about. For two grown men to be playing out an affair like a pair of adolescent virgins would be fine if that’s what you were mutually set on. In your case, however, neither of you appears to have faced up to where it might lead. This tryst that dare not speak its name feels positively 19th century and your mysterious, good-looking, serially single and emotionally buttoned-up colleague positively Darcyesque.
There’s nothing we masochistic human beings relish more than the endorsement of our own shortcomings and your lover, if we can call him that, seems to be doing an excellent job of that for you. Are you the right sex, are you sexy, are you brothers-in-arms or just good for a placatory cuddle? There must be a veritable babel of questions bubbling around your brain.
A liaison with a fellow adult involving this degree of guesswork about sexual orientation is definitely not an example of mature romancing. For something more meaningful to develop between you, having some sense of your lover’s hopes and dreams, desires and romantic ambitions is the baseline – and you’re not standing anywhere close to it as far as I can tell. Instead you’re asking me questions about the sexual predilections of a man you’ve been sharing intimate moments with for the last year. You don’t need me to tell you that there’s something not quite right.
Entertain the possibility that your sexuality is more fluid than you thought
The place to start working that out isn’t by second guessing what your colleague is after, but by taking a long, searing search into your own motives and desires. A drunken kiss is easy to explain away, but a year of unrequited sleepovers rather less so. You’ve both entered this union defining yourselves as heterosexual, so are equally guilty of delusions. These are enlightened times and, as any liberal teenager will tell you, there are at least 30 variations on our gender proclivities – though I’m clearly lacking imagination as I’d be hard-pressed to name more than a handful.
My point is there is no pressing need to define your sexuality, but entertaining the possibility that it’s more fluid than you thought is a good starting point. Boxing yourself into the “straight man” category seems a stable door from which you’ve already bolted. Your lover isn’t the only one who doesn’t seem to know what he wants or who he is. Why are you so concerned with this man’s feelings and sexual preferences while in the dark about your own?
We are lucky to live in enlightened times, in a part of the world where the climate for self expression has never been more welcoming. It’s a shame to squander those advances by embarking on the sort of furtive relationship that societal censure and even the law made inevitable a century ago.
You’ve shared intimacies with a man and found that you enjoyed it. At best your current situation suggests you have stalled and at worst that this potential “lover” is stepping back from further emotional or physical exploration. My advice would be to look for a relationship where you can better be yourself, not one where you’re constantly trying to establish who it is you’re dating. This man may have opened a door for you, but I’m not sure the relationship has much further to travel. Your future happiness may rely on you walking past him and out into pastures new and unprecedented.