Here’s a little game: Count your five closest gay friends. Now count how many of them you’ve had sexual relations with. How many did you get? Three? Four? Maybe even all five? (Feel free to give your answer in the comments below.)
If you’re a gay man, chances are you’ve hooked up with several of your buddies in the past, many of whom are now totally in the “friend zone.” It probably feels totally normal, as once upon a time you were attracted to that person and wanted to fool around, but ultimately you either decided it wasn’t going to be romantic, or the fired burned out. You might even chuckle now as your friendship is sooooo far beyond that now.
LGBTQ people are much more likely to stay in touch with ex-hook ups (or even lovers), and shift them over to the friend zone than straight people. Why is this?
For one, sex often comes first for gay men. It’s simply in our nature and how we connect with one another. Men are biologically programmed for sex, with hormones like testosterone driving them. So when you finally meet that hot guy from the gym whose locker is next to yours, the desire for sex (a.k.a. connection) can often become top priority.
Also, many of us kept had to keep our sexual desires repressed for years, especially during puberty and adolescence. We were forced to hide our crushes and fantasies while our straight counterparts were totally open about theirs. So when your dream guy walks into the bar on Friday night, that desire for a hot escapade can almost be instinctual, like we’re overcompensating for those lost years.
Lastly, there’s also a certain comradery that gay men share. We have a common extraordinary experience–we grew up knowing that we are a minority, that we can be marginalized, and that we’re different from what was expected of us in society–and so, naturally, we stick together. The bond of this experience can be more valuable than the petty divisions that might occur after a sexcapade fizzles.
Remaining friends after a long-term relationship has ended also seems to occur more often in gay partners than straight ones, who often separate forever after calling it quits. Again, I believe this is because, while the romantic relationship may have run its course, the friendship has not. Personally, I remained friends with all three of my exes for quite a while after we broke up. We shared a mutual respect of each other, and an understanding that it just wasn’t meant to be romantic anymore. Sure, that’s dwindled over time to the occasional Facebook “like” or an email asking where that awesome place was that we stayed together in Rome, but there’s no need for unnecessary bad blood and distancing just because things have moved into a new phase. Especially not when we’re all happier today than we were back then.
There’s a caveat to all this, of course.
While many gay men can easily move relationships and sex partners into the “friend zone,” I’ve noticed that it doesn’t always work the other way around. Once you’re already friends, and you try to take it to a sexual place, it can be harder to go back to the friend zone if it doesn’t lead to something romantic.
Perhaps returning to what it was now feels more threatening, as there might be the possibility that one partner wanted it more than the other–either to continue the sexual relationship or bring it to a romantic place. Or maybe the “safety” of the friendship has now been jeopardized, and it just feels awkward.
That said, I do think it’s common (and even healthy!) to start off as a friendship, and then parlay that into a relationship (in fact that’s my own story with my current partner). But to go backwards again to the friendship can be a little dicey. It might be wise to have some in-depth discussions with your “bestie” before you decide to finally hit the sheets. Is it worth risking your friendship? Are the feelings you’re having real romantic feelings, or are you just bored and horny?
I recently heard someone say about his friend group, “I’ve done every one of them at some point or another, I’m such a whore!” I would encourage this person to actually not slut shame himself, but to realize that it’s very common for gay men to be drawn to each other sexually at first, but then be able to transition that into a deep and meaningful friendship. If you can’t do this for whatever reason, there’s probably unresolved feelings that haven’t been worked through, but it just may be worth a shot!
Jake Myers is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the founder of Gay Therapy Space, the first online therapy platform for and by the LGBTQ community. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Psychotherapy.