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?