best friend

the lie of nonexistent intimate friendships (part two)

This is the fifth entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

Something that I’ve noticed about American relational culture recently, and perhaps especially so with Christian American relational culture, is that we really like to have lines clearly drawn. I see this as the reason why we have phenomena in Christian colleges like DTRs (defining the relationship). There seems to be an increasing neediness to always know what the status of your relationship with another person, and it doesn’t necessarily come from within ourselves. More often than not, it comes as an external question, when we may or may not have been thinking about it.

 

I think most of us have probably found ourselves in a situation, or at least observed a situation in which two people have begun spending significant amounts of time with each other, prompting some or all of their friends to probe them on whether they’re “just friends” or something more than friends. This can be an incredibly awkward or frustrating experience for everyone involved, regardless of whether the two people actually might have feelings for each other and are trying to navigate that or whether they are close friends who enjoy spending a lot of time together.

 

Either way, I think this fascination with needing to define relationships has begun hurting our conceptions of friendship, because along with a desire to know exactly what status a relationship has, there also exists an assumption that the relationship will also fit neatly within the preconceived assumptions of what “just friends” or something more than friends might look like. (That being said, I’ve really grown to hate the term “just friends” as I’ve been learning more about friendship and working through this series, because I’ve come to realize it’s a rather derogatory way to refer to a relationship as beautiful as friendship.) If we really think about it, friendships already tend to exist in the middle ground of a Venn diagram, but our attitudes toward them skew towards trying to keep them cleanly isolated to only their safe extremes on a gradient spectrum and this severely limits our ability to understand and have healthy friendships in my opinion.

 

I've really grown to hate the term "just friends," because I've come to realize it's such a derogatory way to refer to a relationship as beautiful as friendship.

Anam Cara || Irish Gaelic

In conducting my linguistic research for this post as well as my last, this term for a relationship between friends impacted me the most. I had originally found it online while doing some cursory searches for terms for intimate friendship in other languages, but I wasn’t quite sure if I was understanding it correctly until I came across the word again while I was reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, used in a eulogy by one half of an inseparable pair of friends in reference to the other after her untimely death. Though the Bible doesn’t go into detail about the specific circumstances, I like to think David’s mourning over Jonathan’s death in 2 Samuel was similar to the heart wrenching eulogy spanning several pages in Accidental Saints half of the pair of friends wrote for the other. It read similarly to how a lover might have mourned for a lost partner, and that’s when I was sure that I understood how this term was meant to be used.

 

According to tradition, spiritual friendship occurs when the spirits of two people are knit together and become one in a manner parallel to how God said two spouses would become one flesh in Genesis.

 

A simple definition of ‘anam cara’ refers to it being the Celtic spiritual belief in the bonding of two souls in friendship. In Celtic spirituality, the soul is thought of as radiating out from the body in an aura that interacts with everything and everyone that you come into contact with. If a person formed a strong enough bond or connection with another person, through being fully open and fully trusting of each other, among other things, it was believed that their souls began to run and flow together as one and that they had found an ‘anam cara.’ Though that may sound romantic in nature and though this term is often translated as ‘soul mate,’ the literal translation is ‘soul friend,’ this translation being supported by the modern Irish notion that while your spouse may be an ‘anam cara,’ it’s still usually reserved for friends rather than lovers. In a way, this makes sense and causes this perception of an ‘anam cara’ to align more closely with the oft forgotten Christian idea of spiritual friendship as a result. According to tradition, spiritual friendship occurs in which the spirits of two people are knit together and become one in a manner parallel to how God said in Genesis that two spouses would become one flesh through their physical union, an idea taken from 1 Samuel 18 when David’s soul is described as being knit to Jonathan’s upon meeting him for the first time. Specifically, it says this:

As soon as he had finished talking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. // 1 Samuel 18:1-3

 

This passage was something my mind was immediately drawn to upon reading about the concept of an ‘anam cara,’ and I think it fits the description well. Though the only kind of covenant relationship that we recognize and celebrate at all anymore is the covenant relationship of marriage (which is a problem that needs to be remedied in American Christianity), multiple different kinds of covenant relationships existed in the Bible, including this covenant of friendship between David and Jonathan as well as the covenants that God Himself made with Israel and later with all believers. For this reason, I see it as impossible to deny the significance and weight friendship holds when certain types of friendships are bound together by the same kinds of covenants that seal relationships that we as Christians tend to idolize, such as the covenant of marriage. This is especially true when Jonathan risks his life and crosses his father, the king of Israel, for the sake of his friendship and covenant with David later in the story, all acts of love and sacrifice that we typically only see in portrayed within the confines of romantic love in many stories that we grow up with today, which does so much to destroy the beauty, depth, and intimacy of what true friendship is supposed to look like.

 

The only kind of covenant relationship that we recognize and celebrate anymore in American Christianity is the covenant of marriage, which is a problem that needs to be remedied.

 

If my friend, Sheridan, is my [nakama] from my last post, then my friend Joseph is my anam cara.

 

I first met Joseph under less than ideal circumstances and basically by accident a few years ago. I was at this weeklong, overnight leadership camp being held a Christian college, and I definitely wasn’t there voluntarily. Though not necessarily forced to go, I probably would’ve come up with any excuse to back out if my family and I hadn’t already paid for it, and I had been dreading it even more so when I realized that I likely wouldn’t know anybody else there upon arrival. And to top it all off, you weren’t allowed to bring your phone or any other type of electronic device in order to keep you present during the week. Great.

 

The camp consisted of three or four lecture-type sessions every day with teaching on various aspects of leadership and worldview with team activities (which you were sorted into randomly), meals, and free time in between. During the first session the first night, I had spotted a friend from church that I vaguely knew across the way and my awkward self made its way over in order to hide the fact that I was still feeling horribly uncomfortable. With him was Joseph, and if I’m being honest, at that moment, I felt something similar to what Jonathan felt when he met David. In that moment, I knew I wanted this person in my life, probably forever, but at the same time, I met him during our five minutes of stretching and mingling time in the middle of a session, so I wasn’t actually sure if I would see him again or actually become friends with him.

 

That quickly changed the next day. Our first block of free time in the afternoon had just rolled around, and I wasn’t really sure who I was going to be spending the next three hours with. Having been pretty exhausted the previous night from the dread of not even wanting to be at this camp, I went to bed early without really meeting anyone else, plagued by a runny nose and cough due to the mold that was lowkey growing in the dorms we were staying in. So like any awkward camper, I looked at the directory to see what room the church friend I hardly knew was staying in and thought I’d pop over there to see if I could not be alone for those three hours of free time. When I knocked on the door, Joseph answered, being roommates with this church friend and struck up a conversation with me after informing me that the guy I had actually been looking for was gone and he didn’t know where he was. And thus began an entire week of spending the majority of our time together, along with the small group of friends that we formed, ditching our assigned small groups to eat with each other, being essentially inseparable during sessions, and swapping numbers at the end of camp to ensure that we would remain in contact. We’ve been friends since then, our lives continuing to intersect almost accidentally, like when we both discovered about two weeks before Welcome Week that we’d both be going to Bethel in the fall of 2013.

 

"You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their 'relationship,' but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out." // Andrew Sullivan

 

He truly is one of my soul friends, and he’s one of the few people that I really do feel comfortable sharing my soul with. He’s a strong non-anxious presence, being one of the very few people I feel completely safe and unjudged with, and we’ve both made it clear that nothing is off limits between us. We can talk about anything and everything without feeling like we’re burdening or annoying each other with it, which goes for both the smallest of things and the biggest. Beyond that sense of just safety with him, he’s also so good for me, because he challenges me on why I think certain things and doesn’t just agree with me in order to avoid a potential disagreement in opinion. So, we’ll have excellent talks that weave in and out of serious and lighthearted topics, and he’s also incredible at just being, which is probably one of my favorite things about him. I’ve read several articles recently that talk about how millennials don’t know how to handle silence and just being, but Joseph is a pro at mindful silence and makes me want to be better at it too. All in all, I think a quote by Andrew Sullivan, who wrote extensively about this idea of ‘anam cara’ in his book Love Undetected, describes our relationship quite well. He writes, “You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their “relationship,” but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out.”

 

The very last words are particularly relevant. Even as of late, several people have asked me if we’re together, and some don’t even believe me when I tell them that we aren’t, which is just funny to me. I mean, I’m not shy about saying that I do genuinely love him, but even that seems to be such a polarizing thing to say in American relational culture. They always assume that something else must be going on between us because there’s just no precedent for that kind of friendship in American culture, and that raises a lot of good questions. Why can’t friends pay for each other when they go out to meals together? Why can’t friends hold hands or link arms walking down the street (this is actually quite common in many countries, especially non-Westernized countries, but also countries like Spain and Italy)? And why can’t friends say “I love you,” to each other?

 

Why have we created such a warped and distorted view of friendship in American culture that we've started to believe friendships can't be this deep or intimate without being a threat to marriage?

 

I think our perception of friendship has been so warped and distorted in American culture and American Christian culture that we’ve started to believe that friendships can’t be this deep or this intimate without being a threat to marriage or romantic relationships because the lines might be too blurry. While obviously those relationships are distinct, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Greeks and even C.S. Lewis counted friendship among the different forms of love, so why do we keep insisting on limiting love to the kind we see in romcoms and keeping it in a box when it’s so much broader and more beautiful than that? I think that perhaps if we reoriented and repaired our perceptions of friendship and other forms of love that aren’t romantic, sexual love, maybe those relationships in our lives would be improved and strengthened too, because we’d start to see love more holistically than the way it’s been fed to us over the last several decades.

 

Maybe the Greeks were onto something when they used different words for the different forms of love. Maybe they knew that having only one word to encompass so many different kinds of nuanced relationships would cause us to unhealthily emphasize one over all the others. Maybe that’s the source of our Christian idolization of marriage and romantic relationships.

 

All of that being said, start thinking about how you think about your significant others in your life, because they can be your friends, your family, and so many other people other than just someone you might be romantically involved with. Do you automatically prioritize a romantic relationship over others in your life? If so, why? And is it even Biblical to do that?

 

Maybe the source of our Christian idolization of marriage and romantic relationships stems from the fact that the words we have to talk about different kinds of relationships in American English are so limited and narrow, lacking the nuance that the Greeks had to talk about love.

 

After that, start thinking about how you can love your friends better. Tell your friends you love them. Show some physical affection maybe. I’m not necessarily saying we need to knock marriage down a few notches, but I am definitely saying that friendship is a beautiful and complex thing that hasn’t been getting enough of the credit it truly deserves.

 

(In writing this post, I referenced a couple articles and they can be found at these links below if you’re interested in reading more about this kind of friendship.)

 

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/12/anam-cara-john-o-donohue-soul-friend/

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/04/23/love-undetectable-andrew-sullivan-friendship/

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff and please, please share my writing if you resonate with it!

 

when our words kill friendship (part one)

This is the fourth entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

As a writer, you could say that I think about words a lot. Part of both the joy and frustration of writing is being able to find just the right word to express exactly the sort of sentiment you want to convey. For the most part, the English language usually does a pretty good job of supplying words that have the proper nuance, but something that I’ve been thinking about recently is how sometimes we don’t have enough words to capture the depth of some things that we consider to be so basic. Friendship is one of those things.

 

In English, our single word ‘friend’ encompasses such a wide range of meanings that other languages might divide into different words in order to convey the proper amount of nuance behind them. I mean, I think it’s a little strange that we use the same word to describe people that we’re connected to on Facebook, many of whom we might not even talk to or interact with on a regular basis, as well as people that we share our souls with and can call late at night to cry with. It seems almost disrespectful to use the same word for both of those kinds of relationships. After all, many people call their spouses or their siblings their best friends, and yet we’ll still use the same word to talk about that person we might’ve shared a class with freshman year of college or high school and haven’t talked to since.

 

That’s one of the things I loved most about being a linguistics major. By at least rudimentarily studying several other languages, you gain a broader understanding of how other people express different ideas across different languages, and the subtle nuances that those untranslatable words and phrases carry tell you quite a bit about how that language or culture thinks about and treats various aspects of life. With friendship, I think the contrast between English and other languages is quite striking.

 

Friend || English

We’ll start with the English word for friend, because I think that this word carries a lot of underlying connotations that we perhaps don’t consciously think about when we use it in our daily lives. Personally, in observing and thinking about the ways that the majority of people around me use the word ‘friend,’ I’ve realized that this word tends to carry notions of casualness and complacency that other languages’ terms for the same type of relationship don’t necessarily. In English, a friend can span anything from an acquaintance that you’ve met and small talked with to someone you’ve known for years and years and knows some of the most intimate parts of your life. Again, it’s peculiar that English uses the same words for both of those kinds of relationships.

 

The English word for friendship tends to carry notions of casualness and complacency that the same words in other languages don't.

 

The complacency and looseness of the term ‘friend’ comes into play when you start comparing friendship to other kinds of relationships. In American society specifically, I think that we tend to use a hierarchical system when it comes to how we mentally organize the different types of relationships in our lives. The pyramid is structured a little differently for everyone, but what I’ve noticed is that, especially in American Christian culture, we tend to place romantic and marriage relationships at the top, while simultaneously associating friendship with a slightly lower tier, as if friendships are inherently less valuable or desirable than romantic relationships. I don’t think many of us would admit it in those specific words, but I do think that this is how we tend to act when we really think about prioritizing relationships a lot of the time. I know that I’ve definitely chosen to do this before, giving someone that I might’ve been even vaguely interested in priority over my friends or family. I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing, because it might not be in every circumstance, but I think it’s definitely something to think about, whether we realize that we might be doing that and whether that’s something we want to continue doing consciously.

 

In American Christian culture, we tend to place romantic and marriage relationships at the top of the pyramid while simultaneously associating friendship with a lower tier.

 

Nakama/Shinyuu || Japanese

Japanese has a number of different words and expressions that are used for friendship depending on what part of the country you happen to be from, and these two are ones that I’ve heard the most frequently in shows and other media when characters are talking about especially close friends. Where we have the word ‘friend’ in English, Japanese would use [tomodachi], which is loosely used to refer to schoolmates or casual friends and acquaintances, people that you enjoy spending time with and doing certain activities with, but whom you’d probably still address using slightly more formal language, which is often a sign of closeness in Japanese culture. This seems roughly equivalent to the way that we usually use the word ‘friend’ in English, but then Japanese has [shinyuu] and [nakama], which express slightly different but similar ideas.

 

[shinyuu] refers to your best friend or your confidant, which is fairly commonplace understanding in English. It’s that person who knows your secrets, and obviously, you know theirs as well. In Japanese culture, these two people might refer to each other using just their given names or with diminutive honorifics, which usually implies a high degree of closeness, especially since honorifics and respectful speech are typically used as a means of social distancing for respect purposes in Japanese culture. For this reason, most people typically address each other by their last names accompanied by an appropriate honorific, or a little linguistic tag that denotes their status in relation to each other.  That’s why the very act of being able to address someone by just their given name signals that closeness in Japanese culture, and thus goes to show the level of friendship between two people meant to be understood by the use of this word.

 

On the other hand, [nakama] refers to friends that you almost no longer consider to be friends at all. When someone is [nakama], it means that person or those people have essentially become family to you, a person who will stand by you no matter what, which is even more significant in Japanese culture than it might seem to us Americans. In the United States, it’s more or less common to know people who consider each other to be family even if they aren’t related by blood. Perhaps they grew up together, or their parents are close, which led to them being close by default. That’s part of what [nakama] means, but it just barely scratches the surface, because family is so much more significant to someone’s identify and social construction in Japanese culture.

 

In Japan, the family is the first social unit that a person is born into and remains the main social unit for the rest of your life. There are a lot of stereotypical ideas about Japanese, or perhaps Asian honor culture in general, floating around the United States, and that’s what this plays into. Family is your biggest priority in Japanese culture, and a large part of your identify comes from how you interact and relate to your family. Anything that you might do will reflect back on your family and the same goes for anything that your family members might do in relation to you. It’s hard to properly describe how significant family is in Japanese culture, being a collective culture, rather than an individual culture like what exists in the United States, but it goes without saying that for a friend to become family in Japanese culture means for that relationship to be on a level above what we would normally consider friends to be in American culture.

 

In Japanese culture, for a friend to become family inherently means for that relationship to be on a level above what we would normally consider friendship in American culture.

 

I’m not sure that I have any true [nakama] in my life quite yet, but I would say that my friend Sheridan is pretty freaking close. We don’t quite reflect on each other in the same way that family members would reflect on each other in Japanese culture, but most people that know us also automatically know the other, or have at least heard of the other. But we definitely will stand by each other no matter what. She knows my secrets (provided that we’ve had time to actually catch up, considering that we’ve found ourselves living across countries or oceans from each other recently), she’s one of the first people that I want to tell when I have news, and she’s my first choice as a roommate once we decide to start trying to adult. She makes me want to listen to better music, eat healthier (and trendier, haha) food, and she’ll call me out on my BS without really caring if I’ll like it or not (because eventually, I’ll come around and realize that I was doing something stupid). She’s one of very few of my friends who I’ve cried with (and loudly at that) in person, and to top it all off, we actually technically weren’t friends for a grand total of three months at one point in time (again, because a certain person was being stupid – read – me), so if that’s not “standing by you no matter what,” then I’m not really sure what is.

 

She’s good for me in more ways than I have time to write about here, but I think one specific thing I will always love about her is that she has an uncanny sense of discernment that I haven’t seen in anybody else in my life. She can get a read on any situation and see through whatever other kinds of mess are floating around in a heartbeat.

 

Now, I’m definitely not the kind of person to overspiritualize everything, but last winter I was going through a pretty dark, suicidal period in life, which most people are familiar with, and she was the first person to point out to me that perhaps part of that cloud of darkness was a form of spiritual attack. It was something that hadn’t even been on my radar before she mentioned it, and frankly, I was a caught a little off guard by that assessment, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. That was the crack in the door I needed to be able to see the light on the other side, and that kind of discernment isn’t something that everyone has.

 

I’m not sure if the two of us will ever quite fit the exact definition of [nakama], just because American culture doesn’t work the same way, but if there was ever an American equivalent, Sheridan would definitely be [nakama] to me.

 

Maybe the reason we have such a low view of friendship in American culture is because we don't have adequate words to fully explain and define what those relationships mean to us.

 

These kinds of distinctions and nuances in how other languages talk about friendship consistently blow my mind, and I’m certain that they help me better understand what friendship really is, because our American view of friendship is so narrow and limited. In linguistics and probably also in psychology, we learn that the way we talk about things influences the way that we then perceive things and treat them. Maybe the reason that we have such a low view of friendship in American and American Christian culture is because we don’t have adequate words to fully explain what those relationships mean to us, and maybe we need to start borrowing some of this friendship vocabulary in order to free us from the cultural chains that bind our preconceived notions of what friendship is so that we can really, truly understand it in all of its beauty.

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: the second half of this discussion on friendship in linguistic terms, covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff.

friendship is a tricky thing for gay Christians

That title isn’t even totally accurate. I could remove the “for gay Christians” part and that title would still be as true as ever, but I also just want to talk about how friendship can be even more inherently complicated for gay Christians. Sometimes it just adds so many more layers of awkward that you wouldn’t think would ever come up or be a problem. Also, contrary to popular belief, I’ve been feeling lately that for the majority of people “being satisfied by friends and family” isn’t a suitable way of coping with a call to singleness (post on what I think about singleness coming in the future, I promise!). Since most of my posts tend to come with some sort of random disclaimer, the disclaimer for this post is that these are simply reflections on my own emotions as well as the emotions of some of my friends who have discussed this topic with me. If any of these things make sense to you or you’ve felt the same way, awesome! If they don’t, feel free to comment and let me know why, but I mostly want to present a perspective from this side of things, because I think that it’s something that gets talked about a lot, but also doesn’t get talked about a lot at the same time. I’ll explain as we get further.

As I talked about briefly in the first part of my story, which you can find here, I didn’t really come from a gay-aware background. Not that there was any serious gay bashing or anything like that, but you just assumed that everyone you met was straight and going to get married someday unless someone told you otherwise. I think that most people reading can relate to that kind of mindset. Thus, in my experience anyway, romantic relationships got talked about a fair amount in relation to homosexuality in church and in school, mostly to the extent that you weren’t supposed to have a relationship, pointing toward lifelong celibacy as the only acceptable path for gay Christians to take, if they even existed. In that way, celibacy and abstinence were the two main things thrown at us in regards to homosexuality and relationships early on, but what they didn’t really talk about, even though it was intrinsically connected to that issue as well, was the topic of friendships for gay Christians and how those were supposed to work, especially if the church was telling us that we were supposed to be emotionally fulfilled and supported by friends and family? What was the difference between a romantic and platonic relationship anyway and how were those friendships supposed to factor into your mandated celibate lifestyle?

Coming from a heteronormative background, those were all things that I had never really thought about before and things that I didn’t realize would bring me a great deal of heartache in the future. As I mentioned in the first part of my story, I was emotionally unable to tell the difference between romantic and platonic feelings at the ripe, mature age of 15 and almost tore apart a perfectly good friendship as a result, something that I also didn’t know would come to repeat itself in the next few years on a much grander scale (ooh, foreshadowing). But in all seriousness, especially with all my close friends being primarily girls, sounding out the differences between those two types of relationships was something that I was vastly underprepared for.

After all, for a typical straight guy who has primarily guys as friends, it’s pretty easy to compartmentalize and say that you are supposed to have platonic relationships with other guys and romantic relationships with girls. However, for my confused, gay 15 year old self who had primarily girls as friends in a heteronormative conservative Christian bubble, my compartmentalization process was completely out of whack. Everything I knew told me that I was supposed to have platonic relationships with other guys and romantic relationships with girls, but the fact of the matter was that I just got along so much better with girls most of the time, and I still wasn’t fully aware of the fact that my attractions fell primarily on guys. Thus, there I was, having been raised in an environment where all the guys were supposed to like girls and being in a place where I couldn’t really picture dating any of my friends, but at the same time, my strong platonic feelings for them must have meant that I was attracted to them, right? What a mess. Looking back, it’s no wonder that I fell out of like with the girl that I was supposedly dating. I had never really “liked” her to begin with.

Fast forward to just about a year ago. The vast majority of my friends are all still girls, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m gay, so I’ve got slightly more going for me in the emotional sorting department. Or so I thought. I’ll talk about this in more detail when I post the second part of my story, but basically history came to repeat itself, and I almost gave up one of my closest friends because of the fact that I couldn’t figure out my emotions and the difference between platonic and romantic attractions again. Way to go, self.

The point is that relationships are hard no matter what, but sometimes being gay adds another dimension that causes even basic friendships to be awkward and difficult to navigate, especially in Christian church culture where the pressure to find a spouse and get married can often be stronger than in the secular world. There are countless stories of older, celibate gay Christians who find their support networks thinning as all of their friends and loved ones get married. For many gay Christians, especially younger ones, I think any easy trap to fall into is that of fooling yourself into thinking that you’ve fallen in love with someone of the opposite gender. Obviously, it goes without saying that if you’ve prayed over a situation, had those hard conversations with that person, and feel like God is calling you to be married to someone of the opposite gender, then go for it. However, I think that loneliness and societal pressures can cause us to leap at any opportunity to try and fill that void, feeling like friendships alone just won’t cut it (a post on mixed-orientation marriages will come later).

I get that. It’s hard. As much as people will try to argue the other way, your sexuality does in fact profoundly affect your life. You can’t just say that you’ll “base your identity more strongly in Christ” and expect those problems to go away. Yes, you should definitely find your identity in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be practical obstacles that you’ll have to overcome. After all, there have been a multitude of different stances over the years. For a while, it was that gay Christians were supposed to pretend they were straight and just get married to women. For a lot of people, that doesn’t work out and they end up coming out later in life and dragging a lot of other people into that mess with them. Then, it was the ex-gay ministries that promised to make you straight if you just believed and prayed hard enough. Today, the most popular option in conservative churches is celibacy and fulfilling your emotional needs through friends, while at the same time cautioning you not to get too close to friends of the same-sex lest you be tempted to lust or people think that there’s something more going on. So, you really can’t win. How are you supposed to live if conservative Christianity says that you aren’t allowed to get married, that you’re supposed to look to friends for emotional support, but at the same time you have to be wary of “abstaining from the appearance of evil?” It’s hard. It’s crazy hard, especially when people start to feel lonely and like they’re just giving away all of their emotions for nothing, like they’re always the ones who care more because they’re not allowed to have someone who cares about them the same way. This article by Wesley Hill talks a little more about this complicated view of friendships if you care to check that out.

I resonate with those people, and in fact, you will find that many straight people will resonate with that sentiment as well. In my mind and my opinion, there’s such a stark, yet also subtle difference between any sort of friendship or familial relationship and an exclusive, committed relationship, a difference that even straight single people are aware of. It’s not a feeling limited to celibate gay Christians who feel like they’re stuck.

A few days ago while I was complaining to one of my straight female friends about my lack of a relationship and how sometimes I just feel lonely, even though I know I have a lot of friends and people who care about me, she expressed that she was feeling the same way in her group of friends because many of them had significant others. While they obviously were not neglecting her or spending time with her, she noted that it still wasn’t the same as having someone for herself, something that I totally agreed with.

And yes, we made sure to address the asterisk of the fact that Jesus loves us more than any human being possibly could, but we also both agreed that it still isn’t the same thing as having a human companion, a person. Obviously, it is so true that Jesus loves each of us more than we could ever imagine. He is Love Himself after all, but that doesn’t take away the fact that humans were created to be relationship with each other.

What we discussed specifically was this: yes, friendships are inherently filling and wonderful in and of themselves. However, there are multiple aspects of an exclusive, committed relationship that aren’t present in friendships that I think all people crave, and I think that is the exclusivity itself. Yes, you can have the best friends in the entire world, but even given that, I doubt that there is one single person who wants to be in a relationship who doesn’t feel lonely and alone at some point, simply because none of those friends are their person. For every person who is in a committed relationship, there is an implicit assumption that those two people love and care about each other more than anyone else in their lives, even it’s just by a little bit. They are each other’s person, and no matter how you try to justify friendships being just as fulfilling as those kinds of relationships, the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, you might be pouring all of your emotions into that one friend, or perhaps several friends, as your person or your people, but they won’t (and can’t) be giving you the complete same thing, because you aren’t their person. Their significant other/spouse/partner/whatever is their person, and that’s who they’re pouring all that emotion into.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that those people are bad friends. That’s the farthest thing from the truth. That’s just how relationships work, whether we want to admit it or not, and I think that can be part of the reason that gay Christians get so fed up with celibacy and get depressed and lonely, because they don’t have a person. Obviously for people who are called to be and embrace celibacy as their God-given calling, they might laugh at that and brush it aside saying that having another person would only complicate their lives, but for the people who want to be in relationship, it can be the most devastating and weighty realization that they care about people more than people will or can care about them. And I’m going to say this again because I think that people will forget it or try to argue their way out of it: those people are not being bad friends. It’s just natural (and rightly so) that someone would give emotional priority to their significant other/spouse/partner/etc. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

And this is the reason that I advocate for companionships or celibate same-sex relationships as an alternative option for gay Christians who are feeling stuck in a life of singleness that God is not calling them to. I fully support celibacy and singleness as a completely legitimate calling from the Lord, and I cannot say how much respect I have for people who embrace that life and how much I admire those people, but the thing is that I do not believe every single gay Christian is called to that kind of life. I, personally, think that I am much too social of a person to live my life alone. I think that I would be at my best with another person by my side, and I think that God knows that too. So, yes! For those people who are able to embrace celibacy and own it, I support that 200%. For people who feel like God is calling them to a same-sex marriage, I can honestly say that I support that as well. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are such strong arguments and Biblical exegeses in support of same-sex relationships that I really can’t say that I’m against it. But for people who cannot accept that and also don’t think they can live a life of singleness, I definitely think that a celibate same-sex relationship is a good option that should be prayed over.

Anyway, this post got pretty long and took a couple different turns, including some that probably just sounded like me complaining about my life or that didn’t make sense. But like I said, many of these things are things that straight people can also relate to, especially if they’re in a position of wanting to be in a relationship and not finding one. That’s sort of where I am right now, anyway. Honestly, I’m looking, not super actively looking, but I’m looking and just not finding anyone that I even remotely like at the moment. And that’s okay. That’s not a bad thing, but I think it’s something that straight people can resonate with as well.

Again, these are my personal experiences, opinions, and reflections of what I’ve been feeling and going through, written down to hopefully provide a glimpse of what the other side looks like. Let me know what you guys think about these things. Have you felt this way before? Do you agree/disagree? Why or why not?

making sense of the seemingly insensible (on same-sex relationships)

This post will conclude what is, in my mind, a three part series on what I believe about and what God has been teaching me about celibacy and relationships in regards to LGBT Christians. Of course, that doesn't mean that I'm done talking about those things. I just feel like all three of these posts are intricately tied together, which is why I'll link to them here as well in case you haven't read them. Part One: when the church talks about celibacy

Part Two: what celibacy really means (for same-sex relationships)

So take a look at those two posts if you haven't read them yet. Hopefully you'll see that they all sort of flow together.

Finally, one last thing before I get started on this post. Don't forget that at the bottom of every page on this blog there's a button you can press to subscribe via email. That way, you'll get an email every time I post something new. So go and do that if you care to follow along with what I'm writing. I always love to connect with new people, share thoughts, and see what they have to say.

Recap: Alright, so in my last post, I talked about what my definition of celibacy is and how the current definition of celibacy or the assumptions made about it are hurtful to LGBT Christians in the church. I also discussed what I believe about same-sex relationships and how being celibate and being in a relationship are not mutually exclusive, which I believe can be very freeing and eye-opening to many people who struggle with wanting to follow what the Bible says about homosexuality while also having a difficult time reconciling that with how to live life practically. In this post, I want to talk about how Biblical, same-sex relationships might work, and I know that sounds crazy, considering that I've never been in one but trust that I've thought about this a lot. For one perspective on how this might work, you can take a look at Lindsey and Sarah's blog.

In order to talk about how I believe that same-sex relationships can work, I'm going to address a couple key questions or comments that I've gotten a lot when discussing this topic with various people. Their questions are completely valid and very practical, but they also come from a very "straight" mindset, if you will, neglecting the fact that these relationships are going to look and operate a little differently from straight relationships.

One of the first things that people always say is: I feel like that would just be so much harder and less fulfilling than being single, don't you think?

When they say that, what they're really referring to, in a super Christian, roundabout way, is sex. Again. As if that's the only thing that gay people (or straight people for that matter) think about at any given point in life. But I really can't blame people for asking this question, because it's anchored in what I talked about in my last post, the fact that western culture is so grotesquely oversexualized and obsessed with sex.

The problem with this comment isn't the fact that they're saying that it's going to be harder. Relationships are hard to begin with. Ask your parents or any married couple. They'll tell you it's not easy by a long shot, and I do believe that this type of relationship is going to be harder in a sense. But again, that's not the problem. The problem is the reasoning behind that question which is this: Your relationship is going to be harder and less fulfilling (or not fulfilling) because you can't have sex.

Okay, hold the phone. Do you mean to tell me that the sole factor that provides fulfillment in a relationship is sex? Because that's a blatant lie. Pardon the cliche, but this also goes back to the classic American saying that a guy and a girl can't be friends without one falling in love with the other. I hate that saying too. Besides, what about friends? What about family? What about all the other kinds of relationships that exist in the world? Somehow, those are still functioning and fulfilling people.

Yes, I totally believe that sex does bind people together in straight, monogamous marriages, but I definitely don't think that it's necessary for fulfillment, and I'm sorry if that's coming from someone who's never been in a relationship, but I also believe it's Biblical. This mindset is something that comes from western culture, not from the Bible. Sex shouldn't be what fulfills you in a relationship. Otherwise I think that maybe your relationship has some other problems.

The second thing that people will inevitably ask or say is this: Don't you think that just causes unnecessary temptation?

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but this is a question that is also rooted in our hypersexualized western culture. It revisits the idea that any serious, loving relationship automatically includes sex. And in my opinion, I think that it also implies that two people in a serious relationship won't be able to control themselves if presented with that opportunity, which reduces people to just sex machines again (ah, don't let me get started on this here).

Yes, I will admit that there will obviously be temptation there, but I think that this question also comes from a very "straight" mindset. For straight couples, regardless of whether they are Christian or not, it is an assumption that that they will get to have sex at some point in their relationship. For Christians, that happens to be after marriage. Until then, they are bound to celibacy as well. Many of my friends will attest to the fact that the temptation becomes even greater once you realize that you are committed to a person and know where the relationship is going. Personally, I believe that comes from the expectation and anticipation they have of what is to come when they're married, something that doesn't exist for gay people. Let me explain.

Temptation, in my opinion, comes from the expectation and anticipation of what is to come in that relationship when they're married.

In straight relationships, there are a lot of things that people take for granted (we could call it straight privilege, but that's a topic for a completely different post). One of those things is the assumption that at some point in their relationship they will get to have sex. That's the mentality which they have in serious, committed relationships. But like I said, that's a very "straight" mentality.

The assumption for straight people is that at some point in their relationship they will get to have sex.

In my opinion, I think that a lot of temptation can be avoided by adopting a different mentality altogether. For LGBT Christians wanting to remain celibate and honor what they believe the Bible says (and as a disclaimer, I have absolutely no judgment for LGBT Christians who believe that same-sex relationships, everything included, are okay under the Bible. For me personally, that's not ideal, but I also don't really have a problem with it, as there are very compelling arguments for Biblical, monogamous, non-celibate same-sex relationships.  I can address this in another post if there's enough interest.), I think that entering relationships with a celibate mindset will prevent a lot of those issues with temptations. I know that for myself, I've already completely taken the possibility of having sex off the table in regards to my mentality for when I enter a relationship. It's just not even an option in my mind at all, completely off limits.

A lot of temptation can be avoided by adopting a different mentality all together.

And here, people will say: Oh, but you will consider it if it comes up.

That may be true, but again, the saying goes that 80% of any battle is in the mind.

Thus, I think that a crucial component to having a same-sex relationship that works is also finding someone who's on the same page as you mentally. They have to enter into that relationship with the same mindset, and there has to be a lot of communication about boundaries and what you're expecting. Without that, then yes, all of the above questions/comments/arguments are totally valid. You need to find someone who is going to be as committed to celibacy as you are. They have to have eliminated the possibility of having sex from their minds as well.

You need to find someone who is going to be as committed to celibacy as you are.

Finally, I think that one of the biggest misconceptions that people might have about this kind of same-sex relationship is that it's just like marriage but without sex. I don't think that's true, and I think that having that mentality will lead to hurt and dissatisfaction later in life. Lindsey and Sarah talk about this on their blog, which I've linked to further up in this post.

Personally, I would categorize this kind of relationship as a companionship or something along those lines, because marriage is definitely its own category. So pardon the Hallmark sounding name (and please, please let me know if you think of something better), but a companionship is going to look a lot different than marriage simply by virtue of not being marriage (Lindsey and Sarah talk about some practical, legal aspects of this, which I hope to write a post on in the future as well).

In my eyes, a companionship is (I'm sorry, bullet points are just going to make this so much easier to digest):

  • in some respects, more similar to the relationship between two best friends than the relationship between a married couple (but I don't even really think that expresses it enough)
  • a relationship where you still have a person, that one person who you are committed to for the rest of your life and you love a little more than everyone else (because that's sort of what differentiates a romantic relationship from, like, best friendships, right?)
  • a relationship with a person with whom you can go through life with and support and be supported emotionally, spiritually, etc.
  • a relationship with a person who will constantly be encouraging you and pointing you back to Jesus and for whom you can do the same
  • a relationship that can potentially be deeper than marriage because you don't have sex to bind you together physically
  • a relationship with a person you love selflessly and who loves you selflessly
  • a relationship with your actual best friend

I'm not even sure if all of that adequately describes the kind of relationship that I have floating around in my mind, just because I haven't experienced it yet, and it can be so hard to understand for anyone who hasn't thought about it. It's such a different, but beautiful kind of relationship that I'm not sure I can succinctly describe right now. But if you have more questions about this, please either comment below or email me/message me and I'd love to talk to you about it more.

Since all of that was probably really confusing, let me tell you a story to try and give you a glimpse of what this might look like practically. It's not exactly what I'm trying to describe, but it's pretty close in my opinion.

So I have this best friend, and she's actually on Wordpress too, so check out her blog if that piques your interest at all (and I know, gay guy with his female best friend, stereotypical). She's currently in the middle of doing a year of discipleship school, and she's written some pretty cool things over there.

Anyway, she's my best friend and she's really great. I'm also convinced (and she'll probably hate me for saying this, but almost everyone else who knows us would agree) that, in my opinion, we would probably be getting married in another life. That's basically how close we are and is a good one line summary (albeit a confusing one) of our relationship.

For the one year that we actually went to the same school, we were basically joined at the hip. We were together all the time and did a lot of couple-type things. Our usual hang outs were very date-like, and even after we started going to separate schools we had a couple months when we made it a priority to see each other at the same time, same place, same day of the week, every week.

Basically, everyone started asking whether or not we were actually a thing, and people wouldn't believe us when we said we weren't. This is also obviously before I was out, so the unbelief was very real. It was to the point where my friends and family didn't need to ask me where I would be on Wednesday nights, because they already knew that I was going to be with her. They would actually ask me why I wasn't with her if I happened to be around during that time slot. My family also just started assuming that we were actually together even after it was repeatedly said that we weren't, so that happened. Oh well. It probably didn't help the whole image situation that we tended to do things like have impromptu picnics, go to concerts and plays together, take Saturday day trips, and have dressed up dinners in downtown Stillwater. Yeah, wow. They sound like dates to me right now even as I'm writing about them, and I know firsthand that they weren't.

But honestly, that's part of the beauty of it, and I think some of that reflects the kind of relationship that I'm trying to describe. People (and they say so) didn't understand our relationship and they assumed that there were things there that weren't. To this day, people still don't really understand how our relationship works, but I think some light has been shed on it by my being out now, but that's beside the point. We aren't and never were romantically interested in each other, but there was something else there that bonded us together as friends and in life that I have yet to encounter again. Part of it is our shared interests, our similar-ish family backgrounds, our similar perspectives, and our love for Jesus, but there's something else that I can't quite describe. And like I said, even right now, I almost feel like, and I'm sure it maybe sounds like I'm writing about a romantic relationship, but I'm not. That's how different it is.

And that's the kind of relationship that I believe this companionship (seriously, God needs to change my heart about this name or someone needs to come up with something better, haha) is supposed to be. People might not understand it; people might have misconceptions about it; people might assume things about it that aren't true, and that's all okay. Because when it comes down to it, all that matters is that you and your relationship are right with God.

Those are my jumbled thoughts on this topic. But I want to hear what you guys have to say. Have you ever considered this as an option? What do you think about it? Do you have any other questions that you'd like me to try and address?

Let me know what you think.