Something about summer makes Tom Matlack yearn for a real man-friend.
For the last eight years I have been going to a summer community run by women.
There’s a line of them on the beach, sometimes a dozen in a row. As a natural introvert, the female dominance of the place intimidated me, at first. My schedule is more flexible than most guys, so during the week I found myself on my own, amidst this matriarchy.
But a strange thing happened. In the summer heat, the relaxed atmosphere of extended time and space, I found myself drawn to long conversations and bonding with a special guy.
My first bromance involved a performance artist from L.A. named Daniel, who had known my wife when they were both kids. His wife, Maggy, played Janice on Friends. Eight years ago, her weird and annoying laugh was still fresh in many people’s minds, so Maggy was something of a celebrity on the beach. But honestly, I had never seen her on the show, so it meant nothing to me.
Daniel and I spent hours talking about kids, literature, and art. We kayaked through waves to a hidden beach. At the time, Elena and I were renting, but the hidden beach ultimately became our backyard when we built a house, thanks to that first adventure.
Daniel talked about wanting to take images from within the ocean, and we rigged up a crude case for him to take some test shots. Those test shots ultimately led him to do a series of large scale photographs from inside Los Angeles pools, looking up at the surface of the water to capture the way light—and reality—is bent, distorted, and reflected on the paper thin membrane between water and air.
Two of my favorite images now hang in our home as fond memories of those early conversations we had on the beach when there seemed no limit to space and time, when manhood was without bounds.
I visited Daniel several times in L.A., once with the kids. My son Seamus was amused by a piece of art formed by a pair of men’s underwear with a miniature house built inside, visible only through a peephole in the side. At dinner, Maggy did her Janice laugh for my daughter Kerry, a big Friends fan. And she organized an amazing coral performance back in our summer community.
But our time on the beach together dwindled as our schedules didn’t match up. After the first couple years, we remained close friends but the bromance weakened to a close, but less frequent, friendship.
It was time to look for a new boyfriend.
Stephen was an obvious choice, as his wife and mine had been best friends since childhood.
Our first date occurred over a Sex & the City episode, when the show was actually still on the air. We watched with our wives and talked about kids, sports, and his job as an urologist. (He always seemed to have a funny story about old guys who needed a little extra erectile function and the thanks he got from their wives.)
At the time, I was very into yoga and Stephen practiced with me during the summer and came to Boston a few times to practice. We all went to concerts at the Cape Cod Melody tent, always seeming to hit the top lesbian attractions: Melissa Etheridge and the Indigo Girls.
But the biggest change Stephen brought to my life was a love for biking. Our summer home is basically a bunch of farms set on the ocean. Miles and miles of amazing water views—salt marshes, crashing waves, beaches, inland ponds, and streams.
I bought a starter bike, and then managed to write an article for Seven Cycles in which I was able to negotiate the purchase of a custom-made, carbon-fiber, top-of-the-line cycle.
Stephen showed me the best routes. Every day of biking, from 15 to 50 miles, was built around where to get coffee. Headed west, we would shoot for a place called Coastal Roasters, perhaps the best independent coffee joint in New England, located at the foot of a lobster dock, under the Newport Bridge in Tiverton, Rhode Island. Riding east, we’d go to the village Padanarum, where the coffee isn’t quite as good, but the pastries are superior.
We became close friends both during the summer and in the winter, but a couple years ago a difficult divorce created a certain distance in our relationship. We tried to stay in touch, but Stephen no longer came during the summer since it was his ex-wife’s spot, which left me in need of a new best friend.
I met Kirk a few times over the last couple of years but didn’t really know him until we invited him and his wife to our house for a dinner party last winter. He has two kids by a first marriage and has remarried with step kids. Like me, he is trying to manage his way through a blended family the best way he can. He works from home doing analytical research for pharmaceutical companies. And he plays a lot of tennis, a game I played only a handful of times as a kid.
Kirk invited me to a Red Sox game. His business partner is some kind of Moneyball savant who has connections to the statistical geniuses who run the league these days. So the seats were right behind home plate. Unfortunately, by the time we sat down the score was 8-0 against us. We were relegated to betting on whether or not the ball would roll off the dirt onto the grass between innings.
Kirk has the odd ability to predict the final score of a game midway through. In the second inning, he predicted 10-2. The final was 10-3. By the end we were sitting in the front row because everyone else had left. A staff member’s job is to ask you not to wave for the television cameras. The teenage kid in his Fenway Park uniform took his responsibilities very seriously. “Is it okay if I want to kiss my boyfriend?” I asked him, pointing at Kirk. The kid was speechless and finally mumbled that there was no rule against that in his book.
When summer rolled around this year, I got a real tennis racquet and some tennis whites. I realized that despite my general loathing for country club life—our’s is about the most rinky dink joint that can possibly still be called “the club”—tennis is actually a lot of fun. And I can actually hit the ball. I am working on my serve, but I have really enjoyed playing a game that doesn’t involve intense and extended pain. (My other athletic pursuits other than riding are swimming and kickboxing.)
So yet another summer bromance is in full blossom.
What is it about summer that frees me up to show real affection for another man in a way that I am too guarded to express during the year? Am I homophobic? Gay? Or just emotionally stunted?
Daniel, my first boyfriend, unexpectedly stopped by the house last Thursday and reminded me just why he is such a cool guy—and why I need such cool guys in my life. We talked about raising teenaged girls (he has two to my one), Maggy’s guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm (the episode that aired yesterday, “Palestinian Chicken”) and then quickly spun off into an intensive discussion of Man on a Wire, one of may favorite films ever, and Director James Marsh’s new film, Project Nim, about a chimp raised as a human baby on the upper West Side of Manhattan.
It turns out Maggy helped raise Nim when she was a teenager, at one point bringing the chimp to the Hamptons for the summer. From there, somehow we started talking about suicide rates in the developing world. (Rich people kill themselves, poor people try not to starve, it turns out.)
In just over an hour, I felt like my whole worldview had been invigorated by talking to someone whose brain was on exactly my wavelength, only with a creative intuition completely unlike my more analytic approach to life. It was like taking a long drink of cold water on a scorching hot summer day.
In the end, my summer boyfriends are really born from the same instinct that drew me to founding the Good Men Project: the desire to crawl inside the life of other men to see how they live, what they love, and what they fear. An artist, urologist, and market researcher wouldn’t seem to have a lot in common, other than all being just plain good guys, willing to take me on a new adventure.
Maybe it’s the endless hours on the beach with nothing to do but jump off a big rock into the ocean and try to ignore the endless female gossip. Maybe the letting go happens during the summer months when my body clock thinks it’s OK to just have fun. But I thirst for something less serious, less life-and-death important, than my life back home.
Taking pictures under water, riding bikes, playing tennis. That’s all just good clean fun I wouldn’t know, if it weren’t for my summer bromances.