Rethinking Friendships and “Romance”: Quotes

By | April 12, 2011

For the past several days to a week or so, I’ve been trying to sort out some ideas sparked by the following quotes. The area of friendship, marriage and “romantic” relationships is wide and complex. For that reason it’s taking me quite a while to process all of my thoughts. I plan to blog more about this in the near future, when I’ve sorted it out more in my head. For now, I wanted to share the quotes which have brought me to this point. I’ve pulled them out of the larger context in order to highlight the parts which have hit me. (Note that the quotes below come from a handful of pages, all of which are linked.)

In the history of Christian spirituality, friendship is a robust love beginning with Jesus’ declaration, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). This simple statement from Jesus is well known; yet it challenges our cultural notions of love and friendship. Jesus doesn’t say romantic love is the greatest love. Yet, romantic love is the “greater love” for many in our society. In our current world, romantic love, not friendship, and not even marital love, is most celebrated and valued…

In twenty five years in the evangelical community, I always heard about marriage and family life… Friendship, whenever it was alluded to, was a relationship peripheral to God, spouse, family, and church. In the evangelical community, I absorbed the implicit message that romantic love (that is, marriage) was the greatest of all human loves.

My thinking on that began to change as I came across stories of friendship stories from the past. I was shocked to discover a deep spirituality of friendship among Christians from past centuries.

I was fascinated to find the same heartfelt language and union in male-female friendships. I take a deeper look at these stories in my book Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. Before Freud and his fellow European psychologists eroticized or sexualized yearning, passion, and union, it was possible to discover deep spirituality in friendships stories in every century…

I didn’t come across a mere handful of scattered stories of union and friendship. It was quite clear there were numerous friendship stories flowing from one generation to the next, from one culture to the next culture, from one century to the next century. These findings drove me back to read and reread the Bible…

There was no question the biblical narrative speaks of a distinctive oneness in marriage where God calls Adam and Eve to enter a communion of “one flesh.” But it became obvious that physical or sexual oneness in marriage is not the only oneness or union the Bible speaks of. Marital or sexual union does not exhaust the richness of oneness in God’s story. Jesus’ prayer that we might be one just as he and the Father are one, suggests a rich, deep relational oneness…

In summary, deep friendships for hundreds of years were embraced as powerful, robust expressions of oneness coexisting with another sacred union, marriage…

Secular author Lisa Gee believes “a soul-mate doesn’t have to be a sex-mate.”

It is tempting on this side of Freud and the sexualization of intimacy, to impose a cut-and-dried interpretation on all passionate friendships of the past as sexual or homoerotic. In our romanticized culture, some of us find it difficult to believe that a soul-mate doesn’t have to be a sex-mate. The romantic ideology in our culture holds those two as synonymous; the greatest and grandest of all human love is when they are in sync…

I think it could be argued that Freud and romantic ideology exalted sexualized friendship over a robust spirituality of friendship. Yearning, desire, affection, passion, deep tenderness and sweetness, and even physical attraction between friends were sexualized and romanticized after Freud so that these were/are healthy expressions only in romantic relationships…

(more)

One of the most shocking things I discovered as I began to research friendship-love for Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions was the depth of physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy in friendships prior to Freud and the romantic myth creation of the couple…

I remember coming across friendship stories in the mid to late 1800s. These friendships between men and women had both physical and emotional intimacy that looked like what we could call romantic intimacy. I remember how shocked I was to read of a married woman’s longings noted in her diary for her other married female friend, “I hope for you so much, and feel so eager for you… that the expectation once more to see your face again, makes me feel hot and feverish.” Gulp. Whoa!! On top of that, this intimacy between friends was entirely appropriate and acceptable even among evangelical Christians in this period of time! Some of these friendships in contemporary language are known as “Boston marriages.” The characteristics of these friendships had what one might say a “romantic” quality and depth to them but they were “asexual” relationships. Physically intimate, yes, but not sexually intimate…

Then I discovered more friendship stories from earlier centuries. Friendships in the post-Apostolic era, in the fourth century and through medieval ages on through the period up until Freud… These stories also involved married men and women. Some stories involved unmarried priests with married women, some with priests and single women, some with priests and married men. But I continued to discover (much to my shock and limited imagination and knowledge) deep bonds of friendships spanning century after century prior to Freud and the romantic myth.

On this side of Freud and our hyperromantic culture, it is a challenge for us to see such emotional depth in friendships and not describe the passion in many of these friendship stories as friends “in love.” In fact, Anglican Gary Thorne in a very positive essay on friendship, observes that “Two men or two women can be struck by Cupid’s arrow in much the same way as a man and a woman, and have similar experiences of ‘falling in love’ with one another.”

The great number of these stories throughout history prior to Freud compelled me to take another look at contemporary marriage and what I now call as the creation of the romantic myth couple. Evangelical singles know all about the starry-eyed evangelical version of this couple. Many singles are led to believe that yearnings, desire, deep physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy are only appropriate for the mythical romantic couple. These aspects of deep love are only appropriate and good within a romantic path according to typical evangelical protocol. It is impossible for singles to experience deep friendship bonds with a married individual… without any sex for that would be labeled as “emotional adultery.” I have no doubt that some of what contributes to many singles’ loneliness is the creation of the romantic myth. (Emphasis added)

Is there such a thing as “falling in love” with a “friend” (cross-gender or same gender) without lust?

The immediate and only answer in the romantic myth is no. Most evangelicals follow suit.

However, friendship stories throughout the ages would indicate a positive answer…

Male-female friendships begin in mutual attraction (this is true for all preferential friendships). Attraction may arise through innumerable ways which may or may not include sexual attraction…

Attraction in friendship means you prefer one friend (or friends) in time, desire, sacrifice, commitment, intensity, and caring devotion over others. Attraction in friendship for Protestants throughout most of the twentieth century indicated a selfish concern—friends were only interested in themselves has been the Protestant logic. Because of this, friendship-love (i.e. attraction in our friend for the sake of their company and nothing else—i.e. vocation, marriage, family) has been seen as a particular threat to family. This is one of the reasons why in many circles long-term, deep friendships suddenly take a back seat when their friend gets married. Preferential friendship (not just cross-gender friendship) according to popular Kierkegaardian interpretation, is threatening to marriage…

Hollywood (and even some contemporary Christians) would like to anoint the romantic myth couple (married or unmarried) as the most ultimate one can experience in profound relational love. This simply is not true…

Marriage and friendship are different relationships but deep, wild, life-giving beauty and goodness in a Christian spirituality of friendship are possible and accessible in both relationships…

photo credit: brandsvig via photopin cc

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  • Dan

    Starting from the beginning here. Just wanted you to know I was reading your blogs. 🙂

  • Dan

    Okay so I am very interested in talking more about this subject with you. I can see why these quotes have sparked a interest in you to probe farther in practical understanding of this subject. In regards to cross gender nonsexual relationships, and with friendships like ours; I personally have found a lot of satisfaction – socially speaking with my cross gendered relationships and have asked this question often: Do I need to be married to find satisfaction in relational issues?