Monday, September 15, 2014

When Two Men Love Each Other

I read an article recently where a man told the story of how he "fell in love" with his best friend, and then started a dating relationship.  I won't deny it:  I had a thrill of delight as I read the details of how this man slowly began to realize that he cared deeply about his friend in a way that was far from casual.  As he mentioned the way that he began to light up when his best friend entered the room, the depth with which he missed his friend when they were apart, the charge that existed between them, my own heart was caught up in the tale.  And that pivotal moment when, finally, he told his best friend how he felt and, after a tense pause, his best friend actually said, to his surprise, that he felt that way too, I was happy to hear that the feelings were mutual for them.

Uh, think you managed to sound gay enough, there, buddy?
(Be sure to read that in the voice of the "Bush's Baked Beans" dog)

I couldn't share in their joy, however, in the next part of the  story, where they decided to actually date.  It's not that I don't understand the desire, but just that both my religion and my philosophy affirm that such a step is a mistake, spiritually and psychologically, and does more harm to the relationship than good.  Even so, I delighted in their feelings and affections for one another.  Far from thinking the feelings in themselves were false, I believe that they felt exactly what they claimed to feel.

But I'm not convinced that it required dating or, ultimately, sex in order to be authentically expressed.  They say that they're "in love," and I'm willing to say that by their definition they may well be.  What is their definition, however?  In the article, the author mentioned that they miss each other when not around, and that they get really excited to see each other.  If that's what it means to be in love, then I'm in love with a great many people, male and female alike!  However, I realize that this is simplifying.  So instead of assuming that they really think that's all it takes to mean you're "in love," I've looked up some quotes about what people in our society think it means to be in love, and I assume that a lot of that would define what these men felt for each other as well.

I think the following quote, from someone on Yahoo Answers, captures the common perception quite well, although it's about being "in love" in general and not specifically about two men:

"When you always want to be together, and when you're not, you're thinking about being together because you need that person; and without them, your life feels incomplete. It's when you trust the other with your life; and when you would do anything for each other. When you love someone, you want nothing more than for them to be really happy- no matter what it takes because their needs come before your own. It's when they're the last thing you think about before you go to sleep- and when they're the first thing you think of when you wake up. Love is giving someone the power to destroy you, and trusting them not to. When they're with you, your heart races. When they touch you, you get butterflies in your stomach. [...] It's when you can't get the smile off your face; and you feel like you've been touched by an angel. [...] Love is miraculous, and when you find it, don't let it go."

I don't think that anyone would dispute that, if we're talking about feelings, this is a pretty powerful representation of what often comes to mind when people in our culture think of being "in love."  This is much more detailed than the description in the article I read, but I imagine that the gentlemen from that story would nod and say "exactly!" when faced with that quote.  There was originally a part of the quote that said "When you kiss it takes your breath away" but I think that's circumstantial and could easily be replaced with other tokens of affection for the points I'm going to make, so I haven't included that part of the quote here.

Besides, something may be wrong if
kissing means needing one of these.

There are a couple of problems with the definition, as beautiful as it sounds to me.  For one thing, much this description is not actually about love, but about the feelings that are often associated with love.  These are two separate things.  Love is something you do.  Love is when you stand by someone, and make their needs a priority (the parts of the quote about actions were the most accurate in touching what love really is).  Love is commitment; it's loyalty; it's willing the good of the other.

Read the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, on love:   

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.   Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 

Notice that feelings and butterflies and sentiment are not mentioned, but rather acts of the will.  Love is often accompanied and made easier by nice emotions, but the emotions are neither necessary nor reliable for love to be real.  The confusion between love and feeling is one reason we have such high divorce rates, or why friendships fall apart:  When the feelings fade and fluctuate, people think the love is gone.  But love is a choice--empowered by God, Who is Love--and that choice can be made regardless of whether the feelings match it.  

But all that said, I myself am a man of strong feeling.  Feelings are important to me.  I do not rely on them in order to tell me if I love someone, but I certainly value them and enjoy them.  I do not believe that love is defined by the feelings in the quote from Yahoo, but those feelings are still wonderful and desirable.  This brings us to the second problem with the definition, as far as someone may use it to define dating/marital love:  None of those things requires a sexual expression to be true of the relationship.  Not one.  So if these feelings are being used as a basis for why a guy should date another man, or eventually have sex with him, it's a woefully flawed basis.

Two men, or two women, or cousins, parents and children, anyone could feel all of those things for one another.  Those feelings could be just as intense between two people who have no intention of ever having sex with one another as between two same-sex "lovers."  The things described by the men in the article as well as in this Yahoo quote are things I could easily imagine being shared between two best friends, two siblings, or any other meaningful relationship.

I think it's untrue that the natural and highest fulfillment of such feelings between two people of the same gender is a relationship that must be consummated in sex.  In fact, it's false that it's ever necessary for two men to have sex in order to "consummate" their love, or fully express their feelings for that matter.  It suggests that  love or feelings between two men who are not having sex are somehow incomplete because of what they don't do with their sex organs; that, no matter how devoted to each other two men (or two women) are, or how deeply they feel for each other, their relationship would still be lacking something, because if sex is necessary to "consummate" same-gender love or express their feelings, this would mean by default that two men who love each other but aren't having sex are falling short of that.

And that would be rubbish.

And evidently there should be a fine for it.

Two men can share their hearts, they can afford one another a full look into a place far more intimate than their bodies:  Their very souls.  They can share a tenderness and affection that expresses their feelings and care more deeply than sex ever could.  They can cultivate a trust that is as profound as any that so-called "lovers" can experience.  They can realize that, even when they are apart and are not interacting in any way, they are with one another, part of each other, their lives irrevocably intertwined.  And most importantly, they can do all the things for one another that define love.  It's something that sex could not possibly offer any improvement upon.  There is no need for that sort of "consummation"--if by that word we mean the highest expression of love that can exist between men--because there is a spiritual and devotional "consummation" between them that is at once chaste and without lack.

David, the Biblical King and hero, once lamented of his recently fallen friend Jonathan:

"I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother!  Most dear have you been to me; More precious have I held love for you than love for women."

When a Biblical hero pays such a tribute to the love that can exist between men--and scripture shows no hint of disapproval--there is little doubt that the love between two men, and indeed their feelings as well (although the feelings come and go, and should never be the primary thing), can be so precious that the act of sex could add nothing in intimacy or intensity that their love and affection do not already have.   That's what it means to me when two men love each other.  It's a beautiful thing.