A common critique of celibate gay Christians is the perception that we attempt to swap out romantic intimacy for friendship. Instead of having same-sex romantic partners we simply have spiritual friends and too often are seen as playing a semantics game. I believe though, as do many of my fellow side-B Christians, that friendship was never meant to take the place of the intimacy that comes about in romantic relationship. Much of what we do is an attempt to celebrate the beauty and benefits of friendship as a good in and of itself and not as a new outlet for romantic and sexual desire. Friendship and relationships in general are not some equal alternative to marriage where finding the right partner becomes finding the right best friend. Friendship inherently makes room for not only the “other” in relationship but for others. I have quite a number of friends who I am quite close to. Some I live in close proximity to and others live thousands of miles away. Each is different and as a unique experience and relationship is worthy of celebrating. Like all relationships there are certain people with whom the bonds of friendship are especially close which allows for deep intimacy. Within an exceptionally close friendship there can exist the full sense of being known, being understood, and being cared for. But at no point in that relationship does my friend’s identity merge with mine. There is no “one flesh” aspect of friendship. This I think is the beauty of friendship and its contrast to a romantic and sexual relationship.
As a gay man, I have both the desire for intimate friendship as well as a desire to lose myself in love and connection with a romantic partner. As a man, I will most naturally connect and form friendships with other men. Both men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, will generally gravitate towards same-sex friendships. That is not to say that great intimacy and friendship can’t be had between people of the opposite sex, and indeed this opposite-sex friendship is often discounted and even questioned today. Because of the fall and the impact that it has on every aspect of our existence, my desire for romantic connection and relationship yearns for fulfillment as life lived with another man. The same God-given desire that causes a woman to join herself to a man and vise versa in marriage and sexual intimacy is the same yearning that I experience as I long for a husband. Forsaking this yearning and acknowledging that for it to find its fulfillment would go against the relational order originally manifest in creation is my small martyrdom.
I was speaking with a friend a few weeks ago about our loneliness and how despite all the deep friendships and connections we have, we still find ourselves longing for the kind of intimacy only found in marriage. I think we both once hoped that our hearts would be content once they had connected with enough friends and enjoyed the kind of deep intimacy that can be experienced in friendship. What we shared nonetheless was the reality that we are both growing to understand that our hearts will likely continue to yearn for more than friendships. The desire for a spouse doesn’t go away, no matter how close and intimate our friendships might be. While our longing for romantic intimacy is deeply connected to who we are as people we both seek to answer a higher calling of sacrifice. Our loneliness instead of bringing us into communion with another person calls us into relationship with God through our co-suffering with him. Friendships are not the consolation prize, nor are they the solution, rather they are a good and God given thing and places for joy and connection. Our friendships are the home for us to open our lives and allow others to sit with us in our pain and in our joy, and we likewise in theirs.
Many people, both gay and straight, will experience loneliness for many reasons. We may learn to live with the ache of our unmet desires or our unanswered prayers while looking towards the Kingdom to come, a Kingdom home where all of our God given desires and longings will find their answer and their rest. A final home where all of our elementary lessons in love and relationship will find the ultimate connection they pointed to all along; a relationship with the eternal Logos where our voices find their resonance in that eternal communion song. Remembering this reality and our hoped for future is often a difficult task, especially in a culture where romance and sexual intimacy are seen as the only source of ultimate fulfillment. I pray that our churches and our friendships will continue to be more fully places that remind us both of the Kingdom that is to come as well as sources of comfort and of joy. Through this we will help bring about that future Kingdom in our present reality.
Gregg is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Counseling at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO. He is a member of All Saints of North America, Antiochian Orthodox Church. He can be followed on Twitter Follow @eleisonblog and contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.