Friday, June 15, 2012

People no longer know what friendship is.

The things of this world are vain and deceitful. - Eccl. 1:2

People no longer know what true friendship is.  Or so it would seem.  I'm not talking about friending relative strangers on Facebook and other social media sites eithr.  I'm talking real friendship. 

Eros, philia, agape are words getting hurled around a lot these days on the web.  There are close examinations into same-sex friendship, reworking eros into chaste love, along with all sorts of other discussions happening on the subject of gay-chaste friendship. 

I smiled not too long ago as I read on one of my blogger friend's site his counsel to hetero guys not to be freaked out if a new ssa friend develops a crush on him.  I suppose it happens, but I wouldn't advise telling a straight guy you've developed a crush on him.  I'd have to tell you rather, to keep it to yourself and deal with it privately if you are either that needy, or worse, predatorial.  (I say that with all charity, BTW.) 

Some men, but clearly not all men, can develop what is popularly called a mancrush ** on a male friend - it happens and has nothing to do with erotic or romantic infatuation - for normal people that is.  It's just being excited about a new friend.  Don't be like a dog trying to hump his leg.  How uncomfortable to think that friend you are showering with at the gym has Sandusky eyes for you?  You'll never get normal friends if that is how you think or act with potential BFF's.  It is so much the opposite of 'disinterested friendship' - instead, 'selfish self-interest' is what's at play there.

Anyway - I'm reading all this stuff on friendship and 'that' particular inclination, which reminded me I once copied for another post something from Francis de Sales which I thought might apply to this discussion.
"Whatever is founded on mere sensuality, vanity, or frivolity, is unworthy to be called friendship. I mean such attractions as are purely external; a sweet voice, personal beauty, and the cleverness or outward show which have great weight with some. You will often hear women and young people gay men unhesitatingly decide that such an one is very delightful, very admirable, because he is good-looking, well-dressed, sings, or dances, or talks well. Even charlatans esteem the wittiest clown amongst them as their best man. But all these things are purely sensual, and the connections built on such foundation must be vain and frivolous, more fitly to be called trifling than friendship. They spring up chiefly among young people, gay men who are easily fascinated by personal attractions, dress, and gossip—friendships in which the tailor and hairdresser have the chief part. How can such friendships be other than short lived, melting away like snow wreaths in the sun!" - St. Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
Not that simple?

Les Liaisons dangereuses.*

I came across a discussion on another site dealing with the issue of homosexual friendship, and was caught by the following quote from C.S. Lewis:
“Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love, but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros, betray the fact that they have never had a Friend,” - C.S. Lewis
It seems to me, since the 19th century invention of the term 'homosexuality' the traditional understanding of friendship has been confused, and become nearly incomprehensible to many in our day of overt sexuality.  Perhaps authors such as E.M. Forster and Christopher Isherwood were still able to differentiate the platonic-philia love from the erotic - which they popularized in their writing - thus contributing in no small way to our contemporary acceptance of homosexual erotic relationships.  For instance, in the Forster novel, Maurice the main character, enjoys a close platonic relationship with his friend Clive Durham while at school.  Clive intended to marry and have a family and had no interest in a homoerotic relationship - though the friendship between the two was indeed exclusive and mildly intimate.  Later, disappointed in that prospect with Durham, Maurice falls in love with a woodsman and (unrealistically) is supposed to live happily ever after, hidden away in the woods with the love of his life.

The friendship between Maurice and Clive is a bit reminiscent of Brideshead, and the friendship between Sebastian and Charles.  Though their friendship may have had homosexual overtones, it isn't exactly clear that the two shared homoerotic interests or relations - despite this insightful comment from Lord Marchmain's mistress:
"I know of these romantic friendships of the English and the Germans. They are not Latin. I think they are very good if they do not go on too long... It's the kind of love that comes to children before they know its meaning." - Cara, Brideshead Revisited

I mention these friendships in particular, since they may help to explain the deep platonic friendships men forged with one another, and given the context, with or without homoerotic interest.  Albeit in the case of Maurice, he desired to have had such intimacies with Clive Durham; and as I say, the situation between Sebastian and Charles may have included at least a one sided homoerotic attraction.  Be that as it may, a healthy sense of non-sexual close friendship was not unknown in the early 20th century.

However, the very best example of dignified same-sex friendship is perhaps best exemplified in the friendship between Bl. Henry Cardinal Newman and Fr. Ambrose St. John.  I think Francis De Sales may have described the ideal friendship they shared in his illustration of good, wholesome spiritual friendship here: 
DO you, my child, love every one with the pure love of charity, but have no 202 friendship save with those whose intercourse is good and true, and the purer the bond which unites you so much higher will your friendship be. If your intercourse is based on science it is praiseworthy, still more if it arises from a participation in goodness, prudence, justice and the like; but if the bond of your mutual liking be charity, devotion and Christian perfection, God knows how very precious a friendship it is! Precious because it comes from God, because it tends to God, because God is the link that binds you, because it will last for ever in Him. Truly it is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them. Such as these may well cry out, “Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity!” 106106 Ps. cxxxiii. 1. Even so, for the “precious ointment” of devotion trickles continually from one heart to the other, so that truly we may say that to such friendship the Lord promises His Blessing and life for evermore. 203 To my mind all other friendship is but as a shadow with respect to this, its links mere fragile glass compared to the golden bond of true devotion. Do you form no other friendships. I say “form,” because you have no right to cast aside or neglect the natural bonds which draw you to relations, connexions, benefactors or neighbours. My rules apply to those you deliberately choose to make. There are some who will tell you that you should avoid all special affection or friendship, as likely to engross the heart, distract the mind, excite jealousy, and what not. But they are confusing things. They have read in the works of saintly and devout writers that individual friendships and special intimacies are a great hindrance in the religious life, and therefore they suppose it to be the same with all the world, which is not at all the case. - Introduction to the Devout Life

I'm hoping those who explore the meaning of authentic friendship, do so in the light of traditional Catholic teaching.

To be continued.

*The novel, and the film, Dangerous Liaisons illustrates perfectly the exact type of vain, frivolous friendships and fond loves St. Francis condemns in his Introduction to the Devout Life.

**Related: Bromance:  The contemporary circumstances of bromance separate it from more general homosocial practices and historic romantic friendships.[3][4] Aristotle's classical description of friendship is often taken to be the prototype of the bromance. He wrote around 300 BC, "It is those who desire the good of their friends for the friends' sake that are most truly friends, because each loves the other for what he is, and not for any incidental quality."[1] There are numerous examples of famous intense male friendships throughout most of Western history, and such relationships were likewise common. It has been posited that in the late 19th century, Freudianism and the emergence of visible homosexuality directed heterosexual men to avoid expressions of intense affection. - Wiki   

Note:  I'm not promoting the concept or adaptation of terms such as mancrush or bromance, I'm simply using it to frame non-sexual, ss friendship with another expression adapted from popular culture.  Personally I find such labels or distinctions annoying.


  1. Don't be like a dog trying to hump his leg.

    ROFL! I love it how you unexpectedly drop those hilarious lines in a serious post. It's a gift.

  2. "All men can get man crushes on one another"

    All men, not a chance, I stand as the exception, and I highly doubt I'm alone.

    As for the friendship between Sebastian and Charles. The PBS series lends an unfortunate color not present in the book.

    A better understanding is to read it leading up to Cordelia's conversation with Charles :
    ". . . he’ll be picked up at the gate dying, and show by a mere flicker of the eyelid that he is conscious when they give him the last sacraments. It’s not such a bad way of getting through one’s life.’

    1. I shouldn't have said, 'all men' to be sure. Sorry - I'll fix that. What I really meant was the contemporary usage which hails back to childhood - just the fun of having a best friend.

      And yes - you are correct about the PBS interpretation - which why I said there may have been homoerotic overtones. I watched that years ago before reading the book. Aside from that, the friendship was helpful to my post.

      Good calls - thanks!

    2. I think I fixed it now.


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