Today’s I Fell In Love With A Bar Boy post is not typical of those stories that normally appear under that heading. Ultimately, today’s post is about Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, but does not include him in its telling. It didn’t start out that way. The subject was much broader. But then the more I wrote the more it became about Noom – and about me – which being my two favorite subjects in the world I guess should not come as a surprise. To anyone.

A frequent reader of this blog recently dropped me an email, a follow up to a previous piece of correspondence, which caused me to actually think for a change. Usually I answer emails with the same attitude I do life, flippantly with little concern over how I’m received. That continued correspondence is a rarity in my life is of no surprise either. I’m only going to share a bit of his backstory with you, for this post where that story led is more germane than the actual events.

The reader was involved for several years with a young Thai man, who, I’m sad to say, recently passed away. His feeling of loss continues, attempting to deal with that loss is still a major part of his life. This is one of those times I wish I really did have all the answers. But I don’t. And even the thought of putting myself in his shoes (which Noom would not be thrilled with since that would mean putting him in the shoes of the reader’s boyfriend) is painful. I’m not sure how you go about dealing with the loss of someone so important to you when you are thousands of miles away. It’s one of the few aspects of a long distance relationship that doesn’t get discussed. And one of the few that I’d agree is a negative.

Now before Boo Hoo starts getting a major chub thinking this is a post about death and dying, it’s not. It’s about love. In attempting to convey the pain he is feeling, the reader wrote of some of the things he misses. That included little things like the simple joy of being able to talk with his friend again. It also included his loss of not being able to give and share things with his boyfriend, as well as the joy in his face when the reader gave him a present in the past.

Without sharing his entire correspondence with you, which I do not feel free to do, that may sound very materialistic. But it is not just about material goods; his desire of sharing is just as much about experiences; it is about the desire all of us who truly love someone have to make that person’s life better and more enjoyable. Thai bar boys refer to this – whether giving or receiving – as ‘taking care’ of each other.

Punters who frequently post to the gay Thailand message boards and who like to promote the Walking ATM Syndrome as a universal truth miss out on this aspect of being in a relationship with a Thai. To them it is always about money. But then I think that is more about what they value in life than it is about the realities of being in a relationship with a Thai. I’ve even seen a thread in which they discussed what that phrase means, and they were all entirely clueless (though more than willing to incorrectly define it). Not that money and materialistic things don’t play a part. They do. As they do in all of our lives. So, indulge me while I focus on that part of my relationship with Noom.

The reader’s mention of the joy in his loved one’s face when presented with a gift struck home; Noom’s glorious smile at those times came readily to mind. That also reminded me of how often I’ll see – and buy – something that I know he would like and know will produce one of those smiles. The question that raised in my mind was then, do I buy things for Noom because of the joy it might bring him, or do I buy things for Noom because of the joy it brings me? If it is the latter, is that selfish of me? Am I buying my own happiness through the material things that bring him happiness? Is that nothing more than a Pavlovian response, my present ringing a bell that produces the reward of a smile?

Probably the best answer is that often heard bar boy refrain, “You tink too much.” I don’t know that in the end it really matters. If it makes both of us happy, who cares? Unfortunately the warnings of message board punters still echo in my mind, and god knows I’ve read enough posts from newbies regaling us with stories of all the cash they spent on their new friend that my only response can be, “Oh, you foolish little man.”

But the fact is, when you take the monetary aspect out of the act, the balance is easier seen. It is not money or material things that I give to him, but rather what I have to offer to our relationship. That may still seem to be goods or money – because it often is – but it is what is behind those gifts that really matters. And I don’t think it is a selfish pursuit at all. Unusual for me, it is not about me and any possible reward I may receive in return. Even if that reward is only a smile. It is about Noom. And that I am able to do something for him that makes a difference in his life.

Bar boys, as well as many Thais not working in that industry, have very real needs. The kind of things that Maslow ranks on the lower levels of his pyramid of hierarchical needs. Food, clothing, a roof over their head; the things many of us in the West, or at a higher financial status, take for granted. Those things remain regardless of the job taken in pursuit of obtaining those needs. Whether you call it a friendship or love, when you are able to help someone satisfy those needs, when you are able to take care of your friend, the reward is not in what you may receive in return but rather in the simple enjoyment of having done something for another human being. In this case, one whom you love greatly. The gift is in the giving, not in the specifics of the gift.

That continues to hold true as your relationship grows and as his needs rise on Maslow’s pyramid. With basic needs of safety and security satisfied, happiness in his life evolves to social needs: love, friendship, and a feeling of belonging. This is the level the Walking ATM Syndrome aficionados never realize. They get lost back at level one, thinking the expense to their wallet is a greater need than a bar boy’s needs for the basics in life. And many bar boys have learned that those punters are not willing to give of themselves and will only give from their wallet begrudgingly. So they take it upon themselves to obtain their needs by demanding bigger tips, trying to score as many customers in a night as possible, asking for gifts or extra cash . . . all of the things the punters condemn them for doing. Neither is scaling the pyramid, both are stuck in a circle with one demanding more and more and the other giving less and less. And it’s no surprise neither walks away feeling satisfied or happy.

If, however, you have been stupid enough to ignore the warnings, and have given of yourself, and of your pocketbook freely, you soon find yourself at the level where friendship and love hold sway. That is a sweet spot to be at. Because your friend has risen to a level where you already have been. And are. Suddenly, you are both equals. Your needs are the same. Thanks to your help, he finally achieved enough security in his life that he can look toward friendship and love as a real need. You passed that level years before, climbed much higher up Maslow’s pyramid, but found yourself in need of one of the basic needs far below the level your life is at. And you find your needs being satisfied by the Thai bar boy who is taking care of you.

Many of us fall in love with Thailand, and fall in love with a Thai, not because of the ready availability of sex – often with a much younger man – but because we reach a point in our lives where we need what is missing: a friendship that includes love. And satisfying that need only took a bit of generosity on our part. What is interesting is that satisfying that need is something bar boys begin to do way before it becomes one of their needs too. They begin taking care of you almost from the start. Unfortunately, many of us fail to recognize this.

The big pay-off, at least for me, has been Noom’s rise to the next level, satisfying his needs of self-esteem. With his basic needs covered, and a friend he knows he can rely on, he has become a much more confident man. I see it in the way he walks, in the manner he conducts himself, in the attitude he carries himself when engaged with other Thais. His self-esteem has grown, his status – an important factor far too over-looked by Westerners – has risen, and he has begun looking toward personal goals to achieve, like an education. And all that took was a gift of a new iPod from me. Amazing how powerful that smile I got in return turned out to be.

As long as I’m addressing needs, let me digress for a minute and talk about a very real one. Sex. Noom is a bar boy. At its most basic, that means selling your body for sex. His attitude on the subject has always confused me. More than once he’s mentioned some customer who, wrongly in Noom’s opinion, was primarily interested in sex. Or as he’s put it, “Sex. Sex. Sex. All he want is sex.”

Huh. Yes. And that should be obvious. It’s why many guys go to a gay gogo bar while visiting Thailand. The live fuck show should tip you off that that may be where their interests lay. (And don’t get me wrong. If that is what you want, tip the guy well and show him some respect. You’ll get the orgasm you are after and your ending will be a happy one.) But sex is plentiful in Thailand and even though it is on the lowest level of Maslow’s pyramid, it is not the be all that visitors think it is. At least not to a Thai bar boy. That’s a need he can satisfy for you quickly with little effort. But without ever hearing anything about Maslow’s work, Noom knows that for many customers sex isn’t the real need. Love and friendship are. It confounds him that his customers don’t realize that. And focus on the sex when he is trying to give them so much more. He, and many of his bar mates, are trying to take care of their customers when the customers think all they need is for their cock to be taken care of.

Okay, so some of you are shaking your head and muttering unkind remarks right about now. I know. You go to Thailand to have sex. With hot younger guys you’d not be able to do back home, and whether you are willing to pay for it back home or not, at prices that are ridiculously low. Even though you enjoy bitching about those costs. Right? So let me ask you this: Once you’ve added in your airfare and trip costs, your orgasm could have been obtained commercially back home for the same or even a smaller outlay from your wallet. So why do you go to Thailand? If you really feel all you are interested in is an orgasm, who is it that satisfies your needs of love and friendship back home? And if you do have that person in your life, why do you need to fly thousands of miles away to get sex, a more basic need, satisfied? Or as Aretha Franklin put it: Who’s zoomin’ who?

I’m not suggesting that every visitor to Thailand who hits a gay gogo bar and offs a boy needs to open themselves to love and friendship. Those needs may take a back seat to other needs you have that are of more importance. Just don’t try to tell me sex is the only need you have. Because if you believe that, you are only fooling yourself. Even the bar boys know better. And if you are one of those who despises idiots like me for throwing money at a bar boy, you got it wrong. I’m not throwing money. I’m throwing love and affection. And getting it back in spades.

The gentleman who wrote to me about the loss of his loved one, in trying to address how to lessen the pain that lost has caused, brought up the fundamental Buddhist belief that life is about suffering and that suffering is caused by attachment. According to the Buddha’s teachings, you must learn how to let go of those attachments, how to free yourself from them, to obtain the blissful state of nirvana. His email questioned, however, how he could possibly detach his heart from the pain that goes to its very core. And he wrote of other losses he had experienced in his life, that were not as great. Of those, he wrote, he felt the loss was not felt as heavily because they did not need him as much as his friend had. And that, to me, makes perfect sense.

Maslow called the top level of his pyramid of needs Self-Actualization. He considered all the lower levels to be basic needs, the top tier to comprise the needs that dealt with self-fulfillment. Needing to be needed is one of those. That speaks highly of humans and of the steps of our personal growth. That after obtaining all of the basic needs of safety and security, friendship and love, confidence and self esteem, respect and achievement, one of the needs that we still need to pursue to be happy is the need to be needed by others. And what a wonderful gift that is, to be needed. Even if it is only being needed by a bar boy.

I don’t have an answer for how best to deal with the pain of his loss. But will note that the degree of pain he is feeling has to be indicative of how much the two of them loved and meant to each other. I don’t know if realizing that you were needed and stepped up to the plate alone can help alleviate the pain you are feeling now. Or that knowing how much your friendship and love meant in his life can to any degree help you deal with your loss.

I hope that possibly in understanding your needs that he filled, the level of pain you are experiencing might make a bit more sense. Because he was helping you to achieve a level of happiness that many of us never reach. That probably makes your loss even greater. But also speaks to what a wonderful human being he was and how lucky you were to have known him. Even if what the two of you shared was for far too brief of a time, he is still part of your life. The only thing I can suggest is to remember how much your happiness meant to him, and how much it would mean to him now to see you happy again. Maybe, by trying to still fill that need of his, your sorrow will be lessened. Because he still needs you.

And thanks for reminding me that is it high time I selfishly got around to putting a smile on Noom’s face again. While I still can.

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