I'm gay and I've got nothing to apologize for

She and I slept in the same bed. Her boyfriend wants an apology. But nothing happened!

Published July 7, 2005 7:56PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My best friend (a woman) met a man last summer whom she is now living with in another state and will most likely marry in the next couple of years. I am a gay male, and he does not seem to have much experience or familiarity with gay people, although he doesn't sound like a bigot at all. The problem is that, for New Year's, she and I, along with two close friends of ours (a straight couple) flew to San Francisco and spent three nights in a single hotel room together. We had already made the plans when she became serious with him, and he did not come with us, although she invited him.

She indicated shortly after the trip that he was upset when he learned that we had shared a bed together, but I didn't hear anything else about it and considered the issue dead. Then, last weekend, my friend visited and said that he is still very upset about it, and he wants an apology from me. When she asked him what's wrong with sharing a bed with a gay man, he said it just doesn't look right.

I think the larger issue is that when they first met, we talked on the phone a lot (an hour or so a day) and there was a transition period where we started spending less time talking so that she would have room for this relationship. But I think there was some distinct jealousy from him at the beginning, and admittedly it was tough for me at first, also.

I am very happy for her, and overall he sounds like a great guy who cares a lot about her. But my question is, should I apologize to him even though I think we did nothing wrong by sharing a bed? I'm not opposed to the idea of swallowing my pride for the sake of moving on, but I also don't want him to think either of us was doing anything wrong or trying to hurt him. I have not met him in person yet, and they will both be visiting next month for a wedding that we'll all attend.

I would truly value your opinion on this matter.

Sleeping on It

Dear Sleeping on It,

Because of the complex emotions and cultural signals involved, I think you ought to arrange to have a private chat with him when he visits.

I don't think you need to apologize per se, but you do need to acknowledge his discomfort and its cultural and psychological origins. In other words, don't disrespect him. Like it or not, you offended him by sharing a bed with his fiancée. His world has been disturbed and he feels it ought to be put right. That's a normal human reaction. He hasn't put it very delicately, but perhaps where he comes from when some guy shares a bed with one's fiancée for three days over New Year's what is called for is not delicacy but rather old-fashioned bluster. I think a simple acknowledgement that you offended him, an expression of regret for offending him, and a promise to be more sensitive to his concerns in the future would suffice.

Have a sincere chat, but remember that you are also negotiating. By promising to not share a bed with her in the future, you can give him something he values greatly while giving up relatively little yourself. What you actually want is not so much the freedom to sleep with her. What you want is to be able to talk to her at length on the phone and spend time with her alone without his jealous interference, right?

So be ready and willing to make a concession that you will not share a bed with her in the future. But make sure he understands what you want. Also, try to help him see your friendship with his fiancée in a positive light. What you have is a perfectly respectable friendship. Unfortunately, contemporary social mores do not clearly delineate what is permissible and not permissible in a friendship between a gay man and a romantically committed woman.

The beauty of pledging not to sleep in the same bed with her again, whether it is right or wrong, is that the more secure he feels, the more trouble-free your friendship with her will be. If you play it right, you will get all that you want without giving up anything of real value to you. Sharing a bed with her is simply a symbol of the kind of intimate bond you have; it is not essential to your friendship. What is essential is that you be able to stay in contact on the phone and be with each other without him around.

The only thing I can think of that threatens to derail such a remarkably good-natured, supremely rational bargaining session is the subterranean existence of certain powerful but as yet unacknowledged emotions -- what you might call a subtext, or a hidden agenda.

It might bother you more than you realize, for instance, that some relative stranger is seeking veto power over the way you, a gay man, choose to behave privately with your best friend. It might seem that he is reenacting ancient sexist rituals of control. You may feel that you are losing her forever; this may threaten to plunge you into great sadness. You may detect in his objections, nice a guy as he is, a cultural backwardness and ignorance that even in the complete absence of malice nevertheless results in stereotyping and stigmatizing of gays.

You might feel some or all or none of these things. So take a little inventory of your emotional state before you talk with him. You have an opportunity here to create an exemplary model of how straight men and gay men can negotiate the tricky issue of jealousy over women. If you react angrily to something he says, he may become defensive and possessive and your little man-to-man chat could come to nothing.

The important thing, remember, is for you and he to come to an understanding. Your shared love and admiration for this woman binds you together. In that respect, you are like brothers.

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