I MET MAT THE summer after my sophomore year in college, when I was interning in San Francisco and he had just transferred to UC Berkeley. A mutual friend told us we’d get along. On our first night out, we went to a punk show, ate blowfish sashimi, and talked about the Wu-Tang Clan. That summer, we tested my fake ID at after-hours clubs and took intimate walks, where we parsed his recent breakup. When I flew to Paris for my junior year abroad, we wrote long e-mails to each other, filled with gossip and deep thoughts.
Mat was the latest in a long line of close, platonic male friends. I’m not the sporty “just one of the guys” type and have always had plenty of female confidantes, but I easily connect with guys, gay and straight alike. This seemed to confuse my classmates and girlfriends, who’d ask if my buddy Adam was my boyfriend, or if I was taking my friend Hans to prom. “He’s hot and you hang out all the time,” they’d say. “Are you sure there’s nothing there?” There wasn’t. Pop culture loves the narrative that your best guy friend is secretly your meant-to-be partner, waiting in the wings while you date a series of idiots. But mixing friends with sex seemed like the road to ruin to me, in which a solid friendship is sacrificed for a night of questionable and potentially awkward passion.
Then, four years ago, Mat invited me to his family’s place in Cape Cod from my home in Brooklyn for a long weekend in July. I’d been there before: sometimes with boyfriends, sometimes with large groups. This time it would just be him, his mom, and me. For our first dinner, he grilled fish and made a kale salad; afterward, Mat and I debated Drake lyrics and gossiped about old friends, then went to our separate bedrooms.
Just as I was about to fall asleep, I heard a knock at my door. It was Mat, holding out a glass of water. “I thought I heard you coughing,” he said. “I was coughing?” I stared at him, a little disoriented. He looked at me with his round brown eyes, smiled, and asked, “Do you think we should make out?” I glanced down at my ripped T-shirt and striped leggings: I wasn’t exactly dressed for seduction. “Are you suggesting this because you feel sorry for me?” I asked. Mat had heard me complain plenty about my long, arduous dry spell—two years and counting. He shook his head. “Can I come in?” he asked, and sat down on the bed. “I think this is a really bad idea,” I said. “We’ve known each other almost half our lives.”
“Aren’t you curious?” he asked. “What if it’s fun?” I wasn’t convinced, and told him so. But we were sitting so close that our legs touched, and when I looked over at him, he leaned in and softly kissed me. He’d felt like a relative to me for years, but he certainly didn’t feel like one now. We kissed again, tentatively, then frantically. Then I took off my shirt.
Mat was an old friend, but sex with him was entirely new: tattoos in spots I had never seen, the taste of his skin, even the way he looked at me. There was never a pause to take a breath or a moment of wondering aloud whether we should stop. Instead, we squeezed each other’s hands for reassurance or smiled between kisses. I was so engaged in the sex that I was able to turn off any thoughts of what it might mean. By the end, my sheets were tangled, and he went off to sleep in his own room.
The next morning, I walked into the kitchen to find him making breakfast for his mother and me. I didn’t say a word, saving that for an “OMG, just had amazing sex with Mat” text to my best friend, who responded, “Drinks as soon as you’re back.” I felt smug and a little excited about our secret with his mother there. I didn’t know if we should talk about it, or if there was anything to talk about. “I can’t believe we haven’t mentioned that we had really hot sex last night,” he finally said that afternoon, while we sat at a sandwich shack, waiting for our lobster rolls. “It was so good, right?” I asked. We grinned, and a few hours later, when he brought me juice while I read magazines in my room, I pulled him on top of me.
That became our habit for the next few days. Whenever we were alone together—at the beach, in a car, in the living room—we’d have furtive sex. Afterward, we complimented each other’s techniques and then went back to our normal friend rapport. And when he dropped me off at the airport three days later, there were no tears, no dramatic pledges of feelings. I felt pleased about my intimate weekend with a friend, but mostly triumphant for breaking my no-sex spell. I was back in business.
Soon after I returned home, Mat asked me to visit him in L.A. I assumed this was a euphemism for extending our affair, but I didn’t ask. Still, I packed elaborate lace bras and wispy underwear just in case. He greeted me at the airport with a giant hug. We drove to his place, and I played with his dogs while he made us lemongrass tea. “Let’s go to bed,” I said, taking his hand and leading him to his bedroom.
We became so adept at acting normal in public that we could go to a pool party like nothing was amiss, then go back to his house and race to the bedroom. The secrecy made it all the more exciting. “This is so hot,” one of us would usually say after sex. “I’m having so much fun.” Then we’d watch Netflix and fall asleep on opposite sides of his bed.
I sensed that we didn’t need to unpack our emotions. We knew we weren’t compatible. We lived on opposite coasts and had different ambitions. He wanted kids sooner rather than later; I wanted the option to move to Paris on a whim. I got annoyed that he wanted to discuss politics ad nauseum; he thought I was high-maintenance for demanding he change his sandy sheets before I slept in them. I went back to New York from my L.A. visit feeling like our fling had run its course. He was ready for a girlfriend; I was ready to start dating.
In the years since our summer affair, our friendship has never really changed. Mat confides in me about his girlfriends, who know I’m an old friend he’s slept with, and I don’t feel a hint of jealousy. His place in my life is a hybrid of bestie, ex, and multi-night stand. Our amazing sex certainly isn’t a taboo subject between us: When I tell him about sexual incompatibilities with someone I’m dating, he reminds me that I’m great in bed. And I know he’s telling the truth. After all, he’s my friend.
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