When some of my gay friends talk about the struggles of living celibate lives, they are occasionally told by their more progressive friends that they should “just go get married.” I suspect that the speaker believes he is being compassionate, caring, and sympathetic. But he’s not. And neither are the churches who preach this simplistic message to gay Christians seeking to live celibate lives.
For a variety of reasons, many Christians (gay and straight) decide not to marry. Unfortunately, the unmarried life can be very isolating in our culture. Americans have a practice of treating marriage as the only (or at least the primary) means of intimacy and interdependency with significant and lasting obligations.
Unfortunately, this leads some churches to neglect their responsibilities to foster community among their members. The advice, “just go get married,” is often used (unintentionally) as a means of casting off what may be our responsibilities towards the well being of others. It’s a way of politely saying, “You wouldn’t be complaining to me if you had a spouse to complain to.”
We Christians should stop giving this advice to our single friends, and instead focus on loving them ourselves. If our friends are struggling in celibacy, we shouldn’t send them off to find a spouse. We should welcome them into our lives. And we should encourage them in the life they have chosen to live, rather than condescendingly implying that they’re naïve and burdensome.
Chris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.
Few people near to me are progressive. However, I expect that if my conservative friends knew about my sexuality, they would tell me to get married [to a woman] [anyway] [after putting myself through discredited ex-gay therapy].
I appreciate the succinct and clear way that you’ve stated the need for the church to support those of us who are celibate. I doubt that you intended to exclude conservatives from this exhortation, and I hear the ex-gay agenda from nearby conservatives often enough that I think they could explicitly benefit from this encouragement as well.
Is it the celibate life that is lonely or the single life? If the former, I can see why you are urged to marry; friendship cannot substitute for romantic and sexual love. If the latter, how is being”welcomed into [others’] lives”working out? From the many laments I read on this blog, it seems that it often doesn’t work. Many of us don’t have enough time for our families, let alone “adopting” a celibate/single friend. This may be an unfortunate aspect of our culture, but it is unlikely to change anytime soon–because if we really wanted something different we would have changed it by now. How about communal living? Wouldn’t that help the loneliness of the celibate/single? Granted, this is a mobile society and one particular communard may move, but if there is a critical mass–7 to 10?–I would think a stable, family feeling would grow. Plus, as people age and settle into jobs there tends to be less movement than among persons in their 20’s and 30’s.
I have to point two things relating to your post:
First, marriage is not about romance (romantic love). It is not even about sexual love. If you set yourself up for that you will be hugely disappointed.
Second, I don’t think the contributors to SF are actually expecting or wanting to be “adopted” by a family. I don’t know where you get that idea from.
Communal living… That’s an interesting thought but I think they should answer by themselves.
“Adopted” was not a good term to use; it is actually kind of insensitive. I do apologize; I was on a hurry. Nevertheless I think my main point is true; if unmarried people wish to be part of a family (besides their families of origin) they may have to create a family form themselves. If they do not wish to marry someone of the same gender, the alternatives seem to be communal living–or a gay man marrying a lesbian would be another possibility, I guess. Also, some people on a commune could adopt the many children languishing in foster care, making it even more family like–and getting built in babysitters. Obviously, they, not I, can speak better to these suggestions. (Interestingly I am a divorced 63 year old heterosexual, living alone, but not lonely. Partly this is because I have a–now adult–son. But mostly it is because I live in an apartment on the hospital campus where I work. Like a convent, the army, boarding schools, it supplies the need for continuity and companionship that marriage does.
Ok, yes, one can have a marriage without romantic love. I work with immigrants who have had arranged marriages which seem to work out as well as our free lance kind. However, it is my understanding that a marriage can be annulled if it is not sexually consummated. So sex is in their someplace. In practical reality, especially in the early years, sexual love can bond a couple strengthening the union during tough times. As far as “setting myself up for disappointment” my inattention to the sexual side of marriage after the birth of my son was a contributing factor to its dissolution.
Pingback: Marriage Roundup | Spiritual Friendship
I just read the article you linked to (excellent job btw) and I was baffled by the comments people left. It’s as if they didn’t even read your article! I thought you presented it quite well.