Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Healthy Same-Sex Friendships

I truly believe that it is very much possible for a person with SSA to develop friendships with the same sex that is devoid of lust and the trappings of emotional dependency. By understanding that our legitimate need to establish friendship with the same sex is not erotic at its very core, we can begin to develop true connection with them in a chaste and emotionally mature manner.

by Andrew Comiskey

Loving members of our own sex? For people struggling with homosexual tendencies, the establishment of healthy same-sex friendships can be difficult and confusing. We deeply feel our need for same-sex companions; we may also resist that feeling on the grounds that it is "homosexual" . Still others find themselves existing between the two points -- falling in love with friends, then resorting back to the pain and loneliness of emotional repression. Either we possess another, or we repress.

I believe in a healing middle path, one that frees us to act upon our yearning for same-sex love without lustful, erotic intent. Healthy same-sex friendships can be ours! Instead of mirroring the old homosexual identity, they have the potential of enabling us to walk out our true heterosexual selves.

First, let's look at the yearning that we continue to have for same-sex friendships. Elizabeth Moberly details its origins in her excellent books Psychogenesis and Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic. In brief, her theory centers on how an unresolved relationship between a child and same-sex parent can contribute to homosexual tendencies later on. There are many factors here, but the main point for our purposes concerns the truth that children need love and affirmation from key members of the same sex, especially from the same-sex parent. Without that affirmation, a child may grow up and become vulnerable to trying to meet emotional needs for same-sex love through homosexual relationships. A legitimate need that every child possesses wrongly becomes the driving factor in an adult's sexuality!

The major point of deception for the person with homosexual struggles is that his yearning is at core erotic and can only be satisfied through an attempted one-flesh" union with a member of his own sex. Instead, Dr. Moberly helps us define that yearning as emotional and legitimate. Without condemning ourselves, we can own the truth that most of us were unaffirmed in our gender identities, and that has rendered us needy and immature in our quest for same-sex love. We desperately want the strong arms of father or the safe soft breast of mother. As a basic human need, such a yearning is without sin. We need to have compassion on the unaffirmed parts of ourselves; our yearning for same-sex love alerts us to those areas of deprivation and thus can serve as a signpost for our need to be merciful toward ourselves.

But when such a need for the lost father or mother or our youth becomes the driving motivator in our adult relationships, we can readily fall in a disordered state. Why? Because other adults do not exist solely to nurture one's "inner child." A "need" orientation, rooted in childhood deprivation, needs to be placed alongside of the responsibilities that come with adulthood. In other words, I may have childish needs, but that doesn't give me free reign to form relationships based on the egocentric view that another exists to meet my needs. I must recognize that I have distinct boundaries from the other and that my life will remain intact with or without him or her. I must give as well as receive. I may need the other very much, but I must also face the reality that the other doesn't exist on my behalf. I am an adult with childish needs -- I can own that reality without attempting to make any human being the parent that they are not. When we set up any creature as our one golden emotional resource, we become entrapped by the tyranny of our own inner child. Left to its own recourses, that child, fuel by the sum total of unmet needs, can compel us to bow down at the altar of "false parents" who are unable to love us aright.

So we are left with two separate but essential realities. Yearning for same-sex love is legitimate and stems from deprivation in childhood for which we need much grace and mercy. Nonetheless, attempting to resolve that deprivation (and subsequent yearning) by setting up another man or woman as our "emotional messiah" is false and sinful- it needs to be identified as the destructive evil that it is. How then do we proceed to get our needs met?

Personally, I have struggled with this question a great deal. My clinical detachment breaks down in the face of my own journey, alongside of many of my friends and colleagues, upon which we have sought to emerge out of the quicksand of immature same-sex dependencies and into the safe and secure place of healthy, non-possessive friendships. I have experienced a couple of relationships in the last few years where I have faced my inner child's tendency to conform the same-sex friend into an emotional resource that he could never be. I have worked through both relationships, with one friendship becoming more detached, the other growing into a healthy, adult-to-adult source of intimacy. Here are some insights I have learned along the way.

Our heavenly Father must be sought first and foremost in the face of any friendship that sparks that deep yearning for same-sex love. As Jody states clearly in her accompanying article, we need Him as our primary source of worship lest we be tempted to bow down before the creature. Our Creator needs to be our main point of connection as we seek to connect meaningfully with others. Time and time again, I have sought the Father in the face of my friendships- confessing my neediness with the deep understanding that He cares for me at that level of need. Truly, in conversation with Him, I was able to name my intense need and begin to seek him first for the meeting of that need. He sent His Holy Spirit in waves; He enveloped my heart with His nurture and strength in a way that compelled me to focus off the friendship and onto Him. At a profound level, my heavenly Father became my primary, ongoing voice of wisdom and source of love in the establishment of healthy friendships.

The Father called me to make a choice. Would I release this friend to Him and choose to see the other the way He does? Turning from my needy, grasping efforts to make this friend the sum total of my need for "father" love was crucial. I had to confess and repent before the Father of this illusion. I had to agree with Him that my friend couldn't complete me. The hallmark of neurotic relationships is the belief that the other can in fact be one's completion, prompting one to try to control that object of supposed completion. Almost immediately then, I began to release my friend to the Father. I did this several times until I began to realize that this friend wasn't exclusively mine. He was the Father's, a creature with his own brokenness who was in as much need as I was of the Father's care.

The Father in turn challenged me to see this distinct individual as a man of God who needed to be released from any of my own neurotic expectations; only then could my friend be free to walk in the fullness of God's intent for his life. Dostoevsky writes, "To love a person means to see him as God intended him to be." I was sobered by that realization. The potential of my hindering God's redemptive work in this brother's life due to my own neediness hit me hard. But, in turn, my encouraging him to grow into the fullness of his true heterosexual identity liberated me! I ceased perceiving him as somehow my completion and began to see him as a man who could go far in his own relational and spiritual development, with or without me. Slowly, I became less of a needy child to my friend and more of an adult who could really see him walk uprightly in his own inspired adult status.

One important thing I learned is that I didn't need to share the struggles of my soul concerning this brother to him. That usually does one of two things. It either weighs down the relationship with heavy-handed analysis that renders the friendship more tiresome than renewing, or it hooks into the other's neurotic tendencies in a way that bonds the two together unhealthily. I found that ongoing conversation with my heavenly Father, as well as talking to my wife about the friendship, was more than sufficient. My wife is exceptional in her ability to listen without getting defensive; she can speak squarely and compassionately to me, drawing upon her own experience in friendship. And in being honest with her about my strong feelings, their power subsided, and I was able to stand back a bit and become strengthened in the reality of my adult heterosexual status in the friendship.

A powerful realization hit me as I contrasted my marriage to this friendship. My wife is the true human completion of my maleness- through her femaleness she calls forth my strength as a man. She is the primary relationship God has provided for me that rounds out my humanity, and vice versa. My yearning for her physically and emotionally frees me to embrace my manhood; my same-sex yearning, when unyielded to the Father binds me to illusion and immaturity. That inspired rhythm of heterosexual union has helped me to understand same-sex friendships in a whole different light. A same-sex friendship cannot, nor is it intended to be one's relational completion! It can provide encouragement and support and companionship along the path toward heterosexual relationships; however, it is futile to try to exist healthily on the emotional nutrients gained solely from same-sex friendships. I praise God that at the level of my heart He has helped to see this. It has freed me to establish same-sex friendships that are intimate, yet secondary, to the primary relationship I share with Annette.

Today I can say unashamedly that I deeply love my male friends. I need them. And God has been faithful to walk me through the sometimes frightening and clumsy steps I have taken to secure such friendships. I've come to realize that in order to be a whole man of God I truly need other men to stand beside me. May God bless and empower you in your own quest for same-sex friendships. I pray that they will help you to further take hold of your true heterosexual identity.

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