You're 26 I have no doubt that you really don't know how this whole 'life' thing works in general.
So no one can expect you to have the hard won lessons of having done the long haul relationship and have a real clue as to what to expect.
Plenty of people who have been down that road a few times are in the same boat. Why? Because how you have a relationship with one person isn't going to be exactly the same with any other individual you have a relationship with.
FWB means different things to different people. Yes some include cuddling, as it meets needs that people have which doesn't really need to be in the context of a lover's/partners type relationship.
"It was hot, except that we're both tops, but he made a lot of compromises to keep me happy."
Well that is a start, now you need to sit down and list the compromises you have made for him.
If you find you are all happy and willing and able to make compromises for him then chances are rather high that you have a workable potential for something more than FWB.
Also, by some cosmic joke, most of my relationships happened to be with guys who already know my friends
Its not a cosmic joke nor accident, the gay community in any place is much smaller than most gays appear to understand. Any given town or city its pretty much going to be that you and whoever else you meet who is gay are going to share common friends.
Unless one of you are fresh out of the closet, or just landed in that place from some far off exotic place like Boise Idaho.
I'm afraid that judging if its love or not for me is different than for you. I don't do FWB situations, I just know that for me
sex carries more importance to me and leads me down the path of 'love'. To me sex is part of a relationship, the icing on the cake of the relationship. Thus if I want to have sex with a guy I'm already feeling attraction of a more emotional/relationship oriented stance.
I also have a minor list of other things I am willing to do for/with/to a partner that goes beyond what I am willing and able to do for friends or acquaintances.
You need to figure out what (if anything) you would do for a partner than just a FWB or just a friend. IDK it could be something as simple as your willingness to stay up until 12 am and have dinner ready for him when he comes home because he works swing and you work days.
YouThe soul mate stuff can develop over time, like in Beauty and the Beast, or with Drogos and Daenerys (Game of Thrones), or most marriages in human history...
This is perceptive of you. You seem to have the basic idea which will put you ahead of this game. A lot of people seem to think relationships just happen and that love is all you need.
You can study up on the stages of love, and communication in a relationship and all of those psychological articles that try to come up with general rules of engagement. While those can be extremely helpful in navigating the uncharted waters of a relationship, the reality is that no two relationships operate exactly the same. Different couples do things differently, and find what works for them.
In a way you have this easier than this guy. You have little to no expectations, and no reference point to turn to and make hard rules that X needs to happen. He most likely already has this basic assumption that his next love will be like the last, and that his relationship with his next love will follow same patterns.
It took me three relationships (short ones at that) before I realized that no, what I had with #1 is not what I can have with #2, and #3, and #4... each were unique, the love I felt for each was special and emphasized in other areas because I was loving different individuals.
He has this Ex - he most likely is going to expect that his next will feel the same as he felt with Ex... It rarely works that way.
Youbut wants to be "intimate" with me, whatever that means.
Ask him - chances are very high that his definition of intimacy is different than yours, mine and other people's.
You are 26 and in that decade of life I call 'Hell 2.0' Hell 1.0 is also known as puberty. All people in their 20's start off with childish, preconceived notions of what life is as an adult, during our 20's we get our childhood perceptions challenged, and we get new experiences and do totally new things. By the time we hit 30 with a decade of experience we discover we are a bit more realistic, have changed our view points on many issues.
Experience is best had through trial and error - and trust me, if you are doing it right, there will be lots of error. Don't be discouraged, learn to take the lessons from the errors.
The only way you can know if this is going to be an LTR (or not) is to try.