Several months ago, I took a trip with a longtime, close friend. We are both gay men and have traveled many times together over the years with few problems and a hell of a lot of fun. My friend can be high-maintenance but I am pretty low-key and we've managed to work out our different styles and to enjoy ourselves.
We have shared many rooms together over the years, but this time our housing arrangement required us to share a bed, which did not give me a moment of pause. Like many gay men, our platonic friendship began with a roll in the hay. That first time was something of a quirk for both of us, fueled by too much drinking and ecstasy. We are not each other's types at all. I should also mention that I have boyfriend and my friend is married, but neither of our partners came with us on this trip.
It was very early in the morning of our first full day of vacation when I woke up to feel him pressed up against me. I had already told him that I need my space when I sleep, so without rolling over I asked him to move, which he did with a snort of impatience. I went back to sleep but awoke some time later when he started to moan. I assumed he was a having a nightmare and decided to wait for a bit to let it pass before I woke him. It lasted only a few seconds. It did cross my mind that the noise he was making was also very similar to an ejaculation, but I instantly dismissed the idea.
Later that morning as we had breakfast with our housemates, I asked him if he'd had a nightmare. He said he didn't, but I wondered if he'd simply forgotten and gave it no more thought.
The next morning, I awoke again. I don't remember what woke me, but it was alarming enough for me to rise up and check my surroundings. There was no mistaking it this time -- he was looking at me while he masturbated. Stunned and confused, I plopped back down on the bed, ignored a brief caress and went back to sleep. (I can sleep through anything.)
Hours later, the implications of what happened suddenly occurred to me. Both times he must have shaken me awake, and I was incredulous that he thought it appropriate to interrupt my sleep just because he was horny. I can understand waking a spouse or a romantic partner for sex, but not a platonic friend. I also became angry when I realized that he had given me no choice in the matter -- at least I was awake for our 30-minute fling from years before. This time I was simply parachuted into a situation I didn't expect or want, and I had no say or control over what was happening. I was struck by how self-centered it was.
Needless to say, the rest of the week I slept on the sofa. Several times, he asked why I was sleeping in the living room, but always in front of others. Since our housemates have to count pennies for a trip like this, I did not want to create tension for them, and invented excuses. But I also began to suspect that my friend was manipulating the situation, forcing me to lie in front of others in order to create an "official" version of events that let him off the hook. In any case, we never discussed what happened.
His behavior also gave me new insight into the falling-out he had with a mutual friend several years ago, while we vacationed in the same resort town. They had been sharing a bed, and I noted that our other friend had begun to sleep on the sofa, too. They had an angry fight one night on that trip and they've never spoken to each other again.
I was deeply depressed and upset. I rarely left our vacation house and I began to see my friend in a new light. While I normally overlook his tendency to orchestrate plans, I became increasingly irritated and angry at the way he expected everyone else to conform to his schedule. He also takes great delight in discussing the shortcomings of mutual friends, and more than once I had to bite my tongue while he regaled others with his disdain for certain people. The behavior became more pronounced as the days went by, and the final morning he was so thoroughly obnoxious I could barely look at or speak to him during our plane ride back.
After we returned home, I decided I needed some space. For several weeks we had no contact and I kept up with him only through his posts on Facebook. I saw all of these in a new light as well, and became angry at the dishonesty -- he made several claims I knew firsthand to be untrue, and all of them seemed tailored to lead to a bitchy remark that would end his post with a flourish.
And then about a month later his mother died.
She had become seriously ill only a few months before, and they were very close. I was sorry for his pain -- I vividly recall the unbelievable shock at losing my father even though I knew he was dying for almost three years. He had very little time to adjust to the imminent loss of his mother, so I'm sure his pain was severe. I sent him a note to acknowledge his grief and he replied with a polite thank-you.
Through Facebook, I know the ceremony of his mother's death lasted for a while -- culminating in a huge funeral about two weeks after she died. While all of this took place hundreds of miles from where we live, I would have participated in most of it had it not been for his outrageous behavior. As it was, my simple note and his reply was the only contact we had during this time.
It saddens me that the timing of these events means that our friendship has been irrevocably torn and I have begun to second-guess my response. I don't think of myself as the kind of person who would disappear when a close friend is experiencing enormous pain. My boyfriend says I did the right thing, that the timing of events is irrelevant and that my response was appropriate. But I would dearly love another opinion.
It sounds like this ended in the way one would expect. What he did caused your friendship to cool. You were hurt and outraged. So you backed off. And then, as can be expected, the unexpected happened. His mother died. You still had conflicted feelings. On the one hand, you had compassion for him. On the other hand, because of things he had done and things you had observed, you didn't feel that previous fervor for your friendship that might have driven you into action, to be there by his side enthusiastically.
This all sounds reasonable. When we are hurt we back off.
When someone asks if their behavior was "right" I hesitate, because I think, within certain limits, in our social arrangements, it is right for us to behave according to how we feel. Feeling is a great regulator of human behavior; we behave well toward others partly out of our own goodness and partly out of self-interest because we want their feelings toward us to be full and kind, in part so that when there is a death in the family they will show up at our side.
So we try to refrain from behavior that will outrage them and hurt them and disgrace us. But this is not easy. If we are still growing emotionally, if we are self-centered and immature, then we are likely to do things that will outrage and hurt our friends. We will definitely learn some hard lessons along the way. We will find that for some people, enough is enough. We will find certain doors are closed to us, and this will come as a shock. It may be that your friend is learning such things now.
But human worthiness runs along a continuum. I consider myself to be a deeply flawed person, and I identify with those whose character flaws have led them into grave troubles, whose momentary impulses have caused lasting harm.
He is not perfect but that doesn't mean you can't be friends -- that is, if you still want to be friends.
You may feel a desire to punish your friend. It's natural when we have been injured to want to lash out. But I think the best course is to spend some time with him and try to reach a new understanding that contains a further frankness. What has gone between you requires you, in fact, to find a further frankness. The casual arrangements you have made in the past are no longer enough to encompass what you now know.
I suggest you meet with him and have a frank talk. You might begin by saying that you care deeply about him but there are some things he has done that you find hard to accept. Maybe he can tell you something about what's been going on in his life, things that he has not mentioned, things that don't make him look good, things that will help you understand why he did the things he did.
Maybe you can be the one to elicit the darker truth. Think about it. His mother was dying. He was lonely. He was scared. You don't have to become his therapist to suggest that he be frank with you about the emotional needs that are driving his behavior. Maybe his marriage is unsatisfying. Maybe he feels people don't respect him. Maybe he's trying too hard.
Maybe you will find it in you to forgive his shortcomings. Or maybe not. Either way is OK to me. That is, what I prize in people is the ability to be who they are. For some people, these breaches would be so severe that they would have to end the friendship. Others might find it possible to overlook them. That is a personal matter.
I may be too liberal in my view of human conduct but I have done some fairly awful things in my time, and yet many of my friends stuck with me, and I appreciate that. I wish the same fortune for you and your friend.
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