Awkward moments

We are both married men and good friends, but I think he wants to kiss me.

Published July 9, 2004 7:56PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I recently discovered that a good friend of mine is interested in being more than friends. We are both in our 30s, both married men, and both ostensibly "straight." We don't discuss our feelings and personal troubles but we do have a lot in common, and that has always been the center of our relationship. Many hours were spent together watching sports, playing card games and talking about politics or movies.

One day it dawned on me that he wanted our relationship to be sexual. I can be pretty clueless, but once I saw the subtext and tension in the room, it became as apparent as an elephant. Although nothing has been said out loud, I am now not only sure about his desires, but he knows I know. And still nothing has been said.

What he doesn't know is that I don't return these desires. It doesn't surprise me that he would think I might -- he is fairly conservative and I am his most open-minded, liberal, ready-for-anything friend. I am sure in my clueless days I have said numerous things that could be misconstrued, especially if he is embroiled in the fantasy of a "crush." Our time together now feels like a flurry of unspoken hints that he seems to think are going to lead up to a kiss.

I don't know what to do. I am seeing less of him, because it is exhausting to constantly scour my words for accidental double-entendres. It's hard to concentrate on a card game when there is this elephant in the room. I know that if he brought up the subject, verbally or even by making a move, I could explain how I feel and our relationship would get better. His fantasy that we're about to kiss at any moment would be broken, but our time together could be more comfortable. I have no fear whatsoever about having the conversation with him.

I am very afraid that if I am the one to bring it up, he will deny it. No matter how obvious or rampant his hints are, they always contain plenty of room for deniability. I don't want to get into a conversation where I am listing things he's said or done, and he's telling me that they don't mean sex when we both know they do. Then our friendship would develop an even more unpleasant tension, based on falsehoods and denial, and I would fear our relationship may not recover.

Is there a way I can get him to bring it up so we can have an open conversation?

Sick of the Elephant

Dear Sick of the Elephant,

What an interesting problem. I have some ideas how such a conversation might arise, but it's sticky, isn't it?

The main problem seems to be that you think if he claims he does not want to kiss you, you will then have to argue with him to prove your point. That would only be the case if, rather than inquiring in a relatively neutral way, you instead asserted it as though you knew it to be true. You do not know it to be true. You only believe it. So you do not have to assert anything. You do not have to argue a position. You merely need to ask a question and try to hear an answer.

So why not simply tell him what you have observed and ask him to clarify whether what you have observed is indeed as it seems? In other words, say something like, "I know this may sound silly or foolish, and I don't mean to be taken the wrong way, but sometimes I get the feeling that you want to kiss me." Just say it. You're going to feel awkward, and probably so is he. And maybe you don't want to say it all in one breath like that, but sort of circle around it; give him time to realize that what is coming is what he thinks is coming. But say it out loud. Reassure him that you are not making fun of him or accusing him, but ask him directly if what you think you have observed is indeed what you think you have observed.

Whether he admits it or denies it is not so important. What's important is that you deal with it kindly and openly. What if he denies any knowledge of such a thing? Then you may thank him for clarifying it. What if he says that yes, indeed, he's got a thing for you? You may tell him that you're not attracted to him in that way. Then you can blabber on about how you recognize that such things go on between men, but it is not something that you would be comfortable doing, etc.

In addition to finding out what's going on with him, this may be a good opportunity for you to think about your own interest in his interest in you.

If we view desire as something that originates deep within us and therefore contains secrets about our soul, our deepest identity, then we are at times afraid to discover what is there, however harmless it may be. On the other hand, if we think of desire as something that can descend upon you from the heavens, that comes out of the clouds and stirs you, then it's nothing to fear or be ashamed of. It's the breath of a goddess, toying with you, whispering in your ear, delighting herself for her own selfish reasons.

So, tell him what you think you have observed and ask him if there's any truth to it. If he says yes, he wants to kiss you, tell him no, he may not kiss you. If he says no, he doesn't want to kiss you, tell him OK, you didn't think so anyway, but you wanted to be sure. Do not argue with him. And then give some thought to the vastness of your own desire, to the way that our narrow conceptions of homo and hetero are less than adequate to describe desire in all its complexity.

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By Cary Tennis

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