“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
– Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
– Proverbs 17:17
In my last series, I recounted the various manifestations of attractions, both non-sexual and sexual, in my life. These attractions had the primary effect of forming the various human bonds in my life. The attractions toward my parents and sister formed family bonds. The attractions toward others formed friendship bonds. Prior to entering grade school, my friends mainly consisted of my older sister and her friends, most of whom were girls, as I was inseparable from her. Friendship in those early years was based mostly on common play activities and did not involve deep intellectual or emotional bonding given my limited faculties in these areas. As such, there was little discrimination in whom I became friends with, as the main criterion seemed to be availability and willingness to engage in supportive play. As I entered grade school, I began to develop more friendships with other boys as the gender distinction was societally reinforced, and I began to appreciate my similarity with other boys including temperament and interests, such as boldness and playing video games and sports. Yet, I continued to have some friendships with girls, which were less numerous and less intense than with boys, as I was drawn to certain aspects of their temperament and interests too, including sensitivity and cooperation. In these pre-pubescent years, I felt relatively free to develop friendship bonds with peers, as the bonds were always platonic and based simply on shared interests and personality, and I developed many close friendships including a male best friend I spent much of those early years with. These friendships gave me a sense of belonging and allowed me to develop my inner and outer social self that formed the foundation of the man that I am today.
My friendship bonds became more complicated once puberty came, partly due to internal changes but also partly due to external changes. Externally, the social rules of engagement had all of a sudden changed. A friendship with a girl was no longer perceived as just a friendship but rather was laden with express or implied expectations of romance. I still desired to connect with some of the attractive attributes of female friends, even though I wasn’t sexually attracted to them, but closer friendships often led to misunderstandings about my feelings for them, particularly when the girls were romantically attracted to me. Observers of my friendships with girls would frequently ask whether I was dating them, which led to many uncomfortable situations in which I couldn’t explain that I wasn’t sexually attracted to girls. Consequently, while I continued to have platonic friendships with girls, I learned to put limits on them consciously and subconsciously in order to reduce the undesired complications. Friendships with other boys also became complicated as I began to develop sexual attractions towards some of them and as the male friendship dynamic changed. Not only was I drawn to some of my male friends due to our shared interests and temperament, I also found myself wanting to connect with them sexually, which was a complete taboo in the environment in which I grew up. Also, the topic of conversation frequently turned to girls and dating. Wanting to fit in, I participated in these conversation, particularly as I was semi-dating in their eyes and I seemed heterosexual to them. But there was only so much “guy talk” I could engage in before I became very disinterested and felt that I was being disingenuous. So while I continued to be drawn to my male friends in non-sexual and sexual ways, I found that there was an increasing chasm between us.
As I grew past my pubescent years into young adulthood, friendships became a source of both great support and much soul searching. In college, I connected with Christian friends in profoundly deep ways, which was aided by spending so much time together studying, socializing, praying, worshipping, and serving together. We shared some of the deepest concerns of our hearts and shared moments of deep joy, sorrow, and connection with God. Of course, there were a few among the broader group of friends who became particularly dear to me. The ones I had the greatest affinity with were those who had similar intellectual curiosity, spiritual insight, emotional awareness, humor, mild temperament, and interests such as the love of diverse cuisines. With them, I felt that they knew and loved the real me and that they genuinely cared for my well-being, and they likewise felt the same about me. I felt that our bond of friendship was akin to a family bond that would last in this life and beyond through eternity. One particularly dear friend was there with me to share the deep moments I had with God and many moments of angst I had regarding family, school, and future career. This friend enhanced my experience of God and life by being one with me in spirit and making my internal experience a communal experience. This friend likewise shared similar personal experiences, thereby allow me to partake in that communal experience of God.
Despite the deep friendship relationships I’ve experienced over the years, there have been some intractable obstacles to having the kind of friendships my heart yearns for. I’ve touched on the first obstacle above, namely my same sex sexual attractions (SSSA). In additions to the difficulties already noted, the main difficulty has been my inability to be transparent about my SSSA with those who are my dearest friends. There are many reasons for this, which I’ll discuss more in a future post, but the effect has been a gap in my friendship bonds that has negatively impacted the friendships subjectively and practically. Subjectively, I feel that I am not known about an important part of my heart and feel less than genuine with people who mean the most to me. Practically, my SSSA has caused me to limit my interactions with men and to some extent also women so that I avoid both temptations and uncomfortable situations. For instance, I was asked to be an accountability partner for a dear Christian brother, but after some consideration, I sadly declined because I did not want to be open about my SSSA at that time and did not want to hide my heart in an accountability partnership. Another obstacle has been my introverted personality. I should clarify that by introversion, I am not saying that I am shy or disinterested in people, as I can be quite engaging and enjoy spending time with people. Rather, I find spending too much time with people drains me, and I find much peace and emotional capital in solitude. So while someone with greater relational need might seek out platonic or sexual relationships to satiate an inner need, I have found it to be both convenient and emotionally tolerable to withdraw from relationships when difficulties like the issues raised by my SSSA arise. My extremely busy vocational life, whether in school or at work, has been another obstacle to developing and sustaining friendships. I have several close friendships that date back many years that can persist despite my lack of availability, but every relationship still requires some devotion of time and effort to nurture it. In some ways, my busy vocational life has been a convenient excuse for me to extricate myself from friendship encounters that can become uncomfortable.
My approach to friendships today is still a work in progress, but I believe it is a work that God has been doing in me to allow me to experience more of the kind of deep friendship relationships God would like His people to have. As I have come to reconcile my faith and sexuality, my friendships have become less hindered by my SSSA. A big part of this has been opening up to select trusted friends about my SSSA and being accepted and loved for who I am, both the sinful fallen man and the redeemed perfect child of God. I have also developed friendships with other Christian men with SSSA with similar theological outlook on SSSA, and they have allowed me to experience a new kind of friendship, namely a friendship in which we can relate to one another’s life with SSSA and can provide love and support from a place of personal knowledge and experience. As I don’t envision myself marrying a woman and having children, friendships will be the backbone of my relationships. But the kind of friendship I desire or rather need is deeper than the conventional notions of friendship, particularly male friendships that in our society tend to be superficial, activity focused, and emotionally reserved. The biblical vision of friendship that is more akin to family relations is rarely seen among men due to fears of homosexual implications, but I believe this sort of deep friendship is exactly what men with SSSA need to live a chaste life in Christ. In so doing, men with SSSA can allow their innate non-sexual attraction towards men, which is godly, to be expressed in a manner that is consistent with scripture’s vision of friendship and sexuality.