I wrote a post earlier this week that highlighted some of my fears for the future related to loneliness. As some of my closest friends have moved away, I’ve caught myself coming home to an empty apartment more often than I’m used to, more often than I would like. People responded with such thoughtful feedback: encouragement, challenges, pertinent questions and words of solidarity.
It seemed fitting to respond to some of the questions in a consolidated manner, and this one opens the door to exploring some related questions about how exactly we might all come alongside one another: “Julie, when you put on your hoodie and stare into space in your apartment, what are you really longing for?”
When I talk about loneliness, people often assume a romantic relationship with a woman is what I’m really longing for—that it would solve the problem. While that would offer a sort of built-in companion to come home to, I’m not longing for a sexual or romantic partner. I’m not longing for a wife, or someone to make out with, or even someone to have a really intense conversation about the depths of my soul with; I’m longing for everyday intimacy.
I’m longing for someone who will crack jokes with me. I’m longing for someone who knows me well enough to know I solve problems in my head before speaking them out loud, for someone who knows when to challenge that or when to let me be. I’m longing for someone to share a highlight from their day like: “Hey I passed this miniature horse on the way home and thought about how awesome it would be to have one as a pet.” I’m longing to hear about someone else’s day over dinner in the living room so I’m reminded that the minutia I just obsessed about for 30 minutes is actually not the most important thing in the world.
I’m not longing for an intense holding session or for raging gay sex; I just want to wear my fat clothes with others who will let me poke fun at their quirks and do the same to me. I don’t think this needs to be met through one special person who will make my dreams come true, and the things I’m longing for don’t require me to step outside the boundaries God laid down for human relationships. I’m longing for intimacy—for friendship—for something celebrated in the biblical vision for human connection.
The struggle for me comes when (like I’ve recently experienced in gatherings with young adults) “relationship building” is a bounce from chipper-chat to chipper-chat about where we work, where we went to college, and how CRAZY the latest ice storm was. I long for the church to be a real, authentic, let-your-hair-down family to one another. It can, at times, sound like we want the church to make a mad dash toward any and all gay people to beg us all to move into your homes.
While I would love to see more families opening their homes to single people, I don’t intend to paint a picture of celibate gay men and women as weak, needy, lonely people—desperately in need of the church to extend pity. Not at all! My hope is for us all to share life together, in whatever capacity we can, with a mutual give and take across the spectrum of gay and straight, married and single. What many of us are longing for is a place—a family—where we can give our love away.
Several married people have pointed out that they’re lonely too; they need more than their spouse for relational wholeness. Many moms would love for someone else to gush about all the finger-painted pictures on the refrigerator for once. One of the reasons celibate gays aren’t in more of these homes, gushing about the finger-painted pictures on refrigerators, is because everyday intimacy is rarely established across the divides. It’s just awkward because it’s not the norm. People respond to gay people with suggestions to find a gay partner because we’ve set ourselves up to roll with people in similar situations, but I’m afraid we’re all missing out when we congregate in our separate pockets of society.
While it would be great to share a house with other celibate folks ( I would love to do that someday), it would also be great to have a regular routine of picking up pizzas after work and heading straight to a family’s messy living room. The house can smell like cat litter; the children can throw hissy fits; we can never get to the part about my day totally sucking—and the thing I’m longing for will be in full swing the whole time. We all need friends from all over the spectrum; we just have to push through a little awkwardness.
Several people have mentioned that this requires commitment and diligence from all parties involved. Celibate men and women can’t skip around the country from city to city and then wonder why we don’t feel intimately connected to our immediate church community. I couldn’t agree more. Many writers here have suggested the need for us to turn down that ideal job in order to plant deeper roots in the community we’ve chosen. We could also remember we live in the middle of a city, a community, a physical neighborhood where others are probably in much greater need than we are, and we can seek ways to join other believers in making life more bearable for the hurting. We need to put ourselves out there, making a concerted effort to create the kinds of communities we long to see.
At the same time, I would hope—for the sake of those who feel marginalized in our churches—that the burden won’t be placed on gay people alone. I’ve braved a lot of small talk in shallow gatherings in hopes of establishing these kinds of relationships, but I would hate to tell my gay friends at low points (who win a battle if they make it out of bed in the morning) that they should just try a little harder to put themselves out there. What they’re longing for is a place to belong, not a place to introduce themselves—with a few memorized lines about their jobs—to strangers they might cross paths with in 6 or 7 weeks. They’re longing for family, and they just might need to be invited in before they can brave entering in.
I don’t think there’s one easy answer, or that one group should bear the burden, or that anyone in particular is to “blame” for the problem of modern loneliness. But I think it’s brewing beneath the surface for many of us in different ways, in different seasons, and that one of God’s answers to this problem is for us to share them with one another in mundane, routine, everyday intimacy kinds of ways. Not only will this alleviate some of the pain people feel, but it is right and good as an end in itself, and it’s a testimony to those in despair: There is a place to be truly known and loved, and that place is Christ’s church.